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Demeanor: What Are You Communicating to Attorneys and Jurors?

By Beryl Vaughan












Marisa Tomei testifies in the film My Cousin Vinny.

“Demeanor” is a subtle word. I’d like to talk about the bigger question of physical and articulated communication.

It isn’t just these common questions (thought that is one piece of ‘demeanor’):

How should I dress in Court? (Suit, male or female)

How do I remember what I was going to say? (Practice and then practice again in a pre-trial conference with the attorney)
What if opposing counsel gets aggressive in cross-examination? (See “practice” above. Make a script ahead of time for answering the most likely questions to rattle you.)
What is the right body language? (Serious, but watch no crossed arms, keep your legs closed, sit straight.)

The expert’s presentation includes personality, demeanor, and style of expression.  It’s conveyed through your dress, gestures, speech style, and even the personality of your website and business behavior.

Getting this right can be a positive hallmark of your practice.

Attorney feedback, by word or implied, is essential to know when intervention or improvement is needed–and no one is ever perfect for all cases and all tasks.

Everything communicates something about us–as you know from treating your patients.  Let’s take a look at your “style” of communication including gestures, mannerisms, speech, tenor, volume, speed, accent,  articulation, and personality.  Don’t assume you know which qualities are ‘best.’ What works for one expert doesn’t for another. Understand your natural strengths and weaknesses using a few ideas below.

What do you convey?

  • Humorous?
  • Trustworthy?
  • Charismatic?
  • Approachable?
  • Warm?
  • Repulsive?
  • Patronizing?  (The worst possible feature in an expert witness who is already in the mix because they’re more knowledgeable than others in their field.)

You may not know the impression you make. Take a page from CBT: do a reality check with someone impartial, identify what works or adaptable behavior for what doesn’t.  Maximizing positives and working out solutions for the negatives is the goal.  Don’t stop there. Ongoing reassessment of progress is essential. It’s a good model for everything.












Marisa Tomei testifies in the film My Cousin Vinny.


  • A “feedback” video so you can see how you come off to others. An easy way is to record a Zoom video meeting (choose a friend, not a business associate). Review it to see how you speak, carry yourself; share with others and get their feedback. Watch for “umm,” searching for words, facial expressions. 
  • Mock Testimony. The questions put to you should be realistic.  Drawing on legal background, when I work with my clients I put together a likely set of questions based on reviewing reports they have completed in the past, conclusions/opinions, deposition transcript for both the expert I’m working with and that of opposing counsel’s expert(s). Let the games begin.
  • A Speech coach can improve the expert’s volume, clarity, use of language, cadence, and enunciation if that’s an issue. 

You know better than anyone how relationships play out a certain way if someone is an apologist, passive-aggressive, narcissistic, even commit boundary violations (TMI is real.) Your professional interactions are no different.  Even opposing counsel takes it in; finding your weaknesses is part of their job.  We also know testimony can trigger transference, even counter-transference. Let’s prepare you to handle it all.

Demeanor conveyed on your website shouldn’t be overlooked. It’s a multi-media job interview. :

  • graphics and photographs are powerful communicators, for good or ill.  But they’re necessary to lighten the load of non-stop text.
  • The tenor of writing on your site gives attorneys a test run of what they can expect in your reports and even testimony.  It’s worth your effort to get that right. I copy-edit content for my clients and I have yet to see writing that’s perfect straight out of the box.
  • Audio-visual content is an even more influential message about what your testimony might look like. When that’s a strength, communicate it up front.

Lastly, demeanor applies to both you and your business.  Getting this right is so important that I’ve addressed it in its own article “Nuts and Bolts.”  In brief, thoroughness, as a trait in forensic practice, includes being well-organized, transparent, easy to understand in how you track records, bill your time, convey the terms of your retention and fees.

Let’s take a look at your strengths, identify room for improvement with a plan for solutions, and transmit what’s best about you, on the web and in person.

I ‘ve always loved The Little Prince* I recall the drawing of a boa constrictor that’s eaten an elephant. The Little Prince says “I showed my masterpiece to the grown-ups, and asked them whether the drawing frightened them. But they answered: “Frighten? Why should anyone be frightened by a hat?” What do people see in you?

The Little Prince

* Saint-Exupéry, A. D., & Woods, K. (2009). The little prince. London: Egmont.

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