A group of people sitting at a table with papers.

What is a Deposition?

Have you been served a subpoena to give a deposition in a lawsuit? 

If so, chances are you have some questions about what the experience will be like. You may even be feeling nervous or stressed about appearing in a legal proceeding. Most people have never participated in a deposition before, so it is normal to feel uncertain. It is also helpful to understand some basics about depositions. 

This guide will cover some common questions to make the process less daunting. It will address things like what a deposition is and what happens during these proceedings. The guide will also provide some tips to help you give precise and accurate testimony. Keep reading to learn more. 

What Happens at a Deposition?

The first thing you’re probably wondering is, “What does a deposition mean in law?†

A deposition is an oral statement given by a witness in a civil lawsuit. The person being deposed (otherwise known as the deponent) is typically a key witness to the lawsuit or has some connection to the parties bringing it forth. The deposition takes place before the trial, outside of a courtroom, and is given under oath. 

Depositions are critical for several reasons:

  • To learn the facts of the case. By questioning a witness, you may gain relevant information about the case. 
  • To preserve details. Trials may take several months or even years to begin. Taking a deposition is an excellent way to preserve the details of a case before they forget details. 
  • To hold a witness accountable. Taking a deposition memorializes a witnesses’ testimony. If they later change their testimony during the trial, an attorney can hold the witness accountable with the deposition.  
  • To preserve testimony. A witness may become ill, disappear, or pass away during the trial, but a deposition preserves their testimony. 

Keep in mind that although they take place outside of courtrooms, depositions are official court proceedings. A lawyer may introduce them at trial, and they often do, in which case a judge and a jury will hear the deposition. 

Deposition examples include written transcripts, videotapes, or both in some cases. 

What is a Deposition Testimony and Why Do I Have to Give One?

To answer this question, you must understand what discovery is. 

Discovery is a formal legal process when both parties to a lawsuit have the opportunity to obtain evidence. They look for things that can help and hurt their case, and each side exchanges information they will present at trial. 

Contrary to what we see in the movies, surprises are uncommon at trial. Instead, each side knows exactly what witnesses will be called and what evidence will be given. 

Taking depositions is one of the most common discovery methods. Because they are critical, witnesses can be compelled to provide testimony, even if they are an unrelated thirty party or otherwise unwilling to testify.  

How Does a Deposition Work? What Happens at a Deposition?

It’s helpful to understand how a deposition works before you give testimony. 

Most depositions occur in a law office, though sometimes they are done in a medical office or a business conference room. The room’s setup is generally the same wherever you give your deposition. There is usually a long conference room table, and a court reporter sits at one end. This person records every word that is said and later produces a transcript.  

You and your personal injury attorney sit on one side of the table, and the opposing lawyer (and perhaps the client) sit opposite you. If both parties agree, there may be other people present. The lawyers ask you questions related to the lawsuit. First, your attorney conducts a direct examination, and then the opposing attorney conducts a cross-examination. 

A deposition can last anywhere from just a few minutes to multiple days. Sometimes lawyers are only interested in a few facts, while in more complex cases, the facts may require multiple days of testimony. 

Be aware that a deposition can be videotaped, and you may also be asked to answer an interrogatory. Interrogatories are written questions that one side submits to the other.

You have to answer them in writing, which is done under oath. 

Is a Deposition Serious?

Depositions are indeed serious matters. What a witness says in a deposition is very important, as they are under oath. Any testimony given is legally binding sworn testimony, and false statements come with serious civil and criminal penalties.

Because of the serious nature of depositions, it is best to listen to questions carefully and answer as precisely as possible. You may want to take a moment before answering to make sure you understand what is being asked. Before the day of the deposition, you will meet with your lawyer to prepare. They will help ensure your testimony is precise and accurate.

Do I Have to Answer All Questions?

For the most part, you do.

Even if you do not understand why a particular question is relevant, the attorney likely has a basis for asking it, so you must respond. You are also required to answer questions that you would prefer not to be made public or that are embarrassing.

In some cases, your lawyer may instruct you not to answer a question or to plead the Fifth Amendment. They are allowed to do so to keep the deponent from incriminating themselves. 

Deposition Do’s & Don’ts

Walking into a deposition can be intimidating, especially if it is your first experience. Your testimony may significantly influence the trial’s outcome, so it is critical to be aware of the following do’s and don’ts. 

Deposition Do’s:

  • Always tell the truth. The best thing you can do is always tell the truth in a deposition. Experienced attorneys will detect inconsistencies in your testimony, which they can use to discredit you as a witness. 
  • Dress professionally. You should dress professionally for the deposition, as this will create a good impression. When in doubt, wear something you would wear to a job interview. 
  • Listen closely. It’s normal to be nervous during a deposition, which may cause you to rush to answer questions. Take a deep breath and listen closely to what the attorney is asking. Let them finish the question, sit with it for a moment, and then respond. Make sure you’re only answering the question the lawyer has asked you and nothing more. 
  • Ask for clarification if you don’t understand. It’s always okay to ask for clarification if you have not understood a question. Never answer a question you don’t understand. 
  • Avoid storytelling. Nervous deponents sometimes launch into extended stories that aren’t relevant to the question being asked. Avoid offering extra information, as the opposing lawyer may use it against you. 
  • Take breaks. Depositions can be lengthy affairs. Take breaks when you can, use the restroom, and be sure to eat when you can. 

Deposition Don’ts:

  • Be rude. Even though the opposing attorney is technically an adversary, there is no reason to be rude to them. 
  • Guess. Some people think that they have to know the answer to every question, but you should never guess if you’re unsure of something. You can respond “I’m not sure†or “I don’t remember†if you don’t know the answer. 
  • React to statements. One of the tricks lawyers use in a deposition is to give statements in the hopes of provoking a reaction. Only answer the questions they ask you, and avoid reacting to these statements. 
  • Argue. It can be easy to lose your cool and argue with the other attorney, especially when questions feel antagonistic or unfair. Know that these tactics are normal, and try to remain as calm as possible. If you feel like you’re losing your temper, let your lawyer know that you need a quick break. 

Why You Should Seek Legal Representation in the Deposition Process

If you’re going through the deposition process, having a knowledgeable attorney by your side is a must. An experienced lawyer will navigate you through all the necessary preparation. They are also your advocate when opposing counseling is questioning you.  

Here are some reasons you might decide to seek legal representation.

  • Preparation. A lawyer will prepare you for the deposition by asking questions the opposing counsel is likely to ask you. They will ask difficult and probing questions so that you will know how to handle them.  
  • Reviewing your public image. A lawyer will review your public information, such as social media accounts, websites, etc., that may be problematic for your testimony. 
  • Advocate for you during the deposition. Savvy lawyers understand how to ask questions to elicit certain answers, and they may do so in an ambiguous way. If your attorney sees the opposing counsel asking inappropriate questions, they can object based on different legal grounds. 

Contact Stoy Law Group, PLLC.

The Stoy Law Group has years of experience providing sound legal counsel in difficult times. If you need advice regarding a deposition or are searching for the right contingency fee lawyer, we are happy to evaluate your case. Contact us today for a free consultation.