Written by Galen T. Shimoda and Justin P. Rodriguez
A part of litigation that generally does not make itself known in popular media is the deposition. A deposition is simply a formal conversation between an attorney and a party to the case or a third party witness. It is the time for the attorney to ask questions and gather information about why the parties are involved in a lawsuit. There are no "tricks" to have a "successful" deposition. One just needs to tell the truth of what happened. However, there are some things that a person can do to make sure they are able to effectively communicate the truth, so there are no misunderstandings later on in the case.
You will, of course, need to prepare yourself for the deposition by reviewing relevant documents and thinking about all the details of the events that caused you to file a lawsuit. This will be critical because your ability to recall information and recount it in a thorough and understandable way directly affects your ability to have your day in court. A lackluster answer or inability to recall information in a pivotal area of the case may cause a judge to find that there is no material dispute of fact necessitating a trial and the judge may dismiss your case on a summary judgment. The old saying that "knowledge is power" is very true when it comes to a deposition.
Once you have prepared yourself and have done your best to refresh your recollection and increase your knowledge on the details of the case, a few more things are worth remembering. First, relax. The deposition itself is a conversation, not a mid-term exam. You have done the hard work in preparation and now you must simply listen to the question asked and respond to the question asked. Being overly anxious will likely make you exhausted earlier in the day. Such mental fatigue can cause you to forget certain events or not be able to fully recount what happened. A competent attorney will object to misleading or vague and ambiguous lines of questioning, which will cue you in to where qualification of your responses to the questions may be necessary.
Second, make sure you listen to, and understand, the question. It is perfectly fine to ask the attorney to repeat the question if you are not sure you heard it right. It is also perfectly fine to tell the attorney you don't understand the question. Although we may have egos and think we are infallible, sometimes we, as attorneys, can ask a bad question.
Third, do not guess at your answers. There are some things you just may not know and that is fine. Part of a deposition's purpose is to figure out who knows what. Guessing will not help you as there will undoubtedly be follow up questions to your "guess," which you will likely not be able to answer. These guesses will only hurt your credibility, making it appear that you are lying or simply that you do not know what you are talking about. While these are only a few tips that will help you better communicate at a deposition, following these steps will help to make sure you have done your best.
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