What to Know Before Testifying in a Deposition
Simple rules to remember when preparing to give sworn testimony in a civil case.
IntroductionShould you find yourself facing the somewhat daunting task of providing sworn testimony in a deposition, there are two primary rules to remember: First, tell the truth. Second, keep your answers short. While there are many other things that the witness should consider, and which will make the deposition process cleaner and more efficient, following these two rules will make everything else much easier.
Help keep the record clearIt is important to remember that, in a deposition, there will be a court reporter present whose job is to accurately record everything that is said by every individual in the room while on the record. As a result, it is very important to speak loudly and clearly when answering questions, and to avoid communicating in ways that cannot be transcribed easily into English, such as using gestures with the hands or head, or using vocalizations such as "uh huh," or "nuh uh" instead of saying "yes" or "no." Although the people in the room will likely understand when you use this type of communication, it is very difficult for these answers to be reflected properly, or to be understood when converted to a written transcript. Similarly, the witness should always allow the questioning attorney to completely finish his question before beginning to answer. While two individuals can talk over each other in normal conversation and make themselves understood, it is extremely difficult for a court reporter to sort through a deposition where multiple people are speaking at the same time.
Keep it simpleAlso, a deponent, (the person whose deposition is being taken), must be careful to answer only the question that is asked. While it is natural for a person involved in litigation to feel a compulsion to explain himself and his answer thoroughly, it rarely helps the case, and often hurts. The best deposition involves simple, direct questions followed by simple direct answers. Remember, "If someone asks you what time it is, don't tell them how to build a watch." If the answer is "yes," say "yes" and wait for the next question. Fight any urge to fill awkward or lengthy silences with additional information--it is always better for the witness to make the attorney do his or her job--if the attorney taking your deposition wants more information, make that person ask more questions.
ConclusionIf you are being deposed because you are the plaintiff in a civil lawsuit, the goal at your deposition is not to successfully argue your claims or to convince the opposing attorney that your position on the issues of liability or damages should prevail. Your goal is to present yourself as a credible witness; as someone who a jury will observe on the witness stand and conclude is a trustworthy source of information about the facts of your case. If you come across in that way to the attorney deposing you, you have done your job. The best way to do so is, and always will be: Tell the truth and keep your answers short.