When you think of winning a court case, you think about building an argument, getting all the right witnesses, leveraging the most smoking-gun evidence, and generally focusing on things that simply can’t be debated with ease. You want a bulletproof argument.
Those things are all crucial, and they definitely help you win a case, but there’s something else that you might not have thought about.
Your body language matters in the courtroom.
Body language can have a number of effects on your case, and while you might not think about it now, you will by the time you’re done reading this article. Here’s how body language can make or break your case.
What We Mean by Courtroom Body Language
When you do anything, your body and the way you position yourself say a lot more than the words coming out of your mouth. That’s true in any situation. Not just the courtroom.
If you’re lying, you might look away when you tell the lie, or you might fidget with your glasses to distract from what you’re saying. If you’re angry, your face will clench up, and your body will start to become tense and “puffed” as your adrenaline gets you ready for a confrontation. Closing your arms and legs signals that you’re closed off and withdrawn. You’re not comfortable with the situation and person that you’re dealing with.
All those things are basic body language examples, and they’re just as relevant in the courtroom as they are anywhere else.
Why Body Language is Important in the Courtroom
So, you probably have a good idea of what body language is, but why is it actually important in the courtroom? Surely a judge expects people to be nervous while they’re in court. Court is never a great place to be, and it’s stressful.
So, why does it matter?
Well, there are a couple of reasons for that. We’ll go over each one.
1: Not Fueling Your Opponent’s Strategy
When you’re in court, the opposing team is constantly looking for ways to take you down. That’s their entire purpose in the courtroom whether they’re in the right, in the wrong, or somewhere in between.
Your body language gives them vital cues, and they can use those against those.
If you look nervous and as if you’re about to break due to the pressure, they might ramp that pressure up to try and force a reaction out of you. That can result in your otherwise bulletproof case turning around and falling apart because you said something that worked against you, or it might just create an image of you in the court’s eyes that isn’t favorable.
Maybe you’re obviously lying about something, and the opposing team’s lawyer is picking up on that. It just takes a bit of wordplay and a little clever thinking to make people get caught up in a lie, and they know that.
Whatever the situation is, your body language can be used against you, and the opponent can use it to their advantage.
You want to ensure that your body language isn’t providing opportunities to the opposition or otherwise sabotaging your ability to win.
2: Credibility with the Jury and Judge
You’re not just talking to an opposing lawyer when you take the stand, and even when you’re sitting and waiting, you’re not in a private setting.
There are always eyes on you in a courtroom, and they’re always judging you.
What do you think the jury will think if you’re asked a complicated question, and you reply while looking extremely nervous, stumbling over your words, fidgeting with your glasses or hair, and just generally don’t look like you’re confident in your answer? They’ll likely see that as an outright lie, or they’ll start to question you and your validity.
However, if you answer it confidently, with your head up, no fidgeting, and other signs that you’re being straightforward, that body language will be picked up by those paying attention to you, and it will trigger a mental response that sees you as more credible and likely to be telling the truth.
The same goes for the judge, too. If you’re acting in a way that doesn’t correlate with your story, the judge is more than capable of delving deeper and figuring out what’s going on. After all, they’re making a decision that is representative of the laws and sense of justice our country honors. If you’re acting weird, they’re going to pick up on that.
Using Body Language Effectively in the Courtroom
Now that you understand why body language is important, you need to learn how to use it effectively. We’re not giving you instructions on how to fool people or lie in court, but if you can identify behaviors that leave opportunities open to your opposition, you can keep from doing those things out of genuine discomfort.
1: No Fidgeting
Fidgeting makes you look nervous. That can do two things.
First, it can make the jury and judge feel as if you’re not being honest; even when you are. It’s not an automatic loss, but it’s definitely not a good image to create.
However, the more likely problem is that you’ll expose your weaknesses to your opposition.
The opposing team doesn’t need much to see where you are in a case. Simple body language cues can tell them if you’re off your game or ready to go, and fidgeting, such as messing with your hair or touching your glasses, is a telltale sign that they have you exactly where they want you.
Obviously, you don’t want to give your opposition any sort of advantage, and you don’t want to create a negative image for yourself. So, avoid fidgeting as much as possible.
2: Watch the Tension in Your Face
Getting visibly angry tends to be a problem in a lot of situations. In the courtroom, it’s the same way. It makes you look unprofessional and as if the situation is getting to you. That’s reasonable if we’re being honest. However, it’s not something you want to do. It can give your opposition the cue to push harder and make you react in a way that doesn’t look good in court.
