Have to wear a mask in court? Then practice under same conditions as trial with a mask on.

Have to wear a mask in court? Then practice under the same conditions as a trial with a mask on.A picture of a surgical mask with the words, "Have to wear a mask in court? Practice under same conditions as trial with a mask on."

You have a court date coming up and you understand that either your courthouse or your particular judge requires you to wear a mask. How do you prepare for that?

I understand that for some reason a mask is very triggering for some people. 

This article is not about the effectiveness of masks or anyone’s political views. 

This article is about what you should do when there is a rule in court which requires you to wear a mask and you will be required to speak

Sometimes people will contact me through comments or other methods and say, “I refuse to wear a mask. No judge can make me.”

We have to follow the rules of the courtroom. 

As a lawyer that I am not going to walk into a courtroom in a tee-shirt and shorts. I could be the best lawyer in the country and come into court with the best arguments. 

My level of skill and the quality of my arguments won’t matter. The judge will still kick me out of the courtroom.

And if you are not present in court, you lose

If there is no smoking permitted in the courtroom, and you light up a cigarette, you get kicked out.

If the judge says no phones are allowed in the courtroom but you must check your phone or answer a call, you get kicked out.

Know the rules before you arrive in court. 

You may be in a trial where you are asked to testify or it may be a hearing where the judge will ask you questions.

But you know you have to wear a mask. 

Now that we have this established, and we know that your judge requires you to wear a mask in the courtroom, and you will be required to speak, what do you do?

Practice this. Rehearse this. 

What do we mean by this?

Practice – figure out what you’re going to say. Will you be presenting? Will you be answering questions? Think through what you will say. 

Rehearsal – try to duplicate the circumstances as closely as possible. For instance, if you are rehearsing an opening statement or cross-examination and know that you will be standing, rehearse this while standing.

Generally, in state court, we do not have to stand behind a lectern. We can wander around the courtroom.

In federal court, you must stand in one place behind a lectern or a podium. Federal judges take this very seriously – you do not wander around their courtroom. 

If you know you are in federal court and cannot move, then rehearse what you are doing as if you are stationed behind that lectern. Do not wander around your office or conference room to rehearse. 

Make your rehearsal as close to the circumstances of the trial as possible.

So, what does this have to do with a mask?

When you are speaking in a public forum, you will need to project your voice for 10 minutes or even longer. If you have never spoken in a public forum with a mask on, you do not want your first time to be on the witness stand or when the judge is asking questions, or when you are making arguments in court. 

You want to rehearse by putting on a mask and doing this before you get to court so that it is not a surprise to you

If you are wandering around, this may affect how you ask questions. You may go to one spot when you ask a particular type of question, and then I may come back to the center, then move to another location for a different type of question. 

I use my body as a type of anchor to help illustrate my arguments to the jury. 

However, if I’m in federal court, then these physical indicators do not need to be part of my rehearsal because I must stand still in federal court. 

Figure out what you can do, then practice it, rehearse it. 

Practice means you pick a portion and practice it over and over to get it right. 

Rehearsal is where you go all the way from start to finish even if you mess up in the middle. When you are in live court, you do not stop when you mess up. You must continue through the rest of your argument.

Be as close to possible to the situation you will be in. 

For example, I hate wearing ties. Pretty much the only time you will see me in a tie is when I am about to go to court. So, when I rehearse my opening statements, my arguments, etc, I wear a tie even though I am not physically in the courtroom.

I rehearse this way because I know this is what I must wear in the courtroom. 

Whether you like wearing a mask or not. If you know you will have to wear a mask while you are speaking, be sure to rehearse with the mask on. 

If you don’t, you could be caught by surprise. 

This particular article deals specifically with masks, but the principle applies to any time you are in court. Always try to rehearse as close to things will actually be

Sometimes we will set up a role play with a client.

I play the mean defense lawyer cross-examining the client.

The client cannot break out of the role and ask me for help as their attorney. During the rehearsal, we must interact in our specific roles to duplicate real life as much as possible.

You have to see how you will act in a real situation. 

Whether it is a mask, a tie, a physical position, try to duplicate as much as possible. 

This will make your testimony or your presentation as good as possible.

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Thanks and have a great day!


John Watts


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