The greatest fear is the fear of the unknown. This is why it is important to prepare witnesses prior to depositions.
Before a deposition, you’ll have your client read documents and complete a mock Q&A. She will feel confident until she arrives at opposing counsel’s office and is ushered into a room with ten people in suits, a camera pointed at the “hot seat,” a “typewriter,” and a videographer invading her personal space to “mike” her up. Accordingly, there are six items (beyond substantive prep) that you should tell a first-time deponent:
1. What is a deposition? A deposition is a question and answer session. It is used to find out what a witness knows and to preserve testimony. It can be used at trial to refresh recollection or to ask a witness why trial testimony conflicts with what was said at the deposition. Let your clients know this up front so they will be comfortable with the process and setting.
2. What to wear? This is going to vary based on the client and the case. Generally, tell your client to dress like she would for a job interview. She should be neat and pressed no matter what she wears. If your client does not normally wear a suit, she does not need to wear one to the deposition – she needs to be comfortable. Professional and credible is the goal.
3. What to bring? Nothing. If you give your clients documents to review in advance, they should not bring them because the first thing opposing counsel is going to do is ask what your client brought and mark it as Exhibit 1. If she brings a phone, she could be asked to find text messages and emails. Other than car keys and eye glasses, I tell my clients not to bring anything with them into the deposition room.
4. What time to arrive? Arrive at least 15 minutes before the deposition. It gives your client an opportunity to get water, figure out where the restroom is, and go over any last minute items with you. It is also important to make a plan with your client about how you can meet so you can walk in the room together. It can be scary to walk into a strange law firm alone. Going in together will give your client confidence. Plan to meet your client at the office and drive together, or meet at a nearby coffee shop so you can walk in together.
5. What the room will look like? Start with a description of the conference room table and who will sit where. Explain where she is going to sit and that you will be right next to her. If it’s videotaped, tell her that she will sit in front of a background and that the camera is going to film her from the chest up. Your client will be the only one in the frame. Tell her that opposing counsel will be directly across on the other side of the table. The videographer needs to attach a microphone to her shirt or jacket. Tell her where the court reporter will sit and explain that he will be typing every word said during the deposition. This is extremely important: your client needs to picture the scene so it will not be surprising to her.
6. What happens first? Explain how the deposition starts and when she will begin answering questions. Tell her that the videographer is going to put everyone “on the record,” and the court reporter will begin to type. He will state the name of the case, the date, the time and the address of the law firm. He will then ask lawyers to make their appearances. Then the court reporter is going to ask your client to raise her hand and take the oath confirming that she will tell the truth. After the appearances and the oath, opposing counsel will begin asking questions.
Describing these six items will make your clients feel confident as they arrive at a deposition. The clients can then directly focus on honestly answering questions.