A legal deposition is a pre-trial series of questions and answers about you and your case. Your answers are called “testimony.” Like in a courtroom, you will take an oath to tell the truth. The questions and answers are recorded and transcribed word-for-word by a court reporter. Afterward, all parties will get a copy of the written transcript. Sometimes, depositions are also video-recorded. The document informing you of the deposition (called a “deposition notice”) will inform you whether or not your deposition will be video-recorded.
How Should I Answer Questions in A Legal Deposition?
Most people have multiple questions when they are told they need to be deposed in a legal case, but a deposition does not need to be intimidating or overwhelming. Here are a few simple things to keep in mind when preparing to sit for a deposition. Keep in mind these simple rules when giving deposition testimony.
Meet with your attorney before your deposition and review important documents. Your attorney will discuss issues and topics likely to be discussed at your deposition. Use this meeting to ask any questions you may have and to practice answering sample questions.
2. Be Honest
“If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” Mark Twain. You will be testifying under the pains and penalties of perjury. Misstatements can undermine your entire case, so honesty is the best policy in life and litigation. The following tips will help you avoid unintentional misstatements.
3. Only Answer The Question That Is Asked
Your job as a witness is only to answer questions that are asked. The examiner is not your friend, and deposition is not the time to overshare information. If the examining lawyer asks you what time it is, tell them the time– do not try to explain how to build a clock or read a sundial. In other words, don’t go beyond the question and offer up information that the question did not ask for. Among other benefits, only answering the question will keep the deposition on track and get you out of there sooner!
4. If You Don’t Understand a Question, Say So
It is very difficult to be honest if you don’t fully understand the question. Sometimes, people guess wrong about what a question is looking for and end up providing testimony that is confusing or misleading. You should never answer questions that you don’t fully understand. Instead, you should say, “I don’t understand the question.” If a question contains facts or statements you do not agree with or know about, do not answer the question. When the examiner is trying to put words in your mouth you do not agree with or understand, do not answer the question – instead, ask that it be rephrased.
5. Don’t Guess
As a witness, you should only testify about things you observed or did. Never guess or speculate about the answer to a question. If you are unsure of the answer to a question, don’t feel pressured to answer if you don’t have one. Instead, just say, “I don’t know.”
6. It’s Not A Memory Contest
“I don’t remember” is the right answer if it’s true. If you think the answer to a question may be located in the records you have already provided, you can refresh your recollection. DO NOT guess or speculate (see rule #5!) and ask to see exhibits if you think they will help you testify most accurately.
7. Stay Calm
Do what you need to do to stay calm and refrain from getting angry, worked up, or emotionally overwhelmed. A calm demeanor will help you stay focused on your answers, and it will demonstrate you will be able to be an effective witness at trial. Remember that you can ask for a break anytime and for any reason, so long as no question is pending. Often, staying calm means taking a break when you need it, and you should never hesitate to ask for one.
8. Take Your Time
Always pause a moment before you answer. This has many benefits. First, it allows the court reporter to keep up and make an accurate record (it is very hard to record two people talking simultaneously). In addition, taking a pause can help you make sure you can understand the question and are giving a good, honest answer.
9. Answer Verbally
Head nods and “uh-huh’s” don’t make for good transcripts. To ensure your testimony will be clearly understood after the deposition is over and reduced to a written transcript, make sure you answer with words, using “yes” and “no” instead of body language.
Christian Foster is an attorney at Garmey Law, whose practice areas include Personal Injury, Professional Negligence, Products Liability, Complex Business Disputes, and Criminal Defense. If you need an attorney, please contact the team at Garmey Law today.