01/23/2013 02:03 pm ET Updated Mar 25, 2013

How to Successfully Behave and Dress as a Litigant

For the past 25 years, I have represented folks both in lawsuits they have brought and in matters where they have been sued. Most people do not know how to behave and act when they are litigants. What I mean is how should the client behave in a deposition, in court, at a settlement meeting or conference, a mediation, etc. What goes with this, too, is how you should dress. Success in litigation may very much depend on how the litigant behaves and how they are perceived by the other side -- the judge, the jury, the mediator, et al. This total package can be polished and improved with careful guidance and assistance. To some it may seem like common sense, to others it appears interesting and enlightening or otherwise totally foreign.

Let's just talk about dress and get that easy one out of the way. Typically, conservative, non-flamboyant dress is the way to go. However, I represented a famous interior decorator and certainly her style and dress are her signature aura, and that will be hard to change. Nor should that be changed. However, lots of gold and diamond jewelry never helps when you are trying to get money or mercy from a jury. Years ago. I represented a wealthy, prominent local lawyer. He came to the courthouse to testify with his solid gold and diamond encrusted Cartier watch, gold and diamond rings, etc. I immediately told him to put that stuff away and as a good lawyer told him to hold it in his pockets -- not mine.

Conservative, not flashy, not disheveled and clean is the order of the day -- the dress de jure. We must understand that not everyone owns a suit or one that still fits. Every lady may not have a simple everyday dress. If that's the case for court, let it be neat and clean. My delivery guy client years ago retorted that he did not own a suit. All he had were essentially shirts and pants, so he came to court in a clean and neat shirt and pants and decent shoes. Believe me, it helped. The OB/GYN who I called to come down and testify in her first unfortunate malpractice case called me from her cavernous closet to help her pick out an outfit. "Doc, pick conservative." Hence, she arrived with a not-too-short, simple blue dress with a lovely green scarf. Conservative, and some added style for a lovely, personable female physician. My own pet peeve is worn-out shoes. Yuck! Nothing looks worse and cries out louder. It is very simple and inexpensive to cure -- get them polished!

Well let's talk about behavior. Many litigants are upset, emotional, angry, frightened, etc. Emotional outbursts, anger, being nasty and belligerent will not help your case -- it may submarine it. Being courteous, polite and businesslike is the appropriate behavior here. Many times I tell the clients that I know take and need tranquilizers to take them if they are needed to stay calm. Litigation is stressful and nerve wracking, and perhaps foreign and unknown. If it is the unknown, we can help. We must explain what the encounter and experience will be like -- much like a doctor describes a new procedure to a patient. Some large law firms even have small courtrooms right in their offices to mock out what will happen later. A simple visit to the office or the local courthouse can also help. The more the client knows, the better and usually less anxiety-ridden they will be. Refusing to acknowledge people or refusing to shake hands is also awkward for clients to do and not very helpful to their cause.

Litigants need to know where to sit and stand and when. This is particularly true and important in a courtroom setting where special seats and procedures for standing and sitting are important to follow and noticeable if done improperly.

The key to all of this is staying cool, calm and collected and behaving normally and without anger and animus. Concerns about how to handle certain questions or concerns can be discussed and rehearsed in advance so that there are no terrible surprises later.

Sneering, swearing and gutter scenes in the office deposition, mediation or courthouse are never good or helpful to the case. The other side figures out quickly the Achilles' heel or the judge, mediator or jury are quickly turned off and against the client's best interests.

I was related a story many years ago about a well-known and successful trial attorney who was as disrespectful to jurors as he was to everyone else. In jury deliberations, the dislike for the plaintiff's lawyer spilled over to the plaintiff and tanked their case. The plaintiff went home with a goose egg!

I find very often that the moral support of a spouse, child or friend can also go a long way to easing the challenge and promoting good behavior. Note, however, that there may be times where a significant other may not be temporarily allowed for example in a deposition room. However, moral supporters can drive with you, wait in the waiting room, etc. Boosters like this are often extremely useful and helpful and should be utilized and encouraged.

I offer these words of wisdom because I have seen and experienced the pitfalls and failings that result from bad or awkward behavior by a party, witness, et al. Ley people and inexperienced folks may not appreciate all of this. That's why I thought this blog would be useful. Whether you are suing or being sued-very common in today's world -- behave yourself please and dress well too. It can only help your case. Bad behavior will most surely hamper and damage it and insure a bad result.