Why do people represent themselves in court

This is how you should act in court

by lawyer Volker Klawon


This chapter is based on conversations and our own experiences in the district of the OLG Celle.

Everyone has already made the observation that something unintentional happens to someone else, "embarrassing, embarrassing" is what you think. Even the actors in court are only human. Lawyers - and thus also judges - are a reflection of society as a whole. There are also good and bad traits in judges; some are the calm itself, others rather hectic. I don't think I'm going too far when I say that judges are "people like you and me". However, this means that the judges also notice the embarrassing and inappropriate behavior of the lawyers and their parties in the courtroom and inevitably think their part. Judges are only human. Most of them try to make their decisions as objectively as possible and to ignore bad impressions left by the behavior of a party. However, that doesn't always work. Sympathies and antipathies probably also play a role in court decisions that should not be underestimated. I say "probably" because it is not provable. There are no scientific studies on this, which is not surprising, because such studies would be based on interviews with a large number of judges. And which judge would admit limitations in the objectivity of his judgment?

There was once a case at a southern German court that was being investigated. It was about a criminal judge who passed relatively harsh sentences in a certain type of case. A comparison of files with similar cases showed that the sentences for other judges were lower. It turned out that the judge had had unpleasant childhood experiences in the crime area in question. This shows that judges are also subject to emotional influences. I am sure that this applies to a greater or lesser extent to all judges. However, this case also shows that judges de facto have a great deal of room for maneuver - especially in criminal jurisdiction with regard to the sentence. After all, it took a while before this behavior was noticed and then examined.

Neat appearance

So the chemistry has to be right in the courtroom. This is especially true for criminal court proceedings. The course of the oral hearing also has a decisive influence on the sentence - and that includes the behavior of the party. A proper demeanor, including decent clothing, is particularly important here. This is still true today, although a lot of things that were previously unthinkable have now become normal. E.g. appearing as a party or lawyer in the courtroom without a tie. Or young people who keep their caps on or who somehow flop into their place. Something like that doesn't make a good impression. Regarding clothing in the courtroom, the following applies: You can appear legally as you want. In the worst case, the judge will send you out of the room for disobeying the court; if you resist, it will be expensive. If you are a party, the process should be adjourned. Since the judges do not want something like that, they will continue the process regardless of your clothes - and if necessary think about their part. If you do not want to negotiate any other disadvantages in the form of antipathies from the judges, you should appear in "normal" (jeans and T-shirt is already usable) but well-groomed (i.e. washed, unstained, non-smelling) everyday clothes. Lawyers in civil matters do the same in the summer months. In cooler times of the year, lawyers are also fine with knitted sweaters. Of course, many lawyers appear in suits or jackets, this has always been the norm. When negotiating criminal matters, lawyers usually appear in white shirts and ties.

Appear friendly and objective

In general, the following applies to all parties: You shouldn't interrupt the other person and not be hectic, but keep calm. Strong emotions prevent access to objectivity. The judges often see trials in which at least one party grumbles angrily. Such behavior is annoying and contributes to the fact that the judge - possibly even unconsciously - develops an antipathy to this party.

Witnesses also appear decently

What has been said also applies to the appearance of witnesses, because the court has a wide scope to assess the testimony of a witness: apart from sympathy and antipathy, which should not actually be included in the decision, the court must always confirm the credibility of the witness and assess the credibility of his statement. In addition, not only the testimony as such is included in the evaluation of the evidence, but also the entire hearing and thus all the circumstances surrounding the person of the witness.

This is how your lawyer appears

A lawyer makes short, concise pleadings so that the judge doesn't have to worry about unnecessary gossip while reading. For one magistrate at the civil court there are around 800 decisive cases per year. A lawyer listens to the negotiation and thinks about what they hear in real time. He negotiates in such a way that his party understands him too. He has a good sense of what is good for his party. He avoids attacking the court. He acts calmly, friendly and factually throughout the entire negotiation, including towards the opposing party who is attacking him. That spurs the chemistry between him and the court. To be a lawyer is therefore also a question of the right talent for dealing with people.

Avoid fooling around

When a party is represented by a lawyer, it sometimes happens that the party wants to say something during the negotiation - e.g. because the court or the opposing party addressed it directly - and receives a kick or a bump in the rib from the lawyer. This happens when the lawyer has the impression that the party could now say something that will harm it. I saw something like this myself in a criminal trial. The judge certainly noticed it too, but did not show anything. Such a thing is embarrassing. In this case, the screens that were installed in front of the tables in a hall of the Lehrte district court had been removed by the caretaker due to water damage. The lawyer probably hadn't noticed when he entered the room.