The role of paralegals in depositions can make all the difference in the outcome of your case. Whether the firm represents the witness or not, sound advice about how to answer questions and informing the witness about procedures can make them more comfortable the day of their deposition. Not only that, but paralegals understand legal procedure and are familiar with attorneys, court reporters, and even anxiety, especially of first-time deponents.
Role of Paralegals in Depositions
As an experienced team of Minneapolis court reporters like ours can tell you, most witnesses have never testified in a deposition before and even expert witness may take their “expert” role a little too far, assuming they know full well how to navigate deposition procedures. The role of paralegals in depositions is to accurately and transparently explain how the deposition procedure works so that the witness isn’t overly anxious or excited in the deposition.
- Explain the purpose of a deposition, why they’ve been called as a witness, the reason it isn’t taking place in a courtroom, the role of a court reporter at a deposition, and where the testimony may be used.
- How to respond to objections and when to let the attorneys sort things out.
- The consequences of breaking rules of the deposition.
It may be best to make a checklist or one-pager to help them understand how they fit into the litigation puzzle.
Dealing with Attorneys, Court Reporters, and Anxiety
Attorneys often refer to the witness as the “person in the hot seat” but it doesn’t have to be that way. One of the greatest fears of people is public speaking and there’s little more intimidating than the fear of making a mistake in a room full of lawyers. No matter the circumstances surrounding the testimony, here are a few pieces of advice on dealing with attorneys, court reporters, and anxiety in depositions:
- Pay Attention. Depositions often go on for hours or even days at a time and most of the “juicy” material typically comes at the end of the day when everyone is ready to go home (if they weren’t already to go when they got there). Stay focused and remind yourself where you are in the process is a good way to keep your composure.
- Stay on Topic. It’s easy to become conversational in a deposition, but it’s not always appropriate. Remind your witness that every utterance is caught by the court reporter and even something as innocent as witty banter, hyperbole, or sarcasm might be misconstrued when read on a black and white transcript.
- Understand Before Answering. No one likes to appear inexperienced but that’s often the case in a deposition setting. Rather than ask questions, some witnesses may try to answer a question they don’t fully understand. Instructing a witness to clarify when they don’t understand is one of the golden rules of depositions.
- When Guessing is Okay. Guessing is for experts in most states, yet many non-expert witnesses will try to surmise something when they don’t have full knowledge. In this scenario, guessing is inappropriate and the witness should be instructed to only answer what they know with full confidence.
- Staying Calm. Sometimes attorneys get frustrated during a deposition. Maybe it’s because of other attorneys, their own case or they aren’t getting the answers they expected. Stay calm and don’t allow others to make you uncomfortable.
- Testifying is not Conversation. Attorneys may try to become too conversational with a witness, which makes the court reporter’s job (and the transcript) a nightmare. Leaving time for attorneys to argue during objections, and not speaking over one another is imperative to a good record. Speak at a reasonable pace and at a volume that can be heard by the entire room will also ensure that everything that is said is properly recorded by the reporter.
80% of Communication is Nonverbal
A transcript is black and white but body language can tell experienced attorneys a great deal more than the words that are coming out of the witness. Things like fidgeting, sweaty palms, or quick glances over to their attorney are all clues that a witness is nervous or untruthful.
- Dress like you want to be taken seriously because, guess what? You’re being taken seriously. Leave the shorts and flip flops for the weekend and wear business or business casual attire, including closed toed shoes and neatly ironed clothes.
- Good posture isn’t just important for the back, it also conveys a sense of confidence and truthfulness, especially when the deposition is being video recorded.
- Emotions in all forms can give attorneys clues into what the witness is thinking, so avoiding behaviors that exhibit anger or frustration are specifically important to avoid.
- A certain level of eye contact or lack thereof can leave an impression dishonesty.
Holding mock depositions are great ways to give your witness a taste of what it will be like in a real deposition without exposing them to opposing counsel. Mock depositions give a paralegal or their attorney the opportunity to play devil’s advocate with an inexperienced witness. Ask the tough questions in the context of a mock deposition scenario allows the witness to experience the pressure of having to think on their feet when they come across questions they didn’t expect.
The role of paralegals in depositions is to prepare witnesses, hold mock trials if time permits, manage witnesses especially first-time deponents and overzealous expert witnesses, and organize the attorney.
For more on this topic or to schedule a deposition with our team of experienced court reporters, please call Depo International at 702-386-9322.