Heather Hansen

“Your Witness” – Two Words that Could Change Everything

“Your Witness”–these are two words that could change everything. They did for me. I used to be even more of a perfectionist than I am now. And perfectionism isn’t great. It’s not cute, not sexy, not fun and it doesn’t even help you succeed. In fact, it is more likely to hold you back from success. Many of my coaching clients let perfectionism hold them back. Their Inner Jury, the part of them that decides what to believe, is so hard to impress that they never write the book, go for the job, send the or ask the question. Fortunately, early in my career as a trial attorney, these two words –“Your Witness” –helped me to overcome my perfectionism.


Trial attorneys win and lose their cases by asking questions. I spend hour upon hour preparing the questions I’ll ask my witnesses on direct examination, and even more hours preparing the questions I’ll ask opposing witnesses on cross examination. Cross examination is especially stressful because these witnesses don’t want to play nice. I want to take away their story, and they want to take mine. So I have my questions perfectly planned before I cross examine a witness. My questions are on my legal pad and they’re a perfectionist’s dream. I skip a line between questions. Underline the zingers in red, the set up question in green. Blue is for the questions I have to ask to meet the legal standard for my case. My legal pad is a color coded work of art.

But then, the witnesses starts to testify on direct examination. Suddenly I’m writing new questions, crossing out others. And my margins turn into a mess of scribble. My ducks go from being in a beautiful row to flying, swimming and diving all over the place. And that’s when the Judge says it. “Ms. Hansen, Your Witness.”

It’s Time

It’s time to cross examine the witness. I can’t say “Wait I’m not ready!” Nor can I say “Just 5 more minutes”. Because Your Witness means Your Witness. It’s my witness, to question as I wish. It doesn’t matter that my ducks aren’t in a row and it doesn’t matter that my pad isn’t perfect. It’s time to go. I have to gather my wits, remember my preparation and my innate talents, and do what I’ve trained to do.

So I stand. I take my pad, now full of unreadable gibberish. I begin. And most of the time, it flows. All of that practice allows me to be quick on my feet. The cross exam becomes a lethal dance, one that I win more often than I lose. Of course there are stumbles, and sometimes a fall. But once I’ve begun, the flow usually follows.

“Your Witness” Is Your Moment. Take It.

If you’re like my coaching clients, you often wait for all of your ducks to be in a row. You want your pad to be perfect, color coded and neat. And you spend so much time preparing that you miss the opportunity to win. I get it. I’d probably do the same. But I have no choice. When the Judge says “Your Witness”, I have to go. So now, I say it to myself. I act before I feel ready. And I move even when it’s messy. That’s how I wrote a best seller, got a job as an anchor at the Law and Crime Network, and started my podcast that’s now at over 100 episodes.

You can do the same. “Your Witness” is your opportunity. It’s your time, your chance, your moment. Take it.

Heather Hansen

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