Get a good night's sleep before court. You will want to be on the top of your game when you arrive at court. You are going to be making big decisions today and you want to be sharp. For the exact same reason eat well. The waiting may go on for a while and if your courthouse is anything like mine, there may not be a place to get anything to fill your stomach.
Make sure you have gone to the bathroom before your docket time. If you've ever heard of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, you know that the mind needs to focus on basic things before it can think about higher things. Negotiating legal issues come low on the minds totem pole when a bathroom break is in order.
What to Wear
It is important to give some thought to what you're going to wear every time you go to court. Wear something to court that is comfortable but formal. A day in court can be long; the benches are often uncomfortable; you patience is going to wear thin. You will be much happier if you are wearing something comfortable. That said, don't take it to the extreme. You are in a court of law, not your living room. No sweats. No Shorts. No T-Shirts. Don't wear a hat. You're going to have to remove it upon entering the court anyway. If you forget the judge will remind you and you'll appear to be disrespectful or lost.
If you're a woman, dress in slacks or a skirt below the knee, depending on which you feel comfortable in. If you are a man and uncomfortable wearing a tie or jacket, you shouldn't, but if they are comfortable, they're your best bet. Dressing well tells people without saying a word, you know this is an important thing and you respect the court.
Review your paperwork the day before court. If you have an attorney, he or she will be reviewing the paperwork. Knowing what you have and what has already been said is going to give you an advantage when it's time to talk about your case. It's probably been a couple of weeks since your last looked at that stuff, take some time to refresh yourself.
Show up early. Planning to arrive on time works almost every time, but you need to be on time in court every time. If know what courtroom your case is being called and where that courtroom is in the building, you do this by planning on being inside the courthouse fifteen minutes before your case is called. If you haven't a clue where you're going inside the courtroom give yourself an extra ten minutes. The urge will be to show up on time, deny that urge and arrive early. You never know when there is going to be an accident blocking the road or a parking lot being repaved.
What to Take
At the very least, bring a pen and paper to court. It is a busy and stressful time; you are going to forget things and lose things if you don't write them down and keep track of them. Better still, bring a folder or binder with you. Keep every document related to your case in that folder. That includes not only the papers you might generate yourself, but also anything handed to you by a judge, a District Attorney, a clerk, or your lawyer. You want to be able to quickly get to any document you need. Take a magazine to read. It will make the time pass. But bury it in the back of that folder your bringing with you when your case is called: no need to give out more personal information about your reading habits. If you are actually in the courtroom itself and cases before you are being called, watch the judge. Judges are very much creatures of habit and do the same thing over and over. See if you can tell what the judge likes so you can be better prepared when you are called.
What Not to Take
If at all possible, don't bring children. Your kids are not going to get anything positive out of this experience and they will distract you when you really need to have your full attention. Kids are going to get bored. Kids may be scared. Kids may overhear unfortunate things. Sometimes it can't be helped, but if you can get a sitter or relative to watch the children while your in court.
Your Attorney has the Best Advice
No matter what anyone else says or what legal guides you read (including mine), follow the advice of your attorney if you have one. Your attorney is familiar with all the details of your case and brings his or her experience to bear on those specific facts. If you have an attorney, you're paying for legal advice and you should take it.
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