Some of us may find ourselves in front of a judge at some point in our lives. Hopefully, it isn’t with handcuffs around our wrists. The majority of people are afraid of public speaking, and that fear can be increased tenfold if we have to address a judge in court. However, this does not have to be an overwhelming task. With a few simple techniques, your time before a judge will go much better than if you just stand there tongue-tied or worse ramble incoherently.
To many, judges seem like stern, unforgiving, despotic authority figures. Although they are rightfully viewed with respect in our society, they are still people. This should be kept it mind. When speaking to a judge in court, consider the golden rule: “How would you like to be addressed by someone?”
- Address the judge as “Your Honor”: Judges like to be treated with respect and they dig decorum. One fundamental aspect of courtroom decorum is to always address the judge as “Your Honor.” You will see a name plate in front of the bench (where they sit) that will state there name. Don’t ever use his or her first name. The judge is not your friend.
Stay away from even using their last name. The judge is not your high school history teacher and should not be called “Mr. or Mrs. (Insert Last Name).” If you start off with the wrong title, you will look bad and irk the judge before he or she even listens to your argument.
- Never talk over the other side: If you have to speak before a judge, chances are you won’t be alone in the courtroom. Your adversary will most likely be there, whether this is your ex-spouse or landlord. They have just as much right to argue their case as you do. Let them. Interrupting the other side makes you look desperate and is sure to get you an angry warning from the judge. If you MUST interrupt, politely say, “Your Honor, may I be heard?” The judge will probably say, “No”, but will not be as angry if you are polite. Use the “Your Honor, may I be heard?” phrase after the other side takes a pause if you feel you need to rebut something your opponent said.
- Check yourself, before you wreck yourself: The stage is the place for dramatics, not the courtroom. The law is supposed to be based on reason and facts. Legal disputes, whether they are evictions, child support, or even will contests can be highly emotional situations. People are often at their worst when they are involved in litigation. In order to deliver an effective argument, you need to be the calmest, most rational person in the room. This does not meant that you should not be passionate about your case, just use that passion effectively. Let the passion slowly build and enhance your argument, not overwhelm and smother it.
- Practice, practice, practice: It is amazing how many people try to “wing it” in court. Of course, you may have to answer questions or counter arguments that you didn’t anticipate, but the more you are prepared, the more confident you will be. Write out the major points in your case, anticipate the other side’s arguments, and practice in front of a mirror. Feel free to even bring notes with you in court (just try to not read them verbatim). Preparation will also help ease some of the anxiety and fear you will inevitably face.
- Dress well: This one should be obvious. Who are you most likely to believe - a slob or a well-dressed clean, shaven person? Cut the “Don’t judge a book by its cover” crap. We form initial impressions of people based on how they are dressed all the time, judges are no different.
Following the above guidelines will not guarantee success. However, disregarding them will almost certainly guarantee failure. Good luck!