In a deposition, a witness, or deponent, provides recorded testimony by answering questions under oath. Taking part in a deposition can be stressful. Knowing what is required, who is involved and how the deposition will proceed can ease the tension, and make for a smoother process.
A deposition occurs as part of discovery, which is a legal proceeding that allows attorneys and clients to request information from their opponents. During discovery, an attorney has the right to question the client and witnesses from the other side of the case. The deposition is not only about what clients and witnesses say; it's also about how they say it. Attorneys will note whether a deponent is uncomfortable, shifts his gaze often or gets angry during the proceeding. These observations help both sides to predict how a judge or jury might view the testimony, and the credibility of the witness.
Deposition normally takes place in a court reporter's office, or at the offices of the law firm that requested the deposition. It does not take place in a courtroom.
A court reporter always records depositions. In some cases, the deposition may also be recorded on videotape. The recording of a deposition may be read or viewed in court by the judge and jury (e.g., to demonstrate inconsistencies in a witness's testimony).
A court reporter is present at every deposition, and transcribes every word spoken during the deposition. She will later organize the testimony into a question-and-answer format that reads like a script. Attorneys from both sides of the case will also be present. The main attendee, of course, is the deponent himself. He must arrive at the specified time, and answer questions for anywhere from a few minutes to many hours. There is no time limit on depositions.
The deponent's first responsibility is to tell the truth. It is illegal to lie in a deposition. The deponent should prepare to face a wide range of questions, some of which may not be pleasant. The deponent should listen carefully to all questions, and always ask for clarification of any question she doesn't understand. She should also limit her responses to the questions at hand, and avoid trying to second-guess the purpose behind the questions. She should be clear and consistent in her answers, and give the entire process her full attention.
The opposing attorney will attend the deposition to gather information in the form of verbal testimony. It is his job to ask questions that will assist him in forming the arguments for his side of the case. The client attorney's responsibility is to navigate her client through the deposition so that he does not incriminate himself. To this end, she will object to unfair questioning, and assist the deponent in correctly presenting and clarifying his side of the story. It is illegal to "coach" a witness, but the attorney can step in when the questions from the other side cross legal lines, or the client needs a moment to gather his thoughts.