May I Have a Moment?

By Jedidiah McKeehan

When you watch legal tv shows and movies the lawyers are almost always depicted as having incredible ability in the courtroom. They hammer away at the witnesses without a moment’s hesitation. No word is ever mispronounced. If the witness gives an answer the lawyer was not expecting, the lawyer immediately pivots with a new set of questions without a second of hesitation. It’s incredible to watch. And when I was in the process of becoming a lawyer, it was terrifying to think that I had to get to that level of courtroom ability.

Fortunately, it is not quite like that. While there are some lawyers who do possess incredible courtroom abilities and are able to question witnesses with little to no preparation and handle any curveballs thrown at them, most lawyers are not quite there.

One tactic young lawyers should learn quickly (as should any individuals who end up representing themselves without a lawyer) is the phrase, “may I have a moment.” What does this phrase mean in the legal setting? What does it accomplish?

Whether a witness is in the middle of being questioned or there are arguments being made by the lawyers, saying, “may I have a moment,” signals to the judge that you need a pause on what is currently occurring to either consult with your client, review your notes, or gather yourself to continue with the proceeding. This is not a chance to step out of the courtroom, or to phone a friend. This is a break of approximately 30 seconds to 2 minutes, tops. What can you do with this little bit of time that could possibly be helpful? Taking a deep breath might be a good place to start. Courtroom proceedings are stressful, even for seasoned lawyers. Often this brief break is used to consult briefly with your client and whisper to them, “I do not have any more questions for this witness unless you have something you want me to ask them.” Or it could be to go through your file to locate a document you would like to ask the witness about.

It feels unusual and uncomfortable to ask, “for a moment,” the first time, but I have never had a judge deny the request. If you are a young lawyer or representing yourself in a courtroom and you are starting to feel overwhelmed and need a second to gather your wits or think through your next question, do not be afraid to ask, “for a moment,” to do so.

Jedidiah McKeehan is an attorney practicing in Knox County and surrounding counties. He works in many areas, including divorce, custody, criminal, and personal injury. Visit for more information about this legal issue and other legal issues.