If you’ve been following the news, you’ve likely heard about litigation surrounding Taylor Swift, who was being sued for defamation by a radio DJ. Swift alleged that this DJ had grabbed her, under the skirt, in 2013. Not wanting to make a national news story of the situation, Swift had reported the grab to her “people”, who notified the DJ’s radio station employers, who then fired the DJ. This DJ then alleged that Swift made up allegations that he had grabbed her inappropriately, which resulted in him getting fired and becoming unable to find any employment now. He sued her in federal court for this.
Well, Swift counterclaimed for assault and battery, sticking to her story that this guy groped her under her skirt.
So, I’m not particularly qualified to hash the legal aspects of this type of case because I don’t practice in that area, but here’s what is fascinating and awesome to me: how prepared and poised Taylor Swift was throughout the trial and her testimony. The trial practice evidenced here was flawless.
Litigating is storytelling. We use evidence and testimony to tell our story. A big part of that is making sure that clients are ready to go on the stand and testify in a way that keeps control of the narrative and does not break down under the pressure of an opposing counsel’s questions.
Here are some of Swift’s more awesome responses to questions from the lawyer of the guy suing her:
- When asked “how long” the unwanted contact lasted: “I don’t think it would be wise to estimate time in court, but I know it was long enough for me to be completely sure that it was intentional.”
- When asked if she thinks the DJ deserved to get fired: “I don’t feel anything about Mr. Mueller. I don’t know him…I don’t have any feelings about a person that I don’t know. I think what he did was despicable, horrible and shocking. But, I don’t know him at all.”
- She went on to say: “I am not going to allow you or your client in any way to make me feel like this was my fault, because it isn’t. I am being blamed for the unfortunate events of his life that are a product of his decisions, not mine.”
- When asked about her response to the unwanted contact: “It was a very shocking thing that has never happened to me before. This was not something I had ever dealt with. I got as far away from him as I possibly could.”
I’m definitely not a Taylor Swift fan but I can appreciate what a great job she did with her legal team to present her case. In fact, the judge ended up throwing out the DJ’s case completely, and what’s even more impressive is that her attorney did not ask her any questions at all! She provided her testimony on cross and provided just the right narrative so well that her attorney didn’t need to re-direct her or pursue any of his own line of questioning.
If you have a hearing coming up in a family law case, it’s imperative that you be prepared. It is critical to identify and solidify your narrative. Has your attorney gone over the theme of your case with you? Have they discussed with you what the narrative is going to be, or where they’re going to be trying to take you with their questions? Have they talked to you about witnesses, or questions to ask the opposing party on cross-examination? Have they told you what to expect when you’re on the stand? Have they offered to take you to the courthouse to just see what the room is like and what the space feels like?
If you haven’t been given this kind of guidance, perhaps you need to rethink your choice of counsel. A responsible attorney isn’t going to put you on the stand unprepared. And it’s not like what you see on television: it’s likely you’re not going to need days to go over testimony and questions, but that depends on the nature and complexity of your case.
I almost always provide a “script” or outline of questions to my clients and go over with them, sometimes at length, what to expect on cross examination. I discuss the science of cross examination with them. I talk to them about what leading questions are and what open-ended questions are. I tell them why I ask the questions I ask, and how it plays into our narrative.
Because, let’s face it: knowledge is power and you are paying your attorney the big bucks to help provide you with the knowledge and guidance to make empowered decisions and powerful statements on the stand. Trial Practice is an art, and when used well, a fine art. Use your attorney’s help and follow Taylor Swift’s lead: stay in the driver’s seat and take that narrative all the way to a win.