Open Questions #4 - Looping
When and how to use the witness's words in your next question
Interviews should establish rapport between the questioner and witness, even where that rapport is adversarial, as we will see with cross-examination techniques later in this series.
When a professional interviews a client or a prospective one, there is always the element of landing a possible sale – establishing a commercial relationship. One technique that can help accomplish this is called Looping.
What is it? Identify a word or phrase that the witness used in the previous answer. This choice should be an important word or phrase, or the technique loses its power. Use that word or phrase in your next question. It works particularly well when the witness has used a descriptive or evocative word.
Why use it? It draws attention to the word or phrase. It also confirms that you are paying attention to what your witness is saying.
Say that your witness said, “The house had a hideous tree in its front yard.” You might then ask, “How did the hideous tree make you feel about the house?”
Say that your witness said, “It wasn’t a party. It was more like a riot.” You might then ask, “How did you participate in the riot?”
A rule of thumb is that lawyers should not use an evocative word until a witness has introduced it in the context that the lawyer intends. One could imagine a series of questions where the lawyer harps on the “hideous tree” or the “riotous party” after the witness has given the responses above.
Exercise: using the looping technique, interview May Donoghue about her story. For every answer, loop on a word or phrase from the previous answer.
Note how repeated use of the technique becomes tedious and ineffective. Use this technique only for significant moments during the interview.
Apply this technique to a case in your own practice or, if in law school, to a court case you are studying.
If you want more detail and exercises, consider The Art of the Interview - How Lawyers Talk with Clients, available from Irwin Law here.