All Family Law, All Around the WorldSM

The Courtroom Stage: What We Can Learn from the Stars

The internet is ablaze with the publicized trial of Johnny Depp v. Amber Heard. While it’s easy to look at popular TV shows and movies for what a courtroom is meant to look like, footage of an actual trial is captivating the public with the very real application of law in this particular Virginia Court. But does it represent reality? In many ways, yes. There is not usually a crowd of eager onlookers in the gallery watching your case unfold, nor are there two full tables of large legal teams on each side looking to make a name for themselves. However, one of the very real pieces to this trial is the careful orchestration of the parties’ appearances, which show just how important conduct and image are in the Court to the success of the overall case.

Most hearings in family law are bench trials before the judge as the trier of fact rather than a jury. When presenting to just one person, as well the opposing side, presentation is key to a successful argument. The attorney’s job is to carefully craft a successful opening statement, direct and cross examinations, and closing argument. It is the job of the party to back the attorney’s work and portray the argument being presented.

As you can see in footage of Amber Heard, she is impeccably dressed, well put together, and she speaks clearly and directly. She is openly emotional and obviously invested in her argument. However, her detailed accounts of events are too detailed, and it’s getting her caught in loops trying to backtrack on items she may not have been certain about. While they are often inconsequential items, it draws questions of her believability and truthfulness if she claims to have remembered small details and is getting the big details wrong.

Johnny Depp is likewise well put together in his appearance, and very direct in his speech. He isn’t afraid to make note of inconsistencies from opposing counsel, correcting the narrative to his account. Nonetheless, Depp’s aloof nature is to his detriment, as he doesn’t seem as invested in the case or take it very seriously.

Both parties have their flaws that should have been avoided, but there are some key lessons to be learned from this trial for attorneys and clients alike.

  1. Appearing well-kempt allows the Court to focus on the facts rather than being distracted by clothing. In some cases, a Judge will tell a party to change something if it is considered inappropriate.
  2. Speaking at the appropriate times allows the Judge to better understand the question and answer. Wait for an entire question to be said before answering and remember that while you are able to give an explanation on cross examination, the first answer should be yes, no, or something in between.
  3. When speaking, be clear and honest. It’s okay to not remember every minute detail of an important event. If it doesn’t add to the point being made, it probably isn’t worth the Judge’s time. In fact, many Judges will cut someone off if they believe testimony is being derailed.
  4. Ultimately, talk with your Attorney and be frank about any fears you have about going into the courtroom. It is our job to not only prepare the case and ourselves to present it, but also to prepare our clients for the reality of being heard by the Court.

Depp v Heard may be huge but it is no larger, no more important, than the issues that impact your life.  That is worth every attention to detail.

Kaitie Ruhl-Pirone