7 tips on practising questioning skills

 Posted By: je froilan m. clerigo
04-Dec-2007

1. Forget that you are a lawyer. Testimony, to be clear and memorable to the judge must use plain and simple language. Lawyer talk serves no purpose but to confuse;

2. Read up on light novels, magazines or newspapers and take note of the words they use. Reading the instructions on appliance manuals is particularly helpful since these are designed to explain and instruct, using clear, vivid and plain language. A relative of manuals are recipe books. Owing also to their purpose of explaining and instructing, cookbooks use plain and simple English;

As you read, try turning the sentences into questions. For instance, let's take this sentence which I lifted from an appliance manual: "When you disconnect a cable, pull on its connector or on its pull-tab, not on the cable itself." We can turn this sentence into questions by asking "what should you do when disconnecting a cable?" "When disconnecting the cable, what should you pull instead of the cable itself?" Why should you not pull the cable itself when disconnecting it?" "What will happen if you pull the cable itself when disconnecting it?"

3. Watch talk show hosts on TV interviewing their guests. Watch how Larry King, David Letterman and Jay Leno do their interviews and you'll see what I mean. They ask non-leading questions, questions that emphasize something, follow-up questions, and even those that draw humor (yes, it would not hurt, and in fact, it usually helps if you sometimes inject humor into an otherwise drab narration). Then, practice by asking your own follow-up questions, consciously noting the words you use.

4. Watch trials like this one on the internet or TV. See how the tone of voice varies, how the pace and cadence is maintained, what words are used to make the testimony as vivid as possible.

5. Engage in more conversations in English; listen and ask questions. Be connscious of the way you ask your questions and listen to the answers. Are you getting the answers to the questions that you are asking? When you don't, it is mostly because your question is defective. As a wise man once said, asking the right questions is halfway to getting the right answers.

6. Read every transcript that you can get ahold of. See if you can understand what the witness's story is, and if not, critique it, see how you can improve it, and practice aloud how you will ask your questions. If it is your own transcript, ask an associate to read it and tell you if he understands it. Let him circle and mark the questions that are vague to him, or which did not get quite the right answers. Be ruthless to yourself.

7. Finally, there is only one rule in honing trial skills better than practice: more practice. But make it a correct practice. There is clearly no point in spending time and energy practising when what you are practising will not only not result to improving your skills, but worse, to making it worse.