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Robert J. Neuberger
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Preparing For Your Deposition
By Robert J. Neuberger

Introduction

This guide will help you prepare for your deposition, a routine procedure lawyers use to gather information. Knowing the basics--who will be at the deposition and how the process works--is the first step in making you more confident and comfortable.

Remember that the answers you give at your deposition will form a document of sworn testimony that can help or harm your case. Follow the guidelines given here, apply them to your own circumstances, and discuss any questions about the process with your attorney.

Having your deposition taken may seem a bit threatening at first, but you will find yourself a lot more relaxed and in control if you know what to expect. Here is what you need to know.

You should read the information before attending your deposition. Do not bring this information with you to the deposition.

Confidentiality

This is a confidential communication between Robert J. Neuberger, Attorney at Law, and his clients. This information is intended only for the use of his clients. If you are not a client, you are not the intended recipient. You are hereby notified that any unauthorized disclosure, copying, distribution, or taking of any action or reliance on the contents of this information is strictly prohibited. If you have received this document and are not a client, please immediately notify my office to arrange for the return of the document.

What Happens At A Deposition

At the deposition, you will be giving testimony under oath. You will be asked many detailed questions about your case, and your answers will be recorded. The record of this process forms a document that will be sent to attorneys representing both sides. Portions of the deposition may be read aloud in court, especially when the opposing attorney is trying to show inconsistencies between your deposition and your testimony in court. This is called impeaching the witness.

What Is the Purpose of A Deposition?

A deposition is a routine procedure attorneys use to gather information about a case. It is an attorney's ethical responsibility to learn all the facts about a case. A deposition is one method used. Just as the opposing attorney will be asking you many questions, your own attorney may be questioning the other side's witnesses. In this way, much of the information about a case is available to both sides.

The deposition is a chance for both attorneys to watch what you say and how you say it. This helps them determine whether the judge and jury will believe what you say.

The deposition gives the opposing attorney a chance to obtain statements and facts that might weaken your own case and strengthen the other side's case. These admissions may later be used in court along with any inconsistent statements you might make.

Who Will Be There?

You will be there in your role of the person answering questions about the case. At least three other people will be in the room where the deposition will be taken:

  1. your own attorney, who will be there to protect your rights
  2. the opposing attorney, who will ask the questions and who is there to learn as much as possible to benefit his or her own client
  3. the court reporter, who will administer the oath and record every word that is spoken.

It is possible for others to be present such as the other party and someone from the insurance company.

Your deposition will probably be taken in a lawyer's office. An empty courtroom may also be used if it is the most convenient place for everyone. Depositions may also be taken in the other lawyer's office or in a meeting room at a hotel.

What Do You Have To Do?

Dress neatly and carefully as you would to a business meeting or church. Avoid anything flashy or uncomfortable. Do not wear large pieces of jewelry. Ask your attorney for help if you are unsure about what to wear.

Be polite to everyone but not overly friendly. Stay calm but do not get too relaxed. Pay attention to what everyone is saying. If you are too tired to listen and respond carefully, ask for a break.

You have three main responsibilities:

  1. listen carefully
  2. be sure that you understand what is being asked
  3. answer truthfully and carefully

Your responsibilities are not so simple as they sound. But you will answer the questions more easily if you take your time and do not let yourself feel pressured. Remember that while you must tell the truth, you are not expected to know the answer to every question or all the facts of the case.

Avoiding Common Mistakes

You want to be the best witness possible and do everything you can do to help your own case. Some simple mistakes sometimes undermine the testimony of the best-intentioned witness. Here are some guidelines for avoiding these mistakes.

  • Stay Within The Limits Of the Question

Give a complete answer to a question, but do not volunteer additional information or elaborate unnecessarily. Remember, you are talking to the opposing attorney, and any extra information you reveal may be used to weaken your case.

If you are thinking through the details of a question in order to give a simple answer, think silently, not out loud. Remember, your testimony results in a written document. The pause while you think through your thoughts will not be recorded, and you'll avoid giving unnecessary details.

  • Be Forthright and Truthful

Try to give direct, short, boring, factual answers. As Joe Friday used to say on the television show Dragnet, "Just the facts, ma'am". Most questions can be answered in a single sentence.

Even if you think your answer might harm your case, do not be evasive. The facts will come out anyway. A forthright answer is better than an answer that hides or evades the facts.

A deposition is primarily just a chance to gather facts. However, it is also a time to establish your credibility as a witness. A direct and honest statement of the harmful facts is likely to make the rest of what you have to say that much more believable.

