When you are about to embark on litigation, one common source of substantial stress is testimony. However, proper preparation and explanation helps you feel confident and at ease, once you know what to expect. Deposition testimony is a little different than trial testimony; but you are required to be truthful when responding during both. Particularly when preparing to testify in front of a judge and jury, be aware of how you present yourself to others, as you will be watched.
A deposition occurs during the discovery stage of litigation prior to trial. Opposing counsel may request that you respond to written interrogatories (which is a written form of a deposition) and/or an oral examination, both of which are taken while you are under oath. For obvious reasons, being subjected to an oral deposition causes feelings of helplessness because of the lack of control over the situation. However, if you understand the process and how to respond, this can be reduced. Discuss your worries with your attorney prior to the deposition.
The most important thing is to manage emotions during the deposition. Always take breaks from questioning when you begin to feel overwhelmed, fearful, angry, or restless.
- Provide specific, pointed answers, and nothing more. If it is a yes or no question, answer it and wait for the next question.
- Focus on what is being asked at that moment. Forget about whatever you just answered and focus on the question at hand. Your only obligation is to be truthful. It is not your job to help the other side. Let them ask the right questions to get the answers they want.
- Choose your response carefully. Think through the question to yourself (silently) before answering.
- Never guess or speculate when responding.
- Do not explain your answers. If opposing counsel wants more detail, they’ll ask.
- Avoid generalized or sweeping statements.
- Ask for clarification if the question is vague or you are unsure of what they are asking you.
Lastly, if you do not remember, just say that. Never respond with “I don’t know” if you are unable to recall something. If opposing counsel asks you if you will produce an item of evidence of information, just respond by telling him or her to discuss that with your attorney.
Pre-trial preparation is useful. Ask your attorney about doing a mock-cross examination to better prepare you for trial. Ask what your testimony is meant to accomplish in their trial strategy, to help you respond and focus in the moment. During trial, answer and offer helpful information during testimony, which is different than during an interrogatory.
Be aware that all you do and say is subject to scrutiny during trial by the judge, jury, and press present. Think about appearance: clothes, hair, whether you look groomed or not, jewelry worn, and even what you drive to the courthouse, as it will likely be commented upon.
Finally, be aware of facial expressions and emotions, as the jury will be watching closely. Be respectful, take the proceedings seriously, and watch your reactions to information and allegations that arise while on the stand and sitting in court. Most importantly: manage your reaction to the verdict.