How to Conduct Effective Witness Interviews

The Paralegal Resource
August 23, 2012 — 1,082 views  
Become a Bronze Member for monthly eNewsletter, articles, and white papers.

Paralegals face an incredible challenge when they conduct witness interviews. You'll need to be able to ask questions that enable you to learn the truth relating to a legal matter, which can be especially difficult in some situations.

There are several steps you should follow to successfully complete witness interviews. Take a look at the step-by-step process below to learn more about such interactions.

1. Prepare for the interview

You'll want to conduct as much research as possible before beginning an interview with a witness. While you won't necessarily be able to anticipate every participant's responses, you should try to be ready for just about anything.

Be sure to bring a pen, paper and extra supplies with you. Create a list of questions ahead of time, but be prepared to ask follow-up questions based on a witness' responses. Consider the order of your questions, as you'll want to be able to gather information relating to specific topics.

2. Examine the interview opportunity

How you conduct the interview could impact the answers you receive. Make sure your witness is comfortable with the interview method you select, whether it's a face-to-face interaction or a phone discussion.

Regardless of how you conduct the interview, you'll want to display courtesy and professionalism. Use active listening skills to your advantage, and try not to interrupt a witness as he or she answers a query. Additionally, eye contact and a friendly demeanor might help a witness feel more comfortable.

3. Conduct the interview

When completing the interview, be sure to blend closed- and open-ended questions. A closed-ended query features a simple "yes" or "no" answer, while the open-ended variety allows witnesses to speak their minds about certain topics.

Basic etiquette could also prove valuable during the interview. Give witnesses sufficient time to answer each question.

4. Conclude the interview

You'll likely have specific information you want to learn from an interview, so make sure you have obtained this data before you exit. It's often worthwhile to summarize the information that you received from the witness, and you can clarify any key points during the conclusion.

A follow-up interview might be completed at a later time if you would like to try to obtain additional information. This could be beneficial because it gives a witness a second chance to include information he or she might have forgotten during the prior interview. Examine the information acquired from the initial meeting before determining whether a follow-up interview is necessary. 

The Paralegal Resource