Firm Blog

Depositions Of Your Client: Testimony To Tip The Scales

Posted by: Victoria Santoro

Given the nature of our supportive clan at MBBB, some weeks after passing the bar, I was unsurprisingly assigned my first deposition. Never one to back down from my next challenge, I jumped right in.  Two years later, I have taken many depositions, and although all of them are important, the deposition of your client is crucial. Often, your client’s deposition comes last, just prior to the close of discovery, and can sometimes serve as that final push into settlement.  Given its timing and importance, there are some vital things to keep in mind when your client is being deposed.

Any lawyer knows the importance of quality legal service for your client.  This comes into sharp focus when the client is depending on you for clear and concise guidance on the day they are charged with giving their testimony.  Often, clients have waited years for this day to come and there can be anxiety, fear and other strong emotions related to their testimony and performance in front of “the other side.”

Since the deponent can be asked almost any question related to the case, it is impossible to prepare them for every moment of questioning.  But what you can prepare your client for are the three main objectives of any deposition.  First, the attorney taking the deposition is looking for basic background information.  What is your educational and professional background?  If it is a personal injury case, how did the accident happen?  What were your injuries and what are your current symptoms?  For this first objective, the client can relax and simply relay this information, answering only the question that is posed.  This is also the portion of the deposition that will hopefully relax the client as they get used to fielding questions by opposing counsel.

By the same token, as your client relaxes into the deposition format, they must be aware of the second (and arguably most important) objective of a deposition: to get information to use on cross-examination.  Helping your client to find a balance between being relaxed and being aware is the main objective of client preparation.  Clients should be prepared to admit what is harmful to their case and to move on, both aware of it and yet not overly concerned.  Clients should also be prepared to go through the timeline of their case.  Given that there are many detailed questions during a deposition, counsel your client to avoid saying “I don’t know” but instead go over in their head beforehand what happened both before, during and after the subject incident.  If there is time, spend 10-15 minutes with your client in a mock deposition so they know what to anticipate.  Most importantly, your client should be well-versed in their personal timeline so as to avoid unintentionally casting doubt on their own testimony. 

Finally, the third objective of a deposition is for opposing counsel to be able to evaluate nonverbal cues and information based on your client’s demeanor and dress.  This evaluation by opposing counsel cannot be sufficiently underscored.  On top of mastering the first two objectives, if your client is also able to maintain eye contact and a pleasant demeanor as well as wear appropriate dress, they will not only have the appearance of a credible witness but will truly be one.  This can make all the difference, and tip the scales in your favor, when opposing counsel is deciding between alternative dispute resolution versus taking the case to trial.

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