20 Rules for Preparing to Testify, Rules 11-20

Preparing to testify can be a bit nerve-wracking. Review these 20 rules for preparing to testify to help you get ready and gain some confidence before the big day. Rules 11-20 are below. For rules 1-10 read 20 Rules for Preparing to Testify, Rules 1-10.

11. Do Not Guess.

Never guess at an answer without explaining that you are estimating. I have had clients say that they were three or four car lengths away before the Respondent failed to yield the right-of-way. Later, when asked, “Approximately how many feet away were you at that time?” they answered, “Twenty-five feet.” This answer conflicted with the first one because most cars are about 20 feet long, a fact the clients did not realize.


12. Never say “Never”.

You should not use the words “never” and “always”. These words can be used against you and are not necessary to fully answer a question. For instance, you should not say “I’ve never had any preexisting condition” unless you are absolutely certain. Otherwise you run the risk of the opposing counsel impeaching them with prior medical records that you may have forgotten.


13. Opposing Counsel’s Style.

I will familiarize you with opposing counsel’s personality and tactics during the deposition. You will then know what to expect when all his participants are in the courtroom.


14. Do Not Be Intimidating or Intimidated.

You should not try to intimidate the opposition. For instance, arguing, making unpleasant facial expressions, or even insulting the opposition could be seen as attempts to intimidate. The jury will not sympathize with a bully. You should always be polite and positive while testifying.
If the opposition tries to intimidate you and you are feeling anxious, you should ask for a break, take three deep breaths, square and drop your shoulders, and continue testifying.


15. Let the Opponent Finish Asking a Question.

Do not interrupt opposing counsel. Even if you think you have properly anticipated the full question, you may be mistaken. Interrupting can open the door for another dozen questions you might not be prepared for. Wait until the defense attorney finishes asking the question before responding.


16. How to Point out Interruptions.

If you are interrupted with a statement by counsel, make sure you let the attorney go ahead and finish speaking. Then you should respond with, “I’m sorry, but I had not completed my answer to the previous question.” Then the record will contain this interchange.


17. What to Do If You Are Not Sure How to Answer a Question.

When you are asked serious questions that you do not know how to answer, there are two things you can do. You can tell opposing counsel that you do not understand the question and ask for clarification. Often this will clear up any misunderstanding on your part. This also gives you a little more time to think about the question and how to answer it.
You can also ask opposing counsel to restate or rephrase the question. This too allows you more time to collect your thoughts before you answer.
You should ask for clarification or restatement only if it is absolutely necessary. If you ask too often, jurors may think you are making up answers.


18. Always Be Polite.

Courteous witnesses make a positive impression on jurors and judges. For example, instead of saying merely “yes” or “no”, you should say “yes, sir” or “no, ma’am”. This shows that you are respectful, no matter what tactics opposing counsel resorts to.


19. Look Jurors or the Judge in the Eye.

You will tend to look at the lawyer who is examining you. Look directly at the jurors or the judge most of the time. You should try to overcome being nervous or shy and speak to the members of the jury as if they were neighbors or friends. Jurors are interested in getting all the information they need to make an informed decision in the case. They will be looking to you to supply necessary information.


20. Your Appearance.

Make sure you dress and behave appropriately. You should wear clothing that you normally wear; you need not go out and rent a suit. But you should dress neatly – as you would for a celebration dinner or a Sunday at church. You should behave as if they are in those situations as well. Witnesses who are calm, articulate, and polite rarely go wrong.
Preparing for testimony is hard work, requiring specific instruction from the attorney and cooperation from the client. It is critically important for you to understand that what you say can be used for or against you. Testifying truthfully, answering questions briefly, and tempering or expanding replies will make you a good witness.


If you haven’t already be sure to review 20 Rules for Preparing to Testify, Rules 1-10.