When asking questions of a witness at trial or deposition, or of a juror during voir dire, one of your most important jobs is to phrase questions so that they are effortlessly understood. Of course, that means no “legalese.” But there are other less obvious tips to being easily understood.
Keep the following 10 talking pointers in mind when questioning a witness or juror:
- Use simple words (“car” not “vehicle”).
- Eliminate legal and other jargon (“whereupon,” “aforesaid”).
- Speak clearly.
- Speak more slowly than you think is necessary.
- Make your sentences short, not compound.
- Tailor your questions to the witness.
- Be specific; avoid vague and ambiguous questions.
- Decide on the best type of question to get the information you want, i.e., a question that calls for specific information or an open-ended question that calls for a narrative response.
- Have the witness explain any technical terms or concepts that must be part of a question, using demonstrative evidence such as charts and diagrams to help jurors understand them.
- Allow the witness to complete his or her answer before asking your next question.
For more tips for effective questioning, see CEB’s Effective Introduction of Evidence in California §§1.2-1.14 — a book frequently used by former State Bar president Holly Fujie.
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