Your Courtroom Strategy

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Normally, the plaintiff will be asked to present his or her case first and introduce any witnesses, who will also get a chance to have their say. When the plaintiff is done, it will be the defendant's turn to speak and present witnesses. Both sides should have any papers or other evidence that backs up their story carefully organized to present to the judge. This can include bills, receipts, estimates, photographs, contracts, letters to or from your opponent, and other types of documentation or physical evidence. At the appropriate place in your presentation, tell the judge you have evidence you want to present, and then hand it to the clerk, who in turn will give it to the judge. Appropriate documentation can be a huge aid to winning your case. But don't go overboard: Judges are a little like donkeys–load them too heavily and they are likely to become uncooperative and possibly even ornery.

Copies of documents. It is courteous but not required to bring at least three copies of each document you plan to show the judge: one for you, one for the judge, and one for your opponent. You can highlight or otherwise make notes on your copies to remind yourself why the particular document is important.

As you plan your courtroom strategy, give thought to your opponent. What sort of presentation will the person make? And even more important, how can you best counter any arguments? Figuring out how to cope with your opponent's best points is not only an effective way to flesh out your case, but it can be a good way to turn the negative energy you probably feel (frustration, annoyance, anger) into something creative.

Always be polite when presenting or defending your case. If you are hostile or sarcastic, you run the considerable risk of losing the respect of the judge. Never interrupt your opponent when he or she is speaking–you will get your chance. When you do, lay out the key facts that support your position directly to the judge; don't get into an argument with the other side. It's the judge you need to convince, not your opponent.

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