How to Dress and Behave in Court for a Hearing

The Courtroom is an important, serious place, and your respect for it should be demonstrated through your clothing, actions, and words. If you have a hearing approaching, it’s important that you be informed of proper courtroom etiquette. What you wear, how you speak, how you act, and even your body language can affect how people judge you. When you arrive for a hearing, you should do so with the intention of putting your best foot forward and presenting yourself as someone who takes the situation seriously. One of the most immediate ways you can display this is through the first impression you give a judge—the way that you dress and conduct yourself in court will be noted.

Dress Appropriately

The old adage, “You can’t judge a book by its cover” holds true in many respects. However, don’t use it for your philosophy when you are going to go to court. As anyone will tell you who spends a significant amount of time in a courtroom, it most definitely does matter what you wear to court. The judge, attorneys, and everyone else in the courtroom will take notice of how you choose to present yourself to the court. Whether it is a divorce proceeding, custody hearing, or adoption, it is important to dress appropriately for court. While that does not mean that you have to wear a suit and tie, there is definitely a difference between a pair of slacks with a button-up shirt compared to flip-flops, shorts, and tank tops. You want to present the best image you can to the court. This will help your lawyer in his or her representation on your behalf.

Ideas of What you Should Wear to the Courthouse

Men: Suit or sport coat with a tie. A long-sleeve button-down shirt with a collar. Long pants with a belt or suspenders to keep up your pants. Conservative shoes.

Women: A nice dress, business suit, or conservative pants suit. Conservative top and long slacks. Closed-toed shoes

Everyone: When it comes to accessories and jewelry, less is more. Remove all piercings and cover tattoos. If you claim you have no money, wearing a lot of expensive jewelry may not be wise.

General Appearance Should Be Neat and Clean

Nails: Make sure nails are neat and clean. Wear neutral nail polish.

Hair/make-up: Look neatly groomed. If your hair is long, tie it back. No hairnets, rollers, or combs. Schedule a haircut two weeks before the court appearance. Shave before court and trim your mustache/beard. Wear conservative make-up.

Hygiene: Brush your teeth and use mouthwash. Use soap and water liberally before coming to court. Deodorant. You will be nervous, so be prepared. If you perspire a lot, bring a handkerchief or whatever to look cool and confident.

Examples of How Not to Appear in a Courtroom

Clothing: Shorts or cut-offs. Sleeveless or muscle shirt. exercise outfits. Anything racy or too revealing, such as tight tops, short skirts, sequins, slinky tops, low cut tops. Crop tops. Cover your belly button! T-shirts (especially ones with alcohol, drug or sexual references). Athletic attire, especially baseball caps. Jeans, unless they are the only long pants you own. Clothing that is too small or too large. Clothing that reveals your underwear. Hats.

Footwear, Jewelry, and Nails and Hair: Flip-flop sandals. Athletic shoes. High-heel spikes. Open-toed shoes. Anything you’d wear at the beach. Lots of jewelry, especially if it makes noise when you move. Sunglasses, unless medically prescribed. Extremely long nails or neon, bright nail polish. Wet, messy, or dirty hair. Unnatural dye job. Hairnet and/or curlers. Weird or unusual haircut.

Hygiene: Dirty or unshaven. Very little cologne and perfume. smelling like cigarette smoke, marijuana, or alcohol.

Act Appropriately in the Courtroom and Address the Judge with Respect

It is very important to understand that, in the courtroom, the judge not only represents ultimate authority but also the law. For this reason, you must always show utmost respect and kindness towards a judge; a poor attitude or indifferent disposition does not convey that you value the judge’s authority, nor their time. You always want to refer to a judge as “Your Honor”, and also make sure to rise when the judge enters and leaves the room. Once your hearing is finished, no matter what the outcome of the hearing was, exit the courtroom quietly and respectfully.

Examples of How to Behave in Court

Things You Should Do: Turn off your cell phone. Exercise self-control, no matter what is said in the courtroom. Be respectful to the other side whenever you meet them. Pay attention and be interested in the proceedings; it is helpful to actually listen and learn about the process (and the judge) before your case. Speak clearly and loudly enough to be heard by the judge and the opposing side. Ask the questioner to repeat or clarify any questions that you do not understand. Direct your answers to the person who asked the question. Make eye contact with them. Answer every question, even if they seem stupid or foolish to you. Be polite to courtroom staff, including the clerk, the bailiff, or others. They work with the judge and will report poor behavior.

Things You Should Not Do: Chew gum. Argue with the opposing party or his/her attorney. Interrupt anyone. React to the opposing side or witnesses’ answers or to the questions from the opposing attorney to indicate your displeasure. Argue with the other side’s attorney. Give flippant answers. Smirk, roll your eyes, throw up your hands or otherwise show negative reactions to something happening in the court. Act angry or short-tempered with the judge or other side, even if you are upset by your case.

Be Aware of Rules and Inform Your Guests

If you’re inviting friends or family to come to your hearing, make sure they are aware of courtroom etiquette so that they can plan accordingly. As a general rule of thumb, the courtroom does not welcome anything or anyone who will serve as a disruption to the hearing. The very first rule you need to follow is to always arrive on time for a hearing (it’s better to arrive 20 minutes early than 5 minutes late, so leave the house early). If you are going to be late, let your attorney know immediately.

Another important rule to understand is that electronics are not welcome in a courtroom. This includes cell phones, laptops, iPads, notebooks, etc. There should also be no consumption of food or alcohol in the courtroom, and no chewing of gum. Additionally, be aware that disruptive children will not be permitted in the courtroom, therefore it is usually best to leave children at home or with a caretaker before arriving at a hearing.

Lawyers are in court all the time. It is likely that you will not have spent nearly as much time in a courtroom, so take their advice when they tell you that learning appropriate courtroom behavior will help you to fit in and feel more comfortable, which will then help you to be able to concentrate on presenting your best case.

If you're facing a hearing, don't show up unprepared. Our attorneys are here to help prepare you in all areas of your legal matter, including tips for making a favorable Courtroom appearance. If you would like to speak with one of our attorneys about your legal matter, you can call our office today at (503) 227-0200.