Client Trial and Deposition Preparation
Lombardi Law Firm has created an entire page explaining what depositions are all about and how you are supposed to prepare for one.
How to Successfully Take a Deposition
This post is all about the 8 Simple Rules For Deposition Testimony©. Have you ever wondered how to successfully testify at your deposition? Clients are usually nervous before being “deposed”. Are you?
They want to do a good job but don’t have experience with being deposed or have had a bad experience with the process. Depositions are not like having a conversation around the breakfast table over a cup of coffee. They are formal conversations where a court reporter will take down all questions and answers or comments. You really need to be ready for the issues involved in your case.
Who Should Be Preparing You For Your Client Deposition?
Your lawyer should sit down with you well in advance of the deposition to prepare you. Don’t just assume the lawyer will do what I’m saying to prepare you. Not a lot of lawyers take enough time to properly prepare their client for this very important event. There are right and wrong ways to answer questions. If your lawyer prepares you by meeting with you ten minutes before the deposition and advising, “Just tell the truth.” That is insufficient preparation. The process is more complicated than just telling the truth. I’ve never met a client that won their case in a deposition, but I’ve met some who’ve lost the case because of something they said or didn’t say in their deposition.
If your deposition is coming up and your lawyer hasn’t met with you and there is no pre-deposition conference scheduled, then you need a new lawyer. Contact us online and we will see if we can help you with your case.
Let’s go over the 8 Simple Rules For Deposition Testimony©. The rules are pretty simple, but executing them is not like having a normal conversation. In this first exercise I’ll state the rules, then tomorrow after you’ve had time to memorize these 8 simple rules, I’ll test you by asking one simple question, and your answer will demonstrate whether or not you understood the 8 simple rules. Okay ready?
8 SIMPLE RULES FOR DEPOSITION TESTIMONY
- Always tell the Truth.
- Listen to the Question.
- Make sure you understand the Question.
- If you don’t understand the Question ask for clarification.
- Before you answer, pause and think about your answer.
- If you can answer with a “Yes” or “No”, answer with a “Yes” or “No”.
- If the answer requires more than a simple “Yes” or “No”, keep your answer concise, brief and to the point.
- Don't offer information.
Common Mistakes To Avoid In A Deposition
Now let’s talk about the mistakes clients make during depositions and the tricks defense lawyers employ to make you slip up. What terms do I need to know?
A deponent is a person; not a disease. If you’re answering questions in a deposition then you are the deponent. A deponent is under oath, meaning they have administered an oath to you. An oath means you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. As in a deposition at trial you will also be under oath. That’s important because if your answers appear different at trial than they were in the deposition the implication is that you’re not being truthful. Here is what you will hear at trial. “At the deposition your answer was different, so should I assume you were telling us the truth then or now? How can I tell when you’re telling the truth?” As you can well imagine this would be an uncomfortable situation to be in so remember the Eight Simple Rules© and learn to follow them.
What is a deposition?
It’s a formal opportunity for your opponent’s attorney to put you under oath and directly ask you questions. It’s formal in the sense that there is an order to how the questioning is conducted. Each attorney of record will have an opportunity in an agreed order to question you.
What Type Of Defense Techniques Does The Defense Use In A Deposition?
Rapid Fire Questions
Rapid fire is a questioning technique used to trip the deponent up on rules two through eight and to make your answer appear to be less than trustworthy. You will recognize this technique is in use when answering the lawyer’s questions makes you light headed or out of breath. Rapid fire is what it sounds like. The next question comes immediately after you answer the previous question. There is little time to think. The deponent starts to feel anxious, and reacts by “firing back” at the lawyer.
But what deponents have to realize is that seldom can they win this exchange. The lawyer has had weeks to prepare his/her questions. They are professionals and some, like me, have taken more than a thousand depositions.
During rapid fire it won’t take long before emotions take the place of reason and the Eight Simple Rules© are forgotten. I don’t care if you “meant to tell the truth” but because of “the lawyer’s questions” you became emotional and lost your head. Follow the damn rules.
So how do you recognize this technique and how do you combat it? Well it’s pretty simple. Go back to the Eight Simple Rules© and review them. Remember, listen to the question, then make sure you understand the question, followed by if you don’t understand the question ask for clarification; and then pause and think about your answer.
The Accusatory Tone In A Deposition
Some attorney's voices indicate or imply they don't believe you. Don't be fooled by the attorney's tone. His tone is meaningless. Just listen to the question and answer it. If you don't like the way the attorney is looking at you then look down at the table so you're not disctracted by their accusatory and doubtful facial expressions.
Compound Questions Asked During Your Deposition
A question which answering it requires you to assume the underlying premise that has never been proven. “Do you swear often and at your wife?” There are two questions here. One do you swear often? And do you swear at your wife? If this happens ask, “Which question would you like me to first answer?”
Assuming Facts Not Yet Proven In Your Deposition
A compound question is one with more than one question in it. “Do you still beat your wife?” The question assumes there was a time you did beat your wife. You deal with this question by pointing out the question is not answerable. “I’m sorry but your question can’t be answered. It assumes I ever did beat my wife, and that’s not true.”
