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Preparation and Listening are Keys to Success in the Courtroom

Steven TaitzNo one likes to go to court except the lawyers. It takes time from a busy executive’s day and it puts them in a spot where they have little or no control of events. It can be unnerving for the uninitiated. And no one likes the kind of spotlight a courtroom can shine.

To help business owners, executives and individuals better prepare for those unwanted court appearances we identified Seven Courtroom Secrets Every Executive Should Know.

As an attorney who has been litigating cases for 30 years, I have come to expect the question, “Do I have to go to court?” If there is a lawsuit, it really doesn’t make any difference whether my client is the plaintiff or the defendant, the answer is almost always, “Yes,” you must go to court if your testimony is required or if a judge wants you for a settlement conference.

Seven Courtroom Secrets Every Executive Should Know

There are generally two reasons why a business owner, executive or individual has to appear in court. Either the court has ordered them to be there for some kind of conference, such as a settlement conference, or because that person has to testify at a hearing or trial. You should always check with your attorney when you must appear in court, but here are some insider secrets that can be very helpful.

  1. Be prepared. While no one likes going to court, they like being put on the spot and challenged even less. In order to know whether to pursue a monetary award or a settlement proposal, it’s necessary to understand the case. You must understand the good, the bad, and possibly the ugly. What are the good and bad points about your case? Discuss these beforehand with your lawyer. The single most important piece of advice that I can offer anyone headed to court is to be prepared.
  2. You can’t phone it in. If you are required to testify you must appear in person to do so. The questions I hear are always the same: “Can’t I just call in on the telephone?” or “Can I submit an affidavit about what I know?” Although there may be some exceptions, my answer is generally the same: “No.”
  3. No one else wants to be there either. It doesn’t make any difference whether you are a party to a lawsuit – either the plaintiff who took the proactive step of filing a lawsuit or the defendant who was sued and now must defend against a lawsuit – or you are a “third party” with some type of information about the case; nobody wants to be in the courtroom. Knowing this makes it easier to consider options for avoiding some actual courtroom drama. Sometimes a settlement is a decision that everyone favors.
  4. How you dress matters. Despite what we often see on television, everyone appearing in court or at a settlement conference should be dressed in business attire. Your choice of clothes matters in order to be taken seriously and viewed as an equal to the other parties involved. Nothing says “I don’t care” quicker than someone in court dressed for a night club or golf course.
  5. Your lawyer knows best. Despite all the lawyer jokes, says Taitz, a good attorney is a necessity when you appear in court. An attorney is able to explain how the judge is going to conduct the trial and what is to be expected of all the participants. You should be able to review your case with your attorney and he or she can help you understand what your role is in the case. Your attorney should be able to tell you what information he or she believes that you have which will be important to the case. Your attorney can also review with you what he or she expects that the testimony will be from your side and from the opposing side. When working with your attorney, you should welcome the opportunity to practice direct and cross examination so that you have a better understanding of what may be asked of you and more importantly how it will be asked. If you are prepared for what happens in the courtroom, it will be less overwhelming.
  6. Listening carefully can make all the difference. When you are in the courtroom, and especially when you are called to testify, listening to the statements and questions carefully so that you understand what is being asked is one of the most important things you can do. Let the questioner ask the complete question, whether it is your attorney or the other side’s attorney. Don’t answer a question that has not been asked. Give your answer some thought to provide the correct answer. Don’t ever guess at an answer. If you don’t know or remember the answer, it is OK to say you don’t know or remember the answer. Many people have a habit of answering a question before it has been fully framed. This rush to provide a response may work in the office, but it can work against you in the courtroom.
  7. There is no perfect case. Every case is different and must be viewed on its own merits. It is necessary to understand the risks involved in proceeding to trial or settling a case. No one can give odds on a case, but a good attorney should have some sense about whether he or she will prevail if the case proceeds to trial. Assuming that you might win, what is the best case scenario for you? Is a “victory” or outright dismissal realistic? Or will a real outcome be something less? Take all of the information you have and work with your attorney to determine the cost of “winning” at trial. Does it make sense to spend $100,000 to win $50,000? Probably not.
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