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Bar News - March 13, 2009

DVD Review: Advanced Cross-Examination Techniques By Larry Pozner & Roger Dodd


This DVD set frequently conveys the look and feel of an infomercial for Pozner’s and Dodd’s reference work on cross-examination of the same name published in 2004. The DVD takes a serious stab at "demystifying" good cross-examination. As a student and teacher of trial advocacy techniques for many years, however, my impression is that trial advocacy institutes and mock trial programs at the college and law school level have already done an excellent job of demystifying this important part of trial advocacy for younger attorneys. The essential concepts really are not very difficult to state or grasp: control the witness, use mostly (if not exclusively) leading questions, keep the questions very short, always be sure of sources for impeachment, and organize "lines" of cross to bring the witness in short logical steps to agree with the proposition being asserted by the examiner.

Pozner and Dodd share these concepts in an entertaining and fast-moving presentation captured at a one-day seminar taped in North Carolina. They provide a slightly different take on preparation and organization of cross-exam, recommending that a cross be organized by "chapters," each one with a broad, general beginning that gradually leads the witness to a proposition which reinforces the examiner’s theory of the case.

The DVD set would be useful to college or law school students already familiar with basic cross-examination technique, practitioners seeking to polish their skills and new associates seeking to cement those skills before their first major trial. Three parts of the DVD presentation would be valuable to advanced practitioners, but oddly enough those parts are not primarily related to cross-examination:

· 20 techniques to control the "runaway" witness. Some of these techniques are well known, but they are an excellent resource; most of us fall into the habit of using (or teaching) only one or two of them.

· An impassioned argument for the value of having a firm-wide protocol for preparing cases (and especially witness files) for trial; this segment would provide excellent ammunition for persuading the reluctant litigation partner who refuses to recognize the need for such a system.

· Techniques for "looping" (repeating favorable information in follow-up questions) in direct- and cross-exam.

Some Flaws

Unfortunately, the DVD set has important flaws that could affect a practitioner’s decision to purchase or use it. First, the majority of the arguments and examples in the DVD are directed toward criminal defense attorneys. There’s nothing new in the idea that effective cross- examination is an indispensable tool for the criminal defense bar and there is nothing wrong with teaching or reinforcing those skills with that audience in mind. It does not follow, however, as Pozner and Dodd appear to argue at several points in the seminar, that all cases can be planned entirely around cross-examination or that prosecutors cannot learn to use cross-examination effectively.

Second, the video contains an extended question and answer session during the seminar devoted to one attendee’s frustrations with discovery practices in DWI cases in that state. The eye-rolling and head-cradling that the videographer captured of the audience as the gripe session dragged on probably should have prompted the editor to delete that segment.

Third, though Pozner and Dodd use humor to good effect in several places, there are other places where Dodds’ repeated efforts to make humorous references to his serial marriages and divorces seems to have unnecessarily prompted some hissing among the women in his audience.

Fourth, the project suffers from an overall lack of organization. There are frequent occasions when the presenters talk about slides that aren’t shared on the DVD presentation. Although the PowerPoint presentation included on the DVD loosely tracks the one used while Pozner and Dodd were being filmed, there is nothing that tells the viewer to look for the presentation file and no effective way to synchronize the slides to the video presentation.

The final and most serious weakness of the DVD is its format. Most viewers are unlikely to have a six-hour block of time to watch it. Like most DVDs, it has a "chapter" system, but neither the DVD nor Pozner and Dodd stop the presentation at chapter ends. The written materials with the DVD do not include suggestions for how to view the DVD in segments.

In sum, the Advanced Cross-Examination Techniques DVD set would be valuable addition to the personal library of a serious, well-heeled student of trial advocacy or a well-funded law library. For the rest of us, the opportunity to borrow this flawed DVD presentation is worth taking up if we can clear about six hours time over a relatively short period.

Charles Putnam is co-director of Justiceworks at the University of New Hampshire and a coach for the UNH Mock Trial Program.

To purchase this book utilizing a discount for NHBA members, please contact LexisNexis New Hampshire representative Gregory Vokes at 800-344-3730 x4016 or at

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