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Preparing for your first deposition – Q&A practice and keeping your cool

by Cyclone Covey

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Deposition Tips

Cool, calm, collected

Preparing for your first deposition? Make sure to read my first post on this topic to get organized. Moving on, I'm providing advice for keeping your composure and working out any anxiety you may have before the day of your deposition.

Practice. Practice asking your friends and family deposition questions.  Depose them for 5-10 minutes on their job, their day, etc. Get used to the rhythm of asking questions and getting answers. Practice will help improve your Q &A technique and build confidence. It can also smooth out your speaking tone and style so you’re more comfortable at the deposition.

Lead! It’s easy to get into the habit of asking open-ended questions in a deposition, particularly if you don’t know what the facts are. But you must try to lead the witness, even if you don’t know all the answers. It’s a good habit to get into because you’re more likely to get answers you want if you lead. And leading questions also demonstrate that you plan to be assertive and take control, which is important to establish from the beginning.

Understand the lingo and procedure. Make sure you know the standard lingo. If you watch a live deposition (check out the one I recommended in Part 1) you should pick it up. The following are standard protocol for most depositions:

  • Off the record/On the record – On the record means the court reporter is taking down everything that is said and it will be on the transcript.  Off the record means the court reporter is not taking down the discussion so it will not be on the transcript. If you are the deposing attorney you have control if you are on or off the record. Tell the reporter when you wish to go off the record.
  • Swearing the witness – Ask the court reporter to swear the witness.  Do this when you start so everything the witness says is under oath.
  • Read back the transcript – You can ask the reporter to read back the last question and/or answer. This is useful if and when someone is confused or if there is a dispute about what was said.

Take your time. Depositions last hours and while they may be subject to a time limit, the limits are not measured in minutes. So take your time. It’s ok to take 5 minutes to look through notes or get settled. Go slow if you need to reference and review your outline and prep questions before moving on.

Keep your cool. Things might not go well or the way you expect. The witness may be combative, the opposing lawyer might make improper objections or threats, or you may get answers you didn’t expect. Try to remain calm and collected. Remember that you’re asking a hostile, or at best neutral, witness questions so you’re not going to get all the answers you want. They’re going to say things that aren’t favorable to you and that’s ok. It’s very unlikely that you will lose a case when a witness says something in a deposition. It’s unlikely to happen when you’re conducting the deposition. However, you can lose in a deposition if your witness says something to the complete contrary when you’re defending the deposition. That’s a topic for another post.

What would you add to this list? Looking back, what would you have done differently to prepare for your first deposition?

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