Guidelines for deposition and trial testimony for clients and witnesses

chaz-ball1. Review documents

Review all relevant documents prior to trial or deposition. As much as is accurate, testify consistently. If you notice that a previous statement contains incorrect information, notify counsel and be prepared to explain how the statement is incorrect.

2. Arrive on time and dress appropriately

Opposing counsel and the opposing party at deposition and the judge and jury at trial will make judgments about your professionalism, credibility and earnestness. Your presentation at deposition foreshadows to the opposing party how you will likely present at trial. Appropriate dress and timeliness leads to better outcomes in civil litigation.

3. Listen to the question before answering

Take the time to consider the question you are being asked and as much as possible, answer that question directly. The more you avoid a question, the more times the opposing attorney may be able to ask the question, and the more the opposing attorney may belief that your answer is either not fully accurate or that you in fact handled a situation incorrectly.

4. Listen for objections and to the objection

If your attorney objects, or if the opposing attorney objects, do not answer or stop answering the question. But be sure to listen for the grounds of the objection. If you are able to determine why the question or testimony was objectionable, you may be able to answer in a way that does not lead to objection.

5. If you need to review a document in order to answer a question fully, state as much

If the opposing attorney asks you a question that references a document, or if you simply are unable to answer a question based on your current recollection, but another document accurately reflects what you knew at another time, state that you would require the document to give an answer of what you knew at the time.

6. If you do not remember or know the answer to a question, state that you do not know or remember

Consistency is key to credibility. Do not try to fill in information that you do not know or remember because that may lead to potential impeachment. It is natural to either not perceive at the time or to remember every single detail of an event. Do not, however, let your urge to fill in the entire sequence lead you into mistakenly stating something that is potentially probably false or inconsistent with other known information.

7. Qualify, qualify, qualify

If there is information that you are not certain about, but believe for whatever reason to be true, be sure to qualify the information with “I think,” “I heard,” “it’s possible,” “maybe,” possibly,” or another qualifier that expresses that uncertainty.

8. Do not get rattled or lose your cool

Opposing counsel may attempt to upset you or to get under your skin in order to shake your professional demeanor. Do not let that happen. If you are attacked, or your credibility is questioned, and you respond resolute in your delivery, you will come off as even more solid and as a stronger witness.

9. Be confident

Some nervousness is natural, especially if you do not testify in court often. You know the material you are discussing and you are there to give your account of events. You have knowledge, training and experience in the area of law enforcement and it is important that your account is fully delivered. Give your account confidently and the jury is much more likely to believe you.

10. Tell the truth

Do not get impeached. Do not answer in the manner you feel the opposing counsel wants you to answer or in the manner that you feel your own counsel wants you to answer. Answer honestly and to the best of your recollection.