From MCP: “I became a lawyer because I wanted to help people, but I love being a lawyer because I love trials.”
A trial is the ultimate arena for most lawyers. I do not wish to pull in all lawyers since some of my brothers and sisters in the practice of law are not litigators but have their arena with the pen creating contracts, real estate transactions or writing poetic briefs to the Supreme Court of the United States.
For me, my boxing ring is the courtroom and the trial is my main event.
Unlike that boxer, I do not walk into that ring all alone. I have my client and I have our witnesses. This part of the match is the unpredictable human element that really makes trials interesting. As a lawyer you could just go in and throw your folks up on the stand and see what happens, but most of the teachings state this as a bad move.
Thus, my office spends time preparing witnesses and clients on testimony. Please do not confuse this with Billy Flynn’s puppet act in Chicago. Your story as a witness or a client is your story. We help you in telling it.
This advice is good for a witness or a client in criminal case or in civil case. First it’s good to know your audience. Are you dealing with a judge or a jury? Are you in a big city or in a lovely little setting like Venango County?
Second, be aware of your comfort with public speaking. In my experience, there are not many people who enjoy public speaking. I believe for good reason. Your heart is racing; your palms are sweating and your mouth is dry. You are in the “hot seat” to when you testify. All eyes are centered on you and hopefully all the ears are listening to you. Even if you are a witness, you feel judged.
So how do you deal with it? Take a deep breath before getting on the stand. This should help slow down some of your physical responses to the anxiety of speaking to all those folks. Next, focus on just talking in a conversational manner with whoever is asking the questions. You do not need to use a stage voice to testify since most courtrooms have a microphone to help you out. Finally, take your time between questions. Listen to what is being asked and answer ONLY that question.
Many witnesses and clients have so much to say and they want to say it all at once. The person asking you the questions is guiding you through your part of the story. This is the conversation. Think about being at home sitting on a couch just answering your friend’s questions about your latest adventure. The best people who testify are the ones who fall into this conversation, letting the questions guide you and you telling your truthful story.
Now one problem that movies have created and please forgive me because I do love my lawyer movies, but media has made people nervous that they will get confused when an attorney starts bombarding them with questions.
The reality in our Pennsylvania courtrooms is that the attorney cannot ask you a new question until you have finished answering the first question. Thus the pace is completely up to the person in the “hot seat.”
Finally, no matter how this advice says to take it easy and be comfortable, you must also take it seriously. Dress appropriately, which is business professional. Do not use profanity. Be respectful, even if you know that the other side is out to call you a liar, keep your respectability.
Lastly, take your time. Your voice matters and my office is happy to make sure it’s heard.
For more about Criminal Procedure, check out our blog posts here.