Opening Statements

Lost in Translation

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.”

Green Grow the Lawsuits

Readers Make Their Choices

We welcome your comments, but please adhere to our comment policy. Flag comment for moderator.

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.