Eliminate tag lines during cross-examination

Done well, cross-examination should sound like a well-told story, occasionally interrupted by the witness agreeing with your cross-examination questions.  In this trial advocacy article, you’ll learn a simple cross-examination technique for simplifying your cross-exam question and improving the quality of your presentation.

The primary difference between direct examination and cross-examination is who testifies.  During direct examination, the lawyer asks open-ended questions and lets the witness do all of the testifying.  But during cross-examination, you are the one testifying.  You choose the topics of discussion, you choose when those topics will be discussed, and you choose how to phrase the statements.  Since you’re going to testify, you’ll want the jury to hang on every word that you say.  Every word you utter should be filled with importance.  But instead, many cross-examinations are filled with superfluous words like these:

Q: You went to the store, correct?
A: Yes.

Q: And isn’t it true that John Smith went to the store with you?
A: Yes.

Q: Larry Mildrige was with you as well, isn’t that a fact?
A: Yes, he was.

Q: Mildridge was the driver, wasn’t he?
A: Yes.

Q: You testified that you were going to buy anti-psychotic medication, weren’t you?
A: Yes, I was.

Almost every cross-examiner falls into the tagline trap.  For some reason, we think that if we don’t include the taglines, our cross-examination questions will be misunderstood.  But you don’t need taglines to turn a leading statement into a question.  Your tone of voice will do it for you and the court reporter knows to put question marks at the end of your statements.  There’s no need to pollute your cross-examination with taglines or introductions.  Taglines dilute the power of your statements because they don’t add anything of substance.  To improve the effectiveness and persuasive power of your testimony during cross-examination, try reducing or eliminating all of the distracting words in your testimony.  Take a look at the same cross-examination, without the taglines:

Q: You went to the store?
A:
Yes.

Q: John Smith went to the store with you?
A: Yes.

Q: Larry Mildrige was with you as well?
A: Yes.

Q: Mildridge was the driver?
A: Yes.

Q: You were going to buy anti-psychotic medication?
A:
Yes.

Isn’t that easier to follow?  Doesn’t it flow more smoothly?  Every single word in the cross-examination helps tell the story.  There aren’t any wasted words.  To help the jury follow your “testimony,” eliminate the taglines, and leave only the words that you want them to remember.

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3 thoughts on “Eliminate tag lines during cross-examination

  1. I like listening to Terry Gross, but I remember one time when she was interviewing a writer and the writer answered a question with a long paragraph that included something like “when I read a book that changed my life …”

    Gross did not ask what that book was.

    Grrrr…

  2. Terry Gross would be an incompetent cross-examiner. She also would be an incompetent investigator. Other than that, she’d do a tolerable job as a trial attorney.

    Citing her as an example for trial-practice students seems to me to make no sense at all.

    I think you just like her.

  3. One of the most effective questioners I’ve ever heard is Terry Gross, host of the Public Radio show ‘Fresh Air’. She is a marvelous example of how to LISTEN to the answers your witness gives, and then how to EXPLORE the information they give you. Listen to her from the point of view of a trial lawyer. She is awesome! I’ve recommended her to trial workshop students too. Just wanted to pass this along.
    Sue