Being examined as a witness is generally a traumatic experience for most. Not many people wake up in the morning and decide a nice grilling by a lawyer would make a great way to spend the day.
So, remember that if you are going to be examined as a witness in a court action, you are not the first. The butterflies and dry mouth are perfectly natural fear responses.
Our job (aside from winning the case) is to try to lessen the trauma for you. We will meet with you prior to your examination to review the documents and your recollections of the events that are at issue. If we expect the examination by the other lawyer may be particularly grueling, we may roll play for a portion of the meeting and ask you all sorts of provocative and nasty questions in the hopes of getting your blood boiling – just so that you can realize when really being examined not to take the bait.
Here are some basic tips on how to act when being cross-examined by another lawyer:
– dress professionally, as it really does help.
– ask for a glass of water when going into the witness stand at court or when at the reporters office for a discovery – it helps cure that dry mouth problem.
– wait for questions to be asked before responding and consider the answer that you want to give – a sip from the water glass will buy you a few more seconds.
– if you don’t know the answer to the question, say so or ask for the question to be clarified.
– If you know that there is a document that will help you with your memory in answering the question, refer to it and ask to see it.
– Be careful of the sentences that start “Wouldn’t you agree …”. Agreeing without thinking is usually is a bad thing when being cross-examined, so consider the question asked and answer it honestly and carefully.
– Answer the question, stop talking and wait for the lawyer to ask the next question
– Don’t ramble on. Sometimes lawyers will intentionally not ask another question and will just look at you. They are trying to goad you into talking more than you should.
– Do not ever fight with the lawyer who is asking you questions. You will rarely win that battle of wits. When you lose your cool, you’ve lost more than just that.
– Don’t use “uh-huh”, “nope” or “yup”. Those are not words. And avoid nodding or shaking your head, as there is a reporter present whose job is to type out what you say.
– If you get tired, ask for a break.
Paul H. Voorn