Kathleen M. Bonczyk, JD
Chances are that at some point in an agent’s career, he or she will be deposed – if not once, several times.
A deposition can be stressful and intimidating. It will likely be held in a court reporter’s office, with the reporter asking you to raise your right hand and swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Everything you say thereafter will be taken down on the transcription machine by the reporter. An attorney will question you probing questions regarding the matter at issue in the lawsuit. Legal objections maybe interjected by the other side’s attorney. In certain cases, your deposition will be videotaped, so there will also be a videographer in the room.
The following are some general tips to help you get through the process:
1. Stay focused. A deposition is a legal proceeding regarding a matter that is in litigation. It is not an informal get-together of friends. Be polite and respectful. Keep your guard up and focus on what is happening.
2. Listen carefully to the question that has been posed. Respond to what has been asked. Avoid going off on tangents. If you are asked to identify what licenses you hold, answer that question only. Do not go into a dissertation regarding your entire educational background, including where you went to high school and every job you held. If the attorney wants that information, what for him or her to ask for it.
3. Tell the truth. You have given an oath to do exactly that. If you honestly do not know the answer to the question posed, say you don’t know. But if you do know the answer, you are required to say so.
4. Answer only from your personal knowledge. Don’t guess, speculate, or respond to something that is outside the realm of your expertise. If you are asked for your opinion, give your opinion – not what you think someone else’s opinion is. If pressed for something that you recall vaguely, you can say, "To the best of my knowledge at this time, ____________." But if you honestly don’t remember, say so.
5. Don’t guess at what the attorney has asked you. If the attorney is unclear or you do not understand what has been asked, speak up. Be particularly aware of this during telephonic depositions, as the entire question may not transmit over the telephone line. Don’t be afraid to ask the attorney to restate or rephrase the question if need be.
6. Wait until the question is fully asked before you give a response. Deponents sometimes anticipate what they believe the full question will be and will begin talking before the attorney finishes asking it. Even if the deponent "guesses" correctly, the court reporter is only able to take down one person at a time. And chances are strong that the deponent has guessed wrong. Therefore, do not begin speaking until the attorney stops.
7. Don’t rush. If you need time to think about what has been asked you, don’t hesitate to do so. You may be asked about situations that occurred months or even years ago. A deposition is not a race. Take your time.
8. If you are being asked questions about a particular paragraph or section of a document, be sure to fully review it before responding. You have every right to do so. If the attorney begins asking questions before you’ve had a chance to read the provision he or she is questioning you on, explain that you have not yet completed your review, and ask for additional time to complete your reading of same.
9. During so-called "pregnant pauses," avoid trying to fill in the gaps by speaking. In other words, do exactly the opposite of what you might do if you were in a social setting. While you may be tempted to say something, don’t. If no question is pending, say nothing until the next question is asked. Then when you are asked a question, answer briefly – avoid long, rambling responses
10. If, during the course of your deposition, you suddenly recall something of significance that changes or modifies a previously-given response, advise the attorney that you would like to address the earlier question. Amend your response
accordingly while you are still on the record.
There is no "cookie cutter" approach to preparing for a deposition, but these general tips should help you. Of course, any specific questions you have should be posed to your attorney in advance of the deposition.
Kathleen M. Bonczyk is President of Kathleen M. Bonczyk, LLC. P.O. Box 243205, Boynton Beach, FL 33424-3205. firstname.lastname@example.org. 561-568-2512. She is an attorney whose area of practice is limited to insurance and labor and employment law. She is a former human resources professional with an extensive corporate background. Over the years, Ms. Bonczyk has trained hundreds of executives, managers and supervisors on various topics related to equal employment opportunity and labor and employee relations. Additionally, she coaches, counsels, and advises employers on human resources matters and conducts on-site workshops, audits, and investigations into allegations of discriminatory hiring practices, wrongful termination, retaliation and harassment, among other matters related to the employment life cycle.