In this episode of Law, disrupted, John is joined by Bill Price, the founder and co-chair of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan’s National Trial Practice Group and a partner in the firm’s Los Angeles office. Bill could lay claim (though he never would, being very modest) to be possibly the greatest business jury trial lawyer of his generation. He has tried over 50 cases to verdict and lost only two of them. Representing plaintiffs, he has won five 9-figure verdicts, as well as one ten-figure verdict. He has obtained equally remarkable results representing defendants. He is a master of all aspects of trial practice but is best known as a brilliant cross-examiner. This episode, therefore, focuses on the art of cross-examination.
John begins the conversation by asking Bill what he tries to accomplish during cross-examination. Bill explains that his goal is to have the witness either tell the same story Bill told in his opening statement or look foolish or dishonest not telling that story. Bill and John agree that this is a big ask, and they break down Bill’s methods for achieving it.
John and Bill discuss how Bill first makes a list of all the things he wants the witness to say. Then he asks what controls he has for those things, such as documents or prior testimony. The two then delve into how Bill analyzes the potential off-ramps the witness has – for each topic, how could the witness hurt Bill’s case, or what to do if the witness says something detrimental? Bill explains how crucial it is to be prepared for every possibility.
The two discuss how to get the most out of impeachment. Bill emphasizes that he structures each examination so the jury knows exactly why the subject that he impeaches a witness on is important to the case. This relates to Bill’s belief that collectively, the jury will have the common sense to understand a clear presentation, even if individually, some jurors might not follow every nuance.
Along the way, John and Bill examine why Bill does not subscribe to several common adages about cross-examination, including “never ask a question that you don’t know the answer to,” “don’t ask the one question too many times,” and “only ask leading questions.” Throughout this discussion, Bill provides vivid examples from crosses he has taken throughout his career to illustrate his points.
John steers the conversation towards the kind of persona and demeanor Bill tries to project during cross-examinations. Bill describes how he is very polite to start and then moves to building the case against the witness, ensuring the jury is always in sync with where he is. He notes that lawyers must be careful during cross-examinations to build their credibility to the point where the jury wants to listen to the examiner rather than the witness before they can start to act “a little testy” with the witness.
John and Bill go on to discuss how to handle witnesses who won’t answer Bill’s questions directly or who insist on adding their own themes again and again. Bill provides examples of turning this behavior against the witness, as well as getting the judge to intervene to question the witness in front of the jury personally.
Finally, John and Bill end their conversation by touching on their experiences working together previously, with John joking about coming up with ideas for Bill, only for Bill to quickly reject them. Bill touches on some of his favorite sources from which he developed his craft, including Herbert Stern’s ‘Trying Cases to Win,’ the transcripts of cross-examinations by great lawyers of the past, and trials within movies, including ‘Anatomy of a Murder’ and ‘My Cousin Vinny.’ Bill explains how these sources helped him to craft cross-examinations that obtain valuable admissions and make a difference in winning a case.
Published: Aug 17 2022