Try to maintain a positive, content, and relaxed facial expression even when it’s difficult to do so.
3: Hand Movements Count
It’s normal for a lot of people to talk with their hands. Hand movement is a big part of communication. It adds personality, emphasis, and more to whatever point you’re trying to get across.
However, you don’t want to let it get out of hand, too much.
Hand movements can show the same emotions we talked about above, but they can also add emphasis to what you’re saying and show that you’re serious. The key is to balance this, but we’ll talk more about that later.
4: Don’t Appear Closed Off
You’re expected to be open and ready to answer questions with confidence when you’re in court. If your body language doesn’t match that, then you can potentially create the wrong image for yourself in court.
The primary sign of this is that you close your arms. That’s an unconscious response to feeling as if you’re not comfortable interacting in a situation. If you’ve ever done a job interview that you weren’t fully prepared for, you’re probably already used to watching this body language. It’s a common concern.
5: Maintain Eye Contact
Finally, this is one of the most standard ways to show confidence, and if you’re uncomfortable, you’re likely to not do it. You need to maintain eye contact without obviously trying to. This shows that, when you are answering questions or in a similar situation, you’re confident that what you’re saying is correct.
It’s not helpful to maintain an unhealthy level of eye contact or to make it seem forceful, but if you can keep from making your eyes dart around the room or focus on things that aren’t immediately relevant, you’ll appear far calmer and confident than if you were to fail to maintain eye contact at all.
The Right Body Language to Use
In general, the proper body language is going to be what makes you appear to be the most confident without offering the opposition any advantages they can leverage.
Confidence is going to help maintain your positive image in front of the court, and it will deny the opposition opportunities.
A good standard body language will include a few key points.
1: Head Up and Eyes Focused
When you’re being spoken to, or even if you’re just sitting and watching what the opposition has to say, keeping your head up and looking at the individual who is speaking will go a long way.
This shows that you’re paying attention, care, and are ready to debate. This can both persuade the jury that you’re serious about the case and let the opposition know that you’re not slacking. You’re ready to go, and the event is a serious situation for you.
2: Relaxed Arms and Legs
Your arms and legs should stay at your side and in a relaxed position. You don’t want to look like a deer in headlights, but it’s certainly not optimal to look like you’re closed off and huddling into a ball.
3: Maintain a Positive Attitude
When you’re angry or upset, your body language shows it. It can be as simple as your lips pursing and hands tensing into fists, or it can be as subtle as your eyebrows shifting.
That’s a normal emotion, and in a tense court case, it can be expected. However, maintaining a positive attitude will prevent those types of body language, and you’ll appear more professional and serious about the case.
Not to mention, if you’re actively trying to maintain a positive attitude, you’re less likely to deal with the consequences of a negative attitude and the body language that accompanies it.
Using Your Opposition’s Body Language
We’ve talked at length about how your body language can affect both the court’s perspective of you and the opportunities available to your opposition, but how do you actually use it in a way that helps your case?
Well, you can start by following the previous tips and securing your own image in the court. However, you can also try to capitalize on your opponent’s behavior.
In the same way, the other team can use your body language to discredit you or try to make you react, you can do the same thing.
If your opponent seems nervous and as if they want to withdraw from the situation, then you know you have the high ground, and you’re a lot more capable of getting one over on them than they are of you. If you can pinpoint the questions that make your opponent start to crack or think twice, then you can change your strategy on the fly to target those weaknesses and win the case.
In general, it’s the exact opposite of the tips we provided to protect yourself in court. You just want to use the opponent’s body language to determine where they are mentally and then capitalize on it.
If they obviously don’t want to answer a question, grilling them might be a better move than letting it go by. There are countless examples, but in general, this is you getting advantages to leverage the same way the other team would do to you.
How Important is Body Language?
Body language is actually one of the more important factors to consider in court. While a solid argument is foundational, body language can completely change your image, and it can give the opposition room to start grilling you when you’re not prepared.
This can entirely derail your case or help you achieve a better result than you expected.
Get Help from Litigation Legal Insight
Coaching you through your courtroom body language isn’t something we can guarantee results from, but we can help you develop the confidence necessary to naturally embody those body language traits.
If you need help with litigation, contact Litigation Legal Insights today.