If you’ve never given a deposition, chances are you may not know what it is, how it works, or why it’s such an important part of a case. Let’s take a closer look at depositions.

A deposition is the giving of sworn testimony that happens outside of a courtroom. Essentially, it’s a question and answer session done under oath. This is done during the phase of a case known as “discovery,” where both sides gather information and evidence to build their case.

In most depositions, the person being deposed will be asked questions by lawyers from both sides of the case. Additionally, there will be a court reporter whose job it is to write down every single word that is said. In some cases, there may be a videographer to record the deposition as well.

What is the purpose of a deposition?

You can think of a deposition as a fact-finding interview. During the discovery process, lawyers are trying to uncover facts about the case. Since depositions are given under oath, they can be used as evidence in the case.

For example, if someone were involved in a car crash and a police officer showed up to the scene, the attorneys may depose that officer to find out what she remembers about the wreck. The officer’s deposition can then be used as evidence for either side of the case.

Depositions can also be used to prevent someone from having to testify during a trial. Trials can be very long and are often delayed. If you have a witness that may be unavailable during trial, you can use a deposition to document their statements ahead of time and present them to a jury during trial.

How long do depositions last?

Typically, a deposition lasts from two to four hours, but every deposition is different.

Some are over in as little as an hour. Some may last an entire day. It often depends on the complexity of the questions the attorneys have to ask, the amount of information that they need to get from a witness, and how cooperative that witness is.

Can you refuse a deposition?

In short, probably not. As a general rule, there is almost no way to avoid a deposition.

In some cases, lawyers may have to subpoena a witness in order to force them to agree to a deposition. A subpoena is a legal document that commands someone to testify in a hearing, trial, or deposition. If you receive a subpoena, you’re being ordered by the court to participate. People that refuse a subpoena can be held in contempt of court and face a number of serious legal consequences.

If you’ve been called for a deposition, there is no reason to panic. We’ve got some quick tips that will help.

5 Tips for Your Deposition:

1 – Tell the truth.

At the beginning of every deposition, the court reporter will swear in the witness. Yes – like on TV. And just like on TV, lying under oath can land you in serious trouble.

Remember, every single word that you say is being written down. If you’re caught lying, not only can you find yourself in legal trouble, but you’ll lose the trust of the jury and severely damage your case.

2 – Use real words.

Every, “huh,” “mhmm,” and “umm…” is being written down. However, these responses can be difficult for a court reporter to interpret. Do your best to answer clearly with a “yes” or “no.”

Court reporters can only write down words, not gestures. Nodding or shaking your head doesn’t count as an answer. You must verbally answer every question.

3 – Slow down.

Trust us. The jurors, the attorneys, and the court reporter will thank you.

If you speak too quickly, the attorneys or court reporters will likely ask you to slow down or repeat yourself.

It’s normal for people to speak faster when they’re nervous. Taking an extra breath and slowing down not only helps you feel more comfortable, it’ll help everyone involved better understand what you’re trying to say.

4 – Don’t talk over others.

This article could’ve just been titled, “How to be nice to your court reporter.”

However, we can’t stress this enough – the court reporter is writing down everything that is said during the deposition. When people start talking over one another, that becomes almost impossible. Additionally, if you interrupt someone, you may not hear the full question that you’re being asked to answer.

Be patient and wait for others to finish their statement before you begin talking.

5 – Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know.”

You may not know the answer to every single question you’re asked, and that’s okay.

The worst thing that you can do in a deposition is lie. Never speculate or guess about an answer to a question that you don’t know. Simply say, “I don’t know.”

Be sure not to use this as a way of getting out of answering a question. Remember – you’re under oath.

If you’re scheduled for a deposition, it’s your attorney’s job to get you prepared and help you feel comfortable. Be sure to address any questions or concerns with your lawyer ahead of time.