What Is a Deposition and How Should You Prepare if You Are Required to Give One?

If you are a potential witness in a legal proceeding, whether as an eye- witness or an involved party, you may be required to give your deposition. A deposition is a legal proceeding where you answer questions under oath asked by the opposing attorney in an out-of-court meeting. A deposition is part of the discovery of a case. Discovery is the process through which the opposing side can “discover” facts about you and the case, learn your side of the case, and begin to prepare a defense to your claim.

Your deposition is attended by your attorney, and by an attorney or attorneys representing the other parties involved in the claim. A court reporter will also attend the deposition. The court reporter will administer the oath before you testify and will record all questions and answers during the meeting. The recording will then be transcribed by the court reporter into a written transcript of all the questions and answers that can be read and referred to for the rest of the case.

Most people are understandably nervous about giving their deposition, and feel the need to “tell their story”, but the best approach during a deposition is to give short answers that answer only the question asked. It is the job of the opposing side to ask the correct questions, not your job to offer information to help them prepare a defense against you. You will have an opportunity at a later time to tell your story in front of a judge and jury.

Recommendations to help your deposition go smoothly:

  • Listen carefully to the question, and think before answering.
  • Always be truthful, but do not offer information. It is very important to answer only the question asked.
  • Do not guess at an answer. If you do not know the answer to a question, say that you do not know.
  • You must answer all questions asked of you during the deposition unless your attorney objects to a question. Stop talking immediately if your attorney objects, and listen to the basis of the objection.
  • Dress appropriately. Part of what the opposing side is doing during your deposition is assessing how you will or will not appeal to a jury, whether you appear credible and if your story makes sense. How you are dressed is part of the evaluation of your jury appeal. Remember to dress professionally and appropriately because this is a legal proceeding.
  • Maintain your composure. Getting angry will not help your case and may cause you to say something you will regret. Some attorneys will try to make you angry as a tactic to “throw you off your game.” Do not let this happen because they will attempt to use this same tactic against you at trial, in front of a judge and jury. Focus on short, truthful answers, and let your attorney handle any issues with opposing counsel or objectionable questions.
  • In the same vein, do not relax or let down your guard if the opposing attorney appears folksy and friendly, tries to befriend you or make you laugh. Be polite and respectful, but remember you are not there to make friends or help build a case against you.
  • If you do not understand a question, say you do not understand. Ask for the question to be repeated or rephrased. It is important you understand the question being asked so your answer is not later misconstrued, or you appear to be untruthful, if you answer differently later. If you are still having difficulty understanding the question, ask to speak privately with your attorney, or to take a break.
  • Do not discuss under oath what you told your attorney, or what your attorney or anyone in your attorney’s office, may have told you, or discussed with you, about your case. This type of information is protected by attorney-client privilege, and the opposing attorney is not allowed to ask and you are not required to answer questions related to those discussions, or your preparation for your deposition.

Remember, a deposition is only one part of your case, but it is an important part. Follow these recommendations, and rely on your attorney to prepare you well, and to protect your interests during your deposition.