Tips for Your Day in Court
Legal Disclaimer: The following is basic legal information, provided as a public service by Wyoming’s lawyers. The information provided is not a substitute for speaking to an attorney. Only an attorney can give you legal advice regarding your specific situation. Click here for help finding a lawyer.
Representing Yourself in Court
- You have the right to represent yourself (to appear “pro se”) in any kind of legal case. However, you will be expected to know the rules just as lawyers are. If you do not follow the rules that apply in your case, the court may not be allowed to give you what you want, even if it makes sense. You can also be fined, have to pay the other person’s attorney, or be found in contempt of court.
- Before you decide to represent yourself, ask yourself whether it would be better use of your time and money to consult with or hire an attorney who knows the law and can give you advise about what to do, how to do it, and what your chances are of getting what you want. Many attorneys will be happy to help you for a portion of your case, such as consulting with them about rules, for example. Click here to learn more about this type of help, called limited scope representation.
- No one in the courthouse is allowed to give you legal advice, although court staff may be able to answer questions about forms and rules. Click here to read more about what Court staff can and cannot do for you. Some courts, community colleges, and local bar associations offer free clinics on various types of cases. This website has a calendar that lists all such clinics. Check the calendar frequently to see if there is an area of the law that applies to you.
- When you finally go to court, you should dress appropriately. If you dress as though you are going to a religious, or other important, function, you will be properly attired. Most courts ask that you not wear shorts or tank tops to court.
- While waiting for your case to be called, maintain proper courtroom etiquette. Do not eat, drink, smoke, or chew gum. If you must communicate, write notes – even soft talk is frowned upon and can distract the Judge. Never argue with the Judge, or interrupt anyone else who is talking. You can emphasize or repeat anything you think is important. Answer “yes” or “no” questions from the Judge with “Yes, Your Honor” and “No, Your Honor.” Always thank the Judge at the conclusion of your case.
- Do not bring your children to court with you.
- Some courthouses require that you show a picture ID before admitting you into a courtroom.
- Many courthouses have signs posted about what you may and may not do. Read and follow the signs and any orders the court gives you.
- Many courts will not allow you to bring your cell phone into the courthouse or courtroom. If you are allowed to keep your cell phone or pager with you, turn it off before entering the courtroom.
- If a sign on the courtroom door tells you to, check in with the courtroom staff before entering the courtroom.
- Enter and leave the courtroom quietly, so you do not disturb others.
- Stand up when the judge or magistrate enters or leaves the courtroom, and when you speak to the judge or magistrate.
- You must give everyone in the case copies of everything you plan to use at your hearing. Bring a copy of everything you filed with the court, and a copy of everything the other party filed, and any orders or notices you received from the court.
- Be sure to be organized and prepared before the trial begins. Make sure you can clearly state to the judge what it is you want, and why you should get what you want.
- Always know your case number.
- The first thing that the Judge will ask you is to state your name. You should stand up, introduce yourself and say “Good morning, my name is ___. I am the Plaintiff (or Defendant) and I am representing myself. This will let the Judge know that you are not a lawyer.
- Be sure to speak clearly and slowly, and if there is a microphone, speak into the microphone.
- Listen carefully to what everyone says in the courtroom and wait to speak until it is your turn. Take notes so that you have a record of what the other party is saying and to help with your response.
- Do ask questions if you do not understand something or are confused about what you are required to do.
The Trial Process
- The hearings are typically recorded, either by audio device or a court stenographer (a person who records everything said in court).
- The Judge or the clerk will swear you in and may take a few minutes to look over the court file.
- The Plaintiff is the person that brought the lawsuit. If you filed the lawsuit, you are the Plaintiff. If someone filed this lawsuit against you, then you are the Defendant.
- Know what evidence you need to prove your case. If possible, consult with an attorney before you come to court to obtain advice on how to present your case, what questions to ask, and other matter.
- Bring documents and witnesses that will help prove your claim or defend against the claim.
- You need to bring at least three copies of each document you intend to use as evidence – one for you, one for the other party, and one for the judge.
- If a witness refuses to come to court to testify, you can have the court issue a subpoena (order to come to court) in advance of the trial. Make sure to ask the clerk’s office for a subpoena well in advance of your hearing.
- Bring physical evidence. This includes canceled checks, contracts, or invoices related to the case. Photographs are important as well. If you are seeking compensation for damage to an item, bring the item, or if this is not possible, bring photographs of the damage. If possible, bring a photo of the object before it was damaged. It is also a good idea to bring in defective parts, if they are related to the case.
- The Plaintiff will proceed first. If you are the Plaintiff, you will tell the court why you brought this lawsuit and what you want to happen. This is also when the Plaintiff may call witnesses. The Plaintiff can call the Defendant as a witness, and the Defendant may call the Plaintiff as a witness.
- After the Plaintiff is finished, the Defendant may then be given the opportunity to ask questions of any of the Plaintiff’s witnesses.
- When the Plaintiff is done calling witnesses, it is the Defendant’s turn to present evidence about the case.
- When the Defendant is done presenting evidence, the Plaintiff is permitted to ask questions of the Defendant’s witnesses.
- At the conclusion of the testimony, you will be permitted to argue your position to the Judge, basing your arguments on the testimony and evidence presented at trial. Be brief and present your argument to the Judge in a calm, methodical, concise and professional manner.
- The Judge will often make a decision on the case right away; or may call a recess for a few minutes, while making the decision; or the Judge may send everyone home, and will mail a decision to all the people involved. Sometimes this can take several weeks.
- Usually both sides of a case do not get everything they ask for in a lawsuit. You will have to live with this decision and obey and orders the Judge gives. In some very limited circumstances, you can appeal the Judge’s ruling.