By Leta Gorman
If you are a party to a lawsuit or a witness with relevant testimony, you will probably have to give a deposition at some point. A deposition is the opportunity for the opposing attorney to obtain your sworn out-of-court testimony, which is then reduced to a writing for potential use in court or for other discovery purposes. Depositions are not fun and given their importance can be very stressful. Having a confident and experienced trial lawyer by your side during your deposition will help to ease the stress and make you more comfortable. Your attorney will meet with you before your deposition, answer your questions about the process, and provide you with some tips to help ease the stress. Consider these suggestions before you meet with your lawyer.
Opposing counsel's goal is to elicit testimony that will be helpful to his or her client's case. Be aware of the overly friendly attorney who may try to lull you into opening up and communicating more than you should.
Answer Only the Question
In casual conversations, people tend to offer more information than is asked. If asked, "Do you have the time?" a person will usually provide the actual time. But in a deposition, the appropriate answer would be either yes or no. If you were asked this question in a deposition, you would provide the actual time only if the lawyer asked the necessary follow-up question, "What time is it?"
Listen to the Question
Depositions are often draining, especially if you are actively listening to the questions asked. But active listening is critical to a successful deposition. Actively listening to each question is important so you answer only the question asked, and nothing more. If you are asked "when" something occurred, you should not answer "why" something occurred. Listening to each word of the question will help you to answer only the question asked.
Not So Fast
In our daily conversations, people often talk over one another. In a deposition, this is problematic. First, if you do not listen to the entire question, you will not know what is actually being asked, and you may be answering more than the question calls for. Second, the question itself could be objectionable. If you begin to answer before the attorney asking the question is finished, your attorney will not have an opportunity to object. Waiting a few seconds for the question to conclude before answering allows your attorney to object.
Listen to the Objection
Unlike a courtroom where the judge issues a ruling on an objection and may decide that you do not have to answer, you will have to answer objectionable questions (unless your lawyer advises you not to) during your deposition. But your attorney's objection to a question is your cue that there is something wrong with the question and that you should give a cautioned response. You may also ask the attorney to repeat or rephrase the question.
Don't Guess at What the Lawyer is Thinking
Lawyers are human (despite lawyer jokes to the contrary) and can ask sloppy or confusing questions. It is absolutely acceptable to say that you do not understand the question. You can also ask the attorney to rephrase.
You Don't Need to Have all of the Answers
Witnesses sometimes feel compelled to have an answer to every question, but answers are not required if you don't know, you can't remember, you would have to guess, or you would have to speculate. It is far worse to provide a wrong answer than to simply admit you do not know or can't remember.
Tell the Truth
This one should go without saying. Never manufacture a response or feel compelled to do so. If you do not have the information to respond to a question, simply say so.
This list of suggestions is far from exhaustive and is meant only to give you things to consider before meeting with your attorney. Begin preparing for your deposition in a way that allows you to be a better witness by actually saying less.