Stern Lawyers Looking Ahead

Courtroom Etiquette 101: Manners Matter When Court’s in Session

One of our favorite mentors once advised us that etiquette is the invention of wise men to keep fools at a distance. We’d go a bit further and say that etiquette is the invention of court reporters and attorneys who wish to keep the wrath of the presiding judge at a distance!

This is easier said than done in many instances. Consider the high intensity of the cases in which we’re involved, with tempers and anxiety levels rising by the testimony. It’s difficult for some to not only keep their composure and act appropriately, but also not to explode with rage and impatience. We’ve seen it all, haven’t you?

Just in case you haven’t reviewed courtroom etiquette in some time, here’s a primer for modern manners in the legal industry.

Dress appropriately. Drawing attention for your off-the-shoulder dress or vintage band tee does not lead to a stellar first impression. The less scrutiny you attract, the more your peers will respect you, allowing your work to shine – not your sequined jacket.

Rise when the judge and jury enter the courtroom. The judge not only represents the ultimate authority in the courtroom, but also the law itself.

Choose your words wisely. Unless there’s a need for witness clarification or amplification, or a read-back, there’s no reason for a reporter to speak during proceedings. If it’s necessary to interject, make sure to speak with consideration for the temperaments of those involved, understanding that this is a stressful situation for those who aren’t accustomed to it.

Turn off electronic devices and cell phones. Depending on your particular courtroom, there are most likely rules governing the use of your phone during proceedings. Check if the devices are barred to avoid confiscation or formal reprimand. If they are allowed, remember to silence them and keep them out of plain sight. If it’s not next to you, there will be no temptation to check your social media while important testimony is being made.
Speaking of social media, there’s no reason to ever Tweet, Instagram, Snapchat, or Facebook Live any moment from a deposition, court proceeding, or process serving. Ever.

The courtroom is one of society’s last bastions of formal manners, so it’s important to respect the etiquette within. When in doubt, practice restraint. First Amendment rights aside, there’s no reason to tarnish your excellent professional conduct reputation – or your firm’s.