An attorney offers an intensive look at how to cross-examine witnesses in the courtroom.
In this legal textbook, Read (Turning Points at Trial, 2016, etc.) uses the annotated transcripts from well-known trials (O.J. Simpson’s criminal and civil proceedings; George Zimmerman’s case; Johnson & Johnson product liability litigation; and the challenge to California’s Proposition 8, among others) to explain how to conduct a successful cross-examination. The author—an adjunct professor at Southern Methodist University’s Dedman School of Law—begins with the big picture, guiding readers through how to develop and organize a case. He then presents his theory of cross-examination, challenging existing views on the topic, particularly Irving Younger’s “Ten Commandments.” Read uses “CROSS”—“Credibility, Restrict damaging testimony, Outrageous statements, Statements (prior statements), Support your case”—as a mnemonic throughout the text. The transcripts demonstrate the CROSS process in action. The book then goes through dozens of examples of cross-examinations taken from transcripts question by question and shows how they advance an argument, impeach a witness’s testimony, or strengthen a case—for instance, the author notes that a lawyer’s opening is “a good simple leading question with one fact.” The volume explores the work of several noted trial attorneys in detail, using their techniques as guidance for novice litigators and including excerpts from interviews in which they expand on their practices. Call-out boxes featuring succinct advice (“For every hour you spend preparing your case, spend 20 minutes looking for its weaknesses as if you represented your opponent”) are scattered throughout the pages. Read’s website (winningatcross.com) provides additional resources, including videos of some of the cross-examinations discussed.
The book is a wealth of well-presented information, accessible and intriguing to those with limited legal knowledge as well as more experienced litigators. The text is well organized, with crucial points made lucidly and restated at the end of each chapter. The author clearly shows how the volume’s many examples can serve as templates for readers’ own work. He does an excellent job of breaking down the cross-examination transcripts into their component parts and explaining how each piece contributes to the lawyer’s overall case and how each question succeeds or fails. The book also steers readers through the substantial preparation involved in delivering a triumphant cross-examination rather than simply focusing on courtroom drama (“To succeed, you must know the facts better than the witness does. It is as simple as that”). Each chapter delivers actionable tips attorneys can incorporate into their own practices. Read is knowledgeable about courtroom techniques and has done substantial research into the cases he addresses, resulting in a trove of topical information. Although he can occasionally veer into self-aggrandizement (as in this passage referring to lawyer Daniel M. Petrocelli and Simpson’s civil case: “In fairness, since I had not created the technique at the time of this trial, that would have been hard for him to do”), the writing is generally strong. (“The admonition to ‘save it for summation’ assumes that jurors are not human but rather data banks that you can just pour information into that will somehow sort out the important information from the unimportant.”) The winning prose makes the book an enjoyable read as well as an instructive one.
A well-written, informative work that uses transcripts from civil and criminal trials to teach effective methods of cross-examination.