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The National Trial Lawyers

5 Things to Know When Appearing in Front of a Judge in Massachusetts

By Kevin R. Collins, Esq.

July 2023


Individuals who receive a summons to appear in court are often filled with disappointment, fear, and a long list of questions.  Among the many concerns individuals have, how to appear effectively in front of the Judge is often at the top of the list.  While most people understand that they must be respectful in court, there are many formalities which remain unknown to the general public.  If you are interested in making your best impression in front of the Judge during your court appearance, the following 5 tips will ensure you have the best experience possible.

1) The Judge Is Not Your Attorney

For good reason, Judges are the focal point of the courtroom. They wear a robe, they sit in the highest seat, and the entire courtroom must stand in respect whenever they enter or exit the room.  Because of this attention, people often feel it is appropriate to address questions about their case to the Judge.  In reality, the Judge cannot answer most questions posed by the public.


The Judge’s main function in the courtroom is to rule on matters of law. They determine what evidence is acceptable, what case law will be used, and the overall path the case may take.  Judges are not your own personal attorney, and therefore, will not be able to advise you on how to proceed with your case.  Judges cannot, and will not, answer legal questions you may have about your case. Instead, they will direct you to do your own research to determine what the law requires or advise you to consult with a qualified attorney.  

2) The Judge Sees Cases Like Yours All Day Long

It is natural for people to take their charges very personally.  A criminal case is about particular facts and interactions between specific people, so someone who is charged with a crime often feels their case is unique.  The truth is, while the facts of cases may differ, most cases fall into the same broad categories of crimes.  Judges hear primarily those cases all day long.


Because of this repetition, Judges are used to hearing people’s explanations for their behavior.  Much like parents who have heard every excuse provided by their children for getting into trouble, Judges will not be fooled by tall tales, far-fetched excuses, or stories that simply don’t make sense.  It is imperative that you consider this when speaking to a Judge.  Your argument needs to make sense, be clear, and stand out from the other cases the Judges hear in order to give you the best chance at the Judge agreeing with your side.

3) Proper Etiquette Is Required

Most people are aware that it is important to behave in a more formal manner in court, but people often make critical mistakes in this regard.  While it is not required, it is always a good idea to wear conservative clothing to court.  Shorts and sandals are always frowned upon.  Judges notice what people wear to court, and the more effort you put into looking respectable, the more seriously they may take your comments.

It is always a good idea to arrive early to court.  Know what time your courthouse opens in the morning.  Double check what time your summons says to appear, and plan to arrive to the courthouse well before the time the summons says.  When you arrive at the courthouse, you should always confirm with the Clerk’s Office that you are going to the correct courtroom.  If you are in the wrong courtroom when your case is called, you may be deemed as failing to appear, and a warrant may be issued for your arrest.

Court House

It is always a good idea to refer to the Judge as “your honor.” Do not chew gum in court. Do not fold your arms as it may appear rude to the Judge. Be sure never to interrupt the Judge when they are speaking.  And when your court proceeding is finished, no matter what the result, always thank the Judge.  If your case is not concluded in one day, which most are not, you are likely to see the same Judge on another day.  Being polite and respectful may help you the next time you are in front of that Judge.

4) Be Prepared to Address the Judge

One of the biggest mistakes you can make is not being prepared for your day in court.  Your case is just one of dozens that the Judge may hear that day.  If you are not prepared, the Judge may view this as wasting the Court’s time.  Before you appear in front of the Judge, you must know the purpose of that day’s hearing.  Your case may simply be on for status, for exchange of evidence, for a substantive motion, or even for a trial.  You must know prior to entering the courthouse what will be accomplished that day.

Legal documents

If you are going to make an argument, you should prepare an outline to help you keep organized about what points you want to express to the Judge.  Your outline will keep you from repeating yourself, will remind you to say everything you want, and the Judge will likely respect the fact that you took court seriously and prepared your thoughts ahead of time.  Whenever you speak in court, be sure to speak slowly, speak to the Judge only, and only when the Judge asks you.  These simple guidelines will go a long way in helping you navigate a stressful courtroom appearance.

5) Hiring an Attorney Will Help You Immensely

You are not required to have an attorney with you when you appear in court, but hiring an attorney to speak on your behalf will help you immensely.  Often, the mere fact that you hired an attorney indicates to a Judge that you take your case seriously.  Attorneys are trained to make arguments in court.  Attorneys often appear in front of the same Judge several times a week.  Over time, good attorneys establish a positive reputation and build a rapport with Judges.  An experienced attorney understands what legal and factual arguments will or will not work with a particular Judge. This knowledge can be harnessed to make your argument as efficient and effective as possible.

Argue with Judge

Attorney Kevin R. Collins is a highly experienced courtroom attorney.  Attorney Collins has represented hundreds of clients in dozens of courthouses across Massachusetts.  Because of his experience, Attorney Collins is familiar with most Judges in Massachusetts courtrooms. 

If you have an upcoming court case in Massachusetts, contact Attorney Kevin Collins prior to your court date for a free consultation. One conversation will ensure you are as prepared as you can possibly be.

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