Let’s stop there today because this is enough. I’ll add more as time allows.
Having the Right Frame of Mind During A Deposition
Don’t be fooled by the question or the person asking the questions. Leave your emotions at the door. No one cares that you just want to get this over with and to be treated fairly. The lawyer employing “Rapid Fire” he isn’t here to treat you fairly, he’s here to represent his client’s interests. And if you don’t understand that point you’re making a big mistake. There are only two reasons for him/her to speak with you and neither is good for your case. You’re being asked questions so they can figure out a way to pay you nothing or less then you deserve.
Baiting the Deponent During The Deposition
This trick makes you react rather than think. The tone, facial expressions or questions are intended to get you mad. People don't think clearly when they are angry. So losing your cool isn't the cool thing to do. The attorney knows that his tone isn't going to show up on the deposition but your swearing will. So never ever get angry. Smile and keep your head on straight.
What To Expect During Your Deposition
A deposition is simply a formal, yet informal proceeding where the opposing attorney gets to speak directly to a party or witness. In other words the opposing attorney gets to speak directly with you. It’s formal because you are under oath and swear to tell the truth yet informal because it takes place at one of the lawyer’s offices. It can take place anywhere really it just depends on what is convenient for the parties and their attorneys.
Can I take a break during the deposition?
Yes you may. Just ask for a break. You are allowed to drink coffee or soda or water.
How should I dress for my deposition?
Dress comfortably but neat. Your clothes should be clean, conservative and pressed. The clothes you choose should be comfortable sitting in. Wear a long sleeved collared shirt or blouse to cover tattoos. Don't wear a lot of jewelry or perfume. Cover up the clearvage! You're not there to flirt or get a date, you're there to invest valuable time in your lawsuit. Act like you are there for that purpose and that purpose only.
How long do depositions usually last?
They can last several hours but normally they last as long as it takes. If you answer questions directly and do not offer information they will be over quicker than if you go on and on never answering the question. If you listen to the question, pause to think about your answer and then follow the eight simple rules and it will get over quicker than if you don’t.
What if during the deposition I have to use the bathroom?
Simply ask the attorneys to let you know when it’s convenient so that you can take a break to use the rest room.
What if I don’t understand the question?
If you don’t understand the question or the words used by the attorney that is questioning you, ask for clarification. Don’t guess, that isn’t what makes for a truthful deposition. Ask the attorney what he or she means by a word. "How do you define the word _____________?"
What is it mean to tell the truth?
That means you tell them what you know as they ask. You simply answer the question that is asked. You’re not there to do anything other than answer questions. Don’t offer information that hasn’t been asked for. Truthful information is about what you know from personal knowledge. Truthful answers answer the question asked not the one you want them to ask you. Personal knowledge is what you saw or heard. Not something someone told you secondhand. That’s what they call hearsay. If you weren’t at the accident then you can’t have personal knowledge of how it occurred and it’s unlikely you will be asked much about those facts.
What if during the deposition I want to speak privately to my lawyer?
Then ask for a break to do so. The other attorney has no right to ask you about the conversations you’ve had with your attorney. Those conversations are covered by the attorney-client privilege and if asked you can decline to answer.
What if the other attorney is disagreeable?
Some attorneys who lack professionalism and haven’t a clue about how to get answers do seem angry, argumentative, impolite and disrespectful. That has nothing to do with you and I would not allow their attitude and demeanor to affect how you answer questions. Don’t allow what they do to change how you act. Remember you are in control of yourself, not them. If it gets out of hand your attorney should jump in and warn the attorney asking questions and if they don’t then you’ve got the wrong attorney and after the deposition you need to find a new one.
What if I don’t know the answer to the question?
Then say you don’t know the answer. That is an acceptable answer. Remember you’re not there to guess or speculate or guestimate. You’re there to tell the truth about the personal knowledge you possess.
What if I have scars from either the injuries from the accident or from the surgery?
Be ready to show them. Wear clothing that will allow you show a scar, such as one on your arm or shoulder or leg. If it's in a private place then they should not ask to see those. At some later time photographs can be produced.
Is it necessary for me to meet with my lawyer before the deposition?
Yes it is. You should meet before the day of the deposition to prepare you for what the questions are likely to touch on. If the lawyer you hired didn't schedule a meeting then get a new lawyer. If the deposition is coming up and you want to switch attorneys, call and tell his secretary you wish to postpone the deposition while you seek new counsel. Drop a letter off saying just that. Some attorneys shouldn't be practicing law and sooner or later the bar association catches up with them. If the attorney you hired isn't talking to you or explaining why then there is something wrong and you need to act to protect your case.
What should I do to prepare for the deposition?
Drive by the accident scene. Review any documents. Review your answers to interrogatories, letters you've written, the Petition and any recorded statement you may have given. Look at the photographs that show the cars involved in the crash, the accident scene and the statements of other witnesses. You should review a medical dateline. Get a good night sleep, don't drink excessively and drink plenty of water. Take your medications as prescribed, get up early and drink some coffee to get you awake and ready for the day.