A Winning Tip

A Winning Tip is jointly written by Dr. Noelle Nelson and Diane Rumbaugh. Dr. Nelson is a clinical psychologist, author, and consultant. Ms. Rumbaugh is a PR consultant and author. Together they provide helpful advice on trial proceedings.

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You’re gearing up for trial, you hardly have the time or patience to deal with an angry witness. Yet there you are, in the unenviable position of having to prepare a witness who is angry for any number of reasons: – The witness is a client, angry that this matter couldn’t be settled or that it even is in litigation at all. – The witness is furious at being “required” to testify. – The witness…
Clients dislike surprises, especially unpleasant ones. This holds true for small surprises, such as finding out at the last minute that a meeting was rescheduled, and for large surprises, such as finding out that the worst possible jury has just been impaneled for their trial. Every case has its “surprises” – aka problems; some can be anticipated, others cannot. In your eagerness to maintain credibility and be an effective problem-solver for your clients, you may…
When you’ve had a hand in making a decision, you’re that much more likely to go along with it. Jurors are no different. Questions in cross-examination that allow jurors to arrive at the unmistakable, inescapable, conclusion you want them to, are far more effective than ramming the conclusion down their throats or risking a sympathetic answer from opposing counsel’s witness. For example: The lawyer is cross-examining a lay witness at the scene of a bus-pedestrian…
There’s a world of difference between assertive expert testimony and defensive expert testimony, where your expert is essentially arguing with opposing counsel. Now, your expert may believe he or she has every good reason to argue with opposing counsel, as in, opposing counsel is dead wrong. But arguing with opposing counsel is never a wise strategy, and often a road to discrediting your expert.      Your experts do best if they don’t consider the question an…
Trials would be so much easier if you didn’t have to deal with jurors. Jurors wander off mentally during your most crucial testimony, they’re distracted by a lawyer’s mannerisms, they’re irritated by an expert’s vocal tone, they disapprove of a witness’ attitude. Jurors misunderstand the law, making it up as they go along.  Jurors impose their own version of what’s right or wrong, what’s negligence, what should be the standard – be it of care,…
 What frequently occurs as you prepare your witness (usually the client) for deposition or trial, is a resounding “That’s a lie!” to your best attempt to replicate what will be opposing counsel’s “Isn’t it true…” questions. For all that it may be highly satisfying for said witness to roar “Lie!” it is not good juror strategy. Jurors are best persuaded when they come to the “Lie” conclusion on their own. Encourage your witness to respond…
 If plaintiff’s counsel’s task is to make sure the client/witness doesn’t alienate jurors with a purely “they done me wrong” victim mentality, defense’s is different. “Don’t whine” might be better stated “Don’t defend,” which is mightily challenging for defendants on the stand, who generally believe they are unjustly accused. Yet the defendant who argues with opposing counsel, whose testimony is a litany of “Yes, buts” and who attempts to evade plaintiff’s counsel’s most basic questions,…
When your primary witness is the plaintiff, said witness is likely to complain on the stand, elaborating a litany of  “He/she/they done me wrong.” Perfectly understandable; why else would your client have brought suit? However, to juror ears, an unending stream of complaints sounds like whining, and jurors don’t like whiners. Jurors prefer people who, despite their misfortunes, are valiant, are giving their lives the best shot they can. No, your plaintiff client needn’t stiff-upper-lip…
Faced with a number of options as jurors are when deliberating a verdict, people will often make decisions by translating each option into how they would feel emotionally about the anticipated outcome. The option that yields the most preferred emotional outcome is more likely to be chosen. For example, improving safety is both a practical and moral action. Any verdict that encourages companies to improve safety feels good. The thinking goes roughly like this: “If…