Posts Tagged ‘attorney’

Mistakes Witnesses Make (And How To Avoid Them)

Family Law - Be a Good WitnessA great witness can be the difference between losing and winning a case. So can a harmful witness. So how can you make sure you are on the correct side of this line? Here are a few pointers I have developed over my many years working with witnesses.

Mistake #1: Lack of Preparation

It is tempting to think that since all you are doing is telling your story, preparation is not really necessary. There are several problems with this line of reasoning – primarily that the other side is doing just the opposite. Although you are telling your story, there are many ways that differences in phrasing, non-verbals, and even hesitations may conversely effect the words you are speaking. In addition to this being a completely new, and often times intimidating experience, keep in mind that there will be another side who has spent countless hours and days preparing for your interview and looking for the areas they might find weak. Even if you have done nothing wrong and are just there to relay your story, their goal will be to find your weaknesses. Daniel Small puts it plainly in his 2013 article for Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly: “You’re walking into a strange environment with a great deal at stake, where everyone else is experienced, comfortable, and prepared. You can’t adequately prepare for this challenge without professional help, period.”[1]

The Solution: Prepare, prepare, prepare. This is what your legal team is here for. As veterans of the field, we know what to watch for and we can help you know how and when the important questions will come. With practice and repetition, your lawyer can help you clearly, confidently and accurately convey your meaning to the court.

Mistake #2 – Speaking Too Soon.

By the time your day in court arrives, you will have been over and over the matters of discussion to where they seem beaten to death or mundane. Keep in mind, this is usually going to be the courts first time hearing the details of the case. Answering hastily or anticipating a line of argument can greatly damage your credibility and/or the case. [2]

The Solution: Always wait a second or so before you answer. This gives you time to collect your thoughts and answer clearly. It also gives your attorney time to object if needed. Make sure you understand any question before you begin answering, and then answer the question fully but without going further into future potential questions.

Mistake #3 – Speaking Too Much or Volunteering Information.

As important as it is to answer your questions clearly and accurately, it is also important to stop when you are done. With all of the preparation you have done, you may know where a question is headed and volunteer too much information or information out of order.

The Solution: Answer each question as positively and definitely as possible, and then STOP. Your lawyer to take the questioning where it needs to go. Along this same topic, Stop speaking instantly when an attorney objects to a question or if the judge interrupts you. Wait for the judge to tell you to continue before answering any further.

Mistake #4 – Giving The Answer You Think The Questioner is Looking For Instead Of The Absolute Truth

This might seem like common sense, but sometime I can be tempting. For example, an attorney may ask you: “Have you talked to anybody about this case?” It might be tempting to say “no” but the judge will know that is probably not true as you have likely been approached by the prosecutor, police officers, federal law enforcement agents, etc. [3]

The Solution: Always tell the full and complete truth. Try not to guess at where a line of questioning is going to how to steer it in the right direct. That is the lawyer’s job. Your job is to clearly and accurately describe your own experience. In the case above, it would be better in this case to say clearly and precisely who you have spoken with (including friends or family members) There is nothing improper about this and it build your credibility as a witness.

Mistake #5 – Not Dressing The Part.

It may sound trivial, but the old concept that first impressions are everything is also true in the courtroom. Often witnesses are so worried, stressed, or busy that they neglect to pay attention to the impression they are making.

The Solution: Dress appropriately and professionally. Avoid clothing. Make-up or fragrance that could be distracting. You want to convey that you understand the importance of this proceeding and you take it seriously. [4]

We hope this primer on the common pitfalls with help you feel more prepared and confident about your upcoming day in court. Remember, we are here to help you navigate these strange waters. Please do not hesitate to reach out to your attorney or team as you prepare – that is part of what we are here for!


 

SOURCES

[1] Daniel I. Small, Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, “Three Big Mistakes Witnesses Make” http://www.hklaw.com/files/Uploads/Documents/Articles/Small_MassLawyer_ThreeBigMistakes.pdf, (October 17, 2013).

[2] Clark Head, “How To Testify Effectively In Court” http://www.lawyerssacramento.org/How_To_Testify_in_Court.html

[3] The United States Attorney’s Office, Middle District of Pennsylvania, “Tips For Testifying In Court: Victim Witness”, http://www.justice.gov/usao-mdpa/victim-witness-assistance/tips-testifying-court, (April 22, 2015).

[4] Anthony Flores, “Taking the Terror out of Testifying: Tips for Nonattorneys who Testify in Child Welfare Proceedings”, http://courts.mi.gov/Administration/SCAO/OfficesPrograms/CWS/ChildWelfareServicesTraining/CWS%20Training%20Materials/4.11.12.CWS.WorkshopA1.Taking.the.Terror.out.of.Testifying.pdf, (April 2012).

