May 25, 2019
Preparing witnesses for trials and depositions isn't always easy. Most people tend to let the storytelling aspect of their responsibilities get away from them-- they may ramble, struggle to recall crucial details, or even clam up once they're faced with questions. This is why the preparation process is critical to successful questioning.
Below, we've highlighted four key tips to help you get the most out of your witness preparation process. Whether you're dealing with a Chatty Cathy or a Nervous Nellie, there are a number of tactics you can leverage to ensure that your witness tells their story properly when it matters the most.
Four Tips for Getting the Most Out of Witness Preparation
Resist the urge to prepare too early
Witnesses should always be made well-aware of deposition and trial details-- dates, locations, times, etc. are all critical pieces of information. All the witness preparation tactics in the world won't matter much if a witness fails to appear when it's time. Lay out these details as early as possible and, if necessary, offer reminders as events like the trial draw near.
It's essential that witness accounts are fresh and crisp just before trial. Avoid going over the details and refreshing too far in advance; it could leave your witness stumbling to remember key details or appearing uncertain. You should commit to a solid refresher session near the trial date in order to make sure everybody is on the same page.
Empower your witness
Many witnesses find themselves bending to nerves and anxiety once the time comes for them to share their stories. As an attorney, you can prepare and empower your witness to tell their story openly and honestly. Build a solid relationship of trust as you work with witnesses and offer them tips and advice on keeping their cool as their time on the stand draws near.
If you share tips for how to best answer questions or handle confusing queries, tell the witness that you're helping them build a toolkit for success. Letting them know that you understand how the process works and how best to address questions will help them feel more confident and at ease-- after all, you're a professional; if they know what you do, it's harder to feel insecure.
Step in to keep them focused and slow their pace
Oftentimes, witnesses get a little ahead of themselves. It can be nervewracking to take the stand and speak your truth; and that doesn't even touch on the fact that they may be sharing a story that's upsetting to them. Offer gentle coaching on how to provide valuable answers that further the administration of justice, not how to make sure they can share every detail of a story.
Help witnesses understand how to avoid getting ahead of themselves or muddying their stories with excessive details. Explain that they should speak slowly and clearly and emphasize that they shouldn't be afraid to clarify or ask questions during the process.
Scripted statements are a great way to ensure that crucial details are shared; but in some cases, they can come off in a negative light. Jurors or judges may be more inclined to believe a witness is lying or being coached if they merely read pre-written statements. If a witness relies too heavily on a script, they may panic when questioning deviates from their plans.
Instead, offer clients an outline of what to keep in mind during their time to speak. Emphasize key points not to forget and consult with them beforehand to determine whether certain topics require a little additional information on the side before heading to court.
Looking to learn more about how to effectively work with witnesses? Interested in branching out and deepening your understanding of the legal system? Contact Lorman Education Services today to learn more about our extensive online continuing education services. We have a range of courses on compliance, business, and regulatory topics designed to help you improve your workplace skills and achieve career success.