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  • Writer's pictureJonathan Harriman

Five Basic Rules for a Successful Deposition

We have worked with hundreds of clients to help them prepare for their depositions. Below are five simple rules to help make the deposition go smoothly.

Tell the truth - You take an oath to tell the truth before a deposition. This means that if you lie or refuse to respond, you can be punished for perjury. If your case goes to trial, you will testify in person before the judge and jury. If your testimony at trial differs from the testimony you gave at deposition, opposing counsel will attack your credibility and make you look like a liar. Trials usually hinge on credibility – does the jury believe that plaintiff or the defendant? – so you must do everything to ensure that you are seen as credible and forthcoming.

Listen closely - A good rule of thumb is to listen closely to the question and think “can I answer this with a ‘yes’ and ‘no’ or an ‘I don’t know’?” If so, do just that. If the questioning attorney wants an explanation, they will ask for it. Often, they just need a simple yes/no/I don’t know so they can move on to their next question.

Speak one at a time - Court reporters are amazingly fast at transcribing, but they can only capture one person speaking at a time. This means that the deposition is not a regular conversation. Instead, it is a little slow and kind of awkward. In regular conversation, people do not speak in full sentences and often volunteer answers halfway through a question. At deposition, you need to resist the impulse to cut off the lawyer and let them get the full question on the record, even if you know where the question is going. If you do your best, the court reporter will be appreciative.

Understand the question – If you do not understand the question for any reason, do not answer. If the questioning attorney used a word or phrase that you did not understand, if they mumbled, or if you were distracted, let them know. They will be happy to restate or rephrase the question. At least once during every deposition, the questioning attorney will ask a question that doesn’t make any sense. If this happens, just let them know that you don’t understand. Almost always, they will apologize for their poorly worded question and ask it in a better way.

Alcohol and drugs – The questioning attorney usually asks whether you have consumed any alcohol, drugs, or anything that could prevent you from providing your best testimony. We usually advise our clients to abstain from alcohol and recreational drugs for 24 hours before a deposition so they can provide a simple “no” to this question. As for prescription medications, we usually want our clients to follow the doctor’s orders, especially when the medication will not affect memory (e.g. “A: I took my usually cholesterol medication this morning. Q: What is the name of the drug and how much did you take? A: Lipitor. It was the usual dose I have been taking for years and it doesn’t affect me.”)

This is not legal advice. You should always contact a lawyer to discuss your specific case. Consultations are free.

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