December 18, 2017 Practice Points

Tips from the Bench: Direct Exam

The first part in a new series asking experienced trial judges to provide insight regarding certain aspects of trial

by Eric R. Harlan with Hon. J. Mark Coulson

This bar year, the Trial Evidence Committee is asking experienced trial judges to provide their insight regarding certain aspects of trial. We begin with comments on direct examination by the Honorable J. Mark Coulson, U.S. Magistrate Judge for the District of Maryland, and Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers.

What are some recommended ways to prepare for a direct exam?
Direct exam is often viewed as something to "get through." However, direct exam is one of the few times that one has a large measure of control over how the client's story gets told to the jury in the most compelling way, in a logical and uninterrupted fashion. Think of it more as an "interactive opening statement." That means preparing a detailed outline on points to make (and in what order) and, in some cases, working out the exact verbiage for key questions for the witness. It also means, where possible, preparing the witness as to what kinds of things will be asked and making sure the witness is also aware of the points to be made (and avoided) to the extent possible.

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