You’ve probably heard it before, that failing to plan means planning to fail.
When it comes to something as critical as a deposition, it’s essential to your case that you adequately prepare for it.
If you’ve been scheduled to give a deposition but haven’t heard anything from your attorney, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do anything to prepare.
Attorneys sometimes make the mistake of scheduling depositions and then failing to notify their clients about when and where to appear, what to say, or even how to dress. Others will only half-heartedly coach their clients on the deposition process, telling them to arrive early on the day of the deposition and then nothing more.
But minimizing the importance of a deposition doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do your research and homework beforehand. A poorly planned and executed deposition can influence the outcome of the case, and the opposite is also true. It doesn’t matter if you’re looking to avoid summary judgements or hoping to get a large settlement from the court. Your deposition can be a pivotal point in your case.
In fact, the American Bar Association advises attorneys to treat their clients as novices, regardless of their prior experience in giving depositions or otherwise. Below, we’ll cover several tips on how you can best prepare for a deposition to improve your case’s outcome. But first, you’ll need to know what a deposition is and how the process works.
What is a deposition?
Cases that involve only legal issues usually do not require depositions.
However, litigation that is based on factual issues will often require witness testimonies, and thus, depositions. Most lawsuits will have depositions as part of the process since they give the court a more complete picture of what happened.
Depositions are not the same as recorded documents such as interrogatories. Instead, a deposition involves a living witness. An attorney asks the witness questions about the events and circumstances surrounding the case.
Why are depositions important?
Depositions serve two purposes:
- They uncover what the witness knows
- They preserve the witness’s testimony before trial
Depositions are often recorded, either through a court reporter or through videotaping. Depositions are done because the other side has the right to any information about the witness’s testimony, injuries, and any additional information about the accident. They may also ask questions about previous medical history and their work history.
The purpose of the deposition is to give both sides in a lawsuit access to the facts related to the case before it goes to trial.
That way, no one is caught off guard once the witness takes the stand. While a surprise witness makes for a good television episode, in the court system, putting a new witness on the stand right before trial is considered unfair. Once a trial begins, the deposition serves to give both parties knowledge of all the witnesses and what they will say during their testimony in court.
Also, a witness deposition gives each side a better understanding of the case, and they aren’t used for one side to get more favorable testimony over the other. For example, if a witness gave a version of events that would undermine one side’s case, a deposition provides the other side a chance to know about it before the trial starts.
Depositions give each side the chance to learn where their case is lacking and how to best prepare for trial.
In general, attorney’s hate surprises. If you’ve been asked to give a deposition, then chances are, opposing counsel will know the exact answers to the questions they ask you. Speaking with your attorney about the deposition beforehand can help you more adequately understand the process, and enable you to move forward without saying anything that could damage your case.
What should you avoid saying during a deposition?
The court does not like guesses or exaggerations in depositions. It won’t help your case if you make exaggerated claims. For example, if you were to embellish your pain level during a deposition for a personal injury lawsuit, that could severely undermine your credibility and harm your case in the long run.
How should you answer questions in a deposition?
- Answers should be provided in a sentence format. Avoid giving out lengthy explanations and answers to opposing counsel’s questions.
- It’s best to give honest, direct, accurate, and concise answers.
- It may seem counterintuitive, but answering with an “I don’t know” is okay sometimes, and is much better than outright lying or giving an exaggeration.
- Try to avoid answering with just a “yes” or “no.”
- If counsel asks a question that refers to a specific document, always ask to see the text before giving your answer.
What should you wear to a deposition?
A deposition not only helps uncover events and circumstances about a legal issue, but it also helps to paint your side as credible or not. Dressing appropriately for a deposition can go a long way toward cementing your story as legitimate in the eyes of the court. While a deposition is not considered an official trial, it’s still a good idea to dress for the occasion. Make it a priority to look professional anytime you’ll be in front of court officials or opposing counsel.
For men, suits are always acceptable attire for anything court-related. It is acceptable for women to wear either a skirt or dress or slacks. Women who wear a dress or skirt to court should also wear pantyhose. Clothing should be neat, clean, and fit appropriately for both men and women. Sneakers, jeans, hats, shorts, and t-shirts should never be worn in court. When in doubt, it’s best to keep the attire business casual and to avoid thin or skimpy materials. Clothing should be conservative and also in dark or neutral colors. Avoid graphic designs, bright colors, and anything that draws attention to the clothes.
If you’ve been called to give a deposition, consider having a meeting with your attorney first to practice and get an idea of what types of questions you’ll be asked. Practicing your deposition can also help to calm your nerves and adequately prepare you for this critical part of the legal process.