If properly prepared, your testifying client will be relaxed, confident, natural—and a master of pertinent facts. But no one can behave naturally on the stand while trying to keep in mind 50 different facts. When you’re preparing your client to testify, your job is to narrow the case to a few important facts and then fix them in your client’s mind.
Here are 5 steps to making sure your client nails down the major events:
- Master 5 questions and answers. Most cases can be reduced to a limited number of key questions. If possible, they shouldn’t exceed five. Your client should be able to answer the five central questions firmly and without qualifiers.
- Revisit key locations. Visit the scene of important events with your client; opposing counsel may well visit the site before trial and your client will be far better prepared to respond to a knowledgeable cross-examination if he or she has a refreshed recollection.
- Relive emotional responses. Prepare your client to relive important emotions when on the stand. For example, if it’s a wrongful discharge case, have him or her visualize the room where the firing took place and the facial expressions and gestures of the employee delivering the news, as well as reliving his or her emotions on receiving the news.
- Review depositions. Several weeks before the first preparation session, give your client his or her deposition, and the depositions of those agreeing with or contradicting your client’s testimony. Mark the most important sections of those depositions and go over them several times with your client. Give any deposition summaries to your client to continue reviewing.
- Give a final exam. Finally, the evening before your client testifies, check again with the client to see if he or she has firm mastery of the five important questions.
Remind your client that it’s no sin to forget details. The confession “I don’t know” sits well with most jurors most of the time. Tell your client to qualify answers (“probably,” “I believe”) as necessary, as long as the answers aren’t central to the case. But forgetting isn’t an option when it comes to the major events. For example, a criminal defendant, asked whether or not he stabbed his wife 85 times, shouldn’t answer “probably not.”
These steps to fixing facts in your client’s mind are among the many practical strategies you’ll learn in CEB’s Effective Direct and Cross-Examination Book, chapter 6. Let us know how these steps work for you and whether you’ve got other tips for fixing the facts in your client’s mind.
Related CEB blog posts:
- Prepping Your Client for Cross-Examination
- 10 Cross-Examination Tips from a Master
- Checklist for Preparing Your Witness for Trial
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