You have gone through months of negotiations. Your case has not settled. Your attorney has informed you that your case is going to trial. How do you prepare?
Preparing for trial can be a daunting and intimidating process. Many litigants have never seen the inside of a courtroom and know only what they see on television or in the movies. It is not unusual that a litigant will not know how what to expect at trial.
It is appropriate to rehearse what you are going to say. Attorneys often have prep sessions with their clients and witnesses or have mock trials to prepare you for the hard questions. If that option is available to you, agree to it. It will help you prepare, give you a better idea of what to expect, and reduce pre-trial jitters. Here are some preparation tips:
- Watch a few courtroom proceedings That is, watch a jury trial or part of a court proceeding in an actual courtroom before your trial, preferably weeks beforehand. It will give you a real-life idea of what to expect. You can see actual testimony, objections, the jury and how a judge maintains proceedings as well as the court staff. Alternatively, you can watch taped courtroom proceedings. The internet has a substantial number of trials that have been recorded. Speak with your Decatur trial lawyer before you do so. Your attorney will have a case strategy and it is important that you abide by your attorney’s directions.
- Your credibility is important. Whether the jury or judge believes a witness weighs heavily into their decision whether to rule in your favor. When testifying be candid, answer clearly, and avoid making any gestures or comments during the proceedings. If you have a question, you can write your attorney a note or take a break when appropriate.
- Dress the part. Be well dressed and well-groomed for any proceeding. That does not mean presenting yourself as something that you are not but looking your best. Your attorney can help you with how to dress and present yourself at hearing.
- Know your audience. Know who the decision makers are in your case. For example, if you are scheduled for a jury trial, the judge and jury are your audience. If you are scheduled for a bench trial, the judge is the decision maker. Courtroom staff such as bailiffs, clerks, and other personnel can factor into the decision making process. Be sure to be polite, respectful and courteous. For example, say please and thank you when appropriate.
- Refresh your memory about the events that led to your trial. It is important that you refresh your memory of the events that led up to trial. That includes reviewing documents, emails, photos, reports, and any other documentation or evidence that will help you prepare. Speak with your attorney before you do so as opposing counsel may ask you at trial what documents and evidence you reviewed to prepare.
- Discussing your case. Anyone you discuss your case with could be called as a witness at trial. For example, if you speak with a family member or a friend about any details of your case, opposing counsel does have the right to call them as witnesses at any proceeding. Ask your attorney about what details you can speak about before trial.
Here are some tips for conducting yourself inside the courtroom and when testifying at trial:
- Follow courtroom rules and be a responsible witness. Be clear about courtroom rules. Judges usually post their rules on the court’s website or you can ask your attorney. Treat the court, opposing party, and all personnel with respect. For example, do not roll your eyes, talk when others are talking, make gestures or give any emotional displays in court. The judge, jury, and opposing party will be watching you.
- Being sworn in. When being sworn in, make sure to say ‘I do’ clearly so that the court reporter can record it.
- Tell the truth. Be positive, confident, and tell the truth in any court proceeding. Speak clearly and do not exaggerate or add adjectives to prove your point unless they really do help explain your situation. You will have the opportunity to correct your mistakes with the guidance of your attorney and you should do so. You do not have to over explain yourself or volunteer information. If you do not know the answer to a question, it is appropriate to say ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I do not recall.’ Speak clearly and loudly enough so that the court reporter can take down your testimony.
- Listen carefully to opposing counsel’s questions. It is opposing counsel’s job to ‘trip you up’ or get you to admit facts against your case. Do not take it personally. Listen to each question carefully and respond accordingly. If you do not understand the question, you can say ‘I do not understand the question’ or ask ‘can you rephrase?’ Do not answer a question that you do not know the answer to or do not understand. Short answers are best when being cross examined. Do not lose your temper or engage in any attacks on opposing counsel or the opposing party. If you make a mistake on the stand, your attorney will have the opportunity to redirect your testimony.
- If either attorney makes an objection, wait until the judge rules upon the objection and instructs you to answer before you proceed. If you do not remember the question, you can ask the court reporter to read it back to you or ask the questioning attorney to repeat the question.