Monthly Archives: December 2015

Preparing for Deposition Day as a Legal Secretary or Paralegal

The role of a legal secretary or paralegal professional is to use your legal training to assist the attorney with her legal work. In keeping with these overall roles and responsibilities, professional paralegals must be equipped with the necessary skills to help the attorney prepare cases for deposition. This piece will cover several specific steps that the legal secretary or paralegal can do prior to deposition day.

As the legal professional hired to represent the client, the attorney is in charge of the overall direction and focus of the case. Hence, it is important to have a meeting with the lead attorney handling the matter. In this meeting you’ll want to discuss any issues that are key to your client’s situation. So remember to gather as much information as you can to build upon the overall legal direction of the case. This type of information will inform your research and preparation.

While taking the initiative is good, it is also prudent to gather any research material deemed helpful to the case from the lead attorney. You will need to meet at the beginning and middle of the process to ensure that you are on the right path.

Research the Pertinent Legal Issues

The art of preparation begins with research. Following from your meeting with the attorney, as the paralegal, it is your responsibility to do the necessary research on the issues that concern the case. It is important to be as detailed as possible and compile your research in a way that is easy to read and accessible by the attorney.

Your research will include gathering relevant case law and research to substantiate your case, as well as getting information that could be used by your opponent. The latter will help the attorney to better formulate the case at deposition.

Finding previous testimonies by the witness or about the witness can provide the attorney with valuable information. The attorney for the case should be armed with all the available information on a witness and as the legal secretary you can help in gathering this intelligence.

Draft Potential Questions

The advantage of taking on research responsibilities as a paralegal is that your mind will be filled with questions. In assisting the attorney in his preparation, you can formulate potential questions for each witness. Depositions are about discovery and the best way to discover all you need to before trial, is to ask all the questions that will direct you to the right answers. Your proposed questions can be very valuable to a lawyer, as you may propose questions he or she may not have contemplated.

Prepare Necessary Documents and Exhibits

On deposition day, an attorney will want to focus on the task at hand. Your job is to make sure that documents and exhibits are obtained, copied, labeled and readily assessable. As the paralegal, the attorney will require your assistance in retrieving documents on deposition day. Hence, being organized and prepared is not only meant to help the attorney, but for your benefit as well.

The taking of depositions in a civil matter is very important. As a paralegal or legal secretary, the preparation work that you are required to do represents the well oiled machine of organization and research that is at the foundation of your client’s case.

The Paralegal’s Role in Handling Deposition Errata Sheets

Successful DepositionOver the years we’ve received a fair amount of questions regarding errata sheets. Usually, these questions tend to come from paralegals or legal secretaries that are involved in the ‘read and review’ process.

For anyone who has ever had questions about them, errata sheets give you and your client or witness the opportunity to identify and correct any mistakes that may exist in the transcript. The bottom line is that although court reporters are highly trained professionals, the reality is that as humans we sometimes make mistakes. The same can be said of the client or supporting witnesses.

However, since depositions make up a substantial portion of evidence at trial, it is important to make sure that the deposition transcript reflects an accurate account of the deponent. Here’s what you should know about managing the errata sheet process.

There is much work to be done when preparing your client, witness or case for depositions. After the deposition has taken place the read and review process begins. This gives you and your client or witness the opportunity to correct any errors that might have been made during the actual deposition. The corrections are recorded in the errata sheet.

Often during ‘read and review’, clients and witnesses feel it necessary to correct or add to what was said. However, it is important that they understand the review process is not about changing the substance of the deposition but ensuring accuracy. So how you manage the process of preparing and filing the deposition errata sheet matters; both for the client or witness, as well as for the potential success of the case.

Errata Sheet – Acceptable Corrections

A client may be tempted to suggest changes that are more favorable or to elaborate on a given answer to avoid ambiguity. However, the errata sheet process is not a ‘do over’ or a chance to change one’s testimony. Rather, the intention is to identify errors or misstatements that took place during the deposition. All changes are recorded, while both the original and corrected answer become part of the record. The corrections must therefore represent a genuine mistake of accuracy and ambiguity.

What Clients and Witnesses Should Know

You will want your client or witness to at least a basic level of familiarity with the read and review process. Indeed, making them aware of this process can significantly improve the ease of preparation and filing of the errata sheets:

  • The read and review process is time sensitive. The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure affords the deponent thirty (30) days, starting from the delivery date of the transcript, to submit changes. A failure to submit these changes within the given timeline means that the deposition will be accepted ‘as is’ – without corrections.
  • The deposition can only be corrected for inaccuracies. It must be clear to the client that the changes made do not erase the first record and both jury and judge will be privy to both answers. Your client should therefore understand that contradictory statements could generally have a negative effect on their case and he or she may face prosecution for perjury where no good reason is advanced for the contradiction.

The Responsibility of Paralegals and Legal Secretaries in the Read and Review Process

As the hired legal professional, whether you are a paralegal or legal secretary, you play a critical role in the preparation and filing of the errata sheets. And although it is important for the client to be part of the read and review process, it is the lawyer, paralegal and other support staff that will be combing through the deposition to identify the errors. While the process may be tedious, it is a necessary and important process.

Once the errors have been identified, it is your responsibility to record such errors on the errata sheet. If the error involves a change in the previously recorded answer, you must give a detailed explanation as to the change.

The handling of deposition errata sheets must be viewed as a critical process that has the potential to impact the outcome of any civil case. So although it’s in your client’s or witness’ best interest to ensure the accuracy of deposition statements, ultimately the responsibility for dotting all ‘I’s’ and crossing all ‘Ts’ — will fall upon you — the legal professional. This is all the more reason to pay attention to detail when dealing with errata sheets.