You sweated through a motion to dismiss or a summary judgment. It took months–maybe even years–to complete discovery in your case. You even made it through a hearing or two. Now, you wake up screaming at night. You have cold sweats. Your stomach feels as if Lilliputians are tap dancing on it. It must mean it’s time to go to trial. It’s not enough to simply say, “be prepared,” but it is good advice. Below are tips from two sources about court communication.
Trial Communication Tips for Lawyers
In his podcast, attorney, Mitch Jackson, advises about trial communication. Though his advice is designed for attorneys, pro se litigants can benefit greatly from it too. The attorney / author offers some useful presentation tips that may prove effective for those representing themselves in court:
Mark Twain is credited with once saying, ‘It takes me three weeks to prepare for an impromptu speech.’ If you’ve ever watched a really good trial lawyer give an opening statement or closing argument, you’ll walk away from the experience moved, motivated and ready to take the requested action. Not only will you feel a strong rapport with the lawyer, you’ll also feel passionate about his or her client and the case.
Trial Communication Tips for Us
To supplement Jackson’s advice, the points below are specific to pro se litigants.
Prepare well. Don’t rely on lack of skills to save you. Sometimes being pro se can be an advantage. Judges might protect you and interpret arguments liberally, but don’t rest your case on that. Bias can be strong. If you don’t prepare well, you could lose quickly and badly. Get ready to argue in the courtroom. Legal Research For The Pro Se Litigant will help with finding cases and statutes you can rely on. Practice and experience helps with the rest.
Be credible. Always point to legal authorities in your arguments. When you back up what you say, it’s difficult for a judge to ignore it. Credibility can also be shown in the respect you show to court staff, lawyers and judges.
Don’t worry about nerves. Yes, you will be nervous, but if you’ve done your homework, you’ll know authorities, understand the issues involved, and know the argument(s) your opponent will make. With all this, it won’t matter much that you’re nervous. What matters is what you say and do in court.
Show that you know what you’re doing. Citing authorities is one way to show your knowledge. Another is by doing things that make a difference in how people treat you. Be polite, but don’t be a pushover. Understand your rights and position and argue for them. Try to understand the arguments your opponent makes at each trial stage.
Be polite to your opponent. The previous point mentions this, but it bears reiterating. Being polite can be difficult when your opponent is playing hardball or being nasty. Remember that lawyers are simply advocating for their clients. Don’t take things too personally. Just be sure you’re advocating for yourself too. If a statute requires you to communicate something to an attorney whom you don’t like, grit your teeth and communicate it. This will pay off in the end.
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