Depositions allow attorneys to evaluate the strength of a case by questioning each side’s witnesses. Your deposition is probably the most important component of your case, next to an in-court appearance. It is vital to present yourself as a polished, coherent witness; you want your opponent to feel as if you could easily sway a judge and jury in your favor.
Preparation is key in conducting a successful deposition. Read our five tips below to ensure that you are prepared, confident, and collected on the day of your deposition.
Although a deposition does not take place in court, you should dress for your deposition as you would for a formal court appearance. The opposing attorneys will evaluate your appearance to determine what kind of impression you would make on a judge or jury. You want your appearance to communicate professionalism and trustworthiness.
Unless your attorney instructs you otherwise, your deposition outfit should be business professional. For women, this means a skirt or slacks and a nice blouse, possibly with a blazer or cardigan. For men, this means a suit, a button-down shirt, and a tie. To find more examples of deposition-appropriate attire, check out this article about perfecting a business professional look.
Know how the deposition will be taken
Most depositions include a court reporter, who will record and transcribe all that is said during the deposition. Some depositions, however, are audio- or video-recorded to be transcribed later. Your attorney will confirm how your deposition will be taken. Do not let the presence a video camera or microphone intimidate you. If you are initially uncomfortable with the idea of being audio or video recorded, you may wish to practice in private before the deposition.
Remember that you must provide clear, verbal responses to each question. This is true regardless of how the deposition is taken, but is particularly pertinent for depositions that are audio-recorded or stenographed by a court reporter. In such cases, any non-verbal responses will not be recorded in the deposition transcript.
Answer only the questions asked
This is perhaps the most important advice for deposition preparation: do not provide more information than the opposing attorney asks for. It is not uncommon for a witness to become nervous during a deposition and begin chattering or over-sharing, exposing potentially harmful details of the case. You should never volunteer additional information, details, or opinions unless specifically asked.
Pay close attention to the opposing attorney’s questions. When responding, provide only enough information to answer their question. You should not attempt to evade the question; likewise, do not speculate or guess at an answer. Remember that you may ask your attorney for a break at any point during the deposition. If you start to feel overwhelmed, request a break and talk to your attorney in private.
Learn the deposition’s structure
Before your deposition officially starts, you must swear an oath to answer all questions truthfully. Next, your attorney will begin a direct examination by asking you open-ended questions about your case. The direct examination gives you the opportunity to tell your story from your perspective.
After the direct examination, the opposing attorney will begin cross-examining you. Cross-examination is different from direct examination in that the questions will be narrower, and may be phrased in such a way as to cast doubt on your story.
Some depositions begin with cross-examination and there is no direct exam. In this format, your attorney may reserve the right to ask questions after the cross-examination to help clarify the testimony or raise any issues the adversarial attorney did not.
If a question is phrased in a particularly aggressive, demeaning, or offensive manner, your attorney will object (see below). However, you may still be required to answer the question. Remember that you should never engage in arguing, raising your voice, or insulting the opposing attorney. Answer your questions calmly and clearly, without defensiveness or evasiveness.
A deposition’s length will vary widely depending on the type of case, the witness being deposed (party witness, fact witness, or expert), and the complexity of the facts in question. Many depositions take between two and three hours, though some can last all day. Tennessee does not impose any time restrictions on depositions. Unless your attorney tells you otherwise, you should plan on taking the day off.
It’s important to remember that not all of the information disclosed in your deposition will be admissible in court. The primary purpose of a deposition is to allow attorneys to extract as much information from a witness as possible, so that each attorney has the information to build their best case. Even if a key piece of information is not admissible in court, the attorneys may still rely on it to lead them to other admissible facts. This is why it is important to answer truthfully at all times. Even if a question yields uncomfortable information, this information might not be admissible if the case proceeds to trial.
If an opposing attorney asks you a question which calls for inadmissible information, your attorney will object, and you will be instructed to answer the question anyway. Because there is no judge present in a deposition, any objections are for purposes of the record, and will be reviewed by a judge later in the case to determine if the information should be admitted.
The Nashville personal injury attorneys at David Randolph Smith are ready to represent your case from deposition to verdict. Click here for a free consultation.