Going For It
One of the cardinal rules of cross-examination is to never ask a question to which one does not know the answer to. In being true to form, Ambiga Sreenevasan admits to having ignored this rule a time or two. Drawing from her vast legal experience which has helped shape her instincts over time, there have been moments during cross-examination where she has just ‘gone for it’. In other words, made a snap decision to ask a question to which she did not know the answer to. While this tactic has worked well for Sreenevasan the rare times she has employed it, she acknowledges the cardinal rule as a good one and suggests young lawyers stick to it.
Besides experience, Sreenevasan’s ability to ‘go for it’ probably stems from the way she prepares for cross-examination, to which she devotes most of her time to. Although she calls it a ‘lonely exercise’ accompanied only by documents and witness statements, Sreenevasan says that mastery of the documents is key. This is because knowing every single document will enable an advocate to immediately pick up on any inconsistencies in a witness’ testimony.
As a practising advocate and solicitor since March 1982, Sreenevasan has decades of experience in a wide array of civil, commercial and corporate litigation matters.
Further, while knowledge of the law is important, Sreenevasan finds from her own experience that most of the time an outcome of a case is determined by its facts. For example, in a trademark infringement dispute, when the matter boils down to whether one party has copied another party’s trademark, ‘the facts will speak louder than anything else’.
In dealing with patent cases, Sreenevasan believes that an advocate must themselves understand the way a particular invention works, at times right down to the individual components and the way in which the invention is assembled. While experts will undoubtedly be engaged to explain the workings of the invention to the court, an advocate must understand these technicalities in order to argue how the patent has been infringed. It would not be right for an advocate to disregard the technicalities when they simplify an expert’s explanation for the court.
However, Sreenevasan believes that the most important thing an advocate has to do at every level of advocacy is to take a step back and just think about the case, thus allowing the mind to work and come up with new ideas and avenues to explore.
Therefore, in a nutshell, cross-examination comes down to a lot of preparation, a thorough understanding of the facts and maybe after many years of experience just ‘going for it’.
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