Tonight’s trial practice tip comes from Cherese Clark who practices in our Atlanta office.
Lawyering 101: “Never ask a witness a question that you do not know the answer to.”
You spend hours getting to know your client, hours getting to know the facts, and more hours still preparing the examinations for the hearing that lies ahead. Now you are ready for trial. You know everything that impacts your case from your client’s side. You’ve attended to everything in your trial strategy and questions. It all fits like a beautiful puzzle.
Your client takes the stand. Your direct examination of your client is flawless, as it should be. Now the opposing counsel has her crack at your client. That’s when it happens, your client’s answer to a cross examination question that sends the case spiraling out of control.
Any trial attorney would agree that hearing critical information for the first time when your client is testifying is one of the most gut wrenching feelings in the world. As the attorney, you have no idea what is about to unfold or how to rehabilitate a client that is bleeding from self-inflicted wounds. You are fearful that any question you ask may yield an answer worse still than what has already been revealed. Might there be 8 x 10 pictures of that little party with the lovely ladies that your client thought was private? Could it be the email to the mother in law confessing fault for the parties’ present unpleasantness? Perhaps it is the lovely diamond ring recently purchased for the person your client has insisted was just a platonic friend.
To avoid these situations (and many others) and to avoid jeopardizing your case, please always tell your attorney everything! Failing to disclose information to your attorney can have extremely detrimental effects on your case and cost you more money in the long run trying to clarify or reverse a judge’s ruling. Non-disclosure allows the opposing party to frame their story based on your own words and/or admissions. This leaves your attorney little to no recourse to rehabilitate your testimony, especially when he or she has no idea what you are going to say or whether what else you might still disclose will cause more damage to your case.
Further, after a surprising fact emerges, the bell is rung, the judge heard it, and there is no un-ringing it. The best and most effective way to safeguard your theory and fool-proof your case is to disclose everything, and I do mean everything, to your attorney. Remember the trial practice tip: good facts? Disclose. Bad facts? Disclose. You can’t tell whether it is good or bad? Disclose! Disclose! Disclose!