The Legal Do’s and Don’ts of Depositions

Whether you’re an individual finding yourself in court for the very first time or a sophisticated business person used to the process, legal proceedings can be stressful and confusing.  The variety of ancillary proceedings such as depositions can pose their own hurdles and are often fundamental to building your legal case.

This article looks at depositions.

What is a Deposition

A deposition is the sworn (under oath) testimony of a witness in a legal proceeding.  Depositions are often used as part of the discovery process, or the evidence gathering phase of a trial.  Witnesses will often have their lawyers present in the room to provide guidance although they do not have the right to make “speaking objections” or counsel a witness.  Testimony at a deposition can be used at trial.

How Long is a Deposition?

Courts recognize the value of a witness’ time and take that into consideration by limiting the length of depositions.  While rules may vary from state to state, generally, rule 30(d) of the Rules of Civil Procedure limit depositions to one day of seven total hours of questions, asked by all parties.  That time can be extended and can be day to day, but that is the general rule.

Where can Depositions Take Place

While you may be required to attend a deposition, there are also limitations on where they can occur.  Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure deponents must be given appropriate notice of the time and place of a deposition.  These typically take place at an attorney’s office rather than the courthouse.  Practically, attorneys will often communicate for a preferred location and time that is convenient for all parties.  In cases where an agreement cannot be reached, the rules allow for the filing of a motion requesting an order for a new location.  These motions or requests aren’t granted automatically and you should be prepared to show cause as to why the change of venue is needed.

How to Prepare for a Deposition

Before attending a deposition, witnesses should discuss any concerns or questions they may have with their lawyer.  While a lawyer should never lead their client into a specific answer, consulting with your legal counsel first can help solidify your account of the events and refresh your memory.  This step can also help make witnesses comfortable with the process of a deposition and help them understand what to expect during the proceeding itself.

What Should You Never Do in a Deposition

As with any legal proceeding, when providing testimony at a deposition you should be sure to always give accurate and truthful answers to questions.  This does not include providing information other than what is asked.  Deponents should ensure they do not offer up information beyond the scope of the question.  Witnesses should also feel free to ask for clarification if they don’t fully understand a given question.  A calm and cool demeanor will also help make the deposition go more smoothly and quickly.  If at any point during the deposition you have questions or are unclear about an answer you are always free to ask.

While this list of pointers certainly isn’t all-inclusive, it should provide an excellent starting spot for becoming comfortable with your upcoming deposition.  As with other legal proceeding, deponents should not hesitate to contact a lawyer to protect both their rights in the event they are called to testify.