Rule 4: Think Before Answering
Rule 4 goes hand-in-hand with the 3 previous rules. Always listen to the FULL question before you begin to answer. Take a few seconds before you respond, if you need the time. You can even ask counsel to repeat the question if you need a little more time to think about your answer. However, don’t use this technique often, as you may upset the presiding judge.
Some things to keep in mind:
Do not say "yes" if you really mean "maybe."
Do not say "no" if you really mean "I do not recall."
The word "no" means NO – absolutely not!
The word "yes" means YES – absolutely yes!
So, if certain answers are maybe, say "maybe." If opposing counsel instructs you to answer yes or no, and you cannot, then say you cannot answer yes or no. Sometimes opposing counsel may phrase a question where you may want to answer yes or no, but a fact or two may require you to answer "maybe" or something else.
Let’s go over an example:
Counsel: Have you ever met a person named Angela Merkel?
Witness: I may have.
This could be a good response if you are not absolutely sure as to whether you have met such a person. If Angela Merkel is your best friend, then definitely respond "yes," but offer nothing more. In other words, do not tell opposing counsel Angela is your best friend unless you are specifically asked if she is your best friend.
Rule 5: Prepare Before You Testify.
You should review any documents, statements, or other records you may have made that opposing counsel may question you about. This does not mean you should prepare like a test. What is means is that you should go over the relevant facts that opposing counsel will likely question you about. Then, you’ll have an idea of what opposing counsel might ask and this should help to limit any surprises. Still, even with preparation, you can never know with 100% certainty what opposing counsel will ask – but you can often come fairly close with solid preparation.
Your lawyer should go over with you what you may or may not be asked. However, your lawyer is not allowed to coach you – i.e. this means your lawyer cannot tell you what to say. Coaching witnesses is against the law.
Rule 6: Do Not Argue.
Remember this: Lawyers argue and witnesses testify.
Follow the rules stated in this article, and answer opposing counsel’s questions to the best of your ability. It is your lawyer’s job to object to hostile, offensive, or intimidating questions directed at you. Do not shout back at opposing counsel, even if he or she tries to get "under your skin." Be as professional as possible.
Keep in mind that you may still be required to answer questions that make you feel uncomfortable. As long as a question is relevant and no objections exist to combat it, you may have to answer the question. Therefore, make sure to prepare mentally for any questions you (and your lawyer) believe you may have to respond to. It should help to calm your nerves.
Next, we’ll go over the last 4 rules to be a good witness.