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12 Golden Rules of Being an Effective Witness

THE 12 GOLDEN RULES OF BEING AN EFFECTIVE WITNESS Any experienced civil litigation attorney knows that the three most important characteristics of a good witness are (1) credibility (2) credibility and (3) credibility. A witness is usually persuasive to the extent he doesn't seem to be trying and is just answering directly and honestly the questions put to him.

Trials are often won based upon the quality of the witnesses who testify in them. In business litigation successful settlements after the parties and witnesses have been deposed (cross examined before trial) often hinge upon the quality of the testimony of the witnesses deposed

So how does one become a good and persuasive witness?

But that is not as easy as it sounds. From the time we are small children we are taught by experience that telling the truth is not necessarily the best and safest course. We often tend to say what will keep us out of trouble, what will not upset others, or what will make us look good. While those characteristics are often socially acceptable, they don't work very well on the witness stand.

An effective witness is one who testifies as though he of she isn't trying to prove anything; that he or she is just honestly and directly answering the question asked,. As we have noted, that is not as easy as it sounds. It takes thought and an attitude adjustment.

Here are the a few key rules for being an effective witness.

Rule 1: Don't argue. Arguing the case is your attorney's job, not yours. You are there to answer questions truthfully. If you try to do more, you will compromise your value as a witness. Don't do it!

Rule 2: Wait a few seconds before answering.

Rule 3: Tell the truth. You can't be caught in a lie if you never tell one. Resist the temptation to "help your case along". Let your trial lawyer try your case for you. Just concentrate on being honest, forthright, courteous and careful.

Rule 4: If you don't know, say so. School is out! The only thing your being tested on in trial is your credibility. When you don't know the answer to a question, don't be afraid to admit it. Judges and juries tend to trust witnesses who do not reach, who say I don't know when they don't.

Rule 5: If you don't understand the question, don't answer it.

Tell the questioner that you don't understand what he or she is asking and courteously ask him to rephrase it. Your time on the witness stand is no time for guessing about what the question means.

Rule 6: Don't volunteer. Jurors and judges hate witnesses who embellish on their answers. If some additional information is helpful to your case, wait for your attorney to ask the appropriate question. Just answer the question you were asked.

Rule 7: Don't explain. The jury and the court are likely to think you are trying to hard. If an explanation is necessary, your attorney will ask you for one when it is his turn. Let your attorney make that decision. To say it again, just answer the question you are asked.

Rule 8: Don't think out loud. If you have to think your way through to a correct answer, do so with your mouth closed, and then answer the question simply and directly.

Rule 9: Don't close the door on things you may have forgotten.

When you are asked if there were any more conversations, doctors, etc., unless you are absolutely confident that you have already listed them all, the correct and accurate answer is, "That's all I can think of right now."

Rule 11: Don't guess as to sequences, times, speeds, locations, etc.: For that matter, don't guess at anything. Never attempt to answer a question if you don't know the answer. Don't give an estimate if you have no confidence in its accuracy. The refusal to "reach" beyond what you know in answering questions is the hallmark of a good, honest witness.

Rule 12: Don't identify a document until you've read it!

Take your time. No one expects you to identify a document until you've reviewed it carefully.


Remember, what we said of a deposition witness is equally true of a witness at trial: The most credible witness is one who acts like he has no axe to grind; who merely responds as accurately and concisely as he can, to the question asked of him. Follow these rules and you'll do just fine.

Give your attorney a chance to make the appropriate objections, and give yourself a moment to consider the precise question you are being asked. Don't forget the corollary to that rule: If your attorney, or the judge, starts talking, don't talk over them --- stop talking immediately and wait until someone asks you to answer the question.

Contact us at [email protected], or Chodos & Associates for more information.

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Los Angeles, CA 90067

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