Practice is the only way to improve any skill – whether it’s playing the piano or public speaking. We’ve posted many times about the importance of practice in becoming a more articulate speaker, and we encourage busy lawyers to select specific practice goals, one at a time. When you have a big case coming up, it’s important to devote some of your practice time to courtroom rituals.

There are many spoken rituals in the courtroom that require you to say aloud the necessary steps in the proper order, for both the judge and the record. These rituals include the steps to get an exhibit into evidence, or to impeach a witness with a prior inconsistent statement. If you practice these rituals aloud, you will be able to march through the steps with confidence. They should be automatic.

For example:

     I am holding what has been pre-marked as Defendant’s exhibit number one for identification.

     Showing to opposing counsel …

     Your honor, may I approach the witness?

     I’m showing you what has been pre-marked as Defendant’s exhibit number one for identification.

     Do you recognize it?

     What is it? (etc.)

Different types of exhibits require different verbal rituals to move them into evidence successfully. Laying the foundation for a photograph is different from laying the foundation for a business record. Practice asking these various foundational questions, in their proper order, until they are automatic. Walk through the steps in your practice space, saying the exact words aloud, as if you were showing the exhibit to opposing counsel and approaching the witness. The more you practice the full routine, actions as well as words, the more your muscle memory will assist you in remembering it under pressure.

In the days leading up to a trial, practice this routine as often as you can. The more times you have said the “magic words” out loud, the more likely you are to get it just right in trial. Ten times is almost enough, twenty is better. You want things to go smoothly, so you can move past these rituals without being rattled by them.