A deposition is basically out-of-court testimony, made under oath, and recorded by a court reporter. Depositions are taken during litigation for later use in pleadings or during trial. Preparing for a deposition can be nerve-wracking, but it is far preferable to going into a deposition unprepared.
While depositions are usually held in a lawyer’s office and not in court, a court reporter will produce a printed transcript of the entire deposition. Opposing counsel’s lawyer will ask you questions, which you must answer, if you can. Your attorney may make objections, but you must try to answer questions if you know the answers. No judge will be present, however you will be under oath. Making false statements under oath can result in criminal and civil repercussions.
If you receive a notice of deposition, you must attend. Do not try to avoid the deposition. Instead, prepare for it.
Preparing for a Deposition: Before You Go
Peruse the documents. Your attorney will meet with you to prepare you for your deposition. In most cases, depositions are taken after interrogatories and requests for documents have been taken. So you will know, for the most part, what documents most interest your litigation opponent. Read over those documents. Familiarize yourself with all aspects of the documents before you meet with your attorney.
Focus on the dispute. Your attorney will cross-examine you as if you are in deposition in order to prepare you. Depositions often determine the outcome of a case. Your lawyer will try to anticipate the hot-button issues and factual interstices and press you to answer those questions truthfully. Focus on the facts in dispute and try to frame your answers in a way that honestly recounts what happened.
Know your counterarguments. In litigation, there are two sides to the story. It’s not enough to know just your side. You must put yourself in your opponent’s position and try to see things from their point of view. Then you will be able to anticipate your opponent’s counterarguments, which in deposition can take the form of unsettling questions. Know your counterarguments, and know your defenses.
Preparing for a Deposition: During Your Testimony
Make a good impression. Arrive early and dressed appropriately to your deposition. Make eye contact. Remain courteous and professional regardless of the demeanor or posture of the attorneys. In deposition, things can get heated. Keep your cool.
Be honest. Don’t lie about anything in a deposition. Once you are placed under oath, your credibility is all you have. Listen carefully to each question. Think before you answer. Don’t speculate, guess, or estimate, unless you appropriately qualify your answer. “I can’t remember” and “I don’t know” are perfectly reasonable responses if they are the truth. Your testimony must be 100% truthful.
Ask for clarity. If you do not understand the question, do not attempt to answer it. A common deposition tactic is to “ramp up” questions, or ask another question and another question very quickly, until the deponent becomes confused and makes a mistake. You do not need to answer a question as quickly as it is asked. Nor need you answer a question that you do not understand. Ask for clarity.
Correct your testimony. If you need to explain or qualify a previous statement made in a deposition, do so before the deposition is concluded. If you made a mistake or need to supplement an answer, alert your attorney. Small errors or inaccuracies can lead to the appearance that you are too casual with the truth.
Take a break. If you are getting tired, hoarse, or confused, ask for a break. Likewise, if you are getting uncomfortable with a line of questioning, request a quick break. If you think you need to talk something over with your attorney, simply ask for a break.
Prepare to Be Relaxed
Litigation requiring depositions is usually very serious. Preparing for a deposition should also be taken seriously. But you do not want to enter a deposition feeling tense. The way to avoid unnecessary nervousness is by preparing.
Look at your deposition as an opportunity to tell your side of the story. If you feel that you’re in the right, then prepare to tell your story well. You will want to be relaxed to do that.
You can’t really let down your guard. And you must be ready to answer questions that may be uncomfortable or even painful. But if you follow these steps in preparing for a deposition, then you can at least tell yourself afterwards that you did all you could to advance your case.