When it comes to giving great legal depositions, you get to two basic things – prepare yourself and prepare your witness. If you are good at these two phases, then most of the work is done. In this article, I am going to talk about these two phases in more detail.
Depositions: Prepare Yourself
They say it’s better to spend 4 hours preparing for a deposition and doing a 15-minute deposition than vice versa. To have the big picture in mind, you need to do some preparatory work before you even appear to the deposition. First things first…
- Research, research, research: that’s probably the hardest part of the job. You need to study case documents, statutory law, court rules and anything that relates to the case. You may need to spend a couple of hours in front of your desk doing basic research.
- Get ready with your questions: most of the questions you need to ask will come up on the spot. However, it is a good idea to note down some questions that you may need to ask. Start with background information. Then you can come up with open-ended questions, like “what do you know about Mr. John’s professional life?” “Tell me more.” It is a good strategy to use probing questions when you want to check the information previously declared.
- Make an outline: to have the big picture in front of you, you need to have an outline of the whole deposition. One shortfall with outlines is that some lawyers stick to it too much when other issues arise. Following the natural events of deposition is the number one thing for perfect deposition. However, you want to cover all the topics that you have decided to cover. You can always ask for a 5-minute break and go through your outline. When you come back, you can get to the questions that you have not covered.
Prepare Your Witness
Most people do not even know what a deposition is. So, when you are preparing a client for a deposition act as if your client knows nothing and needs to be guided from the first step to the last step.
- Introduce to deposition: tell that a deposition is an opportunity for the opponent to ask questions. They want to know what you know and what you don’t and what you would say at the trial. They do that in order you don’t surprise them at court.
- Explain that telling the truth is the best strategy: your client needs to know that the answers he/she give will follow him/her to court (and beyond). He/she can change words but the answers given will not be unsaid.
- Four golden rules to follow: Here are simple rules to advice to your client. They are easy to follow and will not cause misunderstanding or error.
Rule number 1: listen to questions
Rule number 2: make sure you understand the question
Rule number 3: think before answering
Rule number 4: give the shortest and clearest answer
- Practice with your client: it is a good strategy to videotape the practice phase and show it to the client. If you client answers the question before you complete the question, you can say that he/she violates rule number 1. If a client gives an answer that has nothing to do with the question, tell him/her that he/she violates rule number 2. It is quite ok to say “I don’t know” when it is the true answer. The client may rush up to answer the question. Tell him or her that he/she needs to pause before answering. Finally, if the client answers more than asked, tell him/her that simple answers are the best to avoid misunderstanding. When the opponent asks if you know Mr. Jones, it’s better to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ rather than yes, he works at our office and I meet him every day.
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