Courtroom Etiquette and Demeanor
for Trial Advocates
copyright © 1995-2017 Ray Moses
all rights reserved
"As an officer of the court, defense counsel should support the authority of the court and the dignity of the trial courtroom by strict adherence to codes of professionalism and
by manifesting a professional attitude toward the judge, opposing counsel,
witnesses, jurors, and others in the courtroom."
Standard 4-7.1(a) - Courtroom Professionalism
Etiquette: A body of rules governing the way in which people behave socially,
ceremonially, and in public life.
For an amusing glimpse of courtroom demeanor gone awry, look at The Three Stooges'
Just when you least expect it - courtrooms gone wild!! (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6)
Success in the courtroom and life itself comes from a combination of
character, competence, and commitment.
"There's one other reason for dressing well, namely that dogs respect it,
and will not attack you in good clothes."
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Here are my suggestions to law students studying trial advocacy and to new lawyers concerning how you should conduct yourself in court.
1. Respect the Rules of the House. Find out the do's and don't's of the court you'll be practicing in, and follow them. Your client, your witnesses, and your colleagues need to be advised of some of these pet peeves. Every judge has likes and dislikes. A few have rules that are downright persnickety, but most make good sense. For example, all judges want everyone to turn off cell phones and pagers while court is in session; some judges cannot abide any background noise from talking lawyers while the judge is trying to take a plea; some judges are very protective of their privacy and don't want visitors when the door to their chambers is closed; some judges don't want prosecutors bargaining on probation revocations, the judge considering this a contract between the defendant and the court; some judges get very perturbed by lawyers who wait until the last minute to raise housekeeping issues that keep prospective jurors waiting in the hallway; many judges are sensitive to discourteous conduct or bickering between opposing lawyers; most judges don't want anyone, including lawyers, reading newspapers or magazines in the courtroom; they don't want anyone bringing edibles into the courtroom; they don't want anyone propping their feet on tables, chairs, or benches; they don't want lawyers sitting on tables, railings, desks, or arms of chairs; they don't want people wearing headgear or hats, including baseball caps, in their courtrooms; they don't want lawyers leaning on the bench; they don't want lawyers referring to parties or witnesses by anything other than their last names, e. g. "Mr. Ames," "Dr. Burns." ln rural areas, judges may not want to hear how things are done in the big city. Almost all judges are very put off by lawyers interrupting them or opposing counsel. (Let the judge and, unless you need to protect the record, your opponent finish before getting your two cents worth in.) With regard to trials, most judges want you to be able to opine how long it will take to try the case, whether you have scheduling conflicts, whether you anticipate filing motions prior to trial, whether there is a possibility of settlement and whether there are anticipated problems that need to be resolved prior to trial. Many judges prefer that you premark your exhibits; some require that you file an exhibit list with the court. Most judges do not want you to argue your objections or respond to the other side's objections in the presence of the jury. Normally only one attorney for each party will be permitted to examine or cross-examine any one witness, and the lawyer who examines or cross-examines is typically the lawyer who will be permitted make and respond to objections. i.e., no double-teaming on examination or objections. Many judges prefer that you not make substantive motions, e.g., motion for directed verdict, in the presence or earshot of the jury. In cases involving expert testimony, many judges do not want the proponent of the witness to ask the judge to declare the witness an expert; instead the judge prefers to leave it to the opposition to either object to the expert witness' competence or ask to voir dire the purported expert witness re his/her qualifications; only if the opposition raises an objection to the witness' qualifications to testify as an expert will the court be willing to rule that the witness is qualified. Many judges have minimal dress codes for lawyers and defendants. Some judges insist that you have a written motion for continuance prepared and filed if you are going to announce "not ready." Some will require the parties to get together in advance of trial and determine which exhibits will involve evidentiary challenges, i.e., those to which admissibility is not stipulated. Some will require regarding opening statement that counsel request and obtain prior court approval before introducing topics that may have a significant potential for unfair prejudice. Some will require that counsel meet and confer prior to the deadline for submission of instructions and make a good faith effort to agree on the submission of all non-standard instructions. Some courts require that each requested instruction be submitted on a separate sheet of paper. Most judges will not want you to initiate any sort of substantive, case-related ex parte (out of the presence of opposing counsel) conversation about the case with the court. Trial judges frown (no pun intended) on lawyers and others who may exhibit facial expressions, head shaking, or guttural approval or disapproval of transactions or testimony elicited from a witness. Pretrial and peri-trial contact with jurors outside of court is prohibited everywhere. Similarly, all judges do not allow you to address a juror by name after voir dire is complete. To avoid improper currying of favor, most judges prefer that you make suggestions regarding comfort of the jury out of the jury's presence. The list can go on and on. It will vary in each jurisdiction and with each judge. In addition to using your common sense, it's up to you to ask around and find out the likes and dislikes of your particular trial judge.
