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People come to court for many reasons, and many come not knowing what to expect. Although going to court can seem scary or overwhelming, this page includes information and tips about the process that may be helpful.

Individuals have the right to represent themselves in District Court without a lawyer, but are required to follow the court rules and the law. Read the court form called Rights and Duties of Self-Represented Parties and review the Representing Yourself in Court Help Topic for more information.

You have the right to ask for a free court-appointed interpreter for you or any of your witnesses, if needed. You should ask for an interpreter as soon as possible. You can ask for an interpreter by calling court administration in the county where your case is filed. Your hearing notice may also include a phone number for you to call. 

If you have a disability and need reasonable accommodations for a court hearing, please review the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Accommodations Help Topic.

IMPORTANT: The response to COVID-19 has impacted access to courthouses and may change the way cases are handled.  Go to the COVID-19 Information page and the Remote Hearings Information page to learn more.
 

Familiarize yourself with the case.

It is important to know the reason for your hearing and why you are going to court.  Make sure you have reviewed all documents filed in your case. You will want to know the other party’s position and arguments, including any requests they are making at the hearing.  Be sure you know if you have to file anything with the court before your hearing date, or if you will be expected to bring witnesses.

If you are unsure about what is going on in your case, or whether you need to file anything or do something else, get help right away. You can call court administration or the clerk for the Judge/Referee assigned to your case. You can also call, email or visit a Self-Help Center. Please see What Court Staff Can and Cannot Do for You for more information. 

Many court hearings are open to the public. You may find it helpful to go to other hearings similar to your upcoming hearing so that you can visit the courthouse and courtroom and see what that type of hearing will be like. You can see public court calendars by going to Find Courts and selecting your county.  NOTE: This may be impacted by COVID-19.

If you are worried about forgetting an upcoming hearing, the court has a hearing e-reminder system you can enroll in for most case types.

Make sure you know how to get to court (and how much time it will take).

Make sure you know the location and address of your hearing (and whether it is in person or remote). Many counties have multiple courthouse buildings. It is smart to plan out how you will get to court if appearing in person and how much time you will need before your court date. If you are appearing in person, you should try to arrive at the courthouse at least 30 minutes before your hearing. If you are appearing remotely, you should log in for your hearing at least 5 minutes before your hearing time.

Consider the following factors when planning on how much travel time you will need for appearing in person:
 
  • How far you live from the courthouse;
  • Method of transportation (i.e. car, bus, light rail, ride from a friend);
  • Time for parking, if needed; and
  • Traffic and weather.
Give yourself time to find your courtroom once in the building. Keep in mind you may need to wait in line for weapons screening, elevators, etc.

There is a possibility that your hearing may be on a “mass calendar,” which means multiple hearings may be scheduled during the same block of time. The time on your hearing notice may be when the calendar starts, not necessarily when your hearing may be called. Your case may get called first or it may get called later. You may need to wait as long as a few hours, depending upon the number of cases on the calendar. You should be prepared to stay if there is a delay. If you leave before your case is called, your case may move forward without you. If you are unsure whether your hearing is at the specific time listed on the notice or if it is part of a mass calendar hearing, call the number on your hearing notice or contact court administration in the county where your case is filed.

Planning ahead should save you a lot of stress and confusion on the day of your hearing.

Get any paperwork ready.

You will want to make sure you have all your paperwork ready before you go to court. It is your responsibility to come prepared. You should have paper or electronic copies of all papers (called “pleadings”) you and the other side have filed with the court, or given to each other.

You may also want to prepare an outline of the main points you want to say. Nerves can get the best of all of us. Having a clear outline will help you organize your thoughts during your hearing. Make sure to stick to the most important information that is in your paperwork. It might be helpful to practice explaining your outline to a friend or family member.

You should also get your evidence ready, if necessary. Sometimes a court hearing is a trial where you need witnesses and evidence. Other times the hearing has a different purpose, such as a motion, and witnesses are not generally allowed. Read all notices and orders you received about the hearing carefully to see what you may need. If you are unsure whether your hearing requires you to bring evidence or witnesses, get help right away.  If you need to have evidence and witnesses at the hearing, make copies of any documents you want to introduce as evidence and organize everything ahead of time. Read through all of the orders you received to check whether the judge has asked you to organize your evidence in a specific way. Make sure to have the original item, along with a copy for the court, a copy for you, and a copy for any other party(ies) to the case. If you need to have witnesses, make sure you know if they will attend voluntarily or if you will need to get a subpoena.