 

Disclaimer:
We are pleased to communicate with you concerning your family matters. However, if you communicate with us through the web regarding a matter for which our firm does not already represent you, your communication may not be treated as privileged or confidential, and shall not be deemed to create an attorney/client relationship. Furthermore, you should not provide confidential information to anyone at our law firm in an e-mail inquiry or otherwise unless we have first entered into a representation agreement.  By continuing to our website you are deemed to have agreed to these terms and conditions.

 

New Mutual Consent Divorce in Maryland as of October 2015

Mutual Consent Divorce in MarylandOn October 1, 2015, Maryland enacted the “mutual consent” grounds for divorce. The new statute was signed by Governor Hogan on May 12, 2015 and stipulates several criteria for Maryland to grant an absolute divorce decree without the standard one year separation requirement that the parties to live separate and apart from each other. [1]

Criteria for “Mutual Consent” Divorce in Maryland

In order for the divorce to be granted on grounds of “mutual consent”, the following criteria must be met (as outlined in the statute):

  • The parties do not have any minor children in common.
  • The parties execute and submit to the court a written statement agreement signed by both parties that resolves all issues relating to alimony, and the distribution of property.
  • Neither party files a pleading to set aside the settlement agreement prior to the divorce hearing required under the laws of Maryland.
  • Both parties appear before the court at the absolute divorce hearing.

If the divorce falls within these criteria, the couple filing for the “mutual consent” divorce can continue living in the same household during the divorce settlement negotiations without delaying the actual date of divorce. This allows time for the couple to settle financial issues, property division and prepare for separate living arrangements.

“Mutual Consent” divorce should be helpful in assisting an amicable divorce.

What Prevents “Mutual Consent” Divorce in Maryland

“Mutual Consent” divorce is extremely helpful because it allows couples, seeking an amicable divorce, to obtain a divorce even if they are still living together. In our community there are many individuals that cannot afford to move out, and live separately for one year, in order to obtain an absolute divorce. For those couples who do not qualify for mutual consent divorce, you must meet the requirements of one other divorce grounds listed below:

  • One year separation without cohabitation
  • Adultery
  • Desertion
  • Conviction of a misdemeanor or felony charge (must comply with sentence duration limits)
  • Cruelty
  • Excessively vicious conduct
  • Insanity

Which Divorce is Right for Me

When considering a divorce, you should always consult a qualified attorney in your jurisdiction. The Law Offices of Sandra Guzman-Salvado, LLC practices primarily in the area of family law. We have offices in Frederick County, Montgomery County, Anne Arundel County and Prince George’s County. Contact us today at 301-340-1911 or schedule an appointment with a Maryland divorce attorney online to discuss your options.


Source:
[1] General Assembly of Maryland, Legislation by Session: Family Law-Grounds for Divorce-Mutual Consent, Chapter 353 (2015 Regular Session), http://mgaleg.maryland.gov/webmga/frmMain.aspx?pid=billpage&stab=01&id=sb0472&tab=subject3&ys=2015rs, (May 2015).

Disclaimer:
We are pleased to communicate with you concerning your family matters. However, if you communicate with us through the web regarding a matter for which our firm does not already represent you, your communication may not be treated as privileged or confidential, and shall not be deemed to create an attorney/client relationship. Furthermore, you should not provide confidential information to anyone at our law firm in an e-mail inquiry or otherwise unless we have first entered into a representation agreement.
By continuing to our website you are deemed to have agreed to these terms and conditions.

7 Challenges and Considerations to Keep in Mind when Representing Non-English Speaking Clients

Representing Non-English Speaking ClientsAlthough traditionally America is a very monolingual society, the percentage of our non-English speaking population, or those with limited knowledge of the English language, is growing rapidly.  In fact, the number of people in the U.S. who speak a language other than English at home has nearly tripled over the past three decades![1] As attorneys, we are often faced with the challenge of representing such individuals with different linguistic background from the court and potentially ourselves. As a bilingual (Spanish/English) attorney, I have experienced these challenges on numerous occasions and can offer my insight when you are faced with such a scenario: 

