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March 22, 2017


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Andy Wright

Good points. In private practice depositions, I was a fan of the "funnel" approach: start with open ended (but not compound) "why" or "tell me about" questions to be followed up by pointed leading questions or questions seeking short factual responses that confirm or nail down points raised in the open ended answer. That created brief-friendly transcripts. Later, in prepping questions for a congressional committee, we knew there are severe time constraints (often 5 minute rounds) but there is the ability to follow up. Prepping Q&As at the White House, you start with a steadfast rule to speak truth to the facts as you know them. That said, we definitely might look for opportunities to use a compound question to our advantage by answering the part we want to first and more fully, with full recognition there would be limited opportunity for follow-up by that questioner. Therefore, there really is a premium on well crafted, single part questions that are darts rather than fusillades.

John Steele

my two cents is that asking questions well is one of the most important skills that law schools can impart -- but all too rarely do.

i'd also add that "ask leading questions like at a trial cross" and "no, ask questions like at a depo" are both too limiting. a senator could have a variety of purposes and could need to use all three standard types of questions (open, closed, leading).

elizabeth warren is adept at the use of leading and closed questions at hearings, but notice that those question are, in effect, testimony by the senator and not by the witness.

depo-style open ended questions have their purpose but given the time constraints -- senators get 18 minutes, not 7 hours -- those questions can turn all control over to a well-prepared and articulate witness (e.g., Gorsuch). at a depo, after a series of open-ended questions, the lawyer has time to succinctly recapitulate the testimony in useful nuggets by using follow up leading and closed questions. senators don't.

if you want to see effective questioning by senators, go back and watch how Specter and Feingold questioned Alito.

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