Some documents cannot be used as evidence unless the right person is in the courtroom to explain the document and answer questions about it. There are many rules about evidence you will need to follow. You may want to talk to a lawyer about what evidence you need and how to make sure your evidence can be considered by the judge or jury.

Make job/family arrangements.

If your hearing is scheduled at a time when you would normally work, make arrangements for taking time off, if you can, or other arrangements as needed. Unless the court has told you to bring your children to the hearing, make arrangements for child care, if possible. The court does not provide child care, and it may be difficult for children to sit quietly or for you to focus during a hearing if children are present. You may want to bring a support person with you; however, large groups are generally discouraged. Keep in mind that any support person will not be able to speak on your behalf at the hearing.

Ask for an interpreter, if needed.

You have the right to ask for a free court-appointed interpreter for you or any of your witnesses, if needed. You should ask for an interpreter as soon as possible; ideally, at least two weeks before your hearing date. You can ask for an interpreter by calling court administration in the county where your case is filed. Your hearing notice may also include a phone number for you to call.  Generally, once you have requested an interpreter, you will continue to be appointed an interpreter for any other hearings on that case.

Don’t miss your court date.

Court is not an appointment that should be missed (if you can avoid it). If you need to change your court date, you usually need to file paperwork to ask for that, or get the other side to agree to change the date before the day of the hearing. 

If you have a court date for a criminal case or a contempt matter and miss your hearing, a warrant may be issued for your arrest. If the hearing is not a criminal matter and you do not appear, you may lose the case by default. If you have a serious reason why you cannot make it to your court hearing, call court administration or the clerk for the Judge/Referee assigned to your case to explain your situation and see what options you may have.

If you are the defendant or respondent in a case (someone else started the case against you) and you agree with the other side's requests or don't believe you have any defense(s), you may think there is no point in going to the hearing. However, not going to a hearing could be risky as you do not know what will be ordered in your absence. It is best to get legal advice before deciding not to go to a hearing.

Allow plenty of time to get to the courthouse and to the courtroom.

If you are appearing in person, you should try to arrive at the courthouse at least 30 minutes before your hearing time. Allow plenty of time to go through weapons screening, if needed, and to find your courtroom. If you will be late, call court administration or the clerk for the Judicial Officer assigned to your case. Keep in mind that some courthouses may not allow cell phones in the building so make sure to ask about this ahead of time. You can call the number listed on your court notice or contact court administration in the county where your case is filed if you have questions.

If you are unsure what to do or where to go after arriving at the courthouse you can check in with court staff, either in the courtroom or at the court administration counter/window.

Bring your paperwork.

Bring your copies of paperwork, along with any outline and exhibits you may be presenting during your hearing. Get in contact with your witnesses, if any, and locate them once in the courthouse. Bring a notepad and something to write with for taking notes during a hearing. Taking notes on a cell phone or other mobile device (i.e. tablet) is generally not allowed.

Dress appropriately.

You do not have to buy new clothing for court, but remember it is a formal place and you want to be respectful in your dress.

Behavior in the courtroom.

Certain behaviors are not allowed in the courtroom because they are noisy, distracting, or disrespectful. Do not bring food or drink (other than water) into the courtroom. You should generally not chew gum, sleep, use earphones, or use cameras, including cell phone cameras, in the courtroom. If cell phones are allowed, you should either turn them on silent or vibrate or turn them off completely.  While waiting for your case to be called, please be respectful to other court users by waiting quietly. As a reminder, if your hearing is set on a mass calendar, there will likely be a wait time before your case is called.

When your case is called, please follow any instructions from court staff and the Judge/Referee. When the Judge/Referee enters the courtroom, you will be expected to stand up; someone will likely say “all rise.” During your hearing, be sure to listen carefully, talk directly to the Judge/Referee and not the other party, avoid arguing with or interrupting others, and try to control your emotions. If you do not understand something that the other party or the Judge/Referee is saying, make sure you ask questions. When you speak to the Judge/Referee, start by saying "Your Honor." Be sure to speak loudly and clearly and remember that only one person can speak at a time. Typically, everything said in the courtroom is being recorded, so in order to record information accurately, it’s important that only one person speak at a time. Use your prepared outline to keep your thoughts on track and make sure you cover your most important points. The amount of time you have to speak will be up to the Judge/Referee, so be sure to focus on what is most important to your case.

Before you leave your hearing, make sure you understand what happens next.