2. Check Out the Venue. Visit the unfamiliar courtroom. Check out lines of sight from the witness box, the jury box, the bench, the lectern (podium), and counsel tables. If you think that counsel tables need to be rearranged for the sake of fairness, do not move them without obtaining the court's permission. Get a feel for the acoustics. If your exhibits will take up space or if you are carting electronic presentation gear, find out if the court opens early and where you can store your exhibits and/or presentation equipment. Note the location of electric power outlets and lighting controls. Determine who (usually the bailiff) handles the courtroom lighting. Determine what sort of presentation equipment, e.g., flipcharts, video monitors, screens, the court supplies and what you need to do to reserve desired equipment. (If you don't reserve the court's equipment, nine times out of ten, it won't be available when you need it.)
3. Be Punctual. Don't Waste the Court's or Jury's Time. Be Candid with the Court. Being Punctual: Better an hour too early than a minute too late! Be so punctual that the judge can predict the rising and setting of the sun by your comings and goings. Or, as a judge once told me, "Mr. Moses, if you can't be on time, be early!" Tip: When in trial, make it a habit to get to court before your opponent every day. Your adversary will perceive you as ready and confident. Wasting Time: Don't keep the court waiting. If you are going to be tardy for a court appearance, call the court and provide your reasons for being tardy. Tell the court when you will arrive. Don't waste the court's time. Delaying tactics will irritate the court. Judges are concerned with keeping their dockets moving. Trial engagements typically take precedence over any other business. So, if you have matters in courtrooms other than the one in which you are trying a case, make other arrangements in advance for handling of those matters. If you can, save the court some time, e.g., by premarking your exhibits in advance of the court session, by having your witnesses ready to testify, by having orders prepared in advance for the judge's signature, by providing a bench brief regarding key evidentiary rulings, by having all documents about which you intend to question a witness readily available when you start the examination etc. If you anticipate that oral argument will be required for an evidentiary ruling or to resolve some other issue during the trial, alert the court so the matter may be heard either before the jury arrives or after the jury has been dismissed for the day. Most importantly, the jurors have volunteered their time for negligible pay. Their time is valuable to them. Don't ever engage in dilatory tactics and needless repetition that makes clear that you are wasting their time. If you waste the jurors' time, you will lose their goodwill.Candor: Do not make false statements of law or fact to the court.
4. Be Well Groomed, Well Dressed, and Dignified. The same goes for your client, your witnesses, and your co-counsel. Of course, every lawyer recognizes that you don't persuade jurors simply by pointing a suit at them. But, it's a start. People often judge from appearances; jurors and judges are people.
5. Maintain and Attitude of Confidence, Politeness, and Courtesy to All Court Personnel and Opposing Counsel. It helps to have the court staff, e.g., clerk, bailiff, court reporter, etc, on your side. Have a pleasant expression on your face when deal with the court staff. Be nice. Be likeable. Don't be condescending, arrogant or cocky. Treat opposing counsel in a civil and courteous manner, but do not ever let the jury think that you have a cozy relationship with the other side. Avoid disparaging remarks and acrimony. Abstain from sidebar remarks, i.e., disparaging comments or remarks, not addressed to the court, made while opposing counsel is questioning or making a jury speech. Don't make comments expressing your personal opinion. Don't attribute bad motives or improper conduct to the opposition, unless you have proof. Stay in control of your emotions. Even if opposing counsel is a jerk, don't be confrontational unless it advances your case, e.g., when a prosecutor has suppressed evidence favorable to the defense. The cardinal rule: Don't get angry, except on purpose.