  1. Listen, Listen, Listen– The first step in providing fair and accurate representation to anyone, is a clear understanding of your client’s situation. When introducing a language barrier or even a slight difference, this becomes a challenge on its own. Ask numerous questions and listen to the whole story repeated. This becomes especially important if you yourself do not speak their language. Taking the extra time to repeat your questions another way and listen for inconsistencies assists in ensuring that nothing gets lost in translation.
  2. Use the Right Translator– Most often, in situations involving a non-english speaking client, a translator will be required for some or all of the court proceedings. Even the best translator adds an additional factor for consideration in your case. As such, here are a few considerations when selecting your translator:
    • Dialect – make sure your translator not only speaks the langue, but also the dialect of your client. These subtle differences can make a dramatic impact on the meaning in many cases.
    • Gender – I find it is best to use a male translator when representing male client vie versa. In certain instances, which come up frequently in family law, the gender and physical factors present in the case are critical elements and an accurate portrayal through your translator can influence the perception of the jury and help them understand the relationship between the parties.
    • Legal Status – Make sure you understand the difference between and “official” translator and an “unofficial translator” and their implications in court. An article published by David Zachary Kaufman on AmericanBar.org puts it this way: “An ‘official’ interpreter is an adult who has been tested for competency and knowledge; an ‘unofficial’ interpreter is anyone else—like a relative or child of your client. In criminal cases unofficial interpreters cannot be compelled to testify about what they hear when interpreting if their presence is ‘reasonably necessary’ for the legal representation… This test does not apply to official interpreters: They cannot be compelled to testify, period.” [2] I would urge you to delve into this in your own state before making your final decision.
  3. Be Aware of Cultural Differences – The vast majority of the time you are representing a non-English speaking client, in addition to pure language differences, there will be culture differences to overcome. An Oregon Supreme Court Task Force reported that “The dominant culture of this … nation is reflected in its courts. Largely non-minority judges and court staff do not understand the cultures of minorities who appear in the courts. “[3] Consider this throughout each step of the process and take steps to clarify and point out cultural difference where necessary.
  4. Anticipate Additional Costs – Representing a non-English speaking client can be more expensive, even for non-complex cases. Attorney L. Richard Brinkman Jr. recommends obtaining a family member or friends to help cut down on the cost where possible. He says “Be aware that using an interpreter slows down communications, requiring all matters to take a longer time. Billing for this extra time may be difficult, and you must decide how to confront this problem in each case. Of course, more complex matters will require more highly skilled interpreters. Certain matters of litigation or more complex transactions may require actual translations of documents. This will be a great expense to the client if the client does not have someone to perform the services.”[4] Even if you speak the same language as your client, a translator will still be required for parts of the process within the court, so keep this in mind as you assess probable costs.
  5. Use the Full, Correct Name – This may seem elementary, but small mistakes can be surprisingly common and troublesome when representing a non-English speaking client simply due to cultural differences. Often the attorney, court clerk, or other individual miss-spells the name of the represented individual due to unfamiliarity, which ends up wasting time and causing hassle.[5] To complicate matters, in some other cultures, individuals will offer their family name first so it is important to identify and spell out their full legal name, including their middle name, and, if possible, verify it with multiple official documents for the outset.
  6. Practice With Your Interpreter – Pre-trial interviews with your interpreter and non-English speaking client or witnesses can be extremely helpful to the outcome of your case. It helps the client or witness become familiar and comfortable with the process. It also helps the interpreter become familiar with the facts, names, locations and specialized vocabulary. All of this will protect your client or witnesses credibility in court and eliminate distractions from the actual case.[6] 
  7. Beware Culture Bound Terms – Just because words have been translated, either by yourself or an interpreter, it does not always mean that meaning has been clearly communicated. A perfect example of this is your client being read their Miranda rights. They may have heard the technical words, but not fully understand that it meant they were not obligated to talk to the police or that the information they shared could be used to prosecute them.[7] Keep this in mind as you prepare your case, during the proceedings, and during your communication with your clients. Along these lines, I typically try to avoid using acronyms or legal terminology without first explaining exactly what they mean to my client. These can go over the head of an English-speaking layperson, let alone someone who needs it translated!

These are just a few of the considerations to keep in mind when representing a non-English speaking client, but you will find that as you begin to think along these lines, other details will come to mind. As with anything, the more experience you have, the more smooth and natural the process will go. If you have any specific questions please leave a comment below and I will do my best to reply in a timely manner. 


[1] Camille Ryan, “Language Use in the United States: 2011” http://www.census.gov/prod/2013pubs/acs-22.pdf,  (August 2013).

[2] David Zachary Kaufman, “What Did You Say? The Perils of Clients Who Don’t Speak English” http://www.americanbar.org/newsletter/publications/gp_solo_magazine_home/gp_solo_magazine_index/whatdidyousay.html, (2007).

[3] Oregon Judicial Department, Report of the Oregon Supreme Court Task Force on Racial / Ethnic Issues in the Judicial System: Office of the State Court Administrator, 73 Oregon Law Review 823-947 (Spring 1994).

[4] L. Richard Brinkman Jr., “Representing Non-English Speaking Clients” http://www.americanbar.org/newsletter/publications/gp_solo_magazine_home/gp_solo_magazine_index/nonenglishclients.html (February 2007).  First published in 2006 Missouri Bar Solo and Small Firm Conference, Missouri Bar Association, 2006.

[5] L. Richard Brinkman Jr., “Representing Non-English Speaking Clients” http://www.americanbar.org/newsletter/publications/gp_solo_magazine_home/gp_solo_magazine_index/nonenglishclients.html (February 2007).  First published in 2006 Missouri Bar Solo and Small Firm Conference, Missouri Bar Association, 2006.

[6] Mary Lou Aranguren, “Representing non-English Speaking Clients: 10 Points Attorneys Should Know” http://www.courts.alaska.gov/language/ten-points.pdf (April 1998)

[7] María Cristina Castro, “Effective Communication with Non-English Speaking Clients” http://apps.dpa.ky.gov/library/manuals/inter/effective.html