Illinois Lawyer Referrals and Legal Guidance
Testifying in Illinois Court Cases
Testifying in court is something that is played out on television all the time, but when you are the one testifying, particularly in a litigation in which you are a party, it can be extremely stressful. So, here are some things to think about before you take the stand. Please note that we wrote this as a general topic for all types of Illinois cases. If you have any questions about this advice contact us at any time to speak with one of our attorneys.
It is worth noting at the outset that you should listen to your attorney because they know your case (or should!) and are on your side (hopefully!). Still, here are 10 things to keep in mind if you are going to testify:
- You may feel the urge to embellish or say what you think the Judge or jury wants to hear. Don’t! It could hurt your case. You may give the other side’s attorney an opportunity to pick apart your testimony. Plus, the facts won’t change no matter what you say. The facts are the facts. So, refrain from embellishing.
- Which brings us to our next tip. Just be honest. If you are asked a question you don’t know the answer to, that’s ok. Just say so. If you don’t understand a question, that’s ok too. Just say that you do not understand.
- Rehearse. It’s ok. Tell your lawyer that you want to go over the questions he or she is going to ask you as well as potential questions from the other side. Your lawyer should make this time for you. It is imperative. There should be no surprises as to what you are asked by your lawyer and your lawyer should never be surprised by your responses to any questions. You must both be on the same page.
- Dress appropriately. Impressions matter. You don’t necessarily need to wear a suit but wrinkled clothing and a messy appearance are not going to earn you much respect from the Judge or jury. And, if they don’t respect you, they may be even less inclined to believe you.
- Short and sweet answers are better. You will find that a good attorney will ask questions that call for a yes or no. Answer with a yes or no. If you offer too much information, your words can get twisted and it’s the lawyer for the other side’s job to press you to clarify what you meant.
- Relax. Your case is likely not very high profile and if you listen to your attorney and tell the truth, everything should be fine.
- Pay attention and don't anticipate a question. Witnesses sometimes begin to answer a question before it's been fully asked. That can be dangerous. You can be misunderstood or offer too much information, inviting scrutiny by the other side. Instead, take your time. There is no rush. You deserve your day in court. So, listen to what is said and be sure of your answer.
- Speak up. A strong, clear voice that can be heard can only help you.
- Be patient. There is often a lot of technical stuff that happens such as motions being filed or side conferences with the Judge and lawyers. It's not important that your testimony is quick. It is important that it is right.
- If you are nervous, bring a friend or family member along for support. As long as they aren't a witness, they are allowed to sit in on the trial. Sometimes it helps to have a friendly and familiar face to look at.
A good attorney will explain all of these things to you and more before you go to a hearing whether it’s before a Judge or a jury. If your lawyer isn’t giving you the preparation you want then it is your job to ask/demand for help. If you don’t have faith in your lawyer you had better find a new one before the hearing. Once the case goes to trial it’s usually too late to find a new attorney that can straighten things out.
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