By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
Witnesses who are new to the demands of deposition or trial testimony sometimes have the misperception that testifying is just a matter of getting past each question as it comes. Seeing it as a kind of a quiz, the witness thinks the examining attorney just has a collection of questions, each one more or less standing on its own. Viewed through the lens of that misperception, getting past a single question can seem like success. But that is a dangerous illusion. Instead of asking independent questions, the examining attorney will ask a series of questions linked together by a single goal. The early questions seem to be the easy ones, but they set the stage for harder ones later in the chain.
Here's the way I often explain it to witnesses during preparation. The opposing counsel is trying to walk you up a ladder, rung by rung. When you get to the top, they'll push you off. The typical witness will start fighting only when they realize they're being pushed off the top of the ladder. But the better prepared witnesses will start fighting when they understand they are on the bottom rungs. In this post, I'll provide a couple of examples, one good and one bad, of this process. Understanding how it works is key to either preparing the witness or being the witness who will make it as tough as possible for the opposing counsel to use this ladder trick based on prior commitments.