As a paralegal, your role in the deposition process is critical to the overall success of each case. In addition to helping the attorney prepare the claim, you’re also responsible for preparing the witness. Whether the witness is your client or a support witness for your case, thorough preparation can make a big difference on deposition day.
When prepping a witness for deposition, you should always work under the guidance of your attorney. However, there are a few things that you still should know.
Explaining the Deposition Process
Most witnesses are new to the world of legal litigation. Whether the witness is the average deponent or an expert, providing evidence can be overwhelming for anyone doing so for the first time. Your role is to explain the deposition process in a straightforward manner, and in doing so, you might be able to remove any anxiety on the witness’ part.
The information you provide should include:
- An explanation of a deposition.
- How a deposition fits into the overall legal system?
- What are the possible outcomes of a deposition?
- How will the outcome affect the case on a whole?
- What is the role of the witnesses?
- The importance of giving evidence at a deposition.
In your explanation, you’ll also want to allow room for questions. It might also prove helpful to prepare a general document or brochure; explaining the deposition process.
Some witnesses are uncomfortable testifying in front of the other parties. This can create a great deal of anxiety, especially if the witness is attending a deposition for the first time. Whatever the nature of the evidence, there are several items that you’ll want to share with your witness, before they begin answering questions. Here are a few of them.
- Listen to the Questions – It is vital that you impress upon your witness, that they listen carefully to each question. Explain to your witness that their answer is being recorded, and so it is important to ensure that their answer is really the response to the question asked.
- Answer the Question Being Asked – Sometimes witnesses can get sidetracked and offer more information than what is necessary. Since this can complicate the case, you’ll want to convey the importance of only answering what they’re asked, as opposed to giving long winded answers that aren’t relevant to the question.
- Seek Clarification – Occasionally, you may encounter witnesses who don’t understand something but refuse to ask questions. You can address this beforehand by assuring the witness that it is okay to seek clarification on anything that he may not understand.
- Don’t Make Things Up – Your witness should enter the deposition room knowing that they don’t have to know the answer to every single question. So remember to encourage the witness to be truthful and accurate during the testimony.
Since a deposition is essentially a question and answer session, preparing the witness should be a top priority for you.
Advice on Physical Posture
While a witness’ physical appearance is not important to the recording of the evidence, it is a tool that attorneys sometimes use to determine the witness’ emotional state and how truthful he may seem. With this in mind, you may want to emphasize the value of maintaining an upright posture while being deposed.
- Your witness should sit up straight in her chair and avoid looking rigid.
- Where possible encourage your witness to avoid looking distressed, angry or frustrated.
- Maintain eye contact with the person asking the questions.
Our bodies have the ability to transmit unintended information, so encourage your witness to practice projecting a calm demeanor.
Preparing the Witness via Mock Depositions
Under the direction of your attorney, you may choose to organize a mock deposition. In this scenario, your responsibility is to ensure that the witness is ready for the mock deposition. Additionally, you may want to confirm that your witness is familiar with the documents are part of her deposition.
Once you have completed the preparatory work, be sure to follow up with your witness and find out if they have questions or concerns. Another step you can take is to organize pre-deposition meetings with the attorney.
A well prepared witness is not only good for your case, but also ensures a smooth deposition process. Fortunately, as a paralegal, you have the opportunity to tilt the odds in your favor by preparing your witness for deposition. Hence, the saying, ‘a paralegal’s job is never done’.