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Courtroom Dress and Demeanor

My favorite law professor who is now a judge on the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals used to tell me, "Zack, make sure to tell your clients not to wear their Nascar shirt to court." That sounds like obvious advice, but after touring Alabama courtrooms for the last five years, it is something that bears repeating.

When I served as an Alabama Assistant Attorney General, my assistant, Andre, and I passed time during lengthy docket calls people watching. We saw things that walmart would censor. In addition to bad dress and hygiene, we witnessed people that had no clue how to behave in court. Always remember that judges and jurors are people, not computers that only internalize facts and laws. Poor courtroom appearance and demeanor can be more harmful to your case than any set of facts.

I advise my clients to dress conservatively. Men can wear either a solid blue or black suit or khaki pants with a blue sport coat. The shirt should be a white button-down and the tie should be mostly red or blue. Court isn't the place to bust out your Snoopy or Mickey Mouse tie. Men should avoid broad pin stripes or expensive fabrics. Save those new alligator boots for another occasion. Women may wear dresses, skirts, or slacks. Coats are a plus. Blouses should be plain with no noticeable designs or frills. You should not wear clothing that is tight or too colorful. Wear the leather chaps on date night, but stick them back in the drawer before you step before a judge. Avoid leopard and zebra print, not just in court, but in life.

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Neither men nor women should wear expensive or excessive jewelry. Men can wear one simple ring and a watch. Women can wear a simple ring, a watch, and earrings. The earrings should not be gaudy. Both sexes should have conventional hairstyles. Lose the mullet and the pink highlights.

Arrive at court 30 minutes early. The time period before court starts may appear to be disorganized or hectic. Lawyers will be talking to one another and court personnel. Your lawyer may be talking to your adversary's attorney. This is typical, so do not assume your lawyer is a traitor. When the judge arrives, stand up until the judge says to be seated. Unless your case is the only one set at that time, the judge will call the docket. Your lawyer will respond to the docket call, so you can remain seated unless asked to come forward. Be prepared for the judge to ask the lawyers to make one last attempt at settling the case prior to trial.

No matter what the people around you are doing, do not talk while the judge is on the bench. Make sure any device that will make a sound is shut off. If you need to communicate with your attorney or someone else, pass a written note. Do not physically react to the other party or any of the courtroom proceedings. Control your emotions and demeanor. The court or the court's staff will be watching you. I overheard a judge asking the bailiff about his opinion concerning a witness just last week.

Above all else, tell the absolute truth when you are testifying. Avoid rambling. The more words you say, the more ammunition you give to the other side to take something out of context. If a question can be answered with a yes or no, just say yes sir/ma'am or no sir/ma'am without explanation. If something needs to be explained, your lawyer will ask for more explanation.

Once your trial begins, it will be difficult to gauge how it is going. When you put on your side of the case, you will feel like you are winning. When the other side puts on their case, you may think they are winning. Do not fall into the trap of trying to anticipate the result. If you have left the alligator boots, leather chaps, chewing tobacco, bubble gum, and Nascar shirt at home, all you can do is be truthful and have faith.

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Posted in Law Post Date 09/13/2015


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