"He looks like a wimp," said a lawyer about his client.
"You're right," agreed his legal partner. "He's totally without credibility, yet his testimony must carry two issues in the case. What can we do to give him some credibility so it can strengthen his testimony?"It was three weeks before the trial date. Not much time, but time enough to change the image of the client and, in the process, perhaps change the outcome of the trial. Such is the business of a litigation image support program. Risky business at best.
To strengthen credibility, the witness must be evaluated and his inherent style must be brought into harmony with the needs of the case. All three components of his image - wardrobe, grooming and body language - must be drastically improved.
In this particular case, the witness, a professional man in his mid-50s, habitually wore cheap-looking, worn-out collegiate "preppy" suits and thick-soled shoes. His shirts didn't fit and his "John Lennon" glasses were too small for his face.
The witness was instructed to bring his better suits, shoes, ties, slacks, shirts and blazers to the attorney's office for review as to style, quality and fit. Only one of the suits was acceptable. Because the trial would extend over several days, even weeks, he needed two or three new suits to fill out a versatile wardrobe sufficient for the duration of the trial. New ties, shirts and shoes were added to the shopping list.
His face was carefully analyzed; narrow and angular - not the image of strength. His eyes were proportionally small. Because eye contact is vital during both direct and cross-examination, it helps if eyes are larger. New eyeglass frames, broad with squared rims, were purchased to visually enlarge and emphasize his eyes, to add width to his face, lend an air of maturity and increase professionality.
His short, limp hair was given a sophisticated "trim" to give it definition and body. His nails were neatly manicured to "clean up" his entire image, making him appear more like a "gentleman."
Training for court began with a series of questions written by the attorneys and intended to elicit the behaviors they believed demanded improvement. The witness was video-taped as he responded to the attorney's questions. As he viewed the instant replay, he became aware of his lack of eye contact, frequent lip licking, awkward hand gestures and toe-tapping.
The witness was then taught how to focus on the eyes of another, how to overcome nervous habits and awkward gestures. Again and again the questions were asked, taped, replayed and reviewed. Gradually, the witness improved in his ability to respond. He became more open, talked slower and learned to keep his hands and feet still. The camera caught his increased credibility.
In subsequent days, all the elements came together. The wardrobe was complete. Proper grooming reinforced the professional image. Taped question/answer sessions continued, with additional attorneys in on the training. The client gradually became more self-confident, comfortable with his new clothes and newly acquired communication skills.
The client's image was successfully modified to serve the needs of the case and, in the process, he learned to view and appreciate himself in a new light. He internalized the training. It showed in his eyes, his posture and the way he walked.
The case ended well and the client emerged better equipped for life. Sounds good. I like happy endings, as long as it's the good guys who get the makeover. Like I said, risky business.