Ethical issues surrounding witness preparation are on full display in one extreme situation: where the lawyer knows the witness lied or plans to lie on the witness stand. But the tug of war between ethically representing clients and protecting the integrity of the judicial system can be more challenging under less dramatic circumstances.
When preparing a witness for testimony, where is the line between proper preparation and improper coaching, and how do we find it? The first part of the challenge is understanding what the witness expects to hear. Don’t pretend your witness is a blank slate who enters witness preparation without preconceived notions. If your witness expects you will tell him or her to lie—to tell a fiction to help the case or to toe the company line—then everything you say and don’t say will be heard through that filter. You’re the one who must listen for and correct this bias. The witness must immediately understand that above all else, you want the truth.
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