Reality Bytes writes articles about self-realization and exercising one's rights.
First Recommendation: Consult a Lawyer
This article contains information on court procedures, and it was not written with the intent on it being a manual or an exact guide of instructions. Its intent is to educate you in a short and simple format about the basic requirements and procedures you will need to know before going to court.
My recommendation is that you should consult a lawyer, even though there is no requirement that you do. Whether you want to be represented by a lawyer or not is entirely your decision. If you wish, you may represent yourself; if you do, you need to understand that the Judge and the Clerk of Court cannot provide you with any legal advice.
Some Things to Consider Before Representing Yourself
- Are you aware of all the options available to you?
- Is it possible for you to make an educated decision about which course of action you should take?
- Do you have the time and desire to learn and understand all the applicable laws?
- Do you know or are you willing to learn all the rules of the court so you can be qualified to represent yourself?
- Do you have enough time to competently prepare your case?
- Will you have the ability to follow written instructions?
- Can you work by yourself to prepare your case?
If your answer to these questions was "Yes," then you may be competent enough to be your own representative in a courtroom. However, there are other things to consider besides the questions just raised. This does not mean that you can easily handle your own case.
Remember: Consultation with an attorney is highly recommended before your court date.
Resources That Are Available to You
Consider the following resources to help you decide how to handle and prepare your case.
Court Offices and Forms
There are forms that are provided to you at the office of the Clerk of Court if needed for a Protection Order or a Small Claim case. These should be helpful to you to understand what your options are in the court. Very rarely will any of the staff of the court help you in any way in filling out the forms, although in limited instances some help could be provided.
Some forms may also be available online, depending on your state. For example, the website for the District of Oregon court provides a number of downloadable forms. Check the websites for the courts in your state.
There is probably a Law Library in your County Courthouse. This could prove to be a very valuable source of information while doing your research. Things such as case law, statutes, rules, and legal procedure information may be available in the Law Library. There is a limit to the books that are available, depending on your County.
Another tremendous source of information can be found online at the
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One of your fundamental rights is your right to consult with an attorney. If you are involved in a criminal case and you cannot afford to hire an attorney, then upon YOUR request the court will appoint one for you. You will have to fill out the proper forms to verify that you are financially unable to afford a lawyer. You might be required to pay back the costs of your court-appointed attorney at a later date.
What Is the Best Way to Prepare Yourself for a Court Appearance?
There are multiple things you should do to prepare yourself for a court appearance. Here are some of the things you should consider prior to your court date.
- Study all aspects of the Laws that are applicable to your case.
- You may want to try to mediate your case instead of pursuing it through litigation. It may be easier and less stressful to sit down with a mediator.
- Before your court date try to sit in on other proceedings that will be similar to yours. Some of the things to make yourself aware of is where people sit or stand, in what way do they present evidence, how much time is allotted to each side, and what kinds of arguments are allowed. If you want a schedule of upcoming cases you can inquire at the office of the Clerk of Court.
- Keep a calendar to make notes on any deadlines that might apply to your case. Be sure to file all all your papers in a timely manner, also make sure that all papers that need to be served are done on time. Also even though this may sound silly, make sure you are in the court on the right date and at the correct time.
- Have enough copies available of all your pleadings and evidence so you can present a complete set to the parties on the other side of the court. If you have witnesses, make sure they are ready and available to testify.
- When in court, make sure that you act in a professional manner. A courtroom is not a venue to personally attack the other party. State your positions in a clear and concise way. Always show respect towards all members of the court and anyone else you meet in the courtroom.
Basic Tips for Appearing in Court
Any time you are required to appear in court, it is quite a serious matter, and it is conducted in a formal setting. Keep the following tips in mind:
- Always dress appropriately when making a court appearance.
- Do not arrive late for the procedures.
- There is no food or drink allowed in a courtroom.
- You should not bring your children to court with you, unless they are mature enough to behave and not disrupt the court proceedings.
- Never use a cell phone or other device in a courtroom.
Patience Is Essential
You must understand that you will not be the only one that is required to appear in court on any given day. Have patience; it may take some time before the court calls your case.
There are many reasons why court cases are delayed. For example, the court may have scheduled several cases for the same time as yours. Sometimes, people do not show up for their court date, so the court plans ahead to make the most use of the court's time. There are other times when the court must deal with very urgent matters that might take precedent over other proceedings.
If You're Not Comfortable Representing Yourself, Seek an Attorney
Representing yourself can be detrimental to your case if you are not informed and prepared at the time your case is to be heard. A court appearance is a serious endeavor, if you do not feel comfortable representing yourself, you should seek the advice, if not the representation, of an attorney.
This article was written to give you a foundation to start your research into whether or not it is a wise decision to represent yourself. I am not advocating self-representation; I am simply providing some necessary thoughts prior to your decision to represent yourself in court.
You are responsible for your own life and your own decisions. If you have any apprehension about standing in court by yourself, then seek the representation of a competent attorney.
- Representing Yourself in Court: A Brief Guide From a Judge's Perspective
This guide is one in a series developed by the AFCC Access to Family Court Services Task Force.
- I plan to represent myself in court, what are some guidelines?
Legal Aid Society of Cleveland
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.