MacCarthy on Cross Examination Review

Terence MacCarthy often explains that his system of cross-examination that he teaches in MacCarthy on Cross-Examination was once described by the ABA as “contrarian.” Now it is the preferred cross-examination technique of the National Criminal Defense College and the U.S. Department of Justice. But the system is far from mainstream. MacCarthy’s system is not what you learned in law school. But using the “look good” cross, as it is sometimes called, could be the difference between winning and losing at trial.

What I Liked About MacCarthy on Cross-Examination

MacCarthy spends some time explaining why the current methods of cross-examination taught in law school and trial advocacy CLEs are ineffective. But then he quickly lays out his system of cross-examination. Like his system, the book is full of short sections and easily digestible chapters.

The best part about this book, besides the actual system, is how enjoyable it was to read. MacCarthy’s tone is light and upbeat, which makes the entire book a real page turner. There were even several parts where I laughed out loud, which meant I had to explain to my girlfriend why I was laughing out loud while reading a book about cross-examination.

What I Didn’t Like about MacCarthy on Cross-Examination

There was very little I didn’t like about this book. My main complaint, as is often the case with books the ABA publishes, was price. The list price is $130, although it’s available on Amazon around $80. I got it at an ABA conference directly from the author, who is allowed to sell it for about $75. But then the ABA charged $10 in shipping.

My other complaint is that this book is not available in digital format. I guess I’m just a little spoiled since most of the books I read for fun are fiction. Pretty much all of those are available on my Kindle. Unfortunately the ABA hasn’t caught up.


MacCarthy on Cross-Examination

Reviewed by Josh Camson on .

Summary: MacCarthy on Cross-Examination presents a structured, reproducible, and scalable system for cross-examination. The book is easy to follow and offers plenty of examples.

Overall score: 5 (out of 5)


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  • shg

    I have three issues with your review, Josh. First, it tells me absolutely nothing substantive about the book. How about an example of Terry’s wisdom to give me a clue as to why I would want to read it?

    Second, why would anyone care about a review by someone who has never tried a case on a book on cross examination? Why in particular when the book is written by someone as well known and regarded as Terry MacCarthy?

    Third, the book was published in 2007. It’s kinda well past its due date for a book review, and already a classic book on cross.

  • RTK

    If nothing else, it’s helpful to notify (or remind) attorneys of seminal works in the profession. I had never heard of this book, and now I’ll likely buy it. A few exemplar snippets would have been nice, but the mere mention of the book along with the general recommendation that it’s good was valuable for me.

    • shg

      I was hoping Josh would raise your point, but since he didn’t and you did, it offers the opportunity to make a point.

      Josh could just as well have written a post about how helpful Terry’s book was and how much he appreciated it, thus both alerting readers unfamiliar with it to its existence and extolling its virtues. A “review” is a different animal, involving passing judgment on the virtue of a book. I doubt Josh thinks he’s in a position to pass judgment on Terry’s effort.

      So while Terry’s book is a fine subject for a post, it is not a fine subject for Josh’s review.

  • BH

    I share the first commenter’s critique of Josh’s review: It doesn’t tell us anything about this system of cross.

    I have not read the book, but I’ve heard Terry present on his cross technique at a few conferences. It’s a thing of pure beauty.

    Here’s the trick: there are no questions. I’m not saying that there are no non-leading questions. And I’m not even saying that the questioning is accomplished by an upward voice inflection. I’m saying that THERE ARE NO QUESTIONS. (Well, maybe a couple to get the ball rolling, or on the rare occasion when the judge asks, “Is there a question, counsel?”) It’s just the cross-examiner telling a story, broken down into the most basic possible sentences, with authority. The questioner should even avoid the upward voice inflection because that suggests to the witness that there’s a question, for which there might be multiple possible answers. That would be the wrong message to send. There are no questions, there is only one answer (“yes”), and the witness is not here to tell anybody anything. I’m telling the damn story! And guess what. The witness simply cannot help but say yes.

    So although this is a lot of cash to spend on a book, anybody who tries cases should invest in it. Or go see Terry give a demonstration sometime. I promise that it will be money well-spent.

    Lastly, “the U.S. Department of Justice”?!?! WTF, Terry?

    • Drew

      Uhm . . . this does describe the system of cross-examination I learned in law school (or at least soon afterwards, at NITA). Use cross to tell your own story. Keep the focus on you, not the witness. Opposite of direct.

  • DRB

    I see an ebook available from the ABA website (for the same price as the physical book).

  • Michael Doby

    Thanks for the tip Josh. I am balking at the $80 price so for now I am going to order it through Michigan’s library exchange. I will have to go pick it up at the public library in a few days, but I won’t have to pay anything more for it. If it turns out to be a necessary reference then I will think about buying a copy.