If you get stagefright, read this
Stagefright is common among lawyers, criminal defendants, witnesses, jurors and everyone else who appears before a judge and jury. In that regard, I understand that even Yul Brynner, with many performances of The King and I behind him, would still precede his stage appearances with pressing his wrist against a wall or other hard object, to relax himself before facing his audience. I do t’ai chi.
Here are a few ideas for lawyers, their clients, and witnesses to feel more comfortable — and, therefore, to be more powerfully persuasive — in the courtroom, including in courthouses where the lawyer less frequently appears:
– Read my 2010 article on overcoming stagefright.
– Internalize the courthouse and courtroom as if it overlaps with the place that you ae most comfortable, whether it be a place in your home, nature or elsewhere.
– Make the courthouse and courtroom your home. Visit there frequently before your trial. Have your clients and witnesses sit not only in the courtroom, but on the witness stand, and experience court proceedings, preferably trials.
– The courtroom is a battlefield, and is also akin to a playing field. One would expect a top baseball player to practice in an opponent’s baseball field before the first game there. Circling the battlefield helps me, as I discuss here.
– The courtroom’s being a battlefield, learn the battlefield’s terrain. A huge advantage that the Viet Cong had over American soldiers during the Vietnam War was knowing the culture, growing up with the tropical weather and any biting flies, snakes and other problematic critters, and heavy rains; keeping thin physiques that enabled them to crawl through narrow tunnels; and traveling lightly, versus the heavily-geared American soldiers and the unfamiliarity with so many of them with living outside the United States, let alone in such a different culture and terrain while bullets, booby-traps, and hand grenades constantly threatened them.
Therefore, know your judges and prosecutors, the local culture, and the written and unwritten rules of practice in each courthouse where you appear. Consult with local lawyers for the lay of the land, and retain local counsel when needed for faraway courthouses. Figure out when and where prosecutors negotiate on misdemeanor trial dates; in some Virginia and Maryland counties where I practice, that is done in a room that you might not find if you do not inquire in advance. Know the courthouse’s practices for summoning, excusing, and orienting potential jurors.
– Figure out what makes you uncomfortable in the courtroom. Does the drafty, windowless, unsmiling, sometimes dead feel of the courtroom make you uncomfortable? Then consider visualizing and hearing what makes you alive, and replace those feelings and sensations into the courtroom, as I wrote here in 2006.
In that regard, if a picture of loved ones or other item makes you comfortable, consider putting it on your trial table. For me, I might fold and place an origami peace crane on my table if I needed such an object, but imagining the object has been sufficient for me. Imagine the prosecutor’s and judge’s reactions if I placed an origami peace crane on their tables, as well, which I have not yet done. I do sometimes give them to clients.
– Devote yourself to a daily practice and lifestyle of maintaining a healthy body, strong mind, and balanced spirit, which relates to a YMCA slogan.
– Be fully prepared for trial and for the subject matter of your case, and fully meet all pretrial procedural deadlines. Practice makes a person more comfortable.
– We have more in common with other people than not. The more you make yourself comfortable with yourself, with them, and with your physical surroundings, the more comfortable they will be with you, and the more open they will be to listen to you.
– Be Here Now.