A British website,, says “When you see a judge or magistrate sitting in court, you are actually looking at the result of 1,000 years of legal evolution.” The US judicial system is descended from the English system and inherits some but not all of its characteristic decorum. This post discusses appropriate behavior and attire in New York trial courts such as Supreme Court and Family Court.

The key concept is respect. American justice is founded on respect for the rule of law, and when you go to court it is appropriate to bear this is mind. If you are making faces, speaking out of turn,  or doing other things that annoy the judge or magistrate, you are, essentially, attacking your own investment. You pay your lawyer’s fees with the expectation of professional representation. If your lawyer performs to that standard and you do something else, you run the risk of  cancelling out whatever  positive influence your lawyer may bring to bear on the matter at hand. In your own interest, be consistent with your lawyer’s professionalism.

First, attire and appearance: You can’t go wrong with business attire. No tank tops, short skirts, t-shirts or jeans.  If you have multiple body piercings, remove what’s in them (pierced earring are okay). If you have heavy tattooing, cover as much as possible. Know that first impressions do matter.

Manners: Don’t speak unless your attorney asks you to do so. Minimize shows of emotion unless it is pleasant. Don’t roll your eyes, grimace, sigh, giggle or laugh. Pay attention to the judge. Don’t tug at your attorney’s sleeve or interrupt him or her. Instead, write down your comments and pass your lawyer a note. Understand that the judge is observing your behavior closely even if you think he or she is not and making casual judgments about you based on your behavior.

Of course, a court will not decide for or against you solely on the basis of your appearance or behavior. Courts decide legal questions based on the law. But judges and magistrates are human, and like the rest of the human race, they can be distracted, irritated and even angered by inappropriate behavior.