The Direct Approach—How lawyers can earn a ten on direct examinations.
July 21, 2015
Next time you are talking with a mocker, ask them what they remember most about a given trial. Chances are, you will hear about some zany witness or an epic closing. You might hear about an awesome judge (if the team won) or an idiotic judge (if the team lost). One thing you probably won’t hear: “Man, that lawyer absolutely crushed that direct.”
It’s not surprising. On direct, a lawyer asks predetermined questions and let the witness put on a show. They are often perceived as the Robin to the witness’ Batman. As such, teams neglect a lawyer’s part on a direct examination. Thing is, if you check the ballot, the lawyer receives as many points as the witness on direct. In terms of the final result, a direct score weighs just as heavily as closing statement or cross examination. If you can improve your lawyers’ direct scores by one point each, you’ll earn six extra points—enough to turn two close ballots from loses to wins.
That still leaves the question of how to improve direct examinations. All you have to do is remember some questions, right? Well, if you want to do a basic direct that may be true. If you want to do a good direct, you will need to put in some work.
Figure out the tone for your questions: Part of your job a lawyer is to reinforce the tone your witness is trying to convey. If you have a crying mother on the stand, be a little quieter and ask your questions with kindness and compassion. If you have a boisterous character witness, smile. Allow yourself a small chuckle at the witnesses joke. Show the jury exactly what they should think about this witness.
Signpost: After spending months dissecting a case packet, it can be easy to forget that the people watching your direct might never have heard any of this information before. Be sure to write your direct in such a way as to clearly convey the information you wish to get out and signpost during your direct. This means taking the time to explain exactly where you are in a given speech. For example, if you are asking about the relationship with the plaintiff, start off by saying “I want to talk about your relationship with the victim.” Make your direct viewer-friendly.
Practice for Objections: Remember, the other team will be listening to your direct for any opportunity to object. You have to be ready to answer common objections without getting flustered or lost. Make sure you practice your direct with your teammates objecting to get a feel for how things will go in the actual trial. Moreover, work out with your witness what to do if certain objections are lost—a calm and collected response to a sustained objection will impress judges and win you points.