Law school fails to teach much about the needs of non-lawyers, and in particular the needs of a witness. No one places the law student or emerging lawyer in the shoes of a witness, be it in a courtroom or at a deposition, and says “experience this from the witness’ point of view.” So when lawyers have to present witnesses, they do so without training and either fail to offer adequate guidance or create their own, incomplete, list of does and don’ts.
It is not surprising that it took a non-lawyer to come to the rescue. Melissa Gomez, Ph.D., a nationally known jury consultant with a doctorate in Psychology and a Master of Science in Education, as penned twin guides, each titled THE WITNESS PREPARATION PARTNER but with one version lawyer-focused (to be read by the lawyer who needs to know what witnesses experience and what they need to know) and the second witness-focused (to be read by the witness who wants to understand her role, responsibilities and rights).
Each version is compact and an easy read, filled with manageable insights, lists of rules, and informative anecdotes. Among the critical takeaways are:
- Training witnesses to be prepared to ‘hold back’ when answering a question.
- Having witnesses prepare for trial by reading their depositions with the answer to each question covered. Have the witness pronounce the current answer to the question and then compare it to the deposition, and then note any differences and explain the same.
- Alert the witness to the tools the adversary may use, such as rapid-fire questioning or attempts to provoke emotions.
Perhaps most important is the reminder to the witness that she/he is not the entire case, and needs only to tell what is pertinent and comes from personal knowledge.
Common sense? A little more than that, to say the least. Gomez’ insights, based on her degree in psychology and her vast experience with juries (and witnesses), complement a law school education and the home-spun ‘wisdom’ lawyers have regarding the world and task of witnessing.