Litigation: 3 Thoughtful Tips to Conquer Trial Stage Fright

May 2, 2012

Stage curtain imageWe all have moments of panic in front of an audience.  But for a trial lawyer, the stakes are higher than for a stage actor or college student.  And at a small firm, you likely handle your cases from intake to trial presentation— with no opportunity to carve out a quiet portion of the process (such as legal research) as your own, and leave the trial performance to others.

While courtroom presentation may sound like a job for an extrovert, some of the most moving public speakers have been modestly soft-spoken off-stage.  Look to Abraham Lincoln for an apt esquire example.

Three unique tips, from one introvert to another:

  1. Like the peopleYou don’t have to be an extrovert; you don’t have to strike up friendly conversation.  Simply like the individual people in the courtroom.   Criminal defense lawyer John Katz, in this article, explains how the quiet openness to your colleagues, jury, and other legal peers is subtly perceived and they will like you in return.
  2. Take comfort in the structured environment.  A trial court, podium structure, or counsel table can be quite protective.  The environment inspires a sense of stability.  The room is structured and in order; your audience feels a natural inclination to listen to whomever is standing and speaking.  If you know your information, the orderly environment can camouflage any potential bumps in your delivery.
  3. Understand your own “thing,” Part 1:  Paul D. Clement, who may soon overtake the record number of arguments before the Supreme Court, is famous for demonstrative hand gestures (read his cases on WestlawNext).  He’ll figuratively shake something dry, run his hands over smooth, invisible waters, even choke a metaphorical neck to demonstrate the effects of a policy.  When you find a tactic that works for you, repeat it.
    Part 2:
      when you find your signature,  don’t talk about it openly.  Just put it into practice.  Don’t point it out, or warn anyone; simply understand your process in your own mind.  This internal, exclusive knowledge can give you the confidence that you need to believe in your authority in the courtroom. Others will eventually notice and congratulate your signature—and by that time, you’ll have enough confidence built via practice to permit your secret to be revealed.

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President Abraham Lincoln: cases from his early small law firm career, on WestlawNext >>

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