Often, an opposing attorney will ask you whetheror not you have discussed your testimony with your attorney before the deposition. People often worry about admitting that they have discussed the case will make them look bad. A lawyer would not be doing his or her job if the lawyer did not review the facts of the case with you or counsel a witness about what to expect at the deposition. There is nothing wrong with discussing your case with your attorney. Do not let the other attorney make you feel uncomfortable because your lawyer did his job.

If the other attorney asks you if your lawyer told you how to answer the questions, tell the truth -- "My attorney advised me to answer the questions to the best of my ability and to tell the truth."

  • Avoid Guessing At The Facts

When asked a question, most of us want to give a helpful response. However, it is not at all helpful; to your own case if you let the opposing attorney lead you into guessing or speculating. A guess may result in an inconsistency that can later be used against you in court.

If the opposing attorney seems annoyed with you for not being able to give an answer, remember that you are not expected to know the answer to every question or be certain of every fact. Your job is to answer each question to the best of your ability. Sometimes the truthful answer is "I don't know" or "I don't remember".

  • Understand the Question

Just as you should not guess at an answer to a question, never guess at the meaning of a question that has not been clearly asked. If you answer a question when the meaning is not clear to you, the opposing attorney will assume you understood the question. As a result, you may end up contradicting you own testimony.

Always ask the meaning of any words you do not know. Attorneys sometimes use legal language that is unfamiliar to most of us. It is your right to ask the other attorney to explain words or phrases you do not understand.

Sometimes, even when you know the meanings of all the words used, the way a question is asked is still confusing. Ask to have the question explained or restated. Do not answer any question until you know what is being asked.

  • Do Not Advocate Your Case: Trust Your Attorney

You feel strongly about your case and believe you are in the right. The opposing attorney will ask questions as if you were the suspicious party. The natural response is to become angry and try to defend yourself.

If you do become upset and defensive, you will probably end up making many of the mistakes we have already discussed. As you defend yourself, you may find that you are elaborating on a question unnecessarily, answering unclear questions, or hiding harmful facts that will have to be admitted later; or, you may find yourself using words like "never" or "always", and making other overstatements or generalizations.

Angry, defensive behavior does not make a good impression. It may reveal a weakness that the opposing attorney will try to use to make you look bad in court.

Stay calm, listen carefully, and answer the questions politely no matter how annoying they may seem. Leave it to your attorneys to bring your side of the argument to light. Be the nicest person in the room.

  • Demeanor

Angry and defensive behavior is just one pitfall you may encounter in trying to advocate your own case. In a personal injury case, you may be tempted to try to win sympathy, especially when you are describing the injuries you have suffered. Complaining, particularly when it has a whining tone to it, will cost you respect.

Do not to the other extreme and "tough it out" by not admitting to real pain and injury. Do not dwell on or exaggerate your suffering. Answer the questions about your injury fully and completely, but leave it to your attorney to develop those details of your case that will create sympathy for your side.

  • Be Consistent In Your Facts

Before your deposition, you will meet with your attorney to go over the facts of your case. Which facts are you certain about? Which facts are not quite clear? If your recollection of the facts does not seem to fit together, discuss this with your attorney.

Do not let your concern about getting your facts straight drive you to memorizing full answers to questions. You run the risk of sounding rehearsed, which will damage your credibility.

Know your facts. Listen to each question. Answer each question directly and briefly in your own words.

  • Give Your Full Attention Throughout The Deposition

During the course of the proceedings, your attorney may object to something the other attorney has asked. Because the two attorneys are talking to each other for the moment, not to you, this might seem like a good chance to relax.

It is a time to pay very close attention. Your attorney may be concerned about an unclear or improper question that has been asked. If an objection is made, pause until it is "on the record". Do not proceed until instructed to do so by your attorney. Pay attention to what your attorney says.

Opposing Attorney's Style

Your attorney may want to give you some advice about what to expect from the opposing attorney. Some attorneys try to intimidate while others may turn on the charm. Ask your attorney to describe the other lawyer's style so you will know what to expect.

Videotape

It is becoming more and more common for the court reporter to videotape a deposition. Your attorney should be able to tell you whether this will occur and give you any special instructions you may need.

Documents

If you have documents concerning your case, such as checks, receipts, photographs or insurance forms, your attorney will tell you which of these you will need to bring to the deposition. Discuss before with your attorney which documents, if any, you should review. The other lawyer is entitled to see anything you review before deposition--even if the documents are confidential or privileged. Never bring any documents to a deposition without first consulting your attorney because anything you bring may be open to discovery by the opposing attorney.

If you have any other questions about having your deposition taken, write them down and discuss them with your attorney before the deposition.

Conclusion

You now know the basics of having your deposition taken, and you are familiar with the major pitfalls to avoid while answering questions.

Now you will need to go over your own case with your attorney. You will need to discuss any special instructions your attorney has for you.

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