6. Prepare Complicated Stipulations in Writing Before You Present Them in Court. Don't make an offer or request for a stipulation in front of the jurors unless you have vetted it with the opposition in advance of the request or offer. When you have reached an oral agreement concerning stipulations, exchange drafts with the opposition and cooperate in reducing it to writing. As general rule, do not offer any stipulation, unless opposing counsel (and the defendant) has agreed to the stipulation and it has been reduced to writing. In a criminal case, neither side has the duty to stipulate to relevant evidence, even though the evidence may not be vigorously disputed. When you do think about stipulating to witness testimony, recognize that there are two types of stipulation. First, you may stipulate that if any absent witness were present his/her sworn testimony would be thus and so. Second, you may stipulate not only to the testimony that the absent witness would provide but also to the truth and correctness of that stipulated testimony. In the former situation, the credibility of the source of the stipulated testimony and the truth and correctness of that testimony is still at issue. In the former situation, credibility and correctness is not in issue because the truth and correctness of the stipulated testimony is no longer in issue. If the other side has the burden of proof on the issue covered by the stipulation, you are much better of in stipulating to the testimony but not the truth of it. If you have the burden of proof on the issue, try to get the opposition to agree not only to the stipulated testimony but also to the truth and correctness of it. Tip: If the defendant in a criminal case is stipulating to testimony in either situation, the prosecution should ensure that the court admonishes the defendant regarding his constitutional rights to subpoena, confront, and cross-examine witnesses and obtains a knowing waiver (1). 7. Be Ready with Grounds for Your Objections. Try to anticipate possible objections, the grounds for them, and the probable responses. When you do object in the presence of the jury, make your objection timely and specifically to the point. Cite the Rule of Evidence and/or the common designation, e.g., "inadmissible hearsay" for your objection. Don't argue the objection without court approval, and, even then, argue at sidebar. Don't argue with the ruling of the court in the jury's presence. For more see Objections. 8. Request the Use of Easels, Chalkboards, Document Cameras, Video Monitors and Recorders, Projectors, Screens, and Other Equipment Well In Advance So That They May Be Set Up While the Court Is Not In Session. Don't waste the jury's time. If you are going to display evidence, be certain that the medium of display is ready for your use. If you are using an electronic medium, always have a hardcopy backup in case of power failure. If you plan to use a demonstrative aid that requires a special display medium, let the court know in advance what you are going to do.
9. Stay Out of the "Well" Unless You are Given Permission. The "well" is the area between the judge's bench and the counsel tables. Judges typically insist that this area be kept clear of movement of people, unless permission has been obtained to enter it. Permission to move into the well is gained by asking the court, e.g., " May I approach the witness?" or "May I approach the bench?" or "May I have the reporter mark this item for identification as State's Exhibit No. 1?" or "May the witness step down and approach the chalkboard?" If you don't know the custom of the court regarding position and movement during opening statement and jury argument, as a matter of housekeeping you may want to inquire of the court out of the jury's presence, "Your Honor, do we have permission to move about the well during opening statement and jury argument?" Note: In actual practice, you may find that while all judges will require leave of court to approach the bench, many will allow you to approach the witness without leave of court whenever necessary to show the witness a tangible item of evidence.
10. Stand When the Judge or Jury Enters or Leaves the Courtroom. Stand when court is opened, recessed, or adjourned. Do the same when the jury enter the courtroom or begins to exit the jury box. Remember to tell your client and witnesses to do the same. (1) This is a basic gesture of respect for the referee and/or the decision-maker.
11. Stand When Addressing the Court, Being Addressed By the Court, Objecting and Responding to Objections. Always stand when speaking to the court, being spoken to by the court, objecting, and responding to objections. Those who do not stand when addressing the court, e.g., making or responding to an objection, will sometimes have their words ignored by the court. When you don't stand, the judge may imply ignore you or say, "I can't hear you, counsel." - meaning that your words to the court won't be heard as long as you remain seated.
