Witness preparation varies from case to case and from witness to witness and there’s no one correct method or simple formula. But there are some things you should always do when preparing a witness for trial.
Here’s a handy checklist to make sure you don’t miss anything when preparing your next witness:
___ Explain the attorney-client privilege to the witness (if the witness is not a party or party-related witness, the attorney-client privilege won’t apply).
___ Have the witness give an initial recitation of the facts in narration form.
___ Review with the witness the nature and purpose of the proceedings, including courtroom procedure and what to expect in court.
___ Discuss applicable law.
___ Have the witness review all applicable facts.
___ Review with the witness past depositions, answers to interrogatories, all documentary or demonstrative evidence, and all other material that may be referred to in trial.
___ Practice direct examination. See Do’s and Don’ts on Direct.
___ Practice cross-examination. See Prepping Your Client for Cross-Examination.
___ Consider a full dress rehearsal, perhaps with another attorney playing the part of the opposition (including objections).
There’s a fine line between well-prepared and over-prepared. Don’t over-prepare your witness because it can make the testimony seem prefabricated, too slick, or otherwise artificial. The testimony should be the best possible, but ultimately, it’s the witness who testifies, and the witness should be perceived as a real person.
For general guidelines for preparing witnesses as well as what you need to do before meeting with and preparing the witnesses, turn to CEB’s California Trial Practice: Civil Procedure During Trial, chapter 5.
Related CEB blog posts:
- 12 Tips for Direct Examination in Depo or at Trial
- 10 Questions to Help Figure Out Whether a Police Officer Will Make a Good Witness
- Mastering the Art of Cross-Examination: Tips from a Judge
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