Join me as I talk tips for upping your trial performance game. Discussions are welcome in the comments section.
— Tad Thomas
It’s likely that the majority of your clients have never stepped into a courtroom. As their attorney, it’s your job to advise them of their duties and ensure they understand what everyone’s role is and how it could impact their case. While you’re familiar with the ups and downs of a trial, the process can seem entirely overwhelming to your client. Fortunately, you can take steps to prepare your client for court so they understand what they need to do to improve their chances of a successful case. Overall, you’ll want to review the substantive issues and explain the procedural process.
Reviewing the Substantive Issues
Regarding the substantive issues, it’s our job as attorneys to give our clients a basic understanding of the legal and factual issues at the center of their case.
When you first start prepping your client for the deposition, review the essential facts of the case. Make sure your client can recite those facts to you in chronological order. It’s normal for them to get overwhelmed with the details, so ensure their focus is on the facts and issues you know are important to the case.
Remember to review key documents your client authored, sent, received, or relied upon. If there’s a document your client has no knowledge of, let them know that a truthful “I do not know” will not hurt their case. From your side, this can be avoided by not using documents that are irrelevant or that do not involve your client.
As you review your client’s prior statements, make sure they understand the importance of consistency. Inconsistent deposition testimony can lead to a problematic cross-examination during trial. It can also hurt your client’s credibility and affect your ability to prove your case. You’ll also want to as your client key questions you anticipate the opposing counsel will ask. Listen to how your client responds and ensure they understand the importance of the words they choose.
Explaining Procedural Matters
Once your client feels comfortable with their case’s key facts and legal issues, you can start prepping them on the procedural guidelines. Clients who are more familiar with the process are more effective at their depositions and during trial.
Start with the basics. If you’re prepping for deposition, include when and where it will occur, who will be present and why, and the role of the court reporter and the videographer. Make sure they understand the oath they will need to swear to. For trial, talk your client through the entire process—from jury section all the way to closing arguments.
Depending on the circumstances, consider taking your client to the conference room or courtroom before the start. This way, they’ll get an idea of the environment and be more comfortable when the time comes.
While your client is bound to have a number of questions for you prior to the start of their deposition or trial. Some questions, however, are more common than others—and those tend to be the simplest ones to answer. Three questions your client is likely to ask include:
- What do I wear? While this will vary based on the client and the case, you’ll generally want to tell your client to dress like they would for a job interview. Regardless of what they wear, it should be neat and pressed. The goal of their attire is to present themselves as professional and credible.
- What do I bring? Other than car keys or glasses, tell your client to leave everything in their car. Anything they bring in with them could be used against them by the opposing counsel.
- What time do I arrive? Tell your client to arrive at least 15 minutes early. This will give them the chance to get water, figure out where the restroom is, and go over any last-minute items with you. Let your client know that the two of you can meet beforehand and walk into the room together, as it can be intimidating to walk into a strange law firm or courtroom alone. Going in together will increase their confidence.
While we handle legal matters in and out of court every day, it’s important to remember that our clients don’t. Successful cases are often built around clients understanding their legal rights and options and knowing what to do when entering the courtroom. When we ensure our clients are an integral part of the trial process, they’ll trust our abilities to get them through challenging times.
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