If you are scheduled to be deposed, whether in your own case or in someone else’s, it is important to know how to behave so that you are able to avoid costly mistakes. In a typical deposition, one lawyer will ask you questions, while the other lawyer either represents you, making objections and giving you instructions, if you are the party in the lawsuit or his client, or is simply taking notes, if not. You will want to find out, if he does not represent you, how he sees his role and whether he feels that he should prepare you for your deposition.
If you are his client, he absolutely should prepare you.
There will also be a court reporter, whose sole responsibility is to record the entire proceeding, ensuring that your answers are audible so that she can transcribe them.
Before you arrive, dress neatly for your deposition. You need not dress formally but do dress respectfully.
At the deposition itself, first and foremost, speak clearly and slowly. Don’t nod or shake your head. (The court reporter can’t transcribe that.) Say “yes” or “no” out loud instead, so that the court reporter can transcribe what you say.
Tell the truth. Listen carefully and answer the question you were asked. If you didn’t hear it clearly or understand it, ask the lawyer to repeat it or to rephrase it. If you don’t, everyone listening or later reading your deposition will assume that you understood the question.
Do not volunteer information other than that which is specifically requested.
Be polite, but firm. Do not lose your temper. Do not argue with or try to outmaneuver opposing counsel. By the same token, do not be intimidated by the opposing counsel.
Do not be afraid to ask to see any relevant documents, notes, or letters. If you are given a document, read it before you respond. Take your time.
Do not guess. If you don’t understand the question, say so. If you don’t know, respond, “I don’t know.” “I do not remember” is also a perfectly acceptable answer, if true. But keep in mind that “I don’t remember” is not the same as “I don’t know.” “I don’t remember” presupposes that you DID know at one time. It also suggests that there may be a way to refresh your recollection, which any good lawyer will then attempt to do.
Listen for your attorney to warn you of a dangerous question, if he is able to do so, by objecting or by some other means. If the opposing attorney cuts off your answer, say that your answer was not complete. That way, your lawyer should follow up by asking for a fuller explanation when it is his turn to ask questions.
Watch what you say during a break or otherwise “off the record.” There really is no such thing in a deposition, unless the two attorneys agree. In many jurisdictions, the questioning lawyer is allowed to ask you what you discussed during your break, even if it’s with your own lawyer.
Understand the deposition rules before you are deposed. If you have a lawyer representing you, meet with him or her ahead of time to prepare and to review these rules.
And, if you need help negotiating through this time of litigation and change, with grace and with respect, we can help. To see if our services might be right for you, visit us at Open Palm Law or email me at Joryn@OpenPalmLaw.com. We are here for you, and for your family, during the stress of whatever change your family is going through!
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About this week’s author, Joryn Jenkins.
Joryn, attorney and Open Palm Founder, began her own firm here in Tampa after a 14-year career in law, two of which she served as a professor of law at Stetson University. She is a recipient of the prestigious A. Sherman Christensen Award, an honor bestowed in the United States Supreme Court upon those who have provided exceptional leadership in the American Inns of Court Movement. For more information on Joryn’s professional experience, take a look at her resume.