Learning to Be Comfortable in the Courtroom
Join me as I talk tips for upping your trial performance. I’ll cover all aspects of the trial, including, jury selection, opening statements, direct witness testimony, cross-examination, closing arguments, jury instructions, and verdicts. Discussions are welcome in the comments section.
— Tad Thomas
Whether you’re new to the courtroom or you’ve represented clients in dozens or hundreds of cases, it’s normal for the nerves to set in when it comes time to present your case. Learning to be comfortable in the courtroom can take time and is different for everyone. There are, however, certain steps you can take to make being and presenting in the courtroom an easier task. To start, let’s take a look at the importance of confidence.
The Importance of Confidence
In law school, you learn to use persuasive language when writing legal documents. That ability, however, doesn’t always translate over when you’re persuading a case verbally. Developing the right speaking skills often starts with finding the confidence in yourself to know what you’re saying is true.
From the moment you walk into the courtroom, you’re being watched. How you walk, carry yourself, talk, regard others, and how you handle developing issues can affect the outcome of your case if the judge or jury fails to see your abilities and know-how in action.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions
Every judge has trial procedures and rules that you’ll be better off knowing before a trial begins. The more you know ahead of time, the more comfortable you’ll feel at trial. Take the opportunity to speak with the judge at a pretrial conference or arrange a meeting that the opposing counsel can attend. Ask whatever questions you have, and don’t worry about sounding like a novice. The more prepared you are, the better you’ll be able to represent your client.
You should also talk with other lawyers. Find out as much about the judge you can from other lawyers who have first-hand experience. Ask questions about formality, limitations, and demeanor. You should also find out about the layout of the courtroom so you know where you’ll sit, where electric outlets are if you have a computer setup, and what you can tell your client to expect.
Developing Exemplary Speaking and Presentation Skills
Even the longest practicing lawyers can experience stage fright when it comes to public speaking—especially with high-profile cases. Don’t let those nerves affect your client’s case. Remember to speak clearly so everyone can hear you and be prepared enough that any notes are mere outlines you may or may not need to glance out. The more prepared you are with what you have to say, the better you will be able to prepare your client when it’s time for them to address the judge or jury.
You also need to make sure your presentation skills are up to par. If they aren’t, the judge or jury could have difficulty following the story you tell. If that’s the case, you could jeopardize your client’s case. To give a clear presentation, make sure your exhibits are easily digestible and consider constructing the story you tell in chronological order. This can make it easier for the jury to follow along. You’ll undoubtedly feel more comfortable if you know what you’re saying is being understood.
Know How to Dress for the Courtroom
You might think you have dress code down when it comes to being in the courtroom, but if your clothes are too stuffy or ill-fitting, you may fidget more and be physically uncomfortable, which can lead to you looking like you don’t know what you’re doing.
Traditionally, lawyers are known to wear tailored suits for daily activities. While you may be able to wear a sports jacket and khakis at a less formal event, you should be wearing a white dress shirt with a neutral-colored tie under a tailored suit in the courtroom. Gray and navy are the most popular suit colors. Women can wear skirts, but the length needs to be appropriate, like a pencil skirt. It’s also important to wear the appropriate shoes. Leather shoes and heels are the legal industry standard, but make sure you take measures to make them comfortable, so your feet don’t start to hurt if you’re standing a lot.
Practice Makes Perfect
Remember to be yourself in the courtroom. You’ve gotten this far in your legal career that where you are is where you should be. When it comes down to truly being comfortable, there’s no better way to ensure you can relax than overpreparing in the weeks leading up to the trial. While you won’t be able to prevent surprises that complicate your client’s case, you will be able to keep your cool and do what you need to do to ensure your client’s success.
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