Depositions are often a critically important part of discovery, the fact-gathering phase of litigation. In a deposition, attorneys representing the parties in the dispute ask a witness a series of questions that are intended to help the attorneys gather information that may be important to the case. Witnesses answer questions under oath, meaning they face possible legal consequences for lying or misleading their questioners. A court reporter keeps a transcript of the deposition, which may also be videotaped in some situations. In some circumstances a witness may be assisted by an attorney, but as a rule a witness in a deposition is expected to prove accurate answers to all the questions that are asked.
For someone who is directly involved in a legal dispute over a personal injury, a deposition may sound like a kind of interrogation. Television and film like to ratchet up the drama with scenes of aggressive attorneys badgering witnesses into emotional outbursts. In reality a deposition needn’t be a stressful event. Although a witness is expected to answer every question that is asked, the witness’s attorney can enter objections on the record and can even ask that the deposition be stopped if the witness is being unfairly attacked.
Another important part of an attorney’s job is to prepare clients for depositions. There are a number of things that a witness can do to prepare for a deposition:
- Get clear about the important facts. To be clear, a witness’s preparation for a deposition is not about crafting a good story. It’s about making sure that the witness has a clear memory of the things that are likely to come up, so the answers given at the deposition are as accurate as possible. This includes knowing what one doesn’t know, and what one is unsure about.
- Practice answering questions. It can be helpful to have a friendly attorney roleplay the deposition. Not only does this help the witness think about how to answer difficult questions, it also makes the deposition itself feel more familiar and less stressful.
- Think about body language and vocal inflection. An attorney who is experienced with depositions will be looking for clues not just in what the witness says, but also in how the witness behaves. There’s nothing to gain by being argumentative, rude, or angry during a deposition. The witness should think about steps that could help relieve tension, such as taking a breath, sipping water, or other simple tactics.
- Get clear about procedure. During a deposition, attorneys will banter about technicalities, raise objections, and make comments to the court reporter. It can be helpful to a witness to know how this back-and-forth may affect them. Simply put, most of it can be ignored. At a minimum, witnesses should be prepared to answer questions even if their attorney objects to it. It can also be helpful for a witness to know how to go about asking for a break.
The law firm of Greenman Goldberg Raby Martinez has represented clients in personal injury cases for over 45 years. Our team is devoted to providing personal, thoughtful attention to each client. We have extensive experience with helping clients prepare for their depositions. We can be reached at 702-388-4476 or through our contacts page.