October 19, 2022, McKenna Nonnenmann
Continuing our journey of understanding the legal system, specifically the courts, the SHSU Pre-Law Society had the opportunity to hear from a former civil trial prosecutor, Mr. Chris Thompson! He received his law degree from St. Mary’s School of Law and has worked in the legal field in Walker County for 16 years. He is a practicing attorney who works on real estate issues, appeals, and personal injury. Mr. Thompson is also a professor at Sam Houston State University, where he teaches business law. With all the knowledge and background Mr. Thompson has, we were excited to hear his advice and tips on cross and direct-examination skills!
Direct and cross examinations are essential parts of our adversarial trial system, and Professor did a great job highlighting the two approaches.
Mr. Thompson provided various examples of actual trials, such as the recent case of Johnny Depp v. Amber Heard. He highlighted the practice, noting that when doing cross, you force the witness into providing short responses, answering the specific question. Heard, for example, often wanted to provide context or additional information, which the Depp team successfully curtailed. It’s not that Heard can’t provide that information, but it’s her attorney’s job to re-direct and get that information in, if it, in fact, helps Heard’s side.
The other example was from a famous movie that most say has the best cross-examination scene, “My Cousin Vinny.” Mr. Thompson emphasized that the film perfectly expressed the importance of looking at the small details of the big picture. Every detail is essential to a case. When making a case, we need to build up the suspense, just like in a thriller movie or the “ah ha” moment.
Finally, Mr. Thompson pointed out the complexities of examining a witness. For example, when asking questions, you must know when the right moment is to stop asking further questions. This is key to leaving the jury to sway more to your side. All of these tips gave us a better understanding of what cross-examination is and how it can better prepare us for our cross-examination exercise for our next pre-law society meeting.
We want to thank Mr. Chris Thompson for taking the time out of his evening to speak with us and share his journey to becoming a lawyer and tips for cross/direct examination. His advice will help us with future endeavors and cases we may have as attorneys ourselves. Also, we would like to thank the people who attended this past meeting. See you at our next meeting on November 16th!