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Nervous About Testifying At A Deposition?

If you are injured in a car accident and file a lawsuit, you will most likely have to testify at a deposition. A deposition is similar to testifying in court - but it is less formal. You would normally attend with your attorney, the other side's attorney, and a court reporter. The other party has the right to be present there as well. There is no judge, but everything anyone says is taken down and made part of the transcript. Depositions can be exhausting, and the attorney will try to trick you into saying the wrong thing, or try to wear you down so that by the end of the day you are like putty. If the witness is cooler than the interrogating lawyer, the witness has gone a long way toward having a successful deposition.

Some people get very nervous about depositions, some people don't. In either event, there are some basic rules you should follow (your attorney should go over these with you). But beyond the basic rules, one thing you should strive for is to keep your cool. I recently read an article (written for lawyers) about keeping their clients under control when testifying in court. But the same concept applies to depositions. The article was written by Elliot Wilcox*, the publisher of Trial Tips Newsletter. Here is a great passage from that article, and the whole point of this blog:

"So how can you prevent emotions from taking control in the courtroom? How do you ensure that your witnesses come out on top by keeping their emotional level lower than the cross-examiner's?

The first thing to do is to help your witnesses understand how untrustworthy they look when they lose their cool. Videotape the witnesses during your mock cross-examinations back in the office, and make them watch the videotape. Often, nothing needs to be said. For many witnesses, this is the first time they've ever seen themselves on video, and once they see how undignified they look when they get upset, they'll understand why you want them to monitor their emotional level.

Once they've seen how they look when they get upset, the next step is to help them understand what is triggering their anger. Is it a specific factual topic? The examiner's tone? An implied (or explicit) accusation? By identifying the triggers, you'll prepare your witness to anticipate when they'll get upset during cross-examination, and help them avoid the confrontation.

You'll also want to teach your witness which tactics your opponent uses to get under people's skin and trigger their anger. Many attorneys are one trick ponies. Rather than using solid cross-examination skills, these lawyers will rely on raising their voice, rapid-fire questions, attacking integrity, misstating the witness's name or rank, forcing the witness into "I don't know" responses, staring down the witness, or other "tricks" that anger the witness. If your witness is prepared, they'll know to expect the lawyer's trick so they won't be taken by surprise and can maintain their calm exterior.

Finally, you'll want to prepare your witnesses for what they should do when they recognize that they're starting to lose their cool. Remind them to slow down, take a breath, and pause before answering. Whatever it takes, they need to keep their emotional level lower than the cross-examiner's. If they can't, the jury will ignore what they say, and their testimony will be worthless."

*Elliott Wilcox publishes Trial Tips Newsletter.Sign up today for your free subscription and a copy of his special reports: "How to Successfully Make & Meet Objections" and "The Ten Critical Mistakes Trial Lawyers Make (and how to avoid them)" at

Pete Clancy is a personal injury attorney in Oakland, California.