June 7, 2024

Munger, Tolles & Olson’s Faye Paul Teller and Sara McDermott Co-Author Article on Building Trust with Witnesses During Trial Preparation

Munger, Tolles & Olson partner Faye Paul Teller and associate Sara McDermott co-authored an article titled “10 Tips To Build Trust With Your Witness During Trial Prep,” published in Law360.

The article offers advice on building up and cultivating a deep trust with a witness, whether preparing for direct and cross-examination or a deposition. As Ms. Teller and Ms. McDermott explain, these tips include the following:

1. Tell the truth.
2. Ask, “What questions do you have?”
3. Be clear about when you are wearing an opposing lawyer hat.
4. Figure out quickly what kind of learner the witness is.
5. Build your credibility.
6. Ask, “Is there anything else I should have asked about?”
7. Split prep over multiple, shorter sessions.
8. Teach them lifelines.
9. Practice.
10. Trust your gut.

These tips focus on creating a two-way relationship of trust so that a witness is comfortable being vulnerable with questions and views the attorney as a trusted source of guidance. Nerves may set in for a first-time witness and building credibility is critical. “Even though they may be older than you, smarter than you and know more about the subject of the litigation than you, you know a lot more about depositions, trials, the judge, and the legal and factual issues in the case,” write Ms. Teller and Ms. McDermott.

For any witness, practice will help to reinforce themes and subject areas of knowledge. “Stress can short-circuit thinking and can result in a witness doing and saying wacky things,” Ms. Teller and Ms. McDermott explained. “[Practice will allow the witness and attorney to] be familiar enough with one another’s styles that you can establish a natural give and take, sticking to the facts but not to a word-for-word script—more like a jazz pairing than a classical duet.”

Read the full article for more ways to improve trust with your witness.