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How to Teach Deposition Skills to Young Lawyers

Does your law firm have a tradition of in-house mentorship? If so, your new associates will be positioned for success! There are plenty of skills that seasoned attorneys can pass on to their younger coworkers. One important, yet often overlooked skill is the ability to take a great deposition.

Depositions set the tone for trial or settlement. For that reason, new lawyers must learn how to approach the discovery process in order to secure the best outcome. Unfortunately, it's difficult for them to learn these skills when they don’t have the opportunity to practice in real-life settings. Training provides the next best option and lowers the pressure. In this article, we’re sharing 5 of our best tips and tricks to help you teach deposition skills!


# 1 – Perform a realistic mock deposition

For the purposes of this exercise, you’ll need to simulate an actual deposition as closely as possible. This means preparing an example case, acting as the deponent, and bringing in a court reporter and legal videographer. Your mock deposition should be equivalent to a dress rehearsal in show business. By committing to these practice sessions, young attorneys will have the opportunity to work out the flaws in their performance before advocating for your clients.


# 2 – Take down a transcript

There’s no better teacher than a cringe-inducing transcript. By working with a certified court reporter during your mock depositions, you’ll end the session with a written record of the trainee’s performance. Together, go over each question, line by line, to identify areas for improvement. As you do, consider asking your student the following questions:

  • Do you feel that your questions were concisely phrased?
  • How often did you follow up on ambiguous answers from the witness?
  • Did the questions elicit clear and direct responses from the witness?
  • Were you able to adapt to new information, or did you only stick to the script?
  • Are there any filler words, stutters or verbal tics that you notice in the record?
  • At the end of the deposition, do you feel you were able to achieve your goal?

Be mindful of the responses that you receive to these questions. They will go a long way toward validating positive behavior and correcting errors in performance.


#3 – Review the video

After you’ve reviewed the transcript together, it’s time to go over the video. While most attorneys learn how to comport themselves before their first deposition, in the heat of the moment, those lessons often fly out the window. Sit down to watch the footage together and review things like attire, body language, and intonation. As video depositions grow more popular, young lawyers will need to be adept at creating both a compelling written record as well as a visual one.


#4 – Hold a self-evaluation

One of the most effective training methods is self-evaluation. In fact, people tend to notice flaws in their own performance more frequently than they would notice those flaws in others. Before performing another mock deposition, allow the young lawyer to point out mistakes before you intervene. By identifying flaws in their own performance, they will feel a sense of ownership over those mistakes, making them more likely to correct them in the future. Before concluding the self-evaluation, be sure to praise sections of the transcript or video that are particularly persuasive, so that your trainee knows which parts of their questioning were effective. Positive reinforcement is the perfect counterpart for self-evaluation.


# 5 – Offer advice from your experience

Lastly, after you’ve thoroughly reviewed the mock deposition, share some tips that you’ve learned through experience. For example, you might prefer to enter a deposition with a short list of questions because it allows you to be flexible and follow threads of the witness testimony instead of reading verbatim from prepared statements. Your experience will be unique, so don’t be afraid to be honest about your personal tips.

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