21 Feb How to Answer Questions in a Deposition: Vital Tips for Success
Tips for Answering Questions in a Deposition
If you are facing a legal deposition in the near future, you are likely nervous about the event. Most of us have little to no experience in legal matters. Or maybe you are an attorney who is preparing to participate in their first deposition. Either way, a deposition can be an intimidating and nerve-wracking process. However, with proper preparation, you will easily be able to participate in your upcoming deposition, regardless of your position.
There are many tips for answering questions in a deposition. The tips in this article range from how to analyze the questions to how to respond to each question. We will also cover tips on body language during the deposition questioning. Additionally, we will discuss the types of questions that you can legally object to during your deposition.
A deposition, regardless of your role in the event, can be a stressful time. Especially when you are the individual in questioning, it can be hard to know just how to prepare. With this guide to success, we hope that you are able to participate in your upcoming deposition with confidence.
What is a Deposition?
Before we begin to discuss the specifics of answering questions during a deposition, we must first clarify just what a deposition actually is. A deposition is a legal proceeding that takes place before the case goes to trial in court. During the deposition, attorneys on either side of the case are able to gather evidence and information on the specifics surrounding the event. A deposition is an opportunity for an individual to provide their testimony and the details of the case according to their perspective.
Although a deposition is a legal proceeding, it does not take place in a courtroom under the supervision of a judge. The majority of depositions take place in the office of the attorney. In some events, a deposition will take place in an office building or even a meeting room in a neutral location.
Despite the absence of a judge, the answers you provide during a deposition are legally binding. The information that the defendant reveals throughout the questioning process will be used as each attorney establishes their case. Additionally, a record of the deposition is always kept by a court reporter for future review. Because of this, they will occasionally be shared with the judge and jury on the day of the courtroom trial.
Most depositions take place in person, and are often recorded either through audio or video. However, in some circumstances, a deposition can occur over the phone or on a video call. In very rare instances, a deposition may be a written record of events.
How to Answer Questions in a Deposition
The answers provided during a deposition are legally binding. Since this is the case, it is crucial that each individual participating in the deposition properly prepares. In this section, we will discuss some basic tips on how to answer questions during a deposition.
Always Tell the Truth
The most important tip to remember while answering questions in a deposition is to always tell the truth. Even the most well-meaning individual will get confused or flustered during their questioning. This can lead to inconsistencies, which can also appear as blatant lies.
To avoid a mistake of this kind, be sure to carefully consider each answer. If you find that you provided misinformation, it is crucial that you address the topic as soon as it comes to mind. It is perfectly legal and advised that you correct yourself in these types of situations.
Listen to the Question in Detail
While listening to a question during your deposition, it may be tempting to begin to answer before you understand the question in detail. If you proceed to provide a hasty answer, you may misunderstand the question being asked. This results in an incomplete or untrue answer. Because of this, it is crucial to listen to the entirety of the question until the speaker completes their thought.
Additionally, by listening to each question in detail, you are providing yourself with additional time to consider the answer before you begin to speak. This will only be to your benefit during a legal deposition.
Only Answer Questions that You Understand
In every deposition, there is likely to be a question you do not understand. From purposefully confusing questions to legal phrases you do not know, it is likely that you will have this experience. If there is any part of a question that you do not understand in its entirety, it is important to ask the attorney to clarify their question.
Dissect Any Compound Questions
One tactic that is often used to trap the defendant is the use of compound questions. Be careful to never answer a question that should really be broken down into two questions. This tactic is confusing and can easily catch an individual off guard if they are unprepared.
One common way this tactic is used by attorneys is when they ask a question to which your answer will be “yes”, quickly followed by a question to which your answer is “no”. By combining these questions, they hope to trick the individual into answering the two questions as one. In this way, they may admit to doing something that never occurred.
Stand Up for Yourself During Questioning
While you are being questioned during a deposition, it is likely that someone will make a statement to which you disagree. If this is the case, it is wise to always stand up for yourself. This should be done with a cool, calm demeanor while using firm phrases. Something such as “I don’t agree with that characterization of me” is an easy yet direct way of standing up for yourself during questioning.
Take Your Time Answering Deposition Questions
You are not on a time clock during your deposition. Although these events can last for several hours, it is not your responsibility to rush through it. Take time to answer each question in the deposition. Be sure you completely understand the question that is being asked and then formulate your complete answer before you speak.
Never begin to answer a question unless you have allowed yourself to think through the answer in its entirety. Remember that everyone involved in the deposition is there to hear the answers you have to give them, whether that takes one hour or a whole day.
Admit to Mistakes or Inconsistencies in Your Answers
During the course of your deposition, you will likely discover that you provided an inconsistent answer to a question. Although you should try to avoid this at all costs, it is not the end of the world. Simply ask to return to a previous question and admit to your inconsistency. Providing this information before someone else does will only show your character in a better light.
Responding to Deposition Questions
The tips mentioned above cover the basics of answering questions during a deposition. However, in this section, we hope to provide you with more detailed advice on responding to the questions you will encounter.
Much of the way your character and personality are portrayed is dictated through the way you respond to questioning. Because of this, it is important to abide by these guidelines as well as to any additional advice that your attorney provides.
Think Before Speaking
As stated before, the most important thing you can do during your deposition questioning is to think before you speak. Even if the question seems simple or straight-forward, take a moment to think through the details of the question as well as your answer.
Do Not Offer Additional Information
When you are answering questions during a deposition, it is important to stick to answer the question that has been asked. Refrain from offering additional information, even if it seems relevant. Any information you provide will be documented and may be brought up again during the courtroom trial.
Provide thorough answers to any question that the attorney asks of you, but do not offer information that is not necessary to the answer.
Display a Business-Like Demeanor
Remember that the goal of your deposition is not to make friends. It is important to display a business-like demeanor throughout the duration of the event. A lapse in this business-like persona could result in a lapse of judgment due to viewing the attorney as your friend.
The purpose of a deposition is for the attorney to gather information about you as a person and about the case in question. A calm, professional demeanor will make the best impression while not enabling you to separate yourself emotionally from the event.
Avoid Explanation of Your Answer
During the deposition, avoid further explanation for your answers. By providing thorough information through your answers you can avoid potential confusion. However, in the event that your answer requires further explanation, the attorney who is conducting the deposition will ask clarifying questions.
Only Speak From Personal Knowledge
While answering questions during the deposition it is important to only speak from personal knowledge. Do not offer information that you heard from other sources, information that you assume to be the truth or any type of second-hand information. The only information that you should provide during the deposition is information that is personal knowledge. In other words, only provide information that you experienced firsthand or know to be the truth.
Answer Deposition Questions Slowly
During your deposition, it is important to answer your questions slowly. This will allow you to think through each answer in its entirety. However, there are other benefits to slow answers. Each word that is said during a deposition will go on an official record that is kept by a court reporter. Additionally, your deposition will also be recorded by either audio or video recording.
Answering each question slowly will ensure that your words are recorded both clearly and accurately on all forms of recording.
Do Not Guess While Answering Deposition Questions
In each deposition, there is likely to be one or several questions to which you do not know the answers. When this occurs it is crucial that you do not guess while answering. If you do not know the answer to a question, or if you are in doubt, simply state that fact in a clear and concise manner.
Guessing while answering the questions increases the likelihood of providing misinformation, even if it happens accidentally.
Discuss All Information with Your Attorney
It is important to discuss any information that you share in a deposition with your attorney before it is on record. Doing so will ensure that you do not share information in a way that reflects negatively on you. The attorney may ask a question that you have not been able to discuss with your attorney. In this event, it is wise to ask to consult with them before answering.
The attorney you are working with on your case will likely advise you as to what your response should be if this occurs during your deposition.
Avoid Using Absolutes in Your Answers
Avoid the use of absolutes in the answers to any deposition question. Absolutes such as “always”, “never”, and many others are usually not entirely truthful. Additionally, by using these common phrases, you can provide misinformation which paints your testimony in a way that is less than ideal.
Do Not Paraphrase Conversations
While answering questions during your deposition, it is important to avoid paraphrasing conversations. If you must provide context about a specific conversation, it is crucial that you clearly state that it is a paraphrase. If you can avoid it, it is wise to leave conversations out of your deposition answer for this very reason. It is nearly impossible to remember a conversation word-for-word days, or even months after it first occurred.
Body Language and Demeanor During Deposition Questioning
The answers that you provide during a deposition hold the most weight in how you portray your story. However, your body language and demeanor do matter. It is important to pay attention to the way that you are presenting yourself, especially in the event of a video recorded deposition.
The way that you present yourself through body language and overall demeanor has the ability to speak more loudly about the truth than the words you communicate will.
Dress Appropriately for Your Deposition
It is important to dress appropriately for your deposition. A legal deposition is a serious, business-type meeting. As such, each individual should approach the event with respect and attention to detail. Your attorney will provide you with additional information on how to dress for your deposition.
However, experts recommend that you dress for your deposition as if it were an important business meeting. Conservative, professional attire is always the best option.
You can find more tips on what to wear to a deposition here. As a general rule, it is always better to be over-dress than under-dressed. The way in which you present yourself will say a lot about your personality as well as your demeanor on the case.
Professional and Concise
Keep your attitude and demeanor professional and concise. Remember, the goal of your deposition is not to make friends or win the opposing side over with your personality. Maintain a professional attitude from the moment you enter your deposition until after you leave.
Do Not Make Jokes
Avoid making any jokes during the deposition. Joking or making light of the situation will cast a negative light on the way you view the case. Although a deposition may seem like a more relaxed setting, it is no more casual than the courtroom hearing. Treat your deposition like one of the most important business meetings you have attended.
Avoid All Obscenities During the Deposition
The goal of the opposing attorney who is asking the questions is often to get an emotional response out of the individual. In most depositions, the individual in question often has great involvement in the case. This can lead to emotional outbursts in which they share information that they shouldn’t. The use of obscenities is never beneficial in a professional setting of any kind.
Additionally, the use of obscenities during the deposition can offend the parties who are participating in the deposition process. This is something you should avoid at all costs.
Maintain a Calm Attitude
No matter the question or topic in question, it is crucial to maintain a calm attitude at all times. If the attorney that is questioning you attempts to escalate the situation, allow your attorney to handle the outburst. When you become emotionally involved or angry, you are more likely to lose control of the answers you are providing.
Objecting to an Inappropriate Deposition Question
Although you must answer the questions which an attorney asks during a deposition, there are some instances in which you can object. Allow your attorney to handle this situation but listen closely to the way in which they object. Oftentimes, their objection will provide you with additional information as to what the opposing attorney is trying to accomplish through the question.
Questions Requesting Private Information
During a deposition, you have the right to object to a question that requests any private information. Private information includes anyone’s health, religion, race, or sexuality. The questioning attorney must have a reasonable explanation as to why this information is crucial to the case in question. If the question does have a direct correlation to the case, you may eventually have to provide an answer. Your attorney will provide you with further information about your unique situation.
Questions Requesting Privileged Information
You can also object to a question that is requesting privileged information. This category would include anything discussed with a psychiatrist, doctor, priest, lawyer, or other professionals who have a confidentiality agreement.
Questions Requesting Irrelevant Information
The attorney who is questioning you may ask questions that seem irrelevant to the topic at hand. If an irrelevant question arises, you may object. The attorney will then have to explain why this question is relevant to the case. If you are unsure if a question is relevant or not, it is wise to consult your attorney.
Your attorney will often object to inappropriate questions. Many times, this happens before you even realize that the question was inappropriate. This is one of the benefits of working with an attorney who has experience in both the type of case you are experiencing as well as depositions of many kinds.
Successfully Answering Deposition Questions
If you are participating in an upcoming deposition, your attorney will be sure to fully prepare you for any question or situation that could arise. However, we hope that with these helpful tips, you will be able to participate in your deposition with confidence.
As a reminder, here are a few of the most important things to keep in mind while you answer questions in a deposition:
- Always tell the truth.
- Don’t begin to answer until you hear the question in its entirety.
- Be sure to think through your answer before you speak.
- Admit to your mistakes and inconsistencies.
- Portray a professional, business-like demeanor.
- Remain calm.
- Avoid the use of profanities or jokes of any kind.
- Speak slowly and provide concise answers.
No matter the facts surrounding your case, a deposition is your opportunity to share your testimony and ensure that everyone involved in the case hears your side of the story. Because of this, it is important to spend ample time preparing for this event. Think through every detail of the case, taking notes on important facts that come to mind.
While preparing for your deposition, speak with your attorney about the facts that you will likely have a responsibility to share on the day of the deposition. Thinking through your answers to potential questions can alleviate some of the uncertainty that surrounds the deposition day.
It is important to portray a professional demeanor during your deposition. By doing so, you can ensure that you are able to share your testimony in a way that is accurate and positively conveys your message.
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