Being a witness is a huge responsibility. As a witness in court, your testimony can help justice be carried out. But it can also feel intimidating. This is because witnesses have to prove themselves of good character. This is true whether you are contacted by an estate planning lawyer to witness a loved one’s will or called to the stand as a character witness or for expert testimony.
Lawyers will tell you that the best way to alleviate your concerns is to be prepared. There is no way to prepare too much for a court appearance. You will be questioned, possibly cross-examined, and the jury will evaluate your appearance just as much as your answers to form their thoughts. Thus, it is in your best interests and of the person relying on your testimony to be prepared to present your best self.
Check Your Appearance
It is best to dress conservatively in a business suit or similar formal attire. Dress as though you are going to a job interview with a lawyer. You do not have to cut your hair, but it is best to have it clean and well-groomed. Style it to be tied to the back of your head so that people can see your face clearly. This is a good way to subtly indicate that you have nothing to hide.
Part of dressing formally is to make sure that people only focus on what you have to say. A scruffy appearance or a brightly colored casual outfit can distract people from truly listening to the impact of your testimony. Dress pants that fit well but are not too tight, collared shirts and long-sleeved, high-necked blouses of a solid color, or a work dress of a good length with a cardigan are good ideas.
If you are a witness related to your job, appear in your uniform so that people can associate your testimony with your employer or as part of your obligation due to employment. If you want to be sure, the lawyer working the case can advise you about the best choice of outfit.
Do your best to be serious and composed. The nervous pressure of this situation may make you want to act silly or say something funny to break the tension. But this is ill-advised. Lawyers sometimes build tension to have a psychological effect on you. How you react can send a message to the jury and be used by the lawyer in a way that undermines you.
Thus, keep your breathing under control and think before you speak. If the lawyer tries to pressure you, ask the judge for help. The lawyer is allowed to take a stern approach, but it’s not allowed for them to intimidate you. Avoid using casual language; refer to everyone in the situation formally. The urge to use causal slang or first names might seem like a good way to ease your tension, but it can look unprofessional.
Tell the Truth
No one should make you say something that you know to be false. If you are afraid to tell the truth, you must clarify this to the lawyer and refuse to testify until they can assure your safety through anonymous testimony or arranging police protection.
Your testimony can save someone’s life, but it should not put yours in danger. If the situation is of less significance, your obligation to the truth is even more pronounced. Collect evidence of any intimidation anyone may do to influence your testimony and present this to the lawyer.
You may even get a lawyer of your own if the intimidation is sustained and traumatic. No job is worth perjuring yourself, and no family member who asks you to lie is worth the risk. Anyone who cares for your well-being will want you to be honest.
Do Not Interrupt
Avoid interrupting someone before, during, and after your testimony. If someone misquotes you after you have testified, inform the lawyer. They may have you back on the stand to reiterate your point correctly or object and have the false statement redacted.
Before or during your testimony, the opposing lawyer may try to rile you and make you angry so that you don’t represent yourself well. Look out for this and avoid rising to the bait. If they interrupt you during your testimony, look at the judge and ask to continue your statement.
Give Clear and Concise Answers
Answer the question being asked and avoid volunteering information. You never know what you might say that will undermine your testimony or use against you by the opposing lawyer. Answering the question also means avoiding qualifying statements, as these can take away from the impact of your words. Avoid using words that turn sentences into qualified statements such as might or could.
With these pointers, you can prepare yourself when appearing in court. The pressure may be too much, but remember that this happens for a reason. It helps to be aware and plan for it.