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February 03, 2021 Practice Points

Editing Your Oral Arguments: Removing Filler Words

You do not want the jury or judge counting how many times you have said “um.” You want them thinking about your argument.

By Miller Leonard

Attorneys are constantly using filler words while speaking in court. Filler words are the short, meaningless words or sounds we use instead of a pause. For trial lawyers, filler words are not just annoying, they have the potential to harm your case.

Some common filler words:

  • Like
  • Um
  • Ah
  • Ugh
  • Well
  • Okay
  • Right?
  • And
  • Really
  • With all due respect
  • I just
  • Then

You do not want the jury or the judge counting how many times you have said “um.”  You want the jury or the judge thinking about your argument.

Some easy ways to rid these words from your vocabulary:

  • Pause. Pausing between thoughts gives you time to carefully formulate sentences. The “awkward silence” is typically not as awkward as you think it is.
  • Review your progress. Recording yourself while practicing prior to making an argument can help with self-awareness. However, reviewing past transcripts from depositions or hearings may be the most effective “real time” assessment.
  • Fine yourself. We have all heard of the “swear jar.” The principle can be translated to stop other habits as well. Fine yourself when you catch yourself using a filler word!

After a little practice and self-assessment, you will notice the difference, and your audience will notice a cleaner message without distracting filler words. 

Miller Leonard is an attorney in Golden, Colorado.

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