ATLA Reviews Witness Preparation: How to Tell the Winning Story

Reviewed by Sherry DeJanes

Originally published in the Winter 2022 issue of the ATLA Docket, a quarterly publication from the Arkansas Trial Lawyers Association.

Before picking up “Witness Preparation: How to Tell the Winning Story”, I had the pleasure of seeing Jesse Wilson’s presentation at ATLA’s 2022 Getting Teed Up for Trial CLE.  Jesse is a most engaging speaker, so it was with high expectations that I purchased his book.  I can honestly say that the book delivers on all counts.

For a good frame of reference for my comments, you should probably know that I am a dinosaur with a wide-ranging practice that includes plaintiff-only litigation.  My practice is becoming more and more like my dad’s small-town practice and the significance of that is that I often find myself squeezing things in before trial simply because of a time-crunch that I’ve failed to manage.  One of the most important nuggets I took away from Jesse’s book is that we simply cannot squeeze things in and truly achieve justice for our client. We must find the time, or more appropriately create the time, to really develop an understanding of our client and his or her story. Of course, I already knew that but sometimes I need a reminder or two, perhaps you do as well.  In his book, Jesse serves up that reminder in a gentle, dare I say, loving way. Love is one of the emotions that is woven throughout this book along with several other emotions we trial lawyers shy away from or, at least, do not embrace. 

I could start with the nuts and bolts of this book, but I think the most important take away occurs on a less practical level - don’t get me wrong, the book is filled with “what to dos” and “how to do it.” I just think the most important lessons occur on a more visceral level and help us understand why it is so important for us to discern, first, what our client’s story is and, second, how that story needs to be re-framed. Jesse helps you understand the importance of intertwining emotion with your analytical skills so you can guide clients, experts and even defendants to tell their victor story to your client’s greatest benefit.

Now, I’m going to venture a guess that most of you reading this already know that you don’t want your client to get up on the stand at trial and whine and wail about how bad things are for them.  You also, no doubt, know that the best way to paint the full picture of your client’s trauma and the affects her injury has had on her life is through before and after witnesses.  But have you discovered what you need to do to help your client transition from a victim to a victor?  Have you ever really accomplished that?  Most likely, unless you’ve read Jesse’s book or participated in one of his workshops, you have only gotten part of the way down that road.  Jesse’s message is that it is imperative to turn your client from a victim to a victor and, as I said earlier, the book is filled with examples and illustrations of what you need to do to get all the way down that road.

As Jesse wrote, this “book will give you the tools to frame your case from a victor-focused perspective.”  That was not hyperbole. Jesse illustrates, step by step, how to help your client transition from victim to victor. The way Jesse writes is plain-spoken, direct and dynamic; it actually stimulates change.  So many times, I found myself applying the principles he was teaching to cases I have in-house right now, recognizing what I need to change to truly unearth my client’s victor story.  I had so many light-bulb moments as I read this book and I think you will, too!

This is not a book you should read in one or two sittings.  It is broken up into chapters that provide easily digestible morsels on each topic and sub-topic.  Those morsels, though, are meant to be savored, not rushed.  To fully appreciate and begin to incorporate the lessons Jesse lays out for us, I think it is important to let each one sink in before going on to the next. 

Before I read this book, I thought it only dealt with how to prepare your client.  Although it does that in spades, it goes further and applies Jesse’s basic principles to how you should prepare your experts.  Better yet, Jesse illustrates how to use his principles and methods to make the defendant’s victor story work for your client.  Talk about bonus material!  I found Jesse’s approach to be a completely new take on how to deal with those types of witnesses. 

I am a real fan of this book, but it will not go on my bookshelf.  I am going to keep it handy so I can pick it up again from time to time to keep myself on point.  I think Jesse’s book is for newbies and dinosaurs alike.  Newbies can learn the right way to prepare witnesses at the start of their career and we dinosaurs have a new compass to use in helping our clients find their victor story.

Witness Preparation: How to Tell the Winning Story by Jesse Wilson