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Keep track of deadlines.
Court is not an appointment that can be missed or rescheduled. Make sure you carefully follow all the deadlines and dates for filing paperwork or appearing in court. If you miss these deadlines, you may have a warrant issued for your arrest or lose your case. If you have a serious reason why you cannot go to court on the assigned day, contact the Judge's Clerk. Usually you need to file papers requesting a change or get the other side to agree to the change of date.
Allow plenty of time to get to court.
You should arrive at the courtroom 30 minutes before your hearing time. Consider the traffic, weather, parking, road construction, frequency of the bus, and allow plenty of extra time. You may need to wait in lines to enter the courthouse and finding the correct building and courtroom can take time. Being late can make you anxious and unable to do your best. The hearing might last longer than you think, so consider this when parking at a meter.
Be prepared for your court hearing.
Have organized copies of all the papers you filed, all the papers you were served with, anything you plan to use in court, and information about your witnesses. Your file should be organized in a way that you can quickly find a document. You can flag important documents with post-it notes or put document in chronological order – whatever method works best for you. If you are presenting evidence, bring the original item and two copies (original for the Judge and copies for you and the other side). Bring a notepad, post-it notes, pens, and highlighters for taking notes during the hearing.
Bring an outline of what you want to say.
Prepare what you want to say and be prepared to present it to the court. Ensure you are able to answer why you are going to court, what the issues are, what your position is on each issue, your legal authority, and what you want the judge to do. As you cover each point, check it off. Before you conclude, look back to see if you have covered each point. Think about what the other side might say and be prepared to address it. It may help to view a similar proceeding, if it is public, to get an idea of what you will need to do for your hearing. You can also practice explaining your claim to a friend. Be sure your friend understands you and finds your argument convincing, or think about how to improve your presentation.
Check on your witnesses.
Make sure they are aware of the dates and times they need to be available. Ask your witnesses to arrive early and dress nicely. Make sure they know where to go and what they will need to talk about. You may need to subpoena witnesses to ensure they appear for your hearing. A subpoena is a command to come to court on a certain date, time and place. Subpoenas are served on your witness. A fee must be paid to the person for his/her time and expenses.
Arrange for an interpreter if you need one.
If English is not your first language, you may need an interpreter. Make sure you find someone before the hearing as the court may not be able to provide one for you.
Find information about interpreters here or contact the clerk of courts
Check that access is suitable to your needs.
If you have any special needs, you may need to contact the court and ask to hold the hearing in a room and in a manner where it's easy for you to get access. If personal safety is a concern, you should contact court staff in advance of your hearing to make arrangements.
Address concerns before your court date.
Being self-represented is not an excuse to knowing procedures or rules. Ensure any questions you have are addressed before the date of the hearing. If you forget something or are not prepared, you may lose your case.
Ensure you have a clean, neat outfit to wear. Wear conservative clothing. Shorts, t-shirts, low cuts, and torn clothing are not appropriate. Remove hats and sunglasses before entering the courthouse. You do not have to buy new clothing for court, but remember it is a formal place and you want to be conservative and respectful in dress and behavior.
Appropriately enter and behave in the courtroom.
Treat everyone respectfully and ensure you have turned off or silenced any noise-making devices, including cell phones. During the hearing, take notes with a pen and paper. Do not bring food or drink, or chew gum. Do not do anything that is noisy, distracting or disrespectful. Do not sleep, read a newspaper, listen to earphones, or carry a weapon.
During the hearing you should listen carefully, ask permission from the Judge to speak, talk directly to the Judge and not the other side, avoid arguing with or interrupting another person and control your emotions. When you talk to the Judge, start by saying "Your Honor". Speak clearly and loudly enough for everyone to hear you, but don't interrupt or talk when it isn't your turn. Stand when you speak and try not to speak too fast. Remember that a court reporter is taking down everything said in a courtroom, and can only record one speaker at a time and cannot decipher muffled voices.
Do not bring children.
Unless the court has told you to bring your children to the hearing, make arrangements for someone to take care of your children.
Make sure you know what is happening next.
Ensure you have followed all required steps. Also, before you leave court, ensure you know what will happen next. You may need to follow additional steps to complete your case. Find out if you have any more hearings or whether you need to prepare a written legal argument or proposed court order. Find out if the Judge will make an order as a result of the hearing. Sometimes orders are written up right away – while you wait. Or, the Judge may think about the case and write an order later and send it in the mail. Politely ask questions if you do not understand what will happen next.
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