The top 3 mistakes people make in their deposition
OK folks, let’s get real on depositions (Deposition ) for a minute. My clients by and large do an excellent job in depositions IMO. But there is always room for improvement. Here are the top 3 mistakes I see people make in depositions and how to avoid them:
1. Providing too much information – This is a biggie. Answer only the question that you are asked and then BE QUIET. If the answer is “yes” then say “yes” and BE QUIET. This is not a polite coffee conversation – this is a question and answer session with a lawyer that is going to try to bury you at trial. He will smile. He will be nice. Maybe even friendly. He is not your friend (see previous comment about burying you). If he asks you if you know what time it is then don’t tell him about every watch and clock you’ve ever owned. Answer only what is asked, people. By the way, if he asks if you know what time it is do you then give him the time? NO!!! He did not ask what time it was. He asked if you knew what time it was. If you know then say “yes”. If he wants to know from you what time it is then he needs to follow up with that. Or buy a watch.
2. Guessing at the answer – OK, I see how this happens. When we are in our normal, everyday conversations we want to be helpful. When someone asks directions, even if we don’t know we want to try to help figure it out. The deposition is not the time to be helpful. Do not guess at the answer. If you don’t know the answer then you say “I don’t know.” If you have an idea that might possibly be right then you say “I don’t know.” If you have an excellent theory about the answer that plausibly is correct then your answer is “I don’t know.” Get it? “Know” is part of the word “knowledge”. And the definition of knowledge is “acquaintance with facts, truths…” Did you see the word “possibility” there? Or the phrase “might be right”? No, you did not. Because knowledge is something we know — not something we speculate about. So don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know” if you don’t know the answer to the question. Be brave!
3. Stay away from absolutes – no, not the vodka. Absolutes are things like “I never” or “I always”. Here’s a typical scenario as an example only: Question from lawyer: “So what did you do when you got to that intersection?” Answer from you: “Well, I turned right because I never turn left at that intersection.” As soon as you say “I never turn left at that intersection” then you can rest assured the other side is going to find a witness or pic of that one damn day two years ago that you turned left at that intersection. Now you are a liar, and under oath for good measure. But it was a simple mistake!
“I just forgot about that one damn day two years ago!”
No matter, you are now on record forever with that answer. Could this have been avoided? I’m glad you asked!
Here’s what you do:
Q: “So what did you do when you got to that intersection?”
A: “I turned right.”
Q: “Are you certain about that?”
Q: “How are you so certain about that?”
A: “Because I remember that specific day and I remember that I turned right.”
Q: “Are you saying you never turn left at that intersection?”
A: “No I’m not saying that.”
Q: “So you have turned left at that intersection in the past?”
A: “As I sit here right now I can not remember a time that I turned left at that intersection.”
Much better! And your lawyer will smile proudly at his astute client.