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Top 10 Lists of Trial Tips


Judge William J. Haddad (Ret.)

I.          Maxims of Success at Trial

  “Most people have the will to win 

few have the will  to prepare to win”

    (Bobby Knight]

1.         Preparation – The lawyer must know the case inside and out. 

2.         Organization – Each sequential stage of the case must be anticipated and readied.

3.         Credibility – The lawyer must be perceived by judge and jury as trustworthy and            


4.         Commitment – If you don’t believe in your case, the jury will know it.

5.         Focus – Never take your eye off the theme(s) of the case; distraction leads to

           “frolic and detour”.

II.         “Top 10 objections”

                [Formality: 1) stand, 2) state objection, and 3) state basis if necessary.]

1.         Relevance: “Probative Value”

2.         Foundation

3.         Hearsay

4.         Leading

5.         Calls for a Conclusion, Speculative

6.         Asked & Answered – Repetitive

7.         Assumes facts not in evidence

8.         Compound Question

9.         Arguing with Witness

10.       Unresponsive; Witness Volunteering. 

III. Top 10 Tips on Direct of Injury Plaintiff

1.         Look prepared by being prepared to build jury confidence in attorney credibility

2.         Meet with witness to familiarize him with prior statements and trial exhibits

3.         Organize the direct to “tell a story” through the eyes of the witness.

4.         Address “negatives” by anticipatorily disclosure of them on direct, or through

            preparation of witness for cross and impeachment.

5.         Do a dry run of direct, using exhibits

6.         Don’t lead!  

7.        Courtroom Position: “Stand away” or behind the jury to allow witness to be the “STAR”        

8.         “Courtroom Pace & Delivery”: Practice your pace and delivery of simple and  

            chronological logical questions.

9.         Injury Cases: Use “caretaker” witnesses (relatives and health care providers)

     rather than solely relying upon the subjective testimony of the plaintiff.

10.       Instruct witness about proper demeanor and dress at trial.

 IV.       “Top 10 tips on Cross”

1.         Always Lead! Don’t ask the question, “tell” the question.

2.         No Open-Ended Questions.  No “hows” or “whys”.

3.         Don’t repeat the direct, except to exploit a few corroborating facts.

4.         Impeachment: Be “Prepared”; Don’t Bluff; Don’t fumble.

5.         Expose Evasiveness; repeat question until you get an answer or more to have answer             striken and instruct witness to answer.

6.         Avoid complicated, long questions. Build via short concise questions.

7.         Be confident. Take charge. Never show you’re being hurt.

8.         “Get in, Get out” – Limit Scope: 4 to 5 subjects with most witnesses

9.         Don’t ask a question you don’t know the answer to.

10.       Prepare a  strong start & strong finish (safe ground); but quit early if

            you strike pay dirt.

V. “Top 10 Tips On Opening Statement” (not opening “argument”)

       1.     Purpose:              Chronological picture of what the evidence will be.

2.     Don’t “argue”:      But show firm commitment to the rightness of your case.

3.     Attitude:               Be firm, confident, factual, and credible.

4.     Theme:                 Try to use a headline that sticks – “Case is about police

brutality “about taking chances”  –  “about taking responsibility”

5.    Language:            Use simple, plain but dynamic language with carefully

      devised labels: “rammed”, not “collided”; “two ton truck”,

      not “delivery van”

6.     Credibility:            Build with a “story” based upon clear evidence and inferences

7.     Exhibits:               Use selective exhibits and visual aides where appropriate.

8.     Promises:             Only promise evidence that you know you can deliver

9.     Disclosure:           Disclose known weaknesses to lessen impact, but minimalize.

10.   Reading:              Practice delivery, pace, timing,  and use of exhibits

VI.     “Top 10 Tips on Closing Argument”

1.            Outline closing argument BEFORE trial

2.            Set the mood: Thanks and a reminder of the oath, promise and duty.

3.            Be sincere: If you don’t believe in your case, neither will the jury.

4.            Use themes: They stick, but don’t be fancy or contrived.

[“testimony to the highest bidder”; “Young Jimmy is courageous”;  

“Fingerprints don’t lie“; Don’t leave common sense on courthouse steps.”]

5.             Resound theme: In plain language, sometimes rhetorically.

                       “Why don’t people take responsibility for  their own actions”?

6.             Argue, but argue “facts”—And reasonable inferences.

7.             Use stories— And appeal to common sense.

8.             Visual aides and exhibits: Be selective, get prior permission,

 and  mount them (or have at hand)

9.            Use Jury Instructions that fit the facts & witnesses.

10.          Don’t just stand there and read: Use the courtroom. Move about for effect.