12. Be Respectful in Your Public Requests, Comments, and Dealings with the Court. Adopt a formal approach that reflects courtesy and respect for the authority of the court. Common phrases that are used when communicating with the judge include the following: "May it please the Court," used as the greeting at the outset of your opening statement and your opening argument; "With Your Honor's leave (or permission), I would like to, " used when seeking permission to do something; "As the court pleases," "Very well, Your Honor," and "So be it, Your Honor" - used when you are acceding (consenting) to an unobjectionable oral direction or order of the court. "As the Court well knows," used when you are getting ready to educate the judge about something s/he probably doesn't know. Don't interrupt the judge. Listen to what the judge says. The judge has considerable discretionary power that can be used to help you or hurt you, even in jury trials where s/he serves only as the referee. Something as nebulous as the judge's tone of voice in ruling on objections can influence the juror's perceptions of your credibility. In jury trials, treat the judge as though s/he was the foreperson of the jury. Every judge has quirks. In some locales, there are published Judge's Bench Books that describe the peculiarities, predilections, and requirements of each local judge. These may be useful reading if you are not personally familiar with the way a certain judge runs his or her court.
13. Avoid Too Many Bench (Sidebar) Conferences. Jurors Don't Like to Feel Left Out of the Loop. Try to anticipate the necessity for rulings and discuss them when the jury is not seated. You can often smooth the road by using pretrial motions in limine. Once trial has started, you should seek to resolve sensitive matters before court the jury is brought into the courtroom. If prejudicial publicity is an issue you may want to seek an en camera hearing before the court. Jurors are suspicious of the motives of attorneys who keep them from hearing everything that's going. When a bench or sidebar conference is unavoidable, seek permission from the court before approaching the bench or sidebar. Rather than saying, "May we approach the bench, Your Honor?", consider gilding the phrasing of your request in a way that will appeal to the judge, e.g., "Your Honor, I need some guidance from the court. May we approach?." The upside of approaching the bench is that sensitive comments made at the bench conference or sidebar are out of the jury's earshot, and the trip to the bench or sidebar does give you a few precious moments to think about what you are going to say when you get there.
14. Talk in the Third Person When Referring to Conduct or Requests of the Court and/or Opposing Counsel. Talking in the third person means that when speaking to or about the judge you refer to the judge as the "court" rather than as "judge so-and-so", e.g., "Would the Court entertain a request for a brief recess?" and refer to the lawyer on the other side as "opposing counsel" rather than by the lawyer's name, e.g., "Would the Court instruct opposing counsel to provide us with a copy of the witness' prior written statement?"
15. Address All Remarks to Opposing Counsel Through the Court. Do not speak directly to opposing counsel, except for perfunctory matters of courtesy. If you want opposing counsel to do something, ask the court to ask opposing counsel to do it, e.g., "Would the Court ask opposing counsel to furnish us with a copy of the bench brief that she provided to the Court?" Use the court as your intermediary, e.g., "Your Honor, we would ask that the prosecution provide us with a copy of the witness' statement pursuant to Rule 615 TRE." Don't turn and address or question opposing counsel directly, even when opposing counsel makes sidebar remarks. If you need to confer with the opposition while the jury is in the box say, "Your Honor, may we have your permission to confer with opposing counsel for a brief moment?'
