How to keep your cool when testimony gets heated

BVWireIssue #121-3
October 17, 2012

Financial experts might expect an opposing attorney to be aggressive on cross-examination—but what happens when the lawyer starts to “lose it,” becoming hostile or even insulting? That’s when the expert can start to lose control, too—and even feel like walking out (when in a deposition) or letting tempers, rather than reasoned testimony, rule in trial. The next time you find yourself in such a challenging situation, “remain calm,” said Jim Hitchner (Financial Valuation Advisors) at his ASA session on expert witness preparation. If you’re in a deposition, ask your attorney to take a sidebar; if you’re in court, ask the judge whether you can take a break to consult your work papers.

In either case, your request should be honored. Use the time to talk with counsel about what you need to continue testifying; for example, the opposing attorney may need a specific instruction to ask questions in a calm, professional manner—or risk the expert exercising his or her right not to answer. Hitchner provided these additional tips for keeping cool under intense cross-examination:

  • Remember, you are the valuation expert. Only answer questions that are specific to valuation.
  • Never try to guess the answer; take a moment to consult your valuation report and if necessary, quote it word-for-word. 
  • Always respond with a “yes” or “no.” If you don't know the answer, say you don't know.
  • If opposing counsel is reading from a resource or document, ask for a copy. 
  • Never digress to the personal; it almost never benefits you.
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