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 →
Many attorneys and academics love to debate when cases are won or lost. Some argue that cases are won or lost in jury selection. Others point to opening statements. Research has yet to offer a definitive answer, mainly because the answer is that it is a little bit of everything. However, cross-examination rarely gets mention in the debate. Cross-examination has long been the land of lost opportunities for attorneys, particularly defense attorneys. There is so much that can be accomplished in cross-examination, yet it rarely receives the necessary pre-planning that it requires. Sure, attorneys outline the key areas of questioning, but little attention is given to cross-examination in terms of the art of presentation to the jurors. As evidence of this, in all of the shadow juries I have conducted over my career, the most common complaint from shadow jurors each day after trial is that attorneys lacked organization and clarity in their cross-examinations. This left the shadow jurors struggling to understand not only what was actually relevant, but why it was relevant. This makes the information less memorable and less likely to exert influence in deliberations. Relevance is not always clear to jurors, even though it may feel painfully obvious to the attorneys who have spent months or years in the trenches of discovery working to understand every facet of the case. Consequently, attorneys need to give greater attention to the important role of cross-examination at trial. Here are five reasons a good cross-examination is better than a great direct-examination. Continue reading →
In this episode of The Sniper Defense, Tom discusses practical strategies for defense attorneys to consider as they try to make the most of their cross examination opportunities during the plaintiff’s case-in-chief.
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 →
Each year in the United States, juries award billions of dollars in damages to plaintiffs. In 2014, a jury in Florida awarded $23.6 billion to a single plaintiff. There are two possible explanations for these extraordinary numbers. First, for a variety of reasons, defense attorneys are often forced to take unwinnable cases all the way to trial. In these situations, they do the best they can, but cannot avoid the inevitable.
The second explanation is that defense attorneys are failing in some way to adequately try their cases. This is not intended to give insult to defense attorneys. In fact, it’s an overdue acknowledgement of the overwhelming burden that is placed at their feet. While the typical plaintiff’s case has a natural story and appeal that insulates it from even the most unskilled plaintiff attorneys, convincing a judge and jury to embrace a defense theory requires a delicate dance down a path that is fraught with danger at every turn. Continue reading →