As the trial date draws closer, it is highly likely that your days and nights will be full of preparation. A huge part of this involves helping the witnesses get ready to testify.
A trial setting can easily overwhelm a witness, which means proper coaching and preparation is essential. After all, the courtroom is a naturally stressful environment.
Of course you know that you cannot tell witnesses what to say (not if you want to continue practicing law), but you can help them prepare for it. Here are some ways to improve your witness preparation:
Don’t Give Advice Until You See How the Witness Does
Doctors don’t give a prescription for any drug and advice when to take it unless they have reviewed your symptoms and made a diagnosis. What type of doctor would give advice without hearing what was wrong?
Never make the same mistake with your witness. Don’t give them advice until you’ve had the chance to see them on the witness stand. Hire an expert and do mock trial with companies like Trial Exhibits, put the witnesses on the stand, and fire those questions away. Watch how the witness handles the pressure; only then should you make recommendations.
Let Them Relax
It’s natural that some witnesses have concerns and fears going into a deposition or courtroom. Some hate the thought of speaking in public and others worry about saying something that can screw up the case.
Witnesses often fail to perform effectively when this happens, so help calm their nerves. A good tip is to tell them what to do — not what to do — as this can only heighten their anxiety.
Build a Safe Harbor
Witnesses need a safe response when they don’t know how to answer a question on the stand. The safe harbor should be a “core truth” they can talk about when they’re stumped for an answer.
The good thing about this is that the response is based on truths. Saying, “I relied on the attorney advising us on this issue,” for example, can be a stock response that can help a witness handle a tough question.
Preparing the witnesses is an important function of a trial lawyer. With these guidelines, you can make the most of the limited time with each witness, and you’ll see dramatic improvements in courtroom presentations.