Fear can be a powerful motivator. Being scared is persuasive; you don’t want to look at or experience something, and thus you shrink away from it. When presenting a case to a jury, however, a lawyer must get over his personal feelings and become a showman of sorts. The jury needs to hear a story, and the attorney is the storyteller.
Every attorney gets courtroom jitters — it’s just the nature of the game. The nights before a trial are spent wide-eyed, sleepless and filled with coffee as each side sorts through papers, reexamines medical records, practices witness questions and makes sure everything is in alignment before the following day.
Many people think that an attorney can just stroll into a courtroom and offer an eloquent, moving presentation to the jury. Privately, that lawyer is more than likely a ball of nerves and sweat.
Fear itself can become a catalyst, pushing you to greater heights in your practice. If you welcome that feeling and know that everyone is scared, you can move beyond it.
What do we mean, “everyone is scared”? Well, your opposing counsel is probably nervous, despite his outwardly calm appearance. This article from the State Bar of Texas makes a good point of not comparing your insides to someone else’s outside. That other person probably feels quite anxious about speaking in front of a judge and jury, no matter how many times they’ve done it. Somehow, despite years of experience, that lingering anxiety remains.
The Texas bar article underlines the sentiment perfectly when the writer asked another attorney, “’When did you stop being afraid?’ The elder lawyer laughed and said, ‘Never! I am scared every day, but my fear has become my friend!’” Meanwhile, each had tried a large number of cases.
When one accepts that fear will always be present, it can be overcome. Breathe deeply, Speak slowly. Most importantly, be prepared for obvious questions, like when a judge flips through a file and asks, “So counsel, why are we here today?” Instead of launching into a long-winded diatribe, attorneys should prepare what the Texas article calls a “two-minute commercial” of the case. Know the high points. Be ready to defend the low points. The more prepared you are, the better you will feel.
It can even help when you consider how you’re dressed and whether you’ve been to the courtroom before. Dressing in business clothes is like donning armor; you become ready to fight. And if you have been in the room where you plan to present your case, nothing will seem unfamiliar the day of the trial. You will be aware of any distractions ahead of time: a loud ticking clock, an echo in the room, intense heat or cold, and more. If the environment is familiar, you can focus on your case instead of dealing with constant anxiety and distraction.
You can even use that fear to sway the jury. Speak to them directly: Would they want this defendant on the streets again? Would they want the government encroaching on their land? Everyone is scared. Everyone has fear. Use it to your client’s advantage.