September 18, 2013 Articles

Preparing and Conducting Effective Cross-Examinations

The success of your cross-examinations at trial depends on the work that you do beforehand.

By Matthew A. Passen

The success of your cross-examinations at trial depends on the work that you do beforehand. As with all stages of trial advocacy, there is no substitute for preparation. The most prepared lawyer in the courtroom—the one who has analyzed his or her case inside and out—is able to craft and execute a cross-examination that methodically exposes the witness’s true colors and tells the cross-examiner’s story in a compelling way.

Before I cross-examine a witness at trial, I want to know as much information about that witness and his or her anticipated testimony as possible. This is particularly important with expert witnesses whose proficiency in specialized fields makes them more difficult to fluster or impugn. I investigate relevant databases (such as TrialSmith or LexisNexis) and search the Internet, including professional websites, social-networking sites, and news stories, for anything mentioning the witness. I review their prior testimony and written publications. I talk to other lawyers who have deposed or examined the witnesses. While this takes time, I have found that a thorough background investigation often returns at least one “gold nugget” that can be used during cross-examination to elicit a critical admission or expose an expert witness’s lack of expertise or bias.

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