Family & Juvenile Law Section “Top 10’s”
When getting your client ready for a trial or evidentiary hearing, it’s, of course, important to go over your client’s testimony, the theory of your case, and your exhibits. But even after you’ve done these things, following very simple, but important points will help insure your client is prepared—at least for the expected. Here are the Top Ten Things for Your Client to Remember for Trial.
- Stay calm. Don’t get noticeably upset if at all possible. Don’t deliberately be demonstrative or attempt to sway the judge with your acting skills. It doesn’t work and just annoys the judge (and your attorney). If you have a client who is overly dramatic naturally, advise them to do their best to turn it down.
- Do not talk to your attorney during the hearing. It is impossible to listen to two people at the same time. If your client talks to you while the judge or opposing side is talking, you’re bound to miss something. Always bring a pad for your client to write down whatever they must tell you. Plus, most people don’t know how to whisper!
- Answer the question asked. That is on direct and cross. Remind your client to trust that you will get out whatever evidence is necessary, either on direct or on rebuttal. I remind clients that, though they may think something is relevant and important, there may be tactical reasons why I don’t bring out that information on their direct.
- Do not argue with opposing counsel. This can be tough. Some attorneys strategically try to upset the witness to throw them off. Clients should understand that it is up to us to protect them from overly aggressive interrogators, not them.
- Take a moment before answering questions. It’s important for your client to take a second to think about the question before answering it. Many times, clients believe they know what is about to be asked and will either answer before the question is done or answer immediately, giving you no time to object. I advise clients to take a breath. Don’t be obvious, but a second or two between the question and answer can go a long way to protecting your client from waiving an objection or answering a question that was never asked.
- Remember why we’re there. It’s important for the client to know what the goal of the hearing is. This will hopefully keep clients from going off on tangents about matters not relevant to the trial or hearing.
- There may be others in the room during testimony. Advise your client that courtrooms are generally public and that they should be prepared to testify about very personal matters in front of strangers.
- Be prepared to try to settle the matter. Many times, judges and masters will suggest that the parties take some time to talk about settlement. Sometimes, judges/masters will ask the attorneys to chambers to discuss settlement before the hearing. This is something I’ll tell clients so that they give some thought to the possibility of settlement before the hearing.
- Speak clearly. Remind clients not to nod or say “uh huh” in answer to questions. You might need the transcript later. Also, you want the Court to understand exactly what the witness is saying.
- Remember to get enough rest, eat breakfast, take medications, etc. Clients should not put themselves at a disadvantage by not taking care of themselves. Hearings and trials can be marathons. They (and you) need the energy. Also (yes, I’m cheating by adding an 11th tip), remind your clients that their dress and demeanor must reflect respect for the Court and the occasion.