Keeping Cool on Cross-Examination

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When a civil case goes to trial, the plaintiff is generally required to testify to explain what happened and why she thinks she deserves to be compensated. Whether you were injured in an accident or through the malpractice of a doctor or another attorney, you will likely have to take the stand, where your attorney will help you to explain your side of the story.

Once your attorney is finished with his prepared questions, however, the defendant’s attorney has a chance to ask you questions herself. These questions, as you might imagine, are designed to pick apart what you said, to get you to admit things that help the defense, and, if the defendant is very lucky, to get you to contradict something you previously testified to.

This process is called cross-examination, and it can be a frightening part of testifying if you’re not prepared. Your attorney will likely help you practice for cross-examination and predict the sorts of questions you might have to answer, but you should also keep in mind these general points:

• Cross-examination consists of mostly leading questions, in which the answer (usually yes or no) is suggested in the question (i.e., “You weren’t alone in the car at the time of the accident, were you?” instead of “Were you alone in the car at the time of the accident?”). Therefore, expect to have a series of questions where there is one obvious yes or no answer.

• It’s best to think before you answer any cross-examination question, even if the answer seems obvious. The other attorney wants you to simply agree to everything she says, as quickly as possible. Resist the urge to move things along, and carefully consider the questions before you give your answer. Accuracy is vastly more important than speed.

• If you do disagree with one of the cross-examination questions, go ahead and say so, then offer to explain. You may be allowed to explain immediately or you may have to wait until your attorney can ask you more questions. Don’t be rattled if you aren’t allowed to explain immediately. Your attorney will ask any necessary follow-up questions at the next and typically final stage of questioning, called re-direct examination.

Cross-examination can be stressful, but if you keep your cool, you will come across as confident and credible. And that’s the main goal, isn’t it?

If you are in need of a legal malpractice, personal injury, medical malpractice, accident, or whistleblower lawyer in Tampa, Florida, the Tampa Bay attorneys of Wagner McLaughlin would be pleased to speak with you. We fight aggressively to protect the rights of our clients. Click here or call us today at (813) 225-4000 to schedule a free consultation.