A lot of people will look at the title here and say “I know how to conduct myself” or “why do you have to explain this to me?”. Often, people don’t understand what I mean by this. I’m not just talking about what to say and do on the witness stand, I’m actually talking about how you should conduct yourself in general. I’m really talking about the other times: when you are not on the witness stand. This means from when you enter the courthouse or the courtroom, stand before the judge before a hearing starts, and, of course, while sitting at the counsel table beside me during trial.
You see, judges don’t make decisions only based on what you say. They look at everything. Anybody can say anything once they get on the witness stand, but what really matters is your reaction in different situations.
The first time a judge may see you could be when we are sitting in the hallway or sitting in the back of the courtroom. People usually don’t realize that they are always being watched. Some people argue with their spouses or are less than accommodating to court staff while waiting for their case.
I always tell people that they need to be on their best behavior from the time they step into the courthouse until they leave the courthouse. I tell them that it starts at the courthouse door, not once they are on the witness stand. Where this often comes up is in a trial. I’ll be seated at the counsel table and my client will be next to me. The other side will bring up a series of witnesses. Usually, the witnesses will not have good things to say about my client. I tell my clients time and time again that they need to listen and try to not display any outward signs of aggression. Some people will slam their notepads to bring themselves attention from the opposing side. Other times, clients will even shake their heads in disbelief. When a judge sees behaviors like these, they can clearly see that my client cannot control their emotions. I tell my clients that it is better to relax and take notes. I tell them that we can deal with the emotions once we are out of the courthouse. The clients who can do this, often end up winning a case. I do not usually have clients who cannot control their emotions, but when they can’t, they generally do not do as well in court.
The above applies to a trial in front of a judge, but it certainly can apply to much more. Remember that the first judgements of you do not begin when you get on the witness stand. They start when you walk into the courthouse, when you are outside waiting, when you are sitting in court, or when you’re sitting at the counsel table. Most of my clients are able to understand this concept almost immediately after I explain it to them and are able to act how they should in court.
As you can see, in family law cases, it is not as much about what you say as it is about what you don’t say. Family law cases can be an emotional time. People’s natural reaction is to to be emotional, but people need to understand how to behave properly in the courthouse.