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How to Be a Good Witness

Getting ready to go to court? Want some advice. Top courtroom strategies taken from Family Lawyer Magazine with my critique as a family law attorney added in for your benefit:

  1. No lies. No exaggeration. All truth. Tell the shortest, most truthful answer possible. When you tell one lie assume that the judge thinks you are also lying about everything else.
  2. Answer the Question asked. It may be damaging but keep in mind your attorney has the opportunity to rehabilitate you as a witness during redirect.
  3. Look the Judge in the eye. Failing to connect with the judge is a big reason why clients don't do well in court. I hear from judges that they just didn't like Mr. X or Mrs. Y. I think it's because the client didn't look at the judge and find a way to connect with the person deciding his or her case.
  4. Control your emotions. Some emotion is okay. Uncontrolled emotion makes you look crazy. You must strike the right balance.
  5. Be positive. Judges hate listening to negative people all day long. Think of at least three good things you can say about the other party. Come to court prepared to say those things when the moment is right. There will be enough time for negativity without you having to dream up all the bad stuff you want to say before you get there.
  6. The Judge Sees Everything. This is true. I had a case once where the judge had virtually decided the case before either client said a word. It was the glares, stares, whispers to the lawyers, note scribbling, shoulder tapping and outright disrespect that drove the judge crazy before even a word was spoken.
  7. Admit the bad stuff. It's much better if you come out from the start admitting your weaknesses. Don't be caught in the gotcha moment by waiting for the other side to bring up your prior bad behavior. Come out with it first so you can tell your side of the story and then move on.
  8. Listen and think before answering. Listen to the question. Wait for it and then answer.
  9. Go with your horses. This means stick to the theme of your case and don't deviate by talking about issues that have nothing to do with why you are in court.
  10. Be the voice of reason. Give unbiased answers. Admit when you are wrong. Be adaptable. Be willing to problem solve even while you are on the stand. Sometimes judges ask whether you would consider x or y. Be open to considering options. The judge will appreciate it and the case will be more likely to go your way.