Top 10 Rules for Testifying In Court

Clients are always nervous about giving testimony in court – and with good reason: it’s a very stressful situation.

Below are the top 10 pointers that I share with my clients before a contested hearing that will require testimony.

1. When answering, always tell the truth. You are under oath, so tell the truth. One, the truth is always easier to remember than a story, and two, if you are caught lying, your reputation will be damaged in the eyes of the judge or jury.

2. Listen to the question. If you do not understand the question, ask that it be repeated.

3. Answer only the question asked. If you are asked if you have a college education, do not explain how you chose your major and then paid for your education. Keep it short and sweet and answer only the question asked, unless your attorney asks you to elaborate.

4. “Yes,” “No” and “I don’t know” are acceptable answers.

5. Take your time when answering, and if an attorney stands to object to a question, wait to answer! While you may not need time to formulate your answer, your attorney may need a couple seconds to object; so count to two, and if no one objects, answer away. If an objection is made by either attorney, wait for the judge to make a ruling (“overruled” or “sustained”) before you proceed with your answer.

6. Avoid answering questions with questions. This can give the judge or jury a negative impression or cause them to see you as a smart-aleck, which may harm your reputation. Only the lawyers and judges are allowed to ask questions in the courtroom.

7. Avoid letting the questions or demeanor of the opposing side affect you or your demeanor. The judge and jury are watching your every move. Something as simple as an eye roll can leave the wrong impression. Keep your cool, be courteous, be polite, be respectful, and stay calm.

8. Answer each question out loud. The court reporter needs to make a record of each question and response, and she will not be able to record you shaking your head.

9. Hearsay – it’s more complicated than you think so let your attorney figure out how to get it in or keep it out. There are many rules regarding the use of hearsay evidence – too many for you to keep track of. Just remember that you CAN testify about things that the other party said to you – that is NOT hearsay because it is a party to the lawsuit who said the words being entered as evidence. However, you CANNOT testify about things that other people who are not part of the lawsuit said to you – that IS hearsay because it was said by a non-party.

10. When sitting at counsel table, pass notes to your attorney. Don’t try to talk to your lawyer at counsel table: 1) the judge/jury can hear everything you say and 2) your attorney is trying to listen to testimony, and whispering or tugging at his/her jacket may cause your attorney to miss an objection. Help them help you by passing them a note instead.