Opening Statements

Lost in Translation

Posted Feb 1, 2009 10:20 PM CDT
By Stephanie Francis Ward

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Is counsel just shaking his head in disbelief or sending a client secret signals?

The issue arose last fall during former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens’ corruption trial. The trial judge accused a lawyer for a government witness of sending secret signals to his client while he testified. Other lawyers say this behavior, if not commonplace, is not unusual. Here’s what they’ve seen:

Illustration by
Remie Georffroi


A lawyer who doesn’t want her witness to answer a question—or wants him to answer in the negative—simply shakes her head while looking down at a legal pad. The key is to avoid eye contact. Likewise unimaginatively, the Nod is used to urge an affirmative answer.

Illustration by
Remie Georffroi


A lawyer removes his glasses to get his witness to stop talking. But there’s a risk when the client is not paying attention: It’s a difficult move to repeat without looking ridiculous.

Illustration by
Remie Georffroi


Sometimes nothing is more effective than a good, swift kick. But this can backfire. One lawyer says his client, after a swift pop to the ankle, turned to him and said, “Stop kicking me, please.”


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