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Should Your Client Take Acting Lessons?

By Cristina Yu, Esq. | Last updated on

Oscar Pistorius, now on trial for murdering his girlfriend, has become famous for his outward signs of grief and anguish, including weeping and throwing up. Are the tears genuine? Is the vomit mere crocodile vomit? Who can tell? But he is putting on such a show that he's just been accused of taking acting lessons.

Huh, Acting Lessons? Good idea?

Should your client take acting lessons? Let's answer that question with a question, a question likely to be asked by opposing counsel. That question is, "Is it true that in preparation for your testimony here today, you took acting lessons?!?!"

There's nothing unethical about preparing a client to testify clearly and truthfully. All witnesses would probably benefit from certain techniques that actors use, such as breath control and focus, and just the experience of public speaking is useful. On the other hand, the public associates acting lessons with, well, acting -- pretending to be something that that the actor really isn't.

Think of the answer to the question above. How do you think the jury will view your client after learning that he took lessons on how to testify before them? And that they were acting lessons? What will opposing counsel say about this during summation?

A Better Approach

If your client needs help in expressing himself clearly, controlling his nervousness, improving his listening skills or anything else that would make him a good and truthful witness, it might be better to hire a trial consultant rather than have him go to acting school. The consultant can give him help in the specific areas where he needs it, and, in some jurisdictions, the consultations might even be covered under the work-product doctrine.

Whatever you decide to do, be sure to follow the ethical requirements in your jurisdiction. Make sure the client understands that you are acting ethically and that he should truthfully answer any questions about what you and he did to prepare for trial.

The last thing you want is to have him lie on the stand and say you didn't prepare him to testify when you did. If you end up having him take acting lessons, let him know that it's okay to say so. Then, on direct, bring out the honest reasons for them.

And if you're Oscar Pistorius' lawyer, bring some dry wipes.

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