Tips for Deposition Witnesses – Make the Court Reporter Love You!
For someone who doesn’t work in the legal field, being called to give a deposition can be terrifying. As a court reporter, I’ve had an incredible number of witnesses confide to me that they have become physically ill just thinking about the approaching day. I always try to make a witness feel as comfortable as possible because I do understand how intimidating the legal process can be.
The following information and tips for deposition witnesses will help you in gaining a bit of clarity about the deposition process and how you can assist in making it flow more smoothly.
What’s the Purpose of a Deposition?
Before your deposition, your attorney will meet with you to go over some basic topics about what you can expect. Most of the time, however, attorneys fail to mention to their witnesses some very important ground rules regarding the mechanics of the deposition. These are the things that can affect the quality and readability of the transcript, which is the primary purpose of the deposition.
Depositions are not the trial. Though witnesses are put under the same oath that is administered by a judge in a courtroom, the deposition is not the proper format for you and your attorney to make arguments to the other side and attempt to prove your case. The deposition is merely a procedure used to gather testimony from a witness, so that the opposing counsel will understand everything the witness knows about the case and will likely testify about at the trial.
The setting may not be as formal, but it is still very important to tell the truth during a deposition. That testimony carries the same weight as if you had been sworn in and were sitting next to the judge in a courtroom.
Creating a Record: Help Make Your Deposition Transcript More Readable
When you arrive at the deposition location, one of the people in the room will be the court reporter. This person will swear you in before you begin testifying, and he or she will also record the entire encounter that occurs on the record between you and the attorneys, as well as any other people in the room. There are several tips for deposition witnesses that will assist the court reporter in producing a functional transcript.
1) Speak clearly, slowly, and loudly.
The court reporter can only take down the testimony he or she can hear and understand. If the witness mumbles or whispers, it is unlikely that testimony is going to make it into the transcript. Speed-talking is another issue that doesn’t impress the court reporter or anybody else in the room. In fact, the questioning attorney will likely ask you to repeat your answers for clarity, and that can quickly turn into a very long day.
2) Give verbal answers and avoid “um-hum” and “unh-unh.”
Shaking your head and nodding are not the best answers to questions in a deposition. Though it’s totally natural and acceptable in normal conversation, these gestures are undesirable for deposition testimony. Similarly, focus on verbalizing the answer of “yes” or “no” when appropriate, as opposed to “um-hum” or “unh-unh.” Those types of responses can be very confusing and are often misinterpreted in a typewritten transcript.
3) Wait for the attorney to complete the question.
Everybody does it. The witness anticipates the question an attorney is asking and immediately interrupts and begins answering the question. Don’t do this. When the time comes to read the transcript, the question and answer will be broken into pieces, which is very difficult, if not impossible, to read. Keep in mind, the whole point of the deposition is to obtain a readable record.
4) Stop speaking if an attorney objects.
There may be times during the deposition that one of the attorneys interject what’s called an “objection.” He or she is basically just marking a spot in the record that will be addressed by the judge at a later date. Objections during depositions require no action from the witness whatsoever, except to allow the attorney to complete the objection without interruption. Your attorney may instruct you not to answer a question, but, unless that happens, you should continue answering the question once the objecting attorney is through with his or her objection.
What Happens When the Deposition is Over?
When the deposition concludes, a verbatim transcript of everything that was said on the record will be produced by the court reporter. A transcript is usually available in about ten business days, though they can be produced sooner, even the same day or overnight, for special orders. The attorneys will use the transcript to assist in the case.
In general, the witness has the right to review the transcript once it is completed and may be offered the opportunity to “read and sign” at the conclusion of the deposition. Many times, however, the attorney will advise the witness that the process of reading and signing is not necessary, and the witness will waive that right.
There are times, however, that the attorney does advise the witness to read and sign. If that is the case for you, you will certainly come to understand why the above tips are so important, especially if you didn’t adhere to them during your deposition. When exercising your right to read and sign, a witness cannot change the answers given during the deposition. Rather, a document called an “errata sheet” is provided, and the witness can correct any errors the court reporter made in regard to spellings or the mishearing of testimony. This document will then be signed before a notary public and attached as part of the transcript.
Just Remember, Clarity is the Key
If you are called to give a deposition, keep in mind that that is a normal part of the process for a legal proceeding. Yours may be one of several or possibly hundreds of depositions, and it’s strictly to make a record of what you know about the case. You want your testimony to be clear and understood. By following the tips outlined above, you’ll help the court reporter produce a perfect transcript of everything you want to say.