A common issue we here at Fry Law have to cover with any of our clients who are involved in lawsuits is depositions. Almost every litigant will either have a deposition taken of them or have to take a deposition of their own during their legal case.
To understand depositions, it makes sense to get a little explanation of discovery. Discovery in a lawsuit is the parties’ right to exchange information and evidence before trial. It is designed to narrow the issues in the case by showing each other your “cards.” It also serves the ever-important purpose of determining whether the case is good or bad and whether you should settle or fight the case. It is a critical tool in the litigation process.
Generally, discovery is mostly written. The parties can exchange interrogatories (questions), requests for production of documents or requests for admissions of single facts or to authenticate documents. However, one other discovery tool is the deposition.
A deposition is an oral interview of a party or witness that is recorded by a Court reporter and is considered formal testimony. It is a question and answer session. Occasionally there are documents that are presented and discussed. The purpose is multi-fold. First, to put a face to a name. Second, to go over things that may not have been covered in the written discovery. Third, to get an impression of what kind of witness the person will be and how they will be perceived by the judge/jury. Fourth, to save time by understanding what their position will be at trial.
There are a few things that we go over with all of our clients before a deposition. They are not terribly complicated.
The first tip is to listen carefully to the question and take a second to digest it before answering. This not only ensures that you understand the question and answer properly but gives your attorney an opportunity to object to any questions that might be inappropriate. For example, if an attorney asks you what your own attorney told you, an objection can be raised as that information is privileged. In most depositions this is not a major issue but in contested cases it can be.
The next tip is to make sure you are comfortable saying you don’t know the answer or you don’t remember. Depositions are not an exam, you do not have to have an answer to every question. You should certainly have answers for the material issues but occasionally you are asked questions that you may just not know the answer to.
The third tip is to remember at all times that the person taking your deposition is judging you. They are looking for presentation and mannerisms. They want to know how you are going to present to the judge/jury. It is important to dress professionally and even more important is to keep a calm and polite demeanor. In some depositions, the attorney will try to get you worked up or frustrated so you are not thinking clearly. Not often but it happens. It is important to remember that the better you present to them, the better you will present to the judge/jury who will ultimately decide your case.
Finally, if you are presented with a document that you may not recall seeing, ask what it is. In a lot of depositions, the attorney will ask you about a document that you may not remember seeing. In litigation, it is common to receive many legal papers from your attorney. It is hard to identify these documents to non-lawyers because most of them look the same. If you are unable to identify a document, feel free to say that it is possible you received it from your attorney but you are not entirely clear.
With these basic tips in mind, you should be able to do amazing at any deposition!