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7 Tips for Your First Cross-Examination

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on December 29, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

You can master your opening statements, shine during direct-examination, and give an Oscar-worthy closing arguments -- but you may still struggle with cross-examination. Many litigators, even seasoned trial attorneys, labor to master cross-examination.

If you're just starting out, here are seven tips to help make sure you do your first cross-examination right.

1. Prepare

Prepare, prepare, prepare, then prepare some more. A good cross-examination is three quarters preparation, one quarter execution. You should master every relevant detail about a witness, from employment history to prior statements. If you're well-prepared, it will be easier to react quickly during cross and to convey an appearance of mastery and competence to the jury.

2. Never Be Surprised

This is the corollary to preparation. Don't ask a question unless you know what the answer will be. Consider all possible responses beforehand and know how to react to them. When you're impeaching a witness, try to foreclose all excuses and explanations before addressing impeachment material.

3. Have a Focused Objective

You should have a specific objective for each cross-examination and every question you ask should be targeted to achieving that objective. Avoid open-ended questions and don't just ask questions without a clear goal in mind.

4. Keep a Poker Face

Frustrated, annoyed, surprised? It's usually best not to show it. You should maintain a consistent demeanor throughout a trial and never let them see you sweat.

5. Remember Your Audience

If you're dealing with a highly technical issue, keep in mind that the jury isn't made up of experts. Try to make technical information accessible for the jury and, for particularly difficult matter, consider advancing your points through your own witnesses, rather than through cross-examination.

6. Be Organized

Organization is key, not just with your knowledge, but with your documents. Know what you're bringing up to the podium and where it is in your files. No one wants to wait while you struggle to find a deposition transcript in a pile of jumbled papers.

7. Keep It Short

There's no need to drag a cross-examination on forever. If the witness has been discredited or conceded a major point, your work is done. It's always better to quit while you're ahead.

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