Not too long ago, I had the opportunity to address the women incarcerated at Arrendale Prison. All 30 women in the classroom with me were Mothers. All were serving sentences of five years or less. They all were prepared to ask me questions about my area of expertise – family law. Upon a show of hands, almost all had a pending legal issue; mostly dealing with custody or visitation. Only two were represented by counsel.
I am all too familiar with the unrepresented client, i.e., pro se. Before going any further, and after a brief introduction to the State Court system in Georgia, I thought it was a perfect opportunity to discuss with my new students what to do in Court. These simple guidelines easily to apply to all clients, perhaps some lawyers as well.
1. Dress appropriately. I always tell my clients dress like you are going to Church. No jeans, tennis shoes, or ball caps. Men do not necessarily need to wear a tie, but wear nice slacks and a pressed shirt. Women too should be appropriate. Erring on the conservative side is best practice. If you have to leave and go back to work, and you wear a uniform, that is fine. Just be sure to let your counsel know in advance.
2. Be on time. Be at least 15 minutes early to Court. When you enter the courtroom, sit down and be quiet. Do not talk while waiting for your case to be called. Be patient. This is not a time to play on your iPhone or read a book.
3. Leave your child at home. There is no reason for a child to be in Court. Unless the Judge or your attorney has instructed you to bring the child with you, make arrangements for their care or make sure that they get to school.
4. Be sure your phone and/or pager is turned off before entering the Courtroom. Nothing irritates a Judge more than a phone ringing when he or she is trying to address cases. If your phone rings in the courtroom be prepared to turn it over to the bailiff or even face paying a fine.
5. Stand when the Judge comes into the Courtroom. Stand whenever you are addressed by the Judge. Respond respectfully and answer his or her questions. If you have an attorney, stand and let him or her speak for you. The rule of speak only when spoken to is a good way to ensure you are honoring the respect of the Courtroom. If you want the Judge’s attention or desire to convey additional information, ask permission, e.g. “Your, Honor, may I……?”
6. When sitting at counsel’s table, avoid all urges to make noises, gestures or the like. The Judge can hear every sigh, groan, grunt, sheesh, that comes out. And, remember, even if you think the Judge is not watching, they are. The Judge will see every move you make, every crossed arm, every eye roll, every jerking motion to talk to your lawyer and every haphazard movement to scribble a note to your lawyer. Judge’s watch body language. Leave the attitude and the ego outside the courtroom. Remember to be respectful and you will be fine.
7. Be prepared. Have all your documents with you in duplicate. Have your facts ready and be clear and succinct. Remember, the Judge can only consider what you present.