How to prepare a witness for testimony

Testimony can be important in various cases: criminal, tax, antitrust, and civil. The person responsible needs to avoid all legal pitfalls and approach the situation with a cool head. Psychologically, this procedure is difficult even for the most “experienced”.

A lawyer or even an ordinary lawyer can prepare a witness, but you should not dictate too many “rules”: the person will not be able to remember them and will only become more nervous.

4 simple rules for interrogation

For reference: in US law, there is such a thing as “depositions,” which means testifying in absentia (usually on camera and with a stenographic record), before a court hearing. Such testimony is given by a witness for one side, being cross-examined by the opposing counsel (but in the presence of his or her own lawyer, whose role is mainly to periodically protest: “objection!”.

  1. Listen to the question.
  2. Think about your answer before you start speaking.
  3. Answer briefly or at length, depending on the strategy you have chosen with your lawyer.
  4. Stop talking or continue, again based on your strategy.

You are probably thinking: this is too easy and simple. In fact, following these steps is much harder than it sounds. You, and more importantly, your client, will find it difficult to “rehearse” your testimony. At the same time, it is much easier for a witness to memorize (and therefore follow) these four rules than the 30 pages of instructions that law firms hand out to them before they prepare.

When the lawyer’s questions became more and more complicated, the manager stuck to his balanced approach. He seemed completely at ease. According to the lawyer, this person made it clear that he could not be intimidated and did not intend to say anything he did not want to out of fear.

The advantage of the four simple rules is that they do not require much intelligence. Even a child can follow them. However, they can also be useful for someone who is well versed in legal intricacies.

The four rules can be refined and developed if you prefer. For example:

Listening to the question means making sure you understand it. No one is forcing you to answer a question if you are not sure you understand it. There is nothing wrong with admitting that you don’t understand.

Thinking about your answer before you speak – meaning that many people speak first and think later. Don’t do that – you can and will be waited on before you think about your words. This is not an intelligence test or a memory test.

Answer the questions as clearly and unambiguously as possible. Do not speak and think at the same time. Stop when you have given your answer. Don’t play with associations. If you think that the question itself is incorrectly worded, you do not have to limit yourself to the words “yes” or “no”; you can explain in detail.

You may think that these rules are too simple to be of any value. However, they can instill confidence in even the most “savvy” witnesses.