Get suggestions on how to prepare for your hearing or trial, and learn what you might expect when it finally comes time for you to stand up in court and represent yourself.
Prepare Your Case
Attending your hearing or trial is one of the most important (and stressful) parts of your case. But just as important is all the work it takes to get a case ready to get in the courtroom. Many cases are won or lost based upon the preparation that is done before the parties step into the courtroom. Start planning for your hearing or trial at the very beginning of your case.
Here are some big-picture things you should think about from the start:
- Make sure that you know and understand the law that applies to your case and exactly what you need to prove or disprove at the trial or hearing.
- Make sure you know and understand your own position on the key legal and factual issues in your case and – just as important! – know the other side's position on those key issues.
- If you are going to trial, make sure that you have obtained (through the "discovery" process or otherwise) all of the documents and information that you will need to prove or defend your case. Also make sure you have disclosed all of your documents and witnesses to the other side as required by the rules that apply to your case.
- Make sure that you have identified all of your witnesses and that you know their testimony (to the extent possible). Witnesses are usually only allowed at a trial; they will not be allowed to testify if you are going to a regular hearing.
- Make sure that you follow all orders issued by the judge, including scheduling orders that may require you to provide certain documents (like document or witness disclosures or trial briefs, for example) to the court or the other side.
Before Your Trial Or Hearing
If you are going to trial, visit the Trial page to find out about things you must do to properly prepare.
As your court date gets a little closer, you may want to —
- Re-read all of the court papers in your case and make sure you understand what each paper says, what your position is, and how the other side has responded to your position.
- Prepare your statement and practice saying it out loud.
- Organize all of the documents you intend to use in your case so that you can find what you are looking for (even if you are rushed or stressed).
- Watch a court hearing that is similar to yours, ideally in front of the same judge, so that you can see how the judge manages the courtroom and how attorneys and parties act in court.
- If you are still unclear about any issues in your case, research those issues so that you understand them.
- Arrange for an interpreter at least five business days before your hearing if one is needed for you or your witnesses to be able to testify. Check with your local court about how to request an interpreter.
- Arrange for childcare (unless the court has required you to bring your children to court for some reason).
- Learn about special rules that apply to trials if you are preparing for a trial. Visit the Trial page to learn about the things you must do to get ready for a trial.
On The Big Day: Your Trial Or Hearing
When the day of your trial or hearing arrives —
- Be on time. Allow extra time for traffic or other possible delays.
- Dress appropriately and conservatively. You are not required to wear any particular type of outfit (like a suit or a dress) but you should not wear shorts, tank tops, halter-tops, or shirts that show your midriff. All hats and sunglasses must be taken off prior to entering the courtroom.
- Bring an outline of what you want to say. You should not read a prepared statement if you can help it, but an outline can be a useful tool to remind you of the main points that you want to cover.
- Bring copies of all papers you and the other side have filed with the court or given to each other. Make sure your documents are organized neatly and logically.
- Bring a notepad and pens for taking notes during the hearing.
- Bring your evidence and witnesses (if you are going to a trial or evidentiary hearing).
- When you enter the courtroom, ask the marshal or the courtroom clerk whether you are supposed to check in.
- Stand when the judge enters or leaves the courtroom.
- When your case is called, walk to the table or podium in front of the judge and stand facing the judge.
- Be prepared to say your name and your relationship to the case. (This is sometimes called making your "appearance." It might go something like this: "Your honor, my name is John Doe, and I'm the defendant in this case.")
- Speak clearly and loudly enough that the judge can hear you.
- Conduct yourself properly in the courtroom. Do not chew gum, eat, read a newspaper, sleep, listen to earphones, or have your cell phone turned on.
- Listen carefully and talk directly to the judge, whom you should address as “Judge” or “Your Honor.”
- Be prepared to state your position on each of the issues in your case, how you would like the judge to rule, and why the judge should rule in your favor.
- Avoid the temptation to speak directly to the other side; do not argue with the other side or interrupt them, and keep your emotions in check.
WARNING!Never interrupt the other side or the judge! Do not argue with the other party. If you feel that someone is lying or not telling the whole truth, wait until it’s your turn to explain your side. Answer all of the judge's questions and stop talking immediately if the judge interrupts you.
- If you are asking for the court to make an order on one or more issues, make sure the judge addresses each of the issues and that the order on each issue is clear. If you do not understand the judge's order, politely tell the judge you do not understand and ask whether it is possible for the judge to clarify for you.
- Understand what just happened. Representing yourself in court can be an emotional experience, and you may find it hard to stay focused in court when you are nervous or upset. But you do not want to leave the courtroom without understanding the outcome of the hearing or trial and what, if anything, you need to do next.