16. In Some Trial Courts You Must Question the Witness from a Seated Position at Counsel Table, Unless You Have Been Given Permission to Be On Your Feet. In Texas and in many federal courts, it is customary for trial lawyers to question witnesses while counsel is seated at counsel table. Of course, there are circumstances when you will be given permission to question while standing, e.g., when you need to show a witness an exhibit. In some courts with modern evidence presentation consoles equipped with a podium (lectern) clustered with an evidence camera and projector, a telestrator, a video replay unit, a printer and computer terminals, counsel may question from the lectern housing this equipment. Also, there is nothing to prevent the court from allowing you, upon request, to move about the courtroom while questioning a witness. In Texas, TRE 611(a) gives the trial court the power to control the mode of questioning witnesses. In many jurisdictions, e.g., Florida, Massachusetts, it is common for counsel to question from a lectern. One caveat, if the court allows you to move about the courtroom, don't crowd the jury; respect the juror's space, understanding that jurors are not free to leave their seats at will. [Note: When dealing with a witness on cross-examination, you will have more authority with the witness if the witness perceives that you control the courtroom space. It helps to be on your feet. Try to plan your cross-examination so that you move toward the witness with exhibits that you touch. When you freely move about and the witness is confined to the witness chair, you will have enhanced your control over that witness.]
17. Do Not Thank the Court for Its Ruling, No Matter Whether the Ruling Is In Your Favor Or Not. Don't thank the court for ruling for you or against you. If you thank the court for ruling in your favor, the court may resent the implication that it is biased in your favor. If you thank the court for ruling against you and the jury understands that the ruling was against you, expressing your gratitude makes you look stupid. If you try to fool the jury into believing that the court was ruling for you by thanking the judge, you will probably be caught in your deception.
18. Do Seek a Lifeline or Parachute Line from the Court When a Brain Cramp Causes You to Temporarily Lose Your Train of Thought, Saying, "May I Have a Moment, Your Honor?" or "Would the Court indulge me for a moment?" At some point in your career as a trial lawyer, you will need to seek help from the court because your brain has shut down temporarily. It will happen eventually. For some reason, lawyer brains take a brief holiday during periods of courtroom stress. We call it losing your train of thought or going brad dead. When this happens, remain calm, don't blanch or revert to bed-wetting. You may decide to camouflage your predicament by pretending to clean your spectacles or getting a drink of water or taking out your pen and scribbling or rummaging among the papers on your table. All of these stalls may provide the few seconds you need for your brain housing unit to kick in. But there is an easier way. Simply say those magic words, "May I have a moment, Your Honor?" This is the international distress call between lawyers and judges, and even the most difficult judges will honor it. Another variation is, "Will the court indulge me for a moment?" You may want to disguise your request by adding "I want to be sure to get this exactly right." The judge will almost always give you a few seconds to get back on track. Why? Because the judge probably suffered a few brain cramps in his/her career as a trial lawyer and sympathizes with you. Use the garnered moment to gather your thoughts together, and proceed when ready.
19. Don't Quarrel With Opposing Counsel or the Court. The most obvious sign of an aggressive rookie advocate is the propensity to quarrel with the court and opposing counsel about everything. Don't do it. In quarreling, stature is lost. Make a pact with yourself to avoid making disparaging or acrimonious remarks to or about opposing counsel. Be assertive rather than aggressive in your conversations with the court and the opposition. It does your cause no good to engage in undignified or discourteous conduct that is degrading to the court or opposing counsel. There is a difference between quarreling with the court and counsel and standing up for your position by making valid legal and factual arguments with regard to objections and responses. Effective argument is part of what you are being paid to do. You aren't paid to whine. If you want to argue a point with the court, ask if you may be heard.
20. When Your Opponent Blunders, Don't Rejoice, But Don't Pick Him Up Either. Always be civil to the opposition. Recognize that the trial is a contest. When the opposition falters or blunders, do not gloat, thrill, or rejoice. On the other hand, do not save the opponent from the jaws of defeat. If opposing counsel is proverbially digging himself into a hole, let him keep digging.
21. Deal with the Non-Responsive Witness Without Asking the Court to Help You. Let the Court Volunteer to Admonish the Witness. When you run into a non-responsive witness, get control of the witness and demonstrate that the witness is ducking your questions and answering unasked questions. As a general rule, don't ask the court to do your dirty work. Try to avoid the usual practice of beseeching the judge to admonish the witness to answer the question, e.g., "Would the Court please instruct the witness to listen to the question that I ask and to answer that question without adding gratuitous thoughts?" Instead, deal with the witness yourself. You can learn how to deal with the non-responsive witness without having to seek help from the judge. Various techniques for getting control of the non-responsive witness are detailed in the CCJA monograph, Cross-Examination in Criminal Cases and on the Cross-Examination page. If you are skilled, you won't need the judge's help with the witness who doesn't want to answer the question. If the witness simply refuses to be corralled, the judge will usually volunteer to rein him in. Accept the court's help, but don't ask for it.
