Preparation of your client for cross-examination should include doing each of the following:
- Set a few facts in his or her mind. Isolate a few important facts in the case and drive them home by repetition. Don’t force-feed detailed narratives to your client because it’s more likely that he or she will freeze up on the stand or sound rehearsed.
- Emphasize honesty. Encourage your client to be honest. A jury will almost always forgive a witness who has erred in the past and who gives answers that are inconsistent with his litigation claims, as long as the witness admits error on the stand.
- Minimize stage fright. Remind your client that there’s the safety net of re-direct, so he or she doesn’t need to get the testimony letter perfect during cross-examination, nor is there a need to make speeches or volunteer information to fill gaps. Explain that you’ll do any necessary repair work during re-direct.
- Increase credibility. Advise your client to use the following credibility boosters:
- Use confident body language—lean forward, make eye contact, use hands for illustration, and keep the head up.
- Dress conservatively and neatly (but not out of character).
- Use a “power” vocabulary: no hesitation words (“you know,” “actually”); use meaningful qualifiers (“very,” “most,” “least”), and short answers.
- Don’t give rambling, evasive answers. Few answers are as powerful as a simple “Yes” or “No.”
- Don’t show hostility or sarcasm to opposing counsel.
- Don’t make closing argument during cross-examination. If speeches are necessary, counsel will give them in closing or on re-direct.
- Don’t stake credibility on some unimportant side issue. Stick to an assertion in the face of strong contradictory evidence only if that assertion is critical to the case.
- Prepare for tricks and traps. Tell your client that cross-examiners have many tricks in their repertoires to score a point off a witness, and help your client to spot and handle them.
Also use these points when you’re preparing other friendly witnesses for their cross-examination. Being well-prepared will help your witnesses stay calm and be most effective as they withstand cross-examination.
For much more on preparing your client and other favorable witnesses for cross-examination, turn to CEB’s Effective Direct and Cross-Examination Book, chapter 6.
Related CEB blog posts:
- Mastering the Art of Cross-Examination: Tips from a Judge
- Witness Rehab
- 5 Steps to Preparing an Expert Witness to Do Battle
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