How Can I Improve my Court Skills?
A lot of professionals need to give evidence at some point, Doctors, Police officers, Social workers, Teachers, Health visitors to name but a few! Most people’s reaction to being told they may have to give evidence is panic … another is to try not to think about it!!
Unfortunately putting your head in the sand isn’t the best solution, it’s like anything the more you know and the more you practice you get the better you will be. Having some idea what to expect also helps!
For me going into court is a mixture of hours of boredom sitting around waiting for something to happen and being thrown quickly into a situation where you’re having to think quickly and clearly in a high pressure environment. It’s not nice, it’s not easy and believe me you will be under a lot of pressure! You might be in the witness box an hour or two or all day. There’s just no way of knowing!!
You need to know:
- What it’s like to actually go into a court
- How it works, who people are
- What your role is
- What it’s like to give evidence
- What can go wrong for you
- How to prepare for court
- How to have a plan of what you want to say before you go in
- Be able to work out what you will be asked and have your answers ready
- To know some of the tricks barristers and solicitors sometimes play to trip you up
- To know how to respond
A friend of mine recently had to give evidence in a court case, she is a teacher and her attitude was to not think about it and to ‘just try my best’ on the day. The problem with that is that she was up against some really clever skilled barristers who unfortunately really knew what they were doing. It was there job to make her sound like she was unreliable and unprofessional and overly emotional, a factor they said clouded her judgement, they did a really good job. Talking to her afterwards she told me ‘I think they could see that I cared’.
It sounds awful but the court didn’t really care if she was a nice person and trying her best, but about how she answered the questions effectively. The barrister only cared about whether they could make her sound like she didn’t know what she was talking about and uncertain about what the children had told her. Unfortunately for her it was a bit of a car crash situation and she broke down on the stand crying. Although she really did a great job with the kids she taught and was a wonderful professional she entered into an environment where she really had no idea what was happening or what to expect, she was great in what she did as her day job but fell apart in the witness box and let the children down she was there to help. The problem was she had no idea what she was walking into!
A big think is to be prepared, to know what you could be asked and to have all the answers ready and waiting! You can’t hope for the best and just turn up! Or it will end up being a nightmare for you, and more importantly you will let down the people your there to help.
Have a plan, don’t be like a rabbit in the headlights!
You need to know what you want to say, you don’t have to only answer the questions the barristers want you to answer! A lot of people are so scared when being cross examined that they just freeze up and stop thinking.
Afterwards they think what they should have said. Unfortunately thinking of a good answer afterwards doesn’t count! You are actually in court to tell the court what they need to know, if you don’t say what you need to say then the court can’t make the right decision … it’s as simple as that! The barrister is not actually on your side and they aren’t trying to help you, even if they are smiling when asking you questions but trying to argue for their own client, it’s their job to argue, not to do what they feel is right.
When your asked a question take your time answering, pause to think, don’t be rushed and say what you want to say. Be clear, be concise and don’t feel intimidated! Remember you’re the one who can help the court, you’re the one who needs to say what you think!
Giving evidence is such a hard thing to do and so few professionals have the knowledge they need to do this effectively, some go to court a lot and build skills over years but for others who have never been, or only go occasionally it can be an intimidating and damaging experience both personally and professionally. Whoever you are maybe you could do with some help and to learn the information you need before you find yourself in the witness box!
If you want more information we have an online training course on court skills written for the professional, or if you prefer we have produced an E-book on amazon that can be downloaded to a kindle or a smart phone, or if you prefer a hard copy click here.
Alternately if you are part of an organisation we also run a one or a two-day training course on this where you will be involved in role play where real questions will be asked as if you are under cross examination.
I hope this blog has been useful to you and might help answer some of your questions.