22. Don't Ask the Court to Sanction Your Opponent. You appear weak when you ask the court to punish your opponent. It's better to punish your opponent personally. How do you level the playing field? Outlawyer 'em!
23. When You Want the Jurors to See an Exhibit, Ask to Have It "Passed" to the Jury of "Displayed" for the Jury. Leave Out the Stuffed-Shirt Word "Publish." In my trial advocacy course, don't say, "May this exhibit be published to the jury?" This prissy language, fostered by law schools and now appearing commonly in court, is too over the top for me. Use plain and simple language that jurors understand and say, "May this exhibit be passed (or displayed or shown) to the jury?" [Note: If, when dining, you are the type who asks your dinner partner to "publish the mashed potatoes," disregard this suggestion.]
24. When You Want the Jurors to See Something Favorable that is Happening in Court Make Sure that All the Jurors Can See If something of favorable importance to your theory of the case is happening in court, make sure that all the jurors can see. Simply say to the court, "Your Honor, we'd like to be sure that all the jurors can see this (describe the demonstration or thing, e.g., 'this demonstration' or 'this scale model'.)" or "Your Honor, will you inquire of the jury whether everyone can see?" You'll solve the problem. The added benefit is that you have alerted inattentive jurors that they should be observing these upcoming proceedings with care.
25. Don't Ever Pass an Item of Evidence Directly to a Jury Member. Once you have the okay from the judge to have the exhibit passed to the jury, give the item to the court bailiff; one of whose jobs is to pass and retrieve evidence to and from the jurors. Do not ever pass anything directly from your hand to a juror's hand. [This is consistent with the general rule that under no circumstances are you to attempt to communicate in any manner, other than in open court during the trial, with any member of the jury prior to receipt of the verdict and release of the jurors by the court. Note that some jurisdictions, e.g., federal, place very severe restrictions upon post-trial contact between lawyers and jurors.]
26. Don't Echo (Parrot) or "OKAY" the Witness' Answers. These are both common phenomena among inexperienced lawyers. Echoing (parroting) is simply repeating the witness' favorable answer before you ask your next question. It's an unsophisticated effort to use the figure of speech know as repetition as a mode of persuasion. The much preferred technique of repetition is to simply loop a favorable answer into your next question. The most difficult habit to avoid is the "OKAY'" syndrome. Odds are that you will find yourself unconsciously saying "Okay" immediately after the witness answers your question. If you are desperately in need of self-assurance, you will say "Okay" as a response to almost every answer that you get on direct examination. The best way of curing yourself of parroting and the loathsome and distracting addiction to the word "Okay" is to watch yourself doing it on video. [In my trial advocacy class, I ring a small dinner bell every time a major violator says "Okay" as a response. It cures the habit.]
27. Refer to the Exhibit by Its Identifying Exhibit Number. Once an exhibit has been marked, refer to the exhibit by its exhibit identification number. Don't say, "Look at this. Do you recognize it?" Instead, say, "I'm handing you what has been marked for identification as State's Exhibit Number One. Do you recognize it?" Once the exhibit has been received in evidence continue to refer to it by its exhibit number, e.g, "Take a look at this aerial photo marked State's Exhibit Number One, and show us where the motor home was parked." To understand why you need to refer to exhibits by number, picture yourself as an appellate judge reading a transcript and trying to decipher what the word "this" refers to.
28. Recognize That You Are Making a Record Through the Court Reporter. Be conscious that there is a court reporter preserving the record in shorthand. When the last words have been spoken, all that remains is the record. What you say may be read back to the jury or it may be read by one or more appellate judges (or at least by their staff attorneys). Keep this in mind. What can you do to facilitate the making of a good record? Here are a few suggestions:
- Identify yourself to the court reporter before the trial or hearing commences. A good way to do this is simply to provide the reporter with your business card that provides your name, address, phone, fax, e-mail, and state bar card number.
