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Preparing clients to testify

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Photo from website of U.S. District Court (W.D. Mi.).

Thanks to Ardmore, Pennsylvania, trial lawyer Anna Durbin for authorizing me to post her attached excellent email message responding to a listserv discussion about how lawyers prepare their clients to testify at trial. I have known Anna for many years, through our having attended the Trial Lawyers College in separate years. She has been selfless in brainstorming cases with me, and driving to my office for a recent workshop to prepare my client to testify at trial. I highly recommend Anna for Pennsylvania state and federal criminal and civil trial and appellate representation.

Anna Durbin wrote:

    "I ask my client to talk to the jury in my question:  ‘Would you tell the jury where you are during this …?’  I once had a very nervous and shy client, and I asked her to look at the jury that we picked, and find people that reminded her of her best friend.  And I told her to look at them and tell them her story the same way she would tell it across a cup of coffee at her kitchen table.  She did very well, although she was still her nervous self, and that was honest.  It was much better than totally paralyzed.  I want to be basically invisible on direct exam, because it is my client telling her story.  I am there to help her tell it in the most authentic way to the jury that is going to do justice for her.  I tell my client that this jury is going to do justice for her if she tells them what happened.  They are on her side. 

    "And I tell my client on cross to keep telling the jury her story, not to get mad at opposing counsel who is just trying to do his job.  The client just needs to tell her story and not let the other lawyer put words in her mouth.  And she should not try to fill in blanks in her memory – just tell what she remembers.  Dates and times are not that important.  Don’t get nervous about them.  And don’t try to anticipate what the other lawyer is going to ask or try to outsmart them.  Just stick with the facts you know."

     Thanks, Anna. "Just stick with the facts you know," warts, gems, and all. How brilliant. How simple. And how much of a struggle that is for so many testifying parties to put into practice. An essential ingredient on this path is to show our clients caring, patience, and total support. Jon Katz