Monday, July 20, 2009

Going out on top

Professional athletes are driven by desire and by ego. They are fueled by ability and conditioning. At some point, however, in the life of every professional athlete, there comes a time when the ability can't keep up with ego.

We've all seen the once-great athlete hanging around one or two years too many. Willie Mays stumbling around the outfield for the Mets. Johnny Unitas running for his life with the Chargers. Richard Petty tooling around at the back end of the field for NASCAR. Miguel Indurain struggling in the Pyrennes.

I think you can add Lance Armstrong to that list. The former seven-time Tour de France champion, who went out on top, came back after a three year retirement in search of his eighth Tour title. His Astana teammate Alberto Contador put an end to that quest on Sunday in the Alps.

Lance's ego was bigger than his ability and the result was his being left in Contador's dust in the very mountains where Lance toyed with the peleton during his heyday.

The same danger confronts attorneys in trial. You've got a witness on the ropes. Your cross examination is spot on. You've exposed his motivation. You've revealed inconsistencies in his story. You've forced him to admit he might have been mistaken.

Then you ask the dreaded "one question too many." After the witness takes your question deep and out of the park you are left to wonder what went wrong. The case was yours to win and now, it's just out there.

Rarely do you know for certain whether you are about to ask that fateful question. But there are a couple of signs that might help you avoid looking like Brad Lidge after Albert Pujols crushed that homerun in the Game 6 of the 2005 NLCS.

First, is the witness smart? Or, to put another way, is the witness a person who testifies regularly? If the answer is yes, you need to be careful once things start rolling your way during cross. Keep your head about you and think about what you're doing.

Second, if the witness has just conceded a number of points and you've got the coup de gras on the tip of your tongue -- don't ask it. Save that question and pose it rhetorically to the jury during closing argument. Then you don't have to worry about being taken deep by a seasoned witness.

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