What is a deposition?

If you sue someone, or if someone else sues you, there is a good chance that you might be required to sit down in an office, swear an oath to tell the truth, and answer questions from the other side’s lawyer. That process is called a deposition. There is no judge or jury at a deposition. Usually, the only people in the room are the lawyers, the witness who is answering questions (called a “deponent”), possibly the parties to the lawsuit, and the court reporter. A deposition is recorded by the court reporter, who is also typing everything that is said.

There are two main reasons why a deposition might be scheduled in your case:

First, a deposition can be a useful tool for gathering information relevant to a legal dispute. For example, say you are a tenant suing a landlord who is stealing your deposit for a bogus reason. You would want to find out whether the landlord has a pattern of using the same bogus reasons to steal the deposits from other tenants.

Second, a deposition can lock the other side into a particular story. The answers given at a deposition are usually admissible in court as evidence just like testimony given in actual court. So, for example, say you take the deposition of a witness to a car accident, and the witness says at the deposition that “the light was green.” If you go to trial and that witness says “the light was red” or “I don’t remember,” they’re probably going to look foolish. They may even look like a liar. Because you can bet that one side or the other will want the jury to hear that the witness actually said “the light was green” at the deposition.

If someone demands that you submit to a deposition, you should make sure that you talk to your own attorney before appearing to answer questions. Even better, you should have a lawyer present at the deposition, itself, to ensure that your rights are protected. It is easy to get flustered or rattled while being questioned. If your lawyer sees this happening to you, they can take a brief break with you privately, to help you gather your thoughts so that you can complete the deposition successfully.