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Trial Advocacy Techniques

Defense Interviews

  1. When you meet your client, introduce yourself to the parent(s), shake hands, and explain what will happen in the next hour or so.
  2. Let your client tell his or her story.
  3. If the client is not cooperative ask who, what, why, where, when.
  4. Make notes during the interview and follow up on any unanswered questions.
  5. Gather information on the client's home life, friends, goals and outside activities or involvements such as church groups, community service, service clubs, etc.
  6. Make sure you know if your client has been in trouble before and for what.
  7. Ask your client to read the brief to make sure that the client is aware of the information that the prosecution has access to.
  8. Check for additional evidence in the file (like documentation of attendance at a retail theft course or a copy of an apology letter). Also ask your client if he or she has copies of these items.
  9. Try to think about what points you would make if you were on the other side and ask these questions of your client for practice.
  10. Advise your client to think about these uncomfortable questions in addition to thinking about what lessons he or she has learned from the experience.
  11. Allow the client to express any concerns or questions.
  12. Explain the process and let your client know what you think the strong points of the case are and what questions you will emphasize.
  13. Advise your client on appropriate courtroom behavior and at the end of interview when you escort them back, show them the courtroom and where everyone is seated.

Prosecution Preparation

  1. Read the brief carefully. There is a lot of information on the page that can be useful to your case. Read between the lines! What is missing or does not add up? Where might the defendant be stretching the truth to minimize their involvement? Where might the defendant be lying? Write questions that will probe an area that does not add up.
  2. Be careful of asking questions by rote without concern for the facts of each particular case.
  3. Outline the facts which contribute to your case.
  4. Remember this is not about winning or losing and this is not a competition for who can bring back the harshest sentence.
  5. Your job is to make sure that justice is achieved by making sure that the defendant receives an adequate punishment.


  1. Prosecution and Defense meet to discuss a possible sentence and evidentiary issues. Share information, which you think, is pertinent. The other side should not be surprised by anything you say in court.
  2. Make an outline of the issues you want to highlight so you don't forget anything.

Trial Considerations

  1. Use a non-argumentative and friendly conversational tone.
  2. Make good eye contact with the jury. You should be speaking to them and not to the judge.
  3. Always watch the jury to gage how your presentation or argument is going. If they are sleeping or laughing at your argument, it is not a good sign.
  4. Speak in clear and concise sentences.
  5. Speak a little more slowly than usual. Don't mumble or jumble your words.
  6. Make sure you are speaking loud enough for every one to hear in the entire courtroom. Speak as if you are speaking to someone standing by the entrance door.
  7. Do not fidget, swing your hands, become overly dramatic, or hug or lean on the podium for support.
  8. Don't use jargon or acronyms without explanation.
  9. If you make an objection, which the judge does not sustain, do not argue with the judge.
  10. Objections should be made only when necessary. Make sure you know why you are objecting.


  1. Introduce yourself to the jury. Give a brief summary of what you expect the evidence will show. Paint a picture for the jury in a light most favorable to your client. Opening is a foundation of basic facts to build upon with your most favorable points during examination.
  2. Do not raise issues in your opening that you don't address in direct of cross-examination. (Your outline will come in handy here).
  3. Tell the jury what sentence you want and why.
  4. Explain to the jury why this is fair and how it is planned to help the defendant make better and more knowledgeable choices.
  5. Sit down.

Direct Exam

  1. Start with questions, which will introduce your client to the jury.
  2. Subsequent questions should be asked in an order that will flow like a story. Who what, when (time also), where, and how!
  3. Don't ask questions that won't further your case.
  4. Questions should show your client in the best possible light.
  5. Use your outline to make sure you haven't forgotten anything.
  6. Be an advocate for you client by expressing a confident and friendly demeanor.
  7. Watch the jury to make sure you aren't losing their attention and key in on who you think will be most persuasive on the jury. If the jury does not like your client's answer, try to ask another question that will clarify your point.
  8. Questions should be simple but allow for more than a yes or no answer from your client.

Cross Exam

  1. Listen to the direct exam and take notes. You can impeach the defendant's statements if they differ from the information in your brief.
  2. Compare your notes from the preparation stage to notes taken during examination for any last minute points.
  3. Express confidence but not arrogance. Do not be rude to the defendant.
  4. Ask leading questions in order to keep control of the picture you want to paint.
  5. Repetition is fine for key points.


  1. Take notes during the cross-examination. If the prosecution asks a question that you know your client has not answered in the most favorable light (because of your interview) redirect on this point. The same applies if the prosecution makes a point that you know you can clarify or if information comes out that was not brought out on direct.
  2. Reiterate your key points but keep it to the key points. You do not need to make your case all over again.
  3. Focus on one of two major points.


  1. This is your last chance for the jury to hear your theory on why they should follow your sentencing recommendation.
  2. Do not make up facts or introduce new theories in your closing.
  3. Use persuasive language. Repeat key phrases from your case.
  4. Explain to the jury the evidence they should weigh the greatest and why you think it should be interpreted in that light.
  5. Explain why you want a specific treatment program i.e. (retail theft, anger management, etc. Explain how you think it will help them change.
  6. Keep it short and thank the jury.