Monday, February 8, 2010

How to be a Good Witness- Part I

How to be a Good Witness

How do you give good testimony? It’s unnatural to know how to be a good witness or even know what it means to be a good witness. I have prepared a lot of people for deposition and trial testimony in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and maybe 5% of them were naturally inclined to be good witnesses. 5%! And that’s being generous. The rest have ranged from fearful and timid to downright offensive and combative. I am not saying that there was anything wrong with these people either. To the contrary, I know how hard it is. To make matters worse, many attorneys don’t know how or just don’t care to teach their clients the ins and outs of giving good testimony. The result can be disastrous.

I remember cross examining a defendant during an arbitration once (a less formal form of trial decided by three arbitrators) and in response to me asking how her car got from point “A” to point “B” she snapped “you’re trying to trick me, that’s all you lawyers do, figure it out yourself!” Well considering that the three arbitrators deciding the case were attorneys I can’t imagine that her testimony went over too well. The moral being, had she been better prepared on how to be a good witness and give good testimony her costly mistake could have been avoided.

With that in mind, my first two rules of thumb for being a good witness are:

1. Don’t lose your cool (Keep calm in the face of difficult questioning)
2. Be polite and respectful (Follow the golden rule)

Whether you are being deposed by opposing counsel or are testifying in front of a judge and jury-remember- not only is your case and story being judged, but YOU are being judged as a person. If opposing counsel sees you as a likable person he or she will quickly realize that that is a negative for their case and a positive for yours. As a result, the case may be more likely to settle in your favor. Believe me I see this all the time. The opposite is also true.

The same goes for how you connect with a jury. If a jury likes you then they are more likely to treat you favorably. But if you annoy or anger a jury all I can say is- look out! This seems simple but you would be amazed how many people, in the heat of being asked tough questions, Lose their Cool and/or become mean and nasty.

So what are you to do? Make your lawyer ask you the tough questions over and over and in the nastiest, meanest way possible. Get comfortable discussing the most uncomfortable information. And, as will be my ongoing mantra through the course of this series of posts, practice, practice and then practice some more. Believe me, it's worth it.

Next post I will discuss case knowledge and preparation. Share this post :
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