Litigants (primarily defendants) have long complained about the in terrorem effect of discovery and its use for extracting settlements even in cases of dubious liability. While from the complainers’ perspective most of those grievances go unheeded, sometimes they find a sympathetic ear with the judiciary. The apex-deposition doctrine is a shining example.
Under the apex-deposition doctrine, courts will issue a protective order preventing the deposition of a high-level corporate employee. (A similar doctrine exists for high-level governmental officials.). It is not a "get out of jail free card," though. To avail itself of the apex-deposition doctrine, the party opposing the deposition generally must show that (1) the witness lacks unique, first-hand knowledge of the facts at issue and (2) other, less intrusive means of discovery have not been exhausted. As a consequence, most courts require the deposition of lower-ranking employees before permitting the deposition of an executive-level employee to proceed.