Last month’s article addressed 10 tips for being a good witness in a divorce hearing. Here are a few more tips for being a witness in court:

  1. Before you testify, picture the scene and try to refresh your memory.
  2. Neat appearance and proper dress are important. Don’t let your clothes distract from your message.
  3. Avoid distracting mannerisms. Stand upright, pay attention, and speak clearly. Avoid nervous habits, like leg shaking or playing with your hair.
  4. Don’t try to memorize what you are going to say.
  5. Be serious in the courtroom. Don’t make jokes or laugh if someone else does. Court is supposed to be a somber place with proper deference given to the seriousness of the issues.
  6. Speak clearly and loudly enough for the judge or jury to hear you.
  7. Listen carefully to the question. Don’t give snap answers. Understand the question before you answer.
  8. Explain your answer when appropriate. If you can’t answer with a “yes” or “no”, don’t feel forced to. Just say, that’s not a yes or no answer.
  9. Answer only the question asked. Don’t volunteer information. If someone asks you “are you wearing a watch?”, the right answer is “yes” or “no”. The wrong answer is “yes, and it is 10:30 am  on March 15, 2018.” See the difference?
  10. If your answer was not correctly stated or summarized, correct it immediately.
  11. Don’t give conclusions or opinions unless specifically asked. Stick to the facts. Let the Judge draw conclusions. Witnesses are in the fact-giving business. Judges are in the conclusion business.
  12. Use phrases that are accurate – “That is all I recall” versus “Nothing else happened”.
  13. Always be courteous, even if the lawyer questioning you isn’t.
  14. You are sworn to tell the truth. Tell it.
  15. If the judge interrupts you or a lawyer makes an objection, stop talking immediately. Wait for instructions from the judge.
  16. Give positive, definitive answers when possible. Avoid saying, “I think” or looking unsure about your responses.
  17. Try to not seem nervous.
  18. Do not lose your temper.
  19. If you don’t want to answer, avoid asking the judge “Do I have to answer that?”. It makes everyone’s ears perk up to listen and almost every time the answer will be yes.
  20. Don’t look to the lawyers for cues. You must answer what you know.
  21. Do not argue with the lawyer.
  22. Do not nod your head for “yes” or “no”. Speak clearly so your answer gets into the court reporter’s record.
  23. When walking to the stand, be confident – no smirk, smiles, or downcast look.
  24. If asked, “Have you spoken to anyone about this case?”, answer truthfully.
  25. Review these tips before you testify, so they are firmly implanted in your mind.

In conclusion, don’t feel like you have to be a perfect witness. Being a witness is stressful and everyone, including the Judge, knows it.

Hat tip to Cortney Harrison Bethmann and his article on AVVO 25 Tips for Being a Good Witness.

Print:
EmailTweetLikeLinkedIn
Photo of Michelle O'Neil Michelle O'Neil

Michelle May O’Neil has 27 years’ experience representing small business owners, professionals, and individuals in litigation related to family law matters such as divorce, child custody, and complex property division. Described by one lawyer as “a lethal combination of sweet-and-salty”, Ms. O’Neil exudes…

Michelle May O’Neil has 27 years’ experience representing small business owners, professionals, and individuals in litigation related to family law matters such as divorce, child custody, and complex property division. Described by one lawyer as “a lethal combination of sweet-and-salty”, Ms. O’Neil exudes genuine compassion for her client’s difficulties, yet she can be relentless when in pursuit of a client’s goals. One judge said of Ms. O’Neil, “She cannot be out-gunned, out-briefed, or out-lawyered!”

Family Law Specialist

Ms. O’Neil became a board-certified family law specialist by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in 1997 and has maintained her certification since that time. While representing clients in litigation before the trial court is an important part of her practice, Ms. O’Neil also handles appellate matters in the trial court, courts of appeals and Texas Supreme Court. Lawyers frequently consult with Ms. O’Neil on their litigation cases about specialized legal issues requiring particularized attention both at the trial court and appellate levels. This gives her a unique perspective and depth of perception that benefits both her litigation and appellate clients.

Top Lawyers in Texas and America

Ms. O’Neil has been named to the list of Texas SuperLawyers for many years, 2011-2018, a peer-voted honor given to only about 5% of the lawyers in the state of Texas. In 2014-2018, Ms. O’Neil received the special honor of being named by Texas SuperLawyers as one of the Top 50 Women Lawyers in Texas, Top 100 Lawyers in Texas, and Top 100 Lawyers in DFW. She was named one of the Best Lawyers in America for 2016 and received an “A-V” peer review rating by Martindale-Hubbell Legal Directories for the highest quality legal ability and ethical standards.

Author and Speaker

A noted author, Ms. O’Neil released her second book Basics of Texas Divorce Law in November 2010, with a second edition released in 2013, and a third edition expected in 2015.  Her first book, All About Texas Law and Kids, was published in September 2009 by Texas Lawyer Press. In 2012, Ms. O’Neil co-authored the booklets What You Need To Know About Common Law Marriage In Texas and Social Study Evaluations.  The State Bar of Texas and other providers of continuing education for attorneys frequently enlist Ms. O’Neil to provide instruction to attorneys on topics of her expertise in the family law arena.