Ten Court Tips: How to Survive Your Day in Court
Going to court can be a stressful affair. To help ease you through the process and retain sanity, we've compiled a list of top ten court tips you can use to survive your trip to the courtroom.
Whether you have to go to court to try to collect damages because you were injured or you were summoned to appear to answer questions about someone else's case, you are probably going to feel some anxiety about the situation. The courtroom itself sometimes feels as if it was designed to evoke emotions with the judge sitting above you and everyone focused on you. However, once the court proceedings start, the feeling of anxiety may be replaced by emotions such as anger, jealousy, or sadness. And it will become even more important to keep your cool and maintain professionalism.
Here are ten court tips and considerations to help through your courtroom experience:
1. Don't Be Defined By Your Rights
We all grew up hearing about "our rights" as American citizens. Of course we have the right to talk back to the police, to shout out and protest things we disagree with and even to burn the American flag if we wish. However, some people in court often take our rights too far, suing over minor violations, thinking that there is a big payday on the other side of the litigation. However, for every case that is reported where a person gets a multi-million dollar award for a violation of their rights, there are countless others where the award is minimal, if anything at all. If this happens to you, and by the odds it is more likely than not, you may feel betrayed and depressed, as if you can no longer depend on your rights or the courts to enforce them. In most situations where there has been a minor violation of your rights, you may just want to ignore it, or ask the violating party in person to make amends.
2. Don't Go To Court for Spite or Revenge
This could perhaps be one of the most important court tips. The courtroom is generally not the best location to seek revenge or to spite a person or entity. Indeed, if you bring a lawsuit that lacks merit solely for the purpose of making the other person appear in court and feel embarrassed, he or she may turn around after your case is over and sue you for bring a lawsuit for malicious reasons and abusing the court system.
3. Seek Mediation instead of Litigation
In almost all situations, mediating a problem is preferable to litigating the problem in open court. Litigation is like battle with various sets of very structure and uniformed rules. Mediation, on the other hand, is much less formal and seeks to find a middle ground where both parties can be satisfied. Mediation is great because it sets aside the mental aspects of "winning and losing" and instead seeks to merely solve the problem at hand. Many people are much more willing to compromise and settle situations when they do not feel the pressure to win or the fear of losing. In addition, mediation is a great idea because there is less pressure and worries about money and expenses. Often times, people in court get obsessed with winning after seeing how much money is being spent on legal representation and court fees. Mediation, on the other hand, may not even require that you have an attorney and can often be found for free or low cost.
4. Just Like Vegas, Don't Bet More Than You Can Actually Lose
It has been theorized that the people that enjoy vacationing in Las Vegas are those that only bring the money with them that they can stand to lose, whereas the people that leave Vegas depressed often dipped into bank accounts that they told themselves they would never touch. Litigation is often like gambling in Vegas, you can never be exactly sure how much you might lose. Before jumping headlong into a courtroom trial, you should seriously analyze your finances and talk to your attorney about just how much you could potentially lose. Even cases that are "sure winners" sometimes backfire, leading to serious damages and monetary awards.
5. Do Not Let Control of Your Case Be Taken Away
It is often the case that the best lawyers in the business are the lawyers that understand the importance of communication with their clients. You should always remember that the case that your attorney is working on is your case. If the attorney loses, he or she is probably not going to be out that much, whereas you could be eyeing bankruptcy in a really bad verdict. Be sure that you inform your attorney that you want to be fully engaged and in control of the major decisions regarding your lawsuit. In addition, if you feel that your attorney is taking control of your case for their own benefit, be sure to jump on this situation as fast as possible. You always have the right to fire your lawyer and find another one.
6. Costs, Costs, Costs
Like most everything in life, litigation will have its costs. For example, if your case requires an expert witness to testify about a tricky subject, you may have to pay that witness to appear on your behalf. Generally, if your ask your attorney about the various ways to handle your case, there will be both expensive and"less-expensive" options. To make the best choice, you should do a cost-benefit analysis. If, for instance, you have the potential to be awarded an extra $5,000 if you have an expert witness testify on your behalf, you should weigh this against the odds of that happening and the cost of the witness. If the witness will charge you $10,000 to appear, and his or her appearance will only guarantee a 25% chance of getting the extra $5,000, it is probably not worth the money or the risk to hire the expert witness.
7. When Representing Yourself, Remember That the Judges and Clerks are Public Servants
Your tax dollars more than likely go towards paying the salaries and wages of the judges and court clerks that you will argue your case in front of. People that represent themselves in court are often looked down on by the court staff, and even the judges sometimes. Indeed, pro se litigants (people that represent themselves in court) are often repeatedly advise to hire legal counsel. If this happens to you when you become confused by the archaic and confusing legal jargon and rules, try not to become defensive and argumentative and instead calmly ask for clarification of various rules and procedures. Often times judges and clerks are willing to help (such as telling a person when it is appropriate to object to a question posed to a witness) pro se litigants that show an interest in following correct courtroom procedures and rules. Never, under any circumstances, think that you are "stupid" or "slow" because you did not know the proper procedure for submitting papers to the court.
8. Go Ahead and Laugh
Not only will laughing at the small, yet funny, things in court help you with your own confidence, but it may improve the mood of the courtroom in general. Remember that judges are people too and often appreciate levity when it is appropriate. So when you make a blunder in a speech to a judge, don't be afraid to grin and laugh a little.
9. Ask for an Outside Opinion
It happens more often than you think it would -- people get sucked into lawsuits that they have no chance of wining, and even less reason for continuing. The prospect of winning, of proving that you are right and the other side in the wrong, can be a strong motivation to stay in a lawsuit that you have no business being in. Before embarking on an odyssey into the twists and turns of a trial in a courtroom, ask a few, trusted friends to watch the progress of the case and tap you on the shoulder when and if things head south. Often times the eyes of a person that is not personally involved in a lawsuit are the best judges of whether a cause is worth continuing.
10. Winning May Not Mean What You Think It Does
There are many situations in which a person that wins a lawsuit does not get everything, or anything, of what he or she deserved. Often times, attorney's fees and court costs eat up entire judgments. As well, even if you win a substantial judgment in your case, you may not even be able to collect everything that you are owed. This happens often in automobile accident cases where the driver at fault was uninsured. Judgments are often never collected as the other driver has no way of actually paying for your injuries or the damage to your car.