How the attorney and witness appear to the jury can be as important as the words that are spoken. Here are four tips from expert trial attorneys that will make your direct examination more effective regardless of what you ask the witness.
- Be the master. Assume a demeanor during direct examination that reflects mastery of the facts. Appear calm and speak distinctly. Don’t show reactions of anger, elation, or the like to any answers.
- Put the witness at center stage. Generally, your primary role will be that of facilitator for the witness. Stay in the background and permit the witness to testify as fully on his or her own as possible. Use short questions to control the flow of testimony. Ideally, the witness will be sufficiently prepared so you won’t need to assist much. But if the witness forgets a point, you may refresh the witness’ recollection.
- Help the witness connect with the jury. Minimize eye contact with the witness after you’ve asked the question; this will encourage the witness to look at the jury, not you.
- Be sensitive to the jury. While conducting the direct examination, be aware of the jury to evaluate their reaction. If the witness uses a technical term, ask a follow-up question to explain the term. Supplemental questions may deviate from the outline to clarify the witness’ testimony. Some attorneys feel it’s condescending to ask the witness to “please explain to the jury” a certain term, as if the jury lacked the necessary understanding. A better approach is to ask the witness to “please tell us what that term means.”
Before you do your next direct examination, review the expert advice in CEB’s California Trial Practice: Civil Procedure During Trial, chap 11 and Effective Direct and Cross-Examination, chap 2. And check out CEB’s program Evidence: Tips for Effective Direct and Cross Examination, available On Demand.
Other CEBblog™ posts you may find useful:
- 12 Tips for Direct Examination in Depo or at Trial
- Direct Examination Crisis Control
- When It’s OK to Lead on Direct
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