Preparing to be interviewed by an attorney as a witness in a civil case can feel intimidating. You may worry about getting flustered or saying something wrong when the lawyer starts asking questions. It’s normal to feel nervous! But going into the interview with an idea of what to expect can help you feel more confident and provide clear, truthful information.
In my experience as a paralegal at a law firm specializing in civil litigation, attorney witness interviews tend to follow a predictable pattern. Understanding the types of questions you’re likely to encounter can help you organize your thoughts beforehand and deliver thoughtful responses. Below I’ll walk through the standard categories of questions attorneys ask witnesses and share tips to ace the interview.
The lawyer will start by asking you to state basic biographical facts – your full name, address, contact information, education and work history. This helps establish your qualifications and frame of reference regarding the case.
Be prepared to give a chronological overview of where you went to school, any special training or certifications, and your employment history. Focus on positions relevant to the case at hand. For example, if you witnessed an injury at your workplace, be ready to describe your job title, duties, and length of employment there.
The attorney may also ask questions like:
– Who did you report to?
– Who reported to you?
– What specific experience prepared you for that role?
Don’t just rattle off the facts – provide context to help paint a picture of your background.
Next, the lawyer will have you describe step-by-step what transpired on the day in question from your perspective. They will want lots of sensory details to understand exactly what you saw, heard, smelled, felt, etc.
Really put yourself back in that moment as you tell the story. Share specific details like:
– Where people were standing in relation to you
– Their facial expressions and body language
– Exact wording of key conversations
– Any sounds, physical sensations, or environmental factors you experienced
The attorney may stop you frequently to ask clarifying questions or have you repeat parts of your account. This level of detail is key for them to assemble an accurate timeline of events.
If there were any gaps in your direct observation of the incident, be upfront about that. For example, “My view was partially blocked at that point so I did not see the initial impact but heard screams”.
Attorneys need to know exactly what you personally perceived with your own senses. So expect lots of pointed questions like:
– What could you directly see from your vantage point?
– What was blocked from your view?
– How far away were you from the incident?
– Do you have any impairments with your vision, hearing, or other senses?
– Did your line of sight remain unobstructed the whole time?
Be clear about any momentary obstructions and your proximity to the event. The lawyer will explore any potential gaps in your firsthand observation.
Also explain if your recollections have evolved since the incident occurred. It’s okay if certain details are now hazy or if you initially forgot key points that later came back to you. Just explain your thought process and memory recall process. Admitting normal lapses actually builds credibility.
In addition to your personal account, attorneys will ask if you have any documentation or physical evidence related to the incident. This could include things like:
– Written reports, emails or notes you authored
– Photos, videos or audio recordings you took
– Computer files, social media posts or other digital communication
– Physical items like defective equipment parts
Think broadly about anything you have that provides additional context around the incident. If you regularly complete paperwork as part of your job, the lawyer will ask for copies. You may also be asked to turn over relevant personal communications.
Again, honesty is key even if documentation is lacking. The attorney needs to fully understand available evidence sources.
Verbal and written communications with involved parties provide useful pieces of the puzzle for attorneys. Expect questions like:
– Who did you speak to about the incident afterwards?
– Have you communicated with any other witnesses or parties involved since then?
– Did you overhear others discussing it?
– Did you relay details to anyone in your personal life?
Explain the gist of key conversations and any diverging descriptions of the incident you heard from others. Also be ready to discuss the nature of your relationship with each party. Had there been prior conflicts or grievances?
It’s the lawyer’s job to vigorously question witnesses and probe for any credibility issues or bias that could influence testimony. Some examples:
– Has your account of what transpired remained consistent over time?
– Is there anyone who would contradict aspects of your recollection?
– Have you been involved in any past legal disputes?
– Do you have any personal stake in the outcome of this case?
Don’t become defensive or argumentative. Answer credibly by focusing on facts, not emotions. If your recollection legitimately evolved or you do have a vested interest, own up to it. Forthrightly explaining these complexities demonstrates self-awareness and transparency.
Lawyers often ask witnesses to speculate about hypothetical scenarios, like:
– If you had noticed any safety issues prior to the incident, how might you have responded?
– Knowing what you know now, would you have done anything differently?
– How might you respond if asked these same questions by opposing counsel?
Speculative questions are aimed at previewing your actual testimony. Stick to brief, clear, truthful responses. Resist the urge to theorize excessively or talk through hypotheticals in detail. A simple “I don’t know for sure” is fine if needed.
To close, the attorney will likely ask if you are comfortable appearing in court to provide truthful testimony about the incident. They want to gauge your willingness and ability to participate in the proceedings ahead.
Be honest about any anxieties you may have about the process or logistical constraints on your availability. That said, emphasize your intention to cooperate and serve as a faithful witness to the best of your abilities.
With preparation and practice, you can feel empowered heading into a witness interview. While the lawyer’s questions may feel intrusive at times, try to approach the process as an opportunity to share your experience. The more forthcoming witnesses are, the stronger the case will be.