Deposition Preparation for Paralegals

Today’s blog is authored by CompuScripts’
Litigation Specialist Kaye Mullinax.

Sage Advice for the Legal Professional

In my thirty years as a litigation paralegal, I’ve assisted in the training of many young lawyers, many of whom now sit on either the state or federal bench.  I’ve also trained more new paralegals than I care to count.  I have a lot of information about deposition preparation that should be disseminated to newbies, and I’m happy to share it.

Don’t think you missed the class about deposition preparation.  An instructor probably touched on the topic during a torts class , but not to a degree that was practical application.  I hope this post will make deposition preparation and scheduling go smoothly for new litigation paralegals.   Here are my guidelines on deposition preparation to keep your depositions moving and your cart out of the ditch.

Regardless of who prepares the actual notice, there are a few things you need to know before it is prepared.  Ask your attorney these important questions:

Where Will the Deposition Take Place?

Seems simple enough, but it’s not.  In most cases, your attorney will want to take the deposition in your law firm’s conference room.  However, both state and federal courts have limitations on how far you can ask a non-party witness to travel.  Check the South Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure and Federal Local Rules and make sure where the deposition is taken is within the mileage limitation set forth in the respective rules.   Also see Rule 45 in both the South Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure and the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure regarding subpoena requirements, appearance fees, and mileage.  You may have to arrange for a conference room if the deposition is to be taken in another city or out of state.  Make sure you hire a court reporter who knows your local discovery rules (or better yet, hire CompuScripts to secure the court reporter).  Most court reporting companies have conference rooms available if you are using one of their reporters.  Again, CompuScripts can make this easy by securing a court reporter who has offices in the state and city where your deposition is to take place.   Video conferencing is usually available, also, with a remote or onsite connection.  If an attorney or witness is appearing by video conference, it’s best to tell the court reporting firm from the get-go that it is going to be a video conference and always make sure you test the connectivity, if necessary, before the day of the deposition!

Call opposing and co-counsel’s offices to coordinate a date for the deposition.  It’s more cost effective if the deposition notice, ancillary correspondence, and scheduling calls don’t have to be repeated several times.  Communication is the best way to make that happen.

What Services Will the Reporter Provide?

As soon as you are fairly sure that the deposition schedule is in place, schedule the court reporter.  When you make that call, you’ll need to provide the scheduler with key information, so be ready. When do you need the transcript?  Expedited transcripts come with additional charges, so unless you have a hearing date or other reason that you need the transcript in less than the court reporter’s normal turnaround time (usually 10 to 14 days),  you might want to forego the expedited expense. Do you need a hard copy? Hard copies of transcripts are the exception rather than the rule today.  Most court reporting companies provide an electronic file of the deposition via a secure link, repository download, or email.  This allows you to upload the file to your litigation support software.   This also gives you the ability to print the transcript (and word index) in multiple formats should you need a paper copy for deposition designations, etc.

Does your attorney want a realtime transcript? Every court reporter is not a certified realtime reporter, so the scheduler needs to know this early.  Realtime transcription is also an additional charge.  It is a wonderful tool, but is it cost-effective for your case?  If scheduling a realtime deposition, the court reporter will need to know if your attorney will be bringing his/her own computer or tablet or if one needs to be provided and whether there are any counsel wanting a realtime stream who are in  a remote location.   If the attorneys are going to connect via the internet, is there an adequate Wi-Fi connection in the deposition location?   Missing any of these questions can cause a delay or cancellation of the deposition if everyone’s not on the same page.

Other Deposition Preparation Tips

Handling Exhibits

Each attorney has a preference as to how they handle proposed exhibits for depositions.   My tried and true method is to mark the original exhibit with a pre-printed “Defendant’s Exhibit” or “Plaintiff’s Exhibit” sticker.  I then make copies of the exhibit, leaving the number blank.   This helps keep the deposition moving because the court reporter doesn’t have to mark all the witness’s exhibits (the attorneys can mark their own) and only must add the number to the original document.  In document-intensive cases where the same exhibits are used for multiple witnesses, create a deposition exhibit notebook with the exhibits pre-marked.  That way, you can be assured the same document is used for all witnesses.  Ask your attorney  how they want the exhibits organized: Chronological order?  Clