The right deposition questions during discovery can serve as powerful tools to ultimately impeach a witness once a case gets to trial. But in a recent discussion among veteran attorneys on pre-trial best practices, Butler | Kahn’s Jeb Butler said lawyers should pay just as much attention to how a depo question's response will work in a courtroom as they pay to the substance of the response itself.
“I think if you’re cross-examining someone and it is not for use at trial — and of course the numerical majority of depositions are not — then you have to get soundbites,” Butler said, adding that young lawyers often miss that key.
“They get an answer, but it’s in this… block of text that lasts... ten lines in the transcript,” Butler said. “And you can’t use that. You cannot effectively impeach with that at trial."
MG Law’s Michael Geoffroy agreed, and added that, more broadly, attorneys must focus on customizing their questions for each particular case, rather than relying on generic depo questions.
Geoffroy recounted a deposition in a case where he represented a police officer struck by a car in the backyard of a building where the officer was attempting to serve a warrant. During deposition, the opposing counsel asked what the traffic conditions were like at the time.
“I went, ‘Come on, guys! What were the traffic conditions?’” Geoffroy said, laughing.
“We’ve got to get away from those canned depo outlines.”
“The only thing that should be canned is those generic intro and exit questions,” ChartSquad’s Melanie Carpenter added. “Everything else is unique and situational, for sure.
"How do you evaluate the questions you’re going to ask, or how do you come up with those questions? Those might be systematized to a certain extent, but the questions are never going to be the same.”
The discussion on depositions is part of Building a Winning Case Before Trial, an hour-long, deep dive into pre-trial keys that set up a case for success once it reaches a jury. The wide-ranging discussion features Geoffroy, Butler, and Carpenter delving into topics including:
- Records requests and management.
- Demonstrative preparation.
- Creative approaches to trial prep.
And so much more.
It’s a thought-provoking conversation on the best practices to implement before trial, from a trio of veteran attorneys with long track records of success. And you can watch the whole discussion FREE, courtesy of CVN and our friends at ChartSquad.
To watch the whole episode Building a Winning Case Before Trial , simply click this link.
This is the first episode in a new series from CVN and ChartSquad, Anatomy of a Case. Each episode will feature noted trial attorneys and legal professionals from around the country discussing critical elements to succeed in every phase of a case’s life cycle. Keep an eye out for future episodes, which will be offered through trial associations across the country.
Email Arlin Crisco at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Melanie Carpenter is special counsel at ChartSquad.