Game of Thrones: Leadership Lessons For Expert Witnesses

Stephen Gomez

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— Updated on February 4, 2020

game of thronesCo-authored by Kelly Lhungay.

Fans of the HBO hit series Game of Thrones have watched Daenarys Targaryen’s transformation from a meek, noble-born girl into a queen. She was naive enough at first to be manipulated and betrayed in her experiences with the Khalisar and in Qarth. However, she has emerged from these hardships a strong, kind leader, beloved by the masses. She comes out of every significant confrontation smarter and with more supporters. Her personal mission to free all the slaves she encounters gives her the experience she needs as a conqueror and ruler to realize her ultimate goal of reclaiming Westeros.

Many of the behaviors that help Daenerys succeed as a leader can translate into qualities that could help an expert witness win over a jury. This is not to say that witnesses should consume the heart of a stallion as a trial day breakfast, but embodying the Dragon Queen in other capacities may lead to a captivating testimony that engages the jurors.

Maintain grace under pressure

Having relaxed and self-assured body language is principal in providing convincing testimony in the courtroom. Especially considering that the jury will likely take visual cues to ascertain confidence. It is especially important for expert witnesses to maintain composure during cross-examination. Despite possible provocation, witnesses should rarely, if ever, argue with opposing counsel. The expert’s credibility and ability to persuade may be undermined in the process. Instead, if the opposing counsel becomes contentious or argumentative, the expert should remain calm and finish making their point.

If a witness refuses to be interrupted, the jury will likely view the counsel as being pushy and talking over the witness. Daenerys has made progress regarding her ability to present herself confidently after being under her brother Viserys’ entitled thumb. She maintains steady eye contact, holds herself with elevated posture, and speaks powerfully to remind her enemies and skeptics that her words hold weight. When she is not speaking, Dany listens in a neutral stance. This allows her to listen carefully while formulating her own response. Similar visual cues would strengthen an expert’s testimony.

There are numerous instances of Daenerys presenting herself with regal manners. When she meets the Captains of the Second Sons she shows that her grace can withstand pressure. She maintains a pleasant yet powerful demeanor, even while one of the captains acts inappropriately towards her and her handmaiden.

Rehearse Rough Spots

It is understandable for expert witnesses to be nervous before trial. Their testimony is critical to the proceedings. Rehearsing, role-playing, and getting feedback from a trusted source all help to detect and eliminate behaviors that may undermine an expert’s credibility. Recording trial preparation allows expert witnesses to strengthen their responses and body language. Even seasoned expert witnesses may need help in these areas. Dany proves that even a fierce Khaleesi needs practice and feedback to perform her very best. She is open to the input of her advisors and even accepts corrections from her handmaiden, Missandre.

Be Prepared

Attorneys should warn their experts about opposing counsel’s tactics. Strategies for examining witnesses can range from charm to bullying. Knowing some of the tactics that the opposition may use will make it easier to keep composed and convey information to the jury under pressure. Preparation is key to presenting as a strong, self-assured, and engaging witness.

Preparation gave Daenerys a big advantage in the pivotal scene leading up to the Sack of Astaphor. She clearly planned the exchange beforehand. She utilized her understanding of the wild nature of dragons, the complete obedience of the Unsullied, and her undisclosed knowledge of the Valyrian language to get the better of Kraznys mo Nakloz. This careful preparation helped Dany leave Astaphor with an army of 8,000 newly freed men.

Be Memorable

Jurors will likely remember only a few things about each expert witness, and these are the points that will be discussed during deliberations. Keeping this in mind, expert witnesses should map out their most important points before the trial. This provides a structure to the presentation, allowing the jury to take away the most compelling facts from the testimony.

During the initial negotiations with Yunkai, Daenerys made clear that her one objective for coming to Yunkai was to free the slaves. Though she was fully equipped for battle, she did not want to shed blood. Dany capitalized on her strengths by making very pointed displays of power. She ensured that the envoy viewed her disciplined army and her vicious dragons. By the end of the visit, though he might have forgotten the details of their conversation, the Yunkai envoy knew the Mother of Dragons’ goal and the sources of strength she had to back up her ambition.

Speak in the juror’s language

It is important for expert witnesses to use layman’s terms when giving testimony. An expert witness’s job is not to confound the jury with technical vernacular. Their job is to clarify complex points of specialized knowledge. The mark of a great expert witness is the ability to familiarize the jury with high-level concepts without distorting the integrity of the subject. Having a very strong command of language is essential.

Language plays a very important role for Dany. She learned Dothraki to rule with Drogo and she is fluent in Valyrian, which is key in building a connection to her newly liberated people. Daenerys Targaryen, the Stormborn, The Unburnt, Queen of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Mother of Dragons, could be perceived as an intimidating ruler. However,  she makes it a priority to be approachable to her people by speaking from her heart. She uses her own voice rather than her interpreter’s planned speech.