I’m sure you’ve written dozens perhaps hundreds. For each, you’ve painstakingly chosen every word, and gone over it with a fine-tooth comb. It’s a work of art. Therefore, come time to perform this masterpiece you’re shocked when it doesn’t go off as planned. What happened? Your witness happened.
Witness scripts or outlines are a staple of any litigator’s trial playbook, as they should be for a variety of reasons. However, there are several critical mistakes or shortcuts that are often made that invite disaster on the witness stand, the biggest of which is that the attorney did not consider the witness’s particularities. Simply talking with your witness is not sufficient to uncover those particularities; instead, the best way to assess them is through a mock direct examination. Here are three critical aspects of communication that you can glean from the mock examination and then address through the construction and editing of your witness examination script. Continue reading →
I am a fan of the television show, The Profit . It’s entertaining and a wonderful resource for small businesses. Naturally, I was curious when I stumbled across deposition video of the show host, Marcus Lemonis, on YouTube.
The other day I was watching FBI Director Comey’s testimony to Congress regarding the FBI’s Clinton email investigation and findings. It began as a test of my mental fortitude, but I found that I enjoyed watching how Comey handled the questions and delivered his responses. In particular, I admired the way he kept his composure while still being strong and, when necessary, a bit indignant.
Comey wasn’t angry or rude. Instead, when needed, he used righteous indignation. A good example of this came when Comey was being “asked questions” by Florida Representative John Mica. Towards the end of the allotted five minutes, Comey had had enough of the insinuations and thinly veiled attacks on his investigation and conclusions. He sat up a bit straighter, talked a bit louder and clearer, and he stated, “I hope what you’ll tell the folks in the café is ‘look me in the eye and listen to what I’m about to say. I did not coordinate that with anyone. The White House. The Department of Justice. Nobody outside the FBI family had any idea what I was about to say. I say that under oath. I stand by that….’” He ends by saying, “I want to make sure I was definitive about that.” You can watch his testimony here. Continue reading →
Defense witnesses such as 30(b)(6) witnesses and key employees make or break the case. These witnesses serve a symbolic role that goes above and beyond the implications of the actual words that they say. Instead, they tell the jurors what kind of organization the defendant is. They serve as ambassadors for the defendant. If they are sloppy, disorganized, or come across as uncaring, the defendant will be perceived by the jury as sloppy, disorganized, or uncaring. In fact, the two most commonly discussed plaintiff strategies (Reptile and the referendum strategy) thrive on poor performances by key defense witnesses. The result is a frustrated jury that feels the need to “send a message” to the defendant that it needs to change the way it does business.
Fortunately, the solution is pretty simple: a witness prep session. Defense attorneys often have what they call “prep meetings” with their witnesses, but there are five common shortcomings of these sessions that undermine their effectiveness. Continue reading →
Welcome to the Sniper Defense, the podcast playbook for defense attorneys. In this episode, jury expert Thomas M. O’Toole, Ph.D. discusses the most effective strategies for preparing key defense witnesses for their depositions.
I’m a relatively new user of Facebook – turns out my protest against it wasn’t working as there are now over 1.25 billion users. I finally gave in and joined as I was told that people use it to share pictures of their kids, dogs, and vacations. While that is somewhat true, I’ve also found that people use it to “share” and “like” their political, religious, and moral views about every subject under the sun. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have no problem sharing my opinion, but typically I like to do it in a face-to-face setting where we can engage in a discussion of the issue and where people can tell me I’m full of “it” right to my face – no hiding behind a computer screen.
My dislike for Facebook has become more intense recently. I’ve learned in the past couple of months that I’m going to have to take a hiatus from it until the political season is over. I was thinking about the posts and the feedback to those posts when an attorney friend posted the picture above.
This got me thinking about what I do – and how social media and the “sharing” of opinion as if it’s fact influences how people pay attention to, process, and remember information presented to them during trial. Continue reading →
When you were growing up did your mom or dad ever say that to you? Do you say it to your kids? My son is a pro at turning a relatively innocuous response into a mordant-laden one simply through his tone. The answer “We’re going to the movies,” reads innocent enough until tone is added by the 17-year-old who is completely taken aback that his mom would dare ask where he and his friends are going. He’s equally successful at adding a charming tone to any question asking for money, the car, or new Nikes.
For a wonderful example of the power of tone, look no further that this YouTube video of a 10-month old baby crying as he listens to his mom sing a moving and melancholic song. This sweet little baby isn’t responding to the words of the song (also moving); he’s responding to the tone — the way the words sound. He’s simply overtaken by the way she is singing, not what she is singing. Continue reading →
After receiving several requests from clients, we recently put together this 7-minute video for attorneys to share with key witnesses in their case before their depositions. It is always preferable for attorneys to meet with their key witnesses in advance of the depositions to spend time practicing the testimony. This helps familiarize witnesses with the common pitfalls of a deposition, can increase their comfort level, and give them an opportunity to fail in a mock setting so that they can succeed in the actual deposition. However, these practice sessions are not always possible. Consequently, we put this video together as a free tool for attorneys to send to their witnesses.
The goal of the video is to provide witnesses with the essentials for performing well in a deposition. While the video is certainly not comprehensive, the core principles and rules that are discussed will help witnesses navigate most of the hurdles they will face.
Libraries have shelves and shelves of books and articles full of clever tricks and tips for developing effective case theories and themes. Some are gimmicks. Some do not come close to accomplishing what they promise. I recall hearing one story about placing a bunch of case-related words in a jar and randomly picking them out. I have seen exercises that reminded me of the old Mad Libs books from my childhood years. One of the dangers in our profession is that the givers of advice can get a little too cute or “gimmicky” in their attempts to set themselves apart from others.
In my experience, the most important exercise for effective theme development is also one of the most simple, elementary, and non-gimmicky exercises out there: systematically listing out the case weaknesses and strengths. In case strategy sessions with my clients, we post those large 3M sheets up on the wall with one or two sheets a piece devoted to the weaknesses and strengths. We start with the depressing part and focus solely on the case weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Once we have listed off every weakness or vulnerability we can think of, we change gears and do the same for the case strengths. Having the list within visual reference is extremely helpful as we move into the theme development portion of the section.