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Tips for Winning a Court Case

You want the most favorable outcome when you're involved in a court case. In a civil case, that can mean a settlement or award. In a criminal case, it might mean getting your case dismissed. Whether you represent yourself or hire an attorney, there are things you can do to ensure a good result in your case.

Find the Right Court

Laypeople are often surprised to learn that their local courthouses have many different courts inside. The type of case you have determines where it can be heard. Federal courts hear cases related to federal laws and regulations. State courts hear disputes within states.

Locally, courts may have different names. These are courts of limited jurisdiction. They handle petty offenses or civil disputes below a certain amount of money.

  • Lower court. These are district courts, circuit courts, or superior courts. In New York, the lowest court is the Supreme Court.
  • Middle court. This is the appellate court, usually called the appellate court or court of appeals.
  • Highest court. The state supreme court is the highest in the state and hears all final appeals and matters related to the state.

Some matters, such as family law, traffic infractions, and small claims cases, have separate courts. If you represent yourself, ask the clerk's office which court you should file with.

Litigate for the Right Reasons

If you are the plaintiff, bring your case for valid legal reasons. Many litigants use court filings to harass neighbors or prolong business disputes. Even if you prefer to represent yourself, get legal advice and ensure you have a valid case. The courts do not like frivolous cases, and judges don't have time for vindictive litigants.

Legal rules require a plaintiff to state a claim for which the court can grant relief. If you don't, the defendant can ask for the case to get dismissed. You should not bring your case to court if you don't have a dollar amount or a specific request.

Mediate Instead of Litigate

Many small claims courts send litigants to mediation before issuing a court order on their case. Mediation is a method of alternative dispute resolution. The parties meet with a neutral third party and try to resolve their dispute. Mediation is faster and less expensive than litigation. Since the parties create their own solution, they may be happier than if a judge orders one side or the other to pay.

You can request mediation before you reach court. Private mediators are available through the court and online. Ask your attorney or the court's self-help website for referrals.

Communicate With Your Attorney

Attorneys are busy people. They sometimes speak in strange legal jargon. Don't let that scare you. Your attorney knows what's happening in court and how to present your case. They're also there to answer your questions about the legal process.

Your attorney can only do what you want them to. Your lawyer must know your desired result when it's time to go to court or settle your case. If there is a question during negotiations, your attorney can't answer for you. You are the only one who can approve an offer.

Be Willing to Negotiate

Personal injury claims and other cases involving money often settle before trial. Parties must be willing to negotiate to reach an agreeable outcome. Negotiation does not mean giving in but compromising at some point.

In most cases, your attorney will handle the negotiations and bring you the offer. If you are negotiating on your own behalf, be alert for lowballing efforts and attempts to make you pay all your own costs and fees. It's always best to have a professional on your side during negotiation efforts.

Follow Court Procedures

When you're in court, with or without a lawyer, you'll succeed more if you follow all court rules. Courtrooms are busy, and judges don't have time to explain the rules to everyone. Follow some simple procedures, and your time will run more smoothly.

  • Be on time. Once you know your court date and time, arrive at the courthouse at least an hour early. Find your courtroom on the docket. Courtrooms change often, so your assigned courtroom may differ from the one on your notice.
  • Dress appropriately. You don't need to wear a three-piece suit and wingtips, but try for business casual. At minimum, your jeans should be clean and without holes, and your T-shirt should not have obscene slogans. Take off your hat.
  • Be polite. Address the judge as "Your Honor." Do not approach the judge or court clerk unless told to do so. Turn off your cell phone.
  • If you have an attorney, let them talk. Don't talk over your attorney or the judge. If the judge wants to know anything, they will ask you directly.

You'll Need a Good Lawyer

A skilled lawyer to argue your case is the most important ingredient in successful litigation. You need someone with experience in the legal field and court rules in your area. Contact a qualified litigation attorney near you to learn more.

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