7 Things to Do to Ace Your First Court Appearance

by Team eLocal
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For one reason or another, you’ve got to go to court. Your first court appearance can be scary and overwhelming, especially if you've never had to go to court before.

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Preparing for your court appearance can help you calm your nerves and make a good first impression on the judge.

How to Make a Court Appearance Go as Smoothly as Possible

Your first court appearance will be much easier if you know what to expect. Always remember to show respect in the courtroom. Being prepared can also help you avoid delays. Your lawyer can be a good resource for preparing for your specific situation, but these tips can also help.

1. Know How to Dress

How you dress can make a major impression on the court. Choose an outfit that makes you look like you're taking the charges seriously — what you would wear to a job interview is a good frame of reference. Conservative, neutral clothes are often a safe choice. Handle grooming tasks before your appearance to give yourself an overall polished look.

2. Communicate With Your Lawyer

Having a meeting with your lawyer before the court appearance can help you understand what to expect. Ask your lawyer to walk you through the process, so you'll feel more comfortable on the day of your appearance. Your attorney should also tell you if you need to bring anything, where you need to go and other logistics about the court date. Bring a list of questions, so you don't forget anything.

3. Know What to Bring

Whether you need to bring any documents to your court appearance can depend on the situation. If your attorney tells you to bring anything, make sure you have copies before the date approaches — don't wait until the last minute, or you might not have time to get what you need. This could delay the court proceedings. Put everything in a folder, so you don't lose anything.

You can also bring a few personal items to make the day easier. Bring some change for parking meters or vending machines. Bringing water, snacks and gum can help you stay comfortable. You might also want to bring some paper and a pen to take notes.

4. Understand the Expectations

Courtrooms have a lot of rules and procedures that you need to follow. Always wait until it's your turn to talk. Your attorney can advise you on when you should speak. Always use respect when addressing the judge. It can be difficult to stay calm, but it's important to keep your composure in the courtroom. Avoid outbursts, strong emotions, interruptions or other disrespectful behaviors.

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5. Meet Your Physical Needs

Going to court is stressful, so taking care of yourself physically is important. Focus on getting plenty of rest the night before your appearance. Being rested can help you stay calm and focused, making it easier to follow what's happening in court. Plan to have a light meal before your appearance to calm your stomach — eating too much could make you uncomfortable or cause you to feel sick. Hydrating can help you stay focused as well.

6. Be Early

The last thing you want to do is show up late or miss your court appearance completely. Verify the location before the date. Doing a test run of the drive can give you an idea of how long it will take, and you can scope out the parking situation. If the courthouse is in a busy area, you might have to park far away and walk, so account for that extra time.

On the day of your appearance, arrive early. This gives you time to calm your nerves and find the location for your hearing. You can often sit in on other hearings as well. That will give you an opportunity to see how things work, which may relieve some anxiety when it's your turn.

7. Avoid Distractions

Part of being early is ensuring you have your day free for the court appearance. Plan to take the day off work, and don't schedule anything before you're supposed to appear. You don't want anything delaying you on your way. It's also a good idea to avoid planning anything immediately after your appearance. The court could be running late, and you might miss anything you have scheduled later. This can increase your stress and distract you from what's happening in court. If possible, dedicate the day to your court appearance, even if you think it will be a quick appearance, to keep yourself as calm and focused as possible.

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