Tips on Courtroom Decorum

Etiquette is essential for making a good impression in every social setting.  And the law is no different.
Legal professionals begin their lessons on the fine points of courtroom etiquette during their education. It is in their legal studies they can learn about the professional requirements of their careers and practice the behaviors and traits until they are mastered and engraved into their mind upon entrance into any legal forum.
However, most of our clients are not so lucky – or unlucky, depending upon your perspective.  They do not have the background as legal professionals.  Some’s ideas of what goes on in the legal profession might be solely from watching television or movies.  Rather, unless they have had a prior legal experience – most are not career litigants, while some might be career defendants – they are challenged by some of the key attributes of courtroom decorum.
So, it is important that attorneys actually take the time to meet with their clients and prepare them for what will be expected of them.  This will not only provide them with some comfort – confronting the unknown – but also an advantage in presenting their case before the judge.  That is because, the judge not only represents the ultimate authority in the courtroom, but also the law.  And while it will be the law that determines the result, treating the “law” with respect will garner you credibility in the eyes of the judge and decision-maker.
That being said, below, please find some very, VERY basic rules that every attorney should review with his or her client prior to making any type of adjudicative appearance.  Whether in an administrative hearing, traffic court, or before the U.S. Supreme Court, the following tips will almost always hold true:

  • The dignity of the Court is to be respected and maintained at all times.
  • Arrive on time.
  • Attire for counsel and spectators should be restrained and appropriate to the dignity of a courtroom.  Think “Sunday best”.  No open toed shoes, blue jeans, shorts, mini-skirts, flip-flops, tennis shoes, etc.  Not hats should be worn while in the courtroom.  Sunglasses should not be worn while in the courtroom.
  • Everyone in the courtroom, unless physically challenged, must rise when the judges enter and remain standing until the presiding judge invites everyone to be seated. Similarly, when court adjourns, everyone stands in place until the judges are no longer visible.
  • Refer to the judge, ALWAYS, as “Your Honor”.  Not “Judge”.  Answer “yes or no” questions from the judge, as “Yes, Your Honor”.  Similarly, answer those questions from counsel as “No, sir” or “Yes, ma’am”.
  • Counsel may address the court when invited to do so. Only counsel associated with the case being argued may address the Court, unless a judge directs otherwise.  Do not interrupt anyone while they are addressing the Court.
  • Answer truthfully.
  • Answer the question being asked – but only the question being asked.
  • Be courteous to everyone in the courtroom. Treat the judge’s clerk and bailiff like they are his children or parents.
  • Speak loudly, clearly, and at a consistent pace.  Maintain a sturdy, upright posture, while standing and speaking or sitting and speaking.  The court reporter will love you for it.
  • Coat racks in the hallways outside the courtrooms are to be utilized.  Minimize what you bring into the courtroom, if at all possible, that is not directly tied to the presentation of your matter.
  • Only material related to the Court’s business can be read in the courtroom while court is in session.
  • When Court is in session, no one should be heard except for counsel making argument or a judge.
  • The following items are prohibited in the courtroom and adjacent lobby areas:
    • Recording or broadcasting devices
    • Cameras, including those contained in computers and other electronic devices
    • Food and drink except for the water provided at the counsel table
    • Computers (except for those to be used by counsel in argued cases)
  • Phones must be turned off
  • Inappropriate facial gestures or exaggerated gesticulating is forbidden.
  • Repeated entrances and departures are to be avoided.
  • Doorways and passageways should be kept clear at all times.