How to Prepare for Court to get the Best Outcome
Heading to court is scary, especially if it involves your safety or your kids. Recently, I went to court for the hearing of our IVO (also known as an Intervention Order/Violence Order/Protection Order/Restraining Order). As I sat there and watched people come, speak to the judge and go, I realised many people simply don’t know a few minor things that can make a big difference to your day in court.
I was given advice back when I got divorced and more when I had to do the protection orders. These tips have a significant impact, whether we want to admit it or not. We like to think all judges and magistrates are fair and impartial but certain things about how you look and speak do have an impact.
1. Dress Corporate
Every single time I have been to court I have been the best-dressed non-lawyer there. In fact, I am usually mistaken for being a lawyer or similar. When you think of dressing for court think corporate or Sunday best. Think conservative, modest, neat and tidy from your head to your toes.
I always wear a skirt and heels, my shoulders are covered and often some of my arms. My skirt comes to my knees and my heels are not platforms, they are modest nude or black heels (not patent/shiny ones).
If you don’t have any suitable clothes or cannot afford them, borrow some or reach out to a charity. There are numerous charities offering clothing for court and job interviews.
Why does it Matter how you Dress?
It takes years to become a magistrate or judge so most are over 40 before they are appointed and can work into their 70s. Also, there are significantly more males than females. If you want to make a good impression, think about how grandparents or a church priest would expect you to dress and go for similar. Be conservative.
Dress however you want anytime you want, it’s your body, your choice. However, people make judgements in a split second based on how we appear. It’s human nature and not something we are conscious of most of the time.
You are appearing in front of someone who is going to make decisions for your life. Dress to impress and appeal to them.
2. Wear Blue
This is based on the psychology of colour. Blue conveys loyalty, trust, dependability, all things you want to represent when in court. Look at our police, uniforms for firefighters (when not fighting fires), ambulance officers, doctors, nurses and similar. The majority wear blue for this reason.
Think about it, you want to align yourself with that side of the law. Sky blue shirts, navy suits, navy skirts and dresses or royal blue all work well. Add the black shoes and the immediate impact is you are similar to law enforcement.
3. Have All Your Documentation
Be prepared with dates, times, locations, facts and any relevant documentation to provide evidence. Depending on your case, this may have needed to be submitted when you lodge your originally cas. You cannot turn up to court on the day and be all over the place.
Respect the courts time. Be prepared, have a timeline, have your proof and if necessary, lodge it before you go to court. Take copies with you of anything and everything to give the judge and the other lawyer if necessary. It might not be needed but it is better to have it than to not.
4. Be Conscious of how you Speak and Act
Firstly, when you enter the courtroom, bow to the crown. It will look like you are bowing to the judge/magistrate but it is to the crown and a sign of respect. They notice who does and who doesn’t. Do it every time you enter or exit the room. When the judge enters or exits and everyone stands, make sure you do too! All these things seem minor but they make a difference.
Not standing and not bowing to the crown shows you are being disrespectful. A good lawyer will tell you to do these things but if you are self-representing you might not know.
Next, the judge, magistrate or registrar is the one making the decisions. Even if the lawyer asks the questions, direct your answer to the judge/person at the front making the decision. The questions are being asked for their benefit. The few times early on in my custody case that my ex actually showed up and with a lawyer, doing this really irritated his lawyer. The judge loved it but my exes lawyer hated it so answering to the judge had 2 benefits.
Our courtrooms are not all like the ones you see on most TV shows. Often the witness box is positioned so you can see both the lawyer and the judge. Address them properly and if you are unsure what to call them, pay attention to how the lawyers speak and copy them or ask your lawyer. Your honour, Your Magistrate and similar are most common.
Next, speak clearly and concisely. They don’t need your life story. Answer questions in a simple manner. If it is a yes or no question, answer yes or no. You do not need to spend 5 minutes explaining why. This is especially important when you are going against an ex and things can get emotional.
The reason being, everything extra you say can be used against you or twisted by their lawyer. Keep it short and simple and it will frustrate them as they can’t ‘trap’ you.
When asked to explain something, keep to what they have asked you to explain, not everything that has happened to you at every point in your life. Be factual and have evidence to back up your claims.
Be honest and genuine and things will go much smoother.
5. Get legal help
I know lawyers can be expensive, some things you can do yourself, others are better with a lawyer. It is up to you to decide. However, in my experience, a good lawyer is worth it and will make things go much smoother when it comes to custody or protection orders.
For starters, they know what needs to be lodged, they know what different magistrates/judges are like and how to best appeal to them, they know what to ask for and can remove the emotion.
Get referrals, get pricing structures and an idea of how long things will take, how expensive it will be, then plan for it. You can go to legal aid and community legal centres. If the matter is more complex, you are better off with a private lawyer though.
Rebecca Neale of Bedford Family Lawyer suggested on my Facebook page: “If representing yourself, I suggest you develop a short narrative, like an “elevator speech,” to start your argument and then focus on the facts that support your argument that you’re in imminent fear of serious physical harm. To identify the most potent facts, I suggest sharing your story with a friend and seeing what she responds to the most. Frequently, survivors are used to certain atrocious behaviours, that they can lose perspective on what is the most egregious.”
This is fantastic advice in my experience!
How can you Afford Legal Help?
Your lawyer could cost anything from $300 through to $700 an hour and they charge for everything. If you need a barrister, you are looking at $2,500 to $10,000 a day easily. Every email, every phone call, draft, all of it is charged in 6 minute increments.
Get the costs agreement so you know what you are paying for. Whenever you need to talk to them, do all of it at once rather than 5 different phone calls. Also, ask about pro bono work, looking into legal aid and all your options.
Also, don’t allow them to call to ‘update’ or ask you to come in a lot to check a few things. More often than not, this is a tactic to ring up your bill. The first lawyer for my child custody was great but my case went for so long she got pregnant and went on maternity leave before it was finished.
My case was given to another lawyer and he was hopeless. He lost a lot of paperwork, doubled up on things, would call to update or check things when it was completely unnecessary. I hated him wasting my time and money and told him as such. He was not really needed in the end as I had a barrister but it still cost me thousands because of his underhanded tactics and disorganization.
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