“We object!” to a lack of courtroom etiquette. Most courtroom proceedings are more professional than you’ll witness on television courtroom dramas. Rarely do attendees shout at the judge or the defense or opposing counsel, but that doesn’t always mean bad manners and lack of etiquette are left at the door.
Courtroom conduct for legal teams is paramount to not only being taken seriously during a courtroom proceeding but to not causing a rift with the judge or facing mistrust from a seated jury.
As adults, you’d imagine we would leave our biases and disputes at the door and focus on the best outcome for our respective clients, but human nature being what it is, that isn’t always the case – no matter the setting.
Courtroom Conduct Matters
By the time you’ve reached the courtroom stage with your client, chances are you have been attempting to settle a dispute with the opposing counsel. Once you’ve exhausted the potential for an out-of-court settlement, tensions are already running high.
The proceedings leading up to the courtroom setting have likely included taking depositions, talking with witnesses who don’t want to be involved and emotions run high.
How can you and your legal team react in the courtroom and, in light of seething resentments and tension, conduct yourselves professionally and leave your grudges at the door?
Here are a few ways in which you and your legal team can make certain you’re above reproach with your courtroom conduct.
Be respectful of everyone’s time.
It may be about billable hours for you, but when you have a seated jury or when your client and the opposing counsel and his or her client are waiting, be respectful of their time. The later you are, the less respected they feel and the higher the tensions will rise – before a word has been spoken.
How can you assure you’re on time?
- Don’t stop for that drive-thru coffee if you’re not 100% certain it won’t make you late. Walking in with a freshly brewed, steaming cup of coffee when everyone has been awaiting your arrival is not ideal courtroom conduct.
- Have an alternate route planned out in case your usual route is blocked or if there is a detour. It may be a rare occasion, but it happens.
- Lay out your clothes the day before. Also, have any papers you are going to need in your briefcase by the door.
- Set an alarm. Don’t rely on your internal clock to wake you. Enough said.
- Put the court date, address and time in your planner or Google or iCal. Don’t rely on your memory for important courtroom dates.
- Be organized before you walk into the courtroom. Shuffling papers and digging around in your briefcase for files and paperwork is distracting. It may also make it difficult for the Oklahoma court reporter to capture the testimony.
- Don’t interrupt. You will get your turn to speak.
- Speak up. Make it easy for your words to be heard and transcribed by the court reporter. Mumbling and whispering are distracting and not effective.
A jury will notice when it appears as though there is discord between you and your legal team. They may lose trust in you, and the process, if they see the team struggling to act professionally with one another. Assure, too that your legal team is dressed professionally; “casual Friday” does not fly in the courtroom setting. Your dress and your demeanor go along way with building trust with your client, the jury, and the judge.
Courtroom conduct matters so before you enter the courtroom next, do a self-assessment and strive to emulate those who conduct themselves in a professional and highly-engaging manner.