How to Make the Most of Your Trial Presentation
Your personal appearance affects the way people view you and your performance; therefore, always dress appropriately for the courtroom.
Getting the courtroom ready
Arrive at the courtroom or other trial venue at least 15 minutes early so that you can acquaint yourself with the layout, make any necessary adjustments for a mock trial situation and be ready to start the trial exactly on time.
The attorneys' tables need to each seat at least three attorneys comfortably. Be sure that there is adequate room to rise from your chair and adequate passageway to approach the bench or the witness.
Attorneys should neatly organize their materials on the tables. Get rid of all unnecessary papers, briefcases and pencils. Avoid unnecessary whispering and note passing between the attorneys during the trial as it is often distracting.
Witnesses should seat themselves in separate areas of the spectators' section. That action will eliminate unnecessary conversation during the trial.
Participants should remember that from the elevated bench the judge has a good view of the entire courtroom. Your seating posture has a definite impact on the judge's impression of you. Attorneys especially need to be conscious of how they are seated. Sit straight but not so stiff as to be uncomfortable. Put your feet flat on the floor or cross your legs in a professional manner. Avoid nervous mannerisms, such as shaking your leg or tapping your pencil.
All participants should speak loudly and enunciate each word as microphones are not usually available. Speaking clearly and distinctly cannot be emphasized enough; if the judge cannot understand what you are saying, the best prepared arguments and examination go unnoticed.
Presenting opening and closing statements
Since these are extemporaneous speeches, attorneys should employ effective speech-making techniques:
- Organize any materials before beginning.
- Rise slowly.
- With confidence, walk slowly yet deliberately to the podium or the area from which you will deliver the speech.
Get your body ready by assuming a good speech-making posture. Your feet should be set apart a bit and your weight balanced on the balls of your feet.
- Before your first word, look the judge directly in the eyes and then begin to speak directly to him or her. Customarily, one begins with the question, “may it please the court?” which is a courtesy to the judge to allow him or her to assent to your part of the case.
- Try for a conversational tone to your voice. Speak to the judge in a clear voice that is slow enough and loud enough for the judge to follow your ideas without straining.
- Avoid using slang. Always use your best vocabulary.
- Use variety in your delivery. You can emphasize major points in several different ways, i.e., pause before an important idea; raise your volume slightly to accentuate an important idea; or slow down to draw attention to an important idea.
- If you concentrate on communicating directly to the judge, gestures should be no problem. Natural gestures are always good to emphasize ideas. They will come instinctively if your focus is on talking to the judge. Don't force gestures and always avoid repetitive or unnecessary gestures.
- Movement is often dictated by the courtroom situation. If you are at a podium with a microphone, don't move away from the podium. In cases where there is no podium, well-timed movement can help punctuate a point or help you release nervous energy. Be sure not to pace. Keep your focus on directing the speech to the judge.
- Never move so that you are in front of the opposing counsel's table. This applies when giving openings/closings and when you're questioning a witness. Opposing counsel may object on the grounds that you are obstructing their view.
- Be aware that judges may interrupt during your closing statement and ask you a question. Pause. Listen carefully to the question. Then answer to the best of your ability. The most important thing is to maintain your poise.
- When you have concluded your speech, say "Thank you, Your Honor," while looking directly at the judge. Pause briefly and then take your seat. Show no signs of relief and don't immediately turn to speak to co-counsel. Always maintain that aura of poise and confidence.
Attorney questioning witnesses
Since much of the scoring is done on presentation, rise to do the questioning.
You may have questions written out, but don’t just read form your notes and be ready to adapt when objections are made or when a witness doesn't respond as you had expected.
Listen to the witness' response. S/he may not say what you had anticipated and thus you may have to insert or reword questions for clarification.
If opposing counsel makes an objection, stop speaking and give them the floor.
The judge may ask you to respond to their objection. Do so as confidently as you possibly can.
Sometimes you may want to ask the judge if you may respond to the objection.
If the judge rules against you on an objection, show no signs of dismay. Simply proceed with another question. The key again is to maintain your poise.
If you honestly don't know how to proceed, ask the judge if you may confer with your co-counsel. Make the conference brief. Use this conference technique only when absolutely essential. Judges may become frustrated if you hold up the trial too often. Remember: this conference counts as part of your time allotment.
Never ask a question to which you don't know the answer.
When you have finished your questioning, say "No further questions, Your Honor," and take your seat in a confident manner.
After you have been sworn in, the judge or bailiff will indicate for you to be seated. Respond by saying, "Thank you."
Seat yourself in the witness box in a professional manner.
Position yourself so that you can comfortably give your responses to the judge.
Speak loudly and clearly and in a manner best fitting the character you are portraying.
Don't allow any unnecessary movement/gestures to distract from your testimony
When an objection is made, immediately stop talking.
Wait until the objection is decided and even then don't respond until the attorney doing the questioning indicates that you should do so.
Do not attempt to answer a question that you don't understand. Ask for clarification to be sure you know what is meant.
Never argue with the judge or the opposing counsel. Leave that to your attorney. Keep a cool head!
Do not leave the witness box until the judge directs you to "step down." In an instance where a judge might forget, wait a bit and then ask, "May I step down, Your Honor?"
Walk slowly and confidently back to the spectators' section.
Do not speak to anyone along the way or when you are seated.
While the judge deliberates
Rise when the judge is leaving the courtroom.
You now have the opportunity to meet the other team. Walk over to the other team members. Introduce yourself. It's always appropriate to congratulate them on a good aspect of their performance. Remember that they're teenagers just like you. You are all young people experiencing a courtroom situation. Certainly you want to win the trial, but a potential friendship can mean a lifetime of winning.