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FS_Tips for Testamony
Jan L. Warner & Jan Collins

Question: I am getting ready to go to court, but my lawyer has not prepared me for anything. He just told me to “tell the truth”. I am scared to death that I will say something wrong. Do you have any advice you can provide me immediately?

Answer: While we believe it is malpractice not to properly prepare a client for deposition or trial, here are some tips:

When you go to court -- or when your deposition is will be required to testify under oath. This means that you will be sworn in by a judge or clerk and then will be required to answer the questions put to you. Your lawyer should have reviewed with you the likely questions to be asked, but remember, when the questions begin coming at you, you will not be able to ask your lawyer...or anyone else...for help. So in addition to knowing your material and being honest -- because if you get caught in a dishonest statement your credibility will be questioned and your case could go down the drain -- you need to know a few things that may assist you:

You must concentrate on the event of testifying. Letting your mind roam can mean disaster.

Listen carefully to everything that is going on. When anyone begins to talk, you should stop and listen. When anyone interrupts you, you should stop and listen. When your lawyer makes an objection, listen and don’t testify further until directed to do so. If your lawyer tells you not to answer, don't answer – unless a judge tells you differently.

Listen to the exclusion of wondering what will be asked next. Remain attentive, and before you answer, listen the entire question in full. Do not anticipate what the question may be.

While you listen, you must also hear what the question is. If you don't hear the question, ask that it be repeated until you can hear it clearly and make sure you understand it before you answer. Never answer a question you don't understand in total.
Many times, questions will be prefaced by assumptions...that may be correct or not correct. Understand the question before you answer. If multiple questions are asked at once, you should ask that they be broken down. If you do not believe the assumptions are accurate, say so and that you can’t answer the question as posed.

There is no sin in admitting you don't understand a question, so get it rephrased for you. That is your right. Answer questions directly, and don't volunteer anything that is not asked.

If you don't know or don't remember, say "I don't know," "I don't recall," or "I don't remember".

Tell the truth...always.

Sometimes, the same question may be asked in different ways. Be sure to answer the same question the same way because a good lawyer will want you to change your answer so that the inconsistency can be used against you later. Don't fall for it.

Don't be lulled into engaging into friendly conversation with the other lawyer. He or she is not there to be your friend.

Answer each question verbally. Don't nod or shake your head. Don't mumble or use "Uh huh" which may be mistaken for "Uh uh" or "Huh huh".

If you bring notes into the deposition or hearing and refer to them, those notes become fair game. So never bring any files or other documents with you unless you won't mind the other side looking at all of them.

Don't use such words as "absolutely", "never", "always", or "positively" because these words can get you in trouble later. Be ready to admit that you are not perfect. Everyone has faults.

Need more advice or help with this topic? Click here to get information about taking the "Next Step".

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