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Draw Out Good Facts by Talking Like a Human Being  Empty Draw Out Good Facts by Talking Like a Human Being

Mon Apr 19, 2021 5:54 pm
When I coach or judge mock trial, there are two notes that I find myself making over and over:

  1. Spend more time bringing out fewer facts.

  2. Talk like a human being.

Too many teams try to prove way too much. There are a lot of good facts for your side in the case, and sometimes it can be tempting to try and prove as many of them as possible. This is a bad idea. Your judges will not be paying attention to your subtle use of multiple facts. You have to beat them over the head with the same facts over and over again until they get it.

To do that, think about how a real witness might react to being asked a question in court. They probably wouldn't give a perfect, scripted answer that brings out only the fact you want to prove. They ramble, they forget things, they repeat themselves. By writing mock trial material with this in mind, you can both spend more time hammering on your facts and make your witnesses more believable.

Let's use an example. In the 2016 Bancroft/Covington case, the defendant was allegedly given a bunch of bribe money in a briefcase. One of the good facts for the defense was that a witness named Ali Thomas didn't see the defendant being given that briefcase at the time that the defendant was allegedly given the briefcase.

The simplest way to write this direct might go like:

Q. Did Covington and Bancroft reach under the table and switch briefcases?
A. No, I didn't see that. They just left with their own briefcases.

Those are the facts. That's about all the witness knows. But if you just had your witness say that, you would be losing out on a ton of points.

Let's look at how an all-time great witness, Yale's Pat Doolittle, does it. You can follow along here. (

Q. At any point, while they were sitting at your table, did you see either one of them reach under the table?
A. No, I, I didn't see anything like that for the entire time they were sitting there before they left. I mean, you know, in the business, we're supposed to be watching their hands, you know, 'cause you gotta make sure they're on the green felt, you know, above the table so there's no chip shuffling or any kind of funny business going on under the table or anything like that. So, anyway, I was watching their hands, just making sure their hands were right there and I promise I just didn't see any kind of reaching or anything like that at all.

Q. What happened when the two of them stood up?
A. Uh, Ms. Covington, she's the one who left first, I remember that, and she just reached right under her, her individual chair where she put her briefcase when she walked in and she grabbed it and just walked out, that was all I saw.

Q. So at any point, did you see the defendant and Avery Bancroft switch briefcases?
A. No, I, like I said, I promise and, you know, it's our job to be watching them, make sure nothing funny's going on, any kind of cheating of any kind. You know I know they're saying this on Channel 9 News and whatnot but I just I promise I just didn't see anything like that at all - no yoga, nothing under the table, I mean, I was watching their hands.

Pat Doolittle talks about this very simple point for more than a minute. It might seem like it's dragging on when you read the script, but go watch the round - you'll see that everyone's enjoying listening to him. The judges and spectators are laughing. Doolittle gets to repeat one of the defense's best points over and over for an entire minute by talking like a human being - with stumbles, pauses, and tangents. But it all makes sense - because that's how people talk.

If you're struggling with direct, consider incorporating some of this into your scripts. Expand your points with interesting descriptions and dialogue to hammer home your points and collect wins.

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