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December 28, 2012

Friday 5: Steps to an Effective Deposition

by WSBA
deposition

depositionDepositions are an important part of any case. Make sure to use this time wisely to frame your strategy for litigation and elicit the most informative testimony you can during the discovery period.

1) Do your research.
This may sound simple, but it is true. A review of not only the facts of the case, but also the person you are deposing, will be of endless use to you. If you have an idea of the deponent’s background before you begin, you can create a strategy that will get you the best response. For example, your demeanor, body language, and word choice should be different when you are deposing a financially well-off, 80-year-old homeowner versus a 20-year-old college student who still lives at home.

2) Remember to ask the obvious questions.
We all know that you need to lay a foundation for everything you do during trial. This is also important during a deposition. Also, the foundational testimony you establish during a deposition may come in handy during motion practice, as well as during cross-examination.

3) Create an outline, but don’t stick to a script.
Unless you have a photographic memory – a la Dr. Sheldon Cooper or the late Dr. Lexie Grey – you will be well-served by writing out your most significant questions ahead of time. But it is imperative that you also listen to your deponent’s testimony and, as with any line of questioning, that you follow the deponent’s lead.

We’ve been told for years to never ask a question we don’t know the answer to. In depositions, there will be times the deponent responds differently than expected. If you are completely focused on the paper in front of you, you will read the transcript later and realize there was an informational gold mine you failed to extract.

4) Take a deep breath.
This is not speed dating. You likely scheduled several hours for this deposition, even if you anticipated it would be completed in less time. There is no reason to rush to the finish line. After it appears that the deponent is done answering your questions, pause for a second or two to collect your thoughts and give yourself time to realize any potential follow-up questions. Not to mention, filling space with silence is a lot better than filling it with “um” every other line in your transcript.

5) Use objections wisely.
Though objections in depositions serve an important purpose, it is likely that the testimony elicited will still be admitted at trial. The form of your objection is important here. A review of Washington’s Civil Rule 30 gives insight into the conduct of attorneys during depositions:

All objections made at the time of the examination to the qualifications of the officer taking the deposition, or to the manner of taking it, or to the evidence presented, or to the conduct of any party, and any other objection to the proceedings, shall be noted by the officer upon the deposition. Evidence objected to shall be taken subject to the objections. A judge of the superior court, or a special master if one is appointed pursuant to rule 53.3, may make telephone rulings on objections made during depositions. (Emphasis added, CR 30(c).)

Only objections which are not reserved for time of trial by these rules or which are based on privileges or raised to questions seeking information beyond the scope of discovery may be made during the course of the deposition. All objections shall be concise and must not suggest or coach answers from the deponent. Argumentative interruptions by counsel shall not be permitted. (Emphasis added, CR 30(h)(2).)

As with anything you do in life, depositions will become easier and more intuitive with time. You will come into a system that works best for you.

Do you have tips or suggestions for conducting an effective deposition? Share them in the comments!

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