Do you need to come back for another hearing? Do you need to prepare a written document such as a proposed court order? Do you need to take other steps or actions? These are examples of questions you may have after your hearing.  Make sure that you understand what will happen next. 

Another question you may have is when the Judge/Referee will make a decision (called an order) about the hearing.  Sometimes orders are written up right away, even while you wait, or the Judge/Referee may take it “under advisement.” This means they will take some time to think about the case, review the evidence, and write an order later.

Politely ask questions if you do not understand what will happen next in your situation.

Remote Hearings.

Go to the Remote Hearings page for detailed information on appearing for a remote hearing.

Review the Judge/Referee's written decision.

In most situations, the Judge/Referee will take the case “under advisement” and a written decision (called an order) will be mailed to you. Taking the case under advisement means that the Judge/Referee will take some time to think about the case and consider the evidence before making a decision. The Judge/Referee generally has 90 days to issue a written order (though that is not true in all case types; some have less time). However, you may likely receive an order sooner than 90 days. 

When you get the order, make sure to read it carefully. Very often, the Judge/Referee explains their reasoning behind the decision made. The Judge/Referee may also include directions on what needs to happen next in the case, including steps you may need to take. If you do not understand what the order says or what it means for you, please get help right away. If you have questions about how the order will affect your case moving forward or what you should do next, you will need to get legal advice from an attorney.

Get a certified copy of the order, if needed.

If you need to get a plain or certified copy of the Judge/Referee's decision for a specific purpose (for example, for changing a driver’s license, for immigration purposes, or to update a title to real estate) you can request a copy from the Records Office in the county where your case is filed. There will be a fee for a plain or certified copy. If you cannot afford the copy fee, you can ask for a fee waiver. Contact the Records Office in the county where you case is filed for more information regarding fees. Keep in mind that certified copies are usually needed to do thinks like update passports, change Driver’s Licenses or Identification Cards, update real estate records, banking matters, etc.

What if you don’t agree with the Judge/Referee's decision?

If you do not agree with the Judge/Referee's decision, you may be able to appeal or ask for a review of the decision. Keep in mind that time limits apply to appealing or requesting a review. If you are considering filing an appeal or requesting a review, you are encouraged to get legal advice from an attorney. Court staff may be able to provide you general information about appeal options but they cannot tell you if you should appeal, if you will be successful, or give you specific information about your case, including your timeframe for appeal.
Related Help Topics
File a Case – Information on how to file a case in District Court, Court of Appeals, or the Supreme Court.

Self-Help Centers – Information on Self-Help Center locations and services, including tools and resources.  Also includes information on legal terms, laws, rules, and legal research, as well as free legal advice clinics.   

Find a Lawyer – Resources on free legal advice clinics, free or low-cost legal services, and hiring an attorney.

Court Forms Information – Information and FAQs on Fillable Smart Forms.

Court Rules – Links to Minnesota court rules.

Service of Process – Information on service of process.

Law Libraries – Information, including location and phone numbers, for county law libraries as well as the Minnesota State Law Library.

Legal Terms – Links to various dictionaries and glossaries of common legal terms.

Videos
Videos & Tutorials – Informational videos and tutorials published by the Minnesota Judicial Branch for a variety of case types.  Some resources are available in multiple languages. 

Going to Court in Minnesota - Video explanation of the Minnesota court system and information on preparing for a court hearing.  Available in English, Hmong, Spanish, Somali, and American Sign Language.

*new* Minnesota Courts Overview for High School Classes - MN Supreme Court Justice Paul Thissen provides an overview of the Minnesota court system, explaining the matters that come before the courts and the importance of access to legal representation.

Booklets
How to Prepare for Trial in Housing Cases

“I’ll See you in Court” – Overview of the Minnesota court system.

What to Expect as a Self-Represented Plaintiff or Defendant in a Civil Trial (without a jury)

What to Expect as a Self-Represented Petition or Respondent in a Family Court Trial or
Evidentiary Hearing
(Hennepin County Family Court)

How to Research a Legal Problem: A Guide for Non-Lawyer (American Association of Law Libraries)

Introduction to Basic Legal Citation (Legal Information Institute; Cornell University Law School)

*new* Legal FAQs – Working with a Lawyer (American Bar Association)

*new* Legal Stuff (Hennepin County Bar Association) (also available in Spanish)

Other Legal Resources
Minnesota State Law Library

LawHelpMN.org

Minnesota House Research Department

Minnesota Attorney General’s Office: Consumer Information

Minnesota Secretary of State