If you have experience testifying in court and you felt no stress of any sort, you must be a robot. Not me. As a CPA, I’ve testified over 150 times in state courts in Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada and California as well as federal courts in Arizona and Texas. Before I became an accountant, I was a police patrolman and detective on the Tucson Police Department. I worked full-time as a cop while attending the University of Arizona part-time. I testified approximately another 80 times on criminal matters during that period.
During my early years of testifying in court as a CPA, each time I prepared to testify, and while I was on the witness stand, I felt a great deal of stress. I did not want to come across to the judge – or jury, as confused, tongue-tied and outright inept about the matters on which I was to testify. I also felt that the outcome of the cases on which I testified all hinged on my testimony. It was a heavy burden to carry.
I’ve now learned to control my stress much better than when I first started testifying in court. I won’t say I don’t experience any – it’s just that I have learned to accept it, deal with it and, in most cases, use it to my advantage. By that, I mean that my stress level helps me to focus intently on the key points of my testimony and to be extra alert when listening to questions from opposing attorneys. This helps me to better formulate answers which are reasonable and helpful to the trier-of-fact, judge or jury.
I’ve also come to realize that there are other factors which may affect the outcome of the case other than my testimony. It could be the performance of other witnesses – witnesses on both sides of the case, or in the quality of the evidence produced.
My advice to “first timers” testifying in court is this:
- Before the trial date, meet with the attorney on your side of the case. Find out what the attorney is going to ask you once you are on the witness stand. Explore with the attorney the questions you might get from the opposing attorney on cross examination.
- If you will be testifying on technical issues, study your file thoroughly before going into the courtroom.
- When you are answering questions, do not use technical jargon which a judge or jury will have difficulty understanding.
- Try not to answer questions in a rote manner. Be a teacher of your opinions to the judge and jury.
- Answer only the questions asked of you. Do not offer additional commentary unless you are asked.
Planning for your testimony and knowing what is going to be coming at you in the courtroom can go a long way towards minimizing your stress level. If you are feeling stressed, you are human. Remember, a little stress is not all bad.
Don Bays, CPA, ABV, CVA, CFF