Another dearth in posting, which can only mean one thing (well, it can mean several things, but this sounds more dramatic) - court testimony. This week, I had to testify in a case regarding competency to stand trial. And with that trip, I thought a bit more about important aspects of preparation for testifying in an effective manner (I previously brought this up here). Today, I thought I'd briefly discuss the importance of preparation - not the general "preparation to testify," but more specifically what to do ahead of time in order to feel on top of the case as you take the stand.
There are a few things I believe are really important for me to feel confident in my knowledge of the case as I get on the stand, and most of the tasks are actually well in advance of the big day. First and foremost, conduct a thorough evaluation. I know this sounds obvious, but it isn't. Even during the course of an extended evaluation period, no clinician is good enough to always consider every facet of a case, particularly if the presentation of the defendant is complicated and/or multifaceted. There are different actions I take to try and ensure I don't miss an important clinical facet of an evaluation. First, I use checklists. Again, sounds like a no-brainer, but reviewing checklist to make sure certain diagnoses, tests, potential collateral contacts, etc. haven't been inadvertently skipped provides me with an extra level of self-imposed oversight. I also consult. I discuss cases with the other forensic psychologist at my facility regularly, describing essential features, again in order to ensure there isn't something glaring that I am missing. Third, examine the results of the testing to see if some clinical issue is emerging from the data that did not emerge from the interviews or records.
I will add to this the following, which I find is enormously helpful for me: to the extent you complete a thorough evaluation, you should also complete a thorough report. I believe this for two reasons: pre-emption and credibility. By pre-emption, I mean this: I am of the opinion that due to the thoroughness of many of my reports, I have spared myself the time and effort necessary to have to go and testify. The up-front work is longer, but the pay-off is not losing two days of work to travel somewhere and answer questions I could have easily provided the answers to in the report in the first place. Now, there will be times where testimony is necessary, particularly when there is an opposing expert - that can't be helped. However, even in those cases, I believe that a judge is predisposed to the opinion of the more thorough report. What is also nice about a thorough report is that when you do have to testify, a review of the report will often provide most of the initial re-familiarization with the case; you don't have to go through the entire chart to recall the essential elements of the evaluation.
Next up, I will provide some thoughts on "game day" preparation; in other words, what to bring with you, what to focus on, etc. as the moment of testimony is nigh upon thee...