As a paralegal, part of your job entails preparing the client and other witnesses for deposition. In a written deposition, the deponent’s body language is not reflected on paper, and any evidence is evaluated only on the basis of the witness’s recorded words. However, in the case of video depositions, the deponent’s testimony also includes physical gestures and other visual cues that can be beneficial or detrimental to your client’s case.
Giving evidence in any legal setting can already be taxing enough without the presence of videographers and lighting professionals. So as one might expect, a videotaped testimony requires even more work, which invites a greater degree of stress. In addition to the regular deposition preparation process that you’d ordinarily carry out, you may also want to share a few tips with your client on physical appearance, body language, and vocal expression.
The Deponent’s Physical Appearance
While the focus of a deposition is the evidence that the witness presents, it is natural for the judge and jury to notice your client’s physical appearance when watching a video statement. Hence, it’s important to help coach your client on making a great impression during the video deposition.
Your client’s clothing choices are crucial not only for the viewing audience but also for the overall video quality, so encourage your client to wear clothing that is both comfortable and professional. Likewise, it’s best to encourage your client to avoid loud colors or wild prints. Plain pastel colors are excellent choices because they help the videographer achieve color balance.
Good posture is always encouraged in formal settings. The same applies to video deposition. Your client should look as comfortable and natural as possible while also displaying confidence and professionalism.
Body Language Can Affect a Deposition
Body language can speak volumes in video testimonies. Often, jurors make assumptions about the witness based solely upon body language. Here are several useful tips you can give your client to ensure that they convey the right messages:
- Be cognizant of facial expressions – The client’s face will be the focus in a video deposition. Accordingly, your client should avoid eye-rolling, brow knitting, and other facial expressions that may distract the viewer or send the wrong message.
- Avoid fidgeting – Fidgeting is often associated with nervousness. Unfortunately, a nervous looking witness may be viewed as being someone with something to hide. Despite the anxiety that most individuals experience when sharing evidence, you want to encourage your client to avoid fidgeting.
- Avoid excessive hand gestures – Similar to fidgeting; gesticulation can be distracting. In your preparation time, it may help if you videotape your client so that he or she has a better understanding of their general appearance on camera. Ultimately, your aim is to help the client understand that their body language can significantly alter the way that a judge or jury interprets the evidence.
How Vocal Expression Can Impact the Jury
Vocal expression is as important to a video deposition as the client’s physical appearance. A written transcript will not include the varying attributes of your client’s articulation. This is not the case when your client is giving evidence in a video deposition. The long pauses, soft tones, elevated volumes, or frustrated tones will all be self-evident to the persons viewing the video. Encourage your client to remain calm and speak clearly.
Video depositions offer multiple advantages when presenting evidence to a jury. They have the ability to bring the testimony alive, and many jurors are more inclined to watch a video deposition than to read a long transcript.
However, in preparing your client for this type of deposition, don’t forget to highlight the pitfalls associated with appearance, posture, and articulation. Your job is to help the client avoid any such pitfalls. In doing so, you do a great service to both your client and employer.