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We asked attorneys throughout the nation how they prepare their clients for cross-examination. Several movies have depicted how attorneys prepare their clients for the witness stand, but we wanted to give the real experts an opportunity to explain how it really gets done.
Assume the other side knows everything about you: your background, your routines and your medical history. Because of that, do not exaggerate or think there will be things they will not find. They will. They probably have already.
Always tell the truth. Even if you think it hurts or will not help your case. The truth is the one constant. We can deal with almost any fact - bad or good. But it is very hard to deal with someone who has not told the truth on the record. By being candid, jurors will respect that and understand that nobody is perfect and we all come with baggage. And don't be your own doctor - let the doctors and health care providers testify about the technical details. Just describe things as best you can in real world terms.
Never, ever lose your temper or show anger or displeasure with a question from the other side. They are doing their job. Part of their job may be to try to get under your skin and see if you can be rattled. You cannot respond in kind. You cannot attempt to go toe-to-toe with an attorney on his or her playing field. Just answer the questions respectfully and concisely. If the questions are abusive or improper we will intervene. Otherwise just listen to the full question and just answer what was asked without embellishing.
-John Elliott Leighton, Managing Partner of Leighton Law, P.A.
First, preparing a client for cross-examination begins long before the day of trial (or deposition). A lawyer must use the discovery and investigation techniques available to him or her to uncover all the information that the client might be cross-examined on. This can include previous claims, prior injuries, damaging documents and any other potentially harmful information. If an attorney brings those to the attention of the client, the client can then expect the questions and have a response ready. That is far better than a client being surprised and not knowing what to say.
Second, a client must understand that lawyers test witnesses by trying to get under their skin. This makes a client look bad in front of a jury. Therefore, the client must ALWAYS keep her or her cool - that is how he or she will win the encounter with the lawyer. This is not always easy, but it is vital. So, a client must remember that attorneys can be obnoxious, but they must remain calm and professional, even when answering contentious questions.
Third, after reviewing the expected questions with the client, a lawyer must ask a question whether there are any questions that the witness does not know how to answer or any topics the witness fears. Often times, there are issues that a lawyer is not aware of, and asking an open-ended question allows the client and attorney to discuss those topics and prepare as well as possible.
-Thomas J. Simeone, Esq., Simeone & Miller, LLP
As in most legal answers, it depends. If you have a sophisticated client that is accustomed to litigation and the process, then I will attempt to identify the key points of testimony and question the client in several ways to ensure they are portraying a clear picture. If it is complex testimony, I will establish a group of uninterested attorneys, have them review the issues, and have them question the client to ensure the testimony is being portrayed in a way to inform an audience. These are sometimes called murder boards and can be very effective. For unsophisticated clients, I attempt to ensure they know the facts and walk through the facts with them in a number of ways to prepare them for the potentially adverse questioning.
The key is to not over-coach or overkill the witness. They are a witness because they know something about an event. I prefer to allow them to tell that story in their own words, but with the knowledge they know what is going to be asked of them and that their knowledge will come through in a clear way to a jury or judge.
-Braden Perry, KENNYHERTZ PERRY LLC
Provide the client with information about how a depo works. Provide theclient with copies of all pleadings. Make sure the client understandsthat the depo can potentially be a make it or break it event. Explain tothe client to only answer the question; To say nothing if an objection hasbeen raised. Make sure the client is civil and courteous.