How to Avoid this Huge Deposition Mistake

CSI - Courtroom Sciences Inc.

For litigation attorneys, every detail counts, especially during depositions. This pivotal moment marks the foundation of a case, where errors in depositions can have severe repercussions. The beginning of a deposition is often overlooked, but it is important to consider whether the deposition is being initiated with a positive or negative approach. 

This initial phase sets the tone for what follows and can significantly impact the outcome. Therefore, anticipating, educating, training, and strategically preparing witnesses to navigate the deposition process effectively from the very beginning is important.

What is the biggest deposition mistake to avoid?

The biggest deposition mistake to avoid is underestimating the significance of the opening phase of questioning, particularly the background inquiries. This initial stage sets the tone for the entire deposition and can significantly impact the case outcome. Neglecting proper preparation of witnesses, be it overlooking strategic tactics or not arming them with the required skills and mindset to handle the situation, can lead to detrimental outcomes. 

Navigating the Deposition Opening: Good Cop or Bad Cop?

The Sugar-Coated Approach

Imagine this scenario: a witness begins their deposition, expecting routine questions about their background. They’ve got all sorts of notions in their head from watching TV shows or movies about how aggressive the attorney is going to be. Instead, they’re greeted with warmth and friendliness, and the plaintiff attorney is seemingly interested in their life story, just chatting with them as if they want to get to know them. Unbeknownst to the witness, they've fallen into a trap – the sugar-coated setup. As they innocently and openly share personal information, their defenses weaken, enabling the attorney to strategically transition into deeper, more probing (and trick) questions.

The Vinegar Approach

What if the witness was right initially? What if it kicks off with vinegar instead of the deposition starting friendly? In this situation, opposing counsel chooses an aggressive stance designed to catch the witness off-guard. The attorney will use techniques like a confrontational tone, plus pointed and accusatory questions. This approach aims to trigger the witness’ fight-or-flight response so that when the witness falls into a defensive spiral, it impairs their ability to provide coherent answers. The plaintiff attorney will then use this opportunity to probe for information they can later use in their favor. 

Why is knowing these deposition tactics important? 

Opting for either the sugar or vinegar technique sets the tone for the entire deposition and can influence its trajectory. Understanding deposition mistakes and the implications of each approach helps attorneys craft a deposition strategy that aligns with their case objectives and maximizes the effectiveness of witness testimony.

When an attorney recognizes the different manipulation techniques, they can prepare witnesses for various deposition scenarios and avoid common deposition mistakes. This way, witnesses can anticipate different approaches and mentally prepare themselves to respond appropriately.

Attorneys often make the mistake of assuming their witnesses are ready, only to watch them fall apart on the stand. To properly prepare witnesses, attorneys can engage in role-playing exercises. It’s important to emphasize the importance of pausing before answering and reinforcing the need to stay focused and composed regardless of the attorney's demeanor.

Steps to Avoid a Colossal Deposition Mistake

So, how can attorneys avoid the colossal deposition mistake of underestimating the importance of the beginning of a deposition? The key lies in anticipation, education, training, and strategic preparation.

1.  Be Ready

Acknowledge and be explicit with your witness that the beginning of the deposition is not just a formality. It's a strategic maneuver aimed at setting the stage for what follows. Whether the approach is friendly or aggressive, it's imperative to recognize the underlying motives and prepare your witness accordingly.

2.  Don’t Fall Into the Trap

Begin by instilling in your witnesses an understanding of the trap inherent in background questions. Emphasize that regardless of the attorney's demeanor, these inquiries are not casual chit-chat but strategic maneuvers to gather information and set the tone for the deposition. 

3.  Don’t Offer Extra Information

Equip your witnesses with the necessary skills to navigate the opening phase effectively. Emphasize the importance of pausing before answering, forcing cognition, and establishing a deliberate pace. Train them to resist the urge to volunteer excessive information and to keep their responses concise and controlled.

4.  Sugar Versus Vinegar

Teach your witnesses that the deposition is a high-stakes scenario where every word matters. Encourage them to approach each question cautiously, understanding that their responses can significantly impact the case outcome. Don’t forget to prepare your witnesses for both the sugar-coated setup and the aggressive onslaught. Role-play various deposition scenarios, exposing them to different attorney tactics and teaching them how to maintain composure and control in any situation. 

5.  Be Prepared

Preparation is the key to success. Encourage your witnesses to familiarize themselves with pertinent documents and anticipate potential lines of questioning. By arming them with knowledge and confidence, you empower them to face any deposition scenario with poise and clarity.

Being Ready for Whatever May Come

Mastering the art of deposition testimony requires meticulous preparation and strategic foresight. When attorneys recognize the significance of the opening phase and adequately prepare their witnesses, they can avoid falling victim to the pitfalls of deposition mistakes

The beginning of the deposition is not just about answering questions – it's about setting the stage for success. Defense attorneys must equip witnesses with the tools they need to navigate the deposition process effectively. 

Courtroom Sciences helps attorneys efficiently navigate litigation by providing psychological expertise, science-backed research, and expert litigation support. Learn how CSI's litigation consulting experts can improve outcomes for your next case. Speak with one of our experts to get started.

Key Takeaways

●  Recognize that the beginning of a deposition lays the groundwork for the entire case. Preparation and strategy are crucial to avoid detrimental errors.

●  Understand the significance of opposing counsel initiating the deposition with either a friendly or aggressive demeanor. Each approach sets a distinct tone and requires tailored preparation.

●  Train witnesses to navigate background inquiries effectively, emphasizing the importance of pausing, providing concise responses, and avoiding unnecessary disclosures.

●  It’s essential to prepare witnesses for various deposition tactics through role-playing exercises. This helps them anticipate different approaches and respond appropriately under pressure.

●  Encourage thorough preparation by familiarizing witnesses with relevant documents and anticipating potential lines of questioning. This equips them with the confidence and knowledge to face any deposition scenario with clarity and composure.

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