- Provide the court reporter with technical terms that may be used by (expert) witnesses.
- Don't overspeak. The reporter can't hear and understand two people at one time. If the witness overspeaks you, try politely saying, "We both can't speak at once or the court reporter is going to be upset with us. The reporter can't hear and understand both of us talking at the same time." Don't crowd your witness' answer with your next question. It's easy to do when you are excited. If an opposition witness is overspeaking your questions or is running on with an unresponsive answer, you may need to overspeak by saying, "Did you understand my question?" See the web page on Cross-Examination for methods of dealing with a non-responsive witness. Another method of stopping the opposition witness who intentionally overspeaks you is to show the witness your upraised open palm in a stop gesture. It works about 60% of the time, particularly if you stand at the same time and say, "Just a moment. The court reporter can't take this down if we are both speaking at the same time." If you overspeak your witness, you may take the blame by saying, "Sorry, I apologize to the court reporter for overspeaking the witness."
- Don't speak too rapidly. Your speech will become blurred and indistinct at above 200 words per minute.
- Have your witnesses state and spell their names - given and surname (proper).
- Make certain that numbers are presented in a non-confusing manner.
- If you have a large number of exhibits, let the reporter know in advance.
- Many courts require that you premark your exhibits. Find out beforehand if this is the policy in your trial court. Determine if the court reporter uses color-coded exhibit stickers, e.g., blue for the prosecution, yellow for the defense. If so, ask the court reporter for a sufficient number of exhibit stickers to premark your exhibits. Some courts will use letters, e.g., State's/ Plaintiff's Exhibit A, for prosecutors/plaintiffs and numbers for the defense, e.g., Defense Exhibit 1.
- Find out if the court requires you to file an exhibit list prior to trial. If so, copies of your exhibit list typically go to the court, the court reporter and opposing counsel.
- Clarify non-verbal conduct and gestures, e.g., "[To the witness] For the record, you have (describe the witness' non-verbal conduct, e.g., 'raised you right hand with closed fist to your right ear'), is that a fair statement?)" "For the record, the witness is (describe the non-verbal gesture, e.g., 'indicating a distance of approximately two feet'). " or "Let the record reflect that (describe the non-verbal gesture, e.g., 'the witness is pointing to the defendant')." or "[If you are confident that the trial judge is willing to become a witness] For the record, would Your Honor approximate (indicate the non-verbal occurrence, e.g., 'the distance indicated by the witness')?" The goal is to be certain that the witness' testimony is clear in the record. Suppose, for example, that you ask a witness how far he was from the attacker and he answers, "About as far as from me to you." You should clarify this answer for the record by getting the witness to express the distance in feet. Similarly, if a witness answers a question with a shake of the head or a nod, get him to answer orally, e.g., "You'll have to speak up so the court reporter can get your answer." An alternative approach is for you to indicate the unambiguous non-verbal answer for the record, e.g., "Let the record reflect that the witness shook his head affirmatively in a "yes" answer to the last question."
- If you are using a translator (interpreter), ask your questions directly of the witness. Don't say to the translator, " Ask him if ..."
- Withdraw mistaken references immediately upon recognizing their inaccuracy, e.g., " I misspoke myself. Let me withdraw that reference and start over."
- If you want to ask the court reporter to mark certain crucial trial testimony for later copying and use in court during subsequent questioning or in argument, work out a code word/phrase such as "mark, please" that will alert the court reporter that you want that testimony noted for later copying and use in court. Let the judge know in advance that you have made this arrangement with the reporter and obtain the court's approval.
- If you quote from the evidence, indicate the source and page number, e.g., " Concerning your sworn testimony at the preliminary hearing, on page 3, line 7 of the reporter's transcript of the hearing, did you say (quote the prior inconsistent statement)."
- If you read prior testimony, use the "question" and "answer" method.
- If you ever go off the record with a sidebar conference, be sure to remember to tell the reporter to go back on the record when the off-the-record conference ends.
29. Don't Pass Notes, Ear Whisper or Sleeve Tug on Your Co-Counsel When Co-Counsel Is Examining a Witness. The lawyer who is questioning the witness is the captain of the case and the master of the examination. Co-counsel, sitting at the lawyer's table, is the first mate. The cardinal rule is: The first mate (co-counsel) does not interrupt or interfere with the captain (the examiner) without the captain's permission. Work this out in advance. If you want to be interrupted mid-stream, ignore this suggestion. Unless you come up with a better procedure, while the examination is taking place, the co-counsel should sit silently and make cogent written notes of any suggestions for the examiner. When the examiner has completed the questioning and before passing the witness, the examiner should ask the court, "Your Honor, will the court give me just a couple of minutes to confer with co-counsel?" The judge will always give you a chance to briefly confer with co-counsel. The examiner and co-counsel then confer orally and/or the examiner visually reviews the written suggestions. My reasons for this suggestion arise from seeing hundreds of instances where an overly zealous co-counsel interrupts the examiner with suggestions during the heart of the examination. It's bad practice for several reasons: It distracts the examiner. It distracts the jurors. It gives the appearance that the co-counsel lacks confidence in the examiner. Need I say more?
30. When You Finish a Round of Questioning, Say "No further questions at this time" or "Pass the witness to counsel for (either cross, redirect, recross)" or "We tender the witness for examination (or for questioning) by opposing counsel)"; Only When the Witness Is Passed to You and You Have No Questions to Ask Should You Say "No further questions." Many lawyers who call a witness end their direct examination with the statement "No further questions." Then, opposing counsel questions the witness on cross and says "No further questions." So far, so good. Then, in violation of the earlier pledge to ask no further questions the lawyer who called the witness, asks further questions on redirect and again ends with a "No further questions." Then opposing counsel, who has also promised to ask no further questions, recrosses the witness and ends with "No further questions." This can go on and on, until one side actually has no further questions. At that time, the witness is excused. Why fib? Why say, "No further questions" when you may indeed ask some more questions a little later down the line, i.e., when the witness is passed to you? In my Criminal Trial Advocacy course, when you have finished with your questioning of a witness on direct, cross, redirect, recross, etc., you always say, "No further questions at this time" or "Pass the witness for questioning," or '"Your Honor, I've concluded my (state the stage. e.g., direct) examination," or, if you want to be assertive in giving the other side a shot at your witness, "We tender the witness for questioning by opposing counsel," or "Opposing counsel may inquire of the witness." If you want to run the risk of speaking directly to opposing counsel, you might say "The witness is back to you, counsel." Only and only when the witness is passed or tendered to you and you have absolutely no questions of the witness at that juncture may you say, "No further questions," or " I have no further questions of this witness," or "Nothing further." Under this approach only one lawyer will say, "No further questions." And that lawyer will say it only once. After it is said, the witness be excused or excused subject to recall by the judge and will step down from the witness stand. At the point where the witness is excused, the judge may ask each side if it is agreeable to excuse the witness; if you anticipate needing to recall the witness later in the case and don't want the witness to be released from his/her subpoena, be sure to let the court know that you do not want the witness excused and want the witness to remain in attendance and subject to the court's subpoena. You'll need to provide the trial judge with a good reason for holding the witness. Be prepared to say at sidebar, "Your Honor, I anticipate that I will need to recall the witness later in the case for the purpose of (state your good reason)." Also, be aware that holding the witness after s/he has testified on cross and direct is often a substantial inconvenience to the witness. In such case, you may consider stating to the court that you are amenable to allowing the witness to go about her/his business subject to notification by the court that s/he is being recalled.
31. Act in Conformity with Ethical Values that Are Commonly Held in Esteem: In all that you do in and about the courtroom, reflect the ethical values that people traditionally admire, e.g., sincerity, fairness, etc. [Bonus: If it's not covered above, check Miss Manners. or, if I've missed something, drop an email suggesting an addition. And always remember, be a little kinder than necessary to jurors and courtroom personnel. Either can help you or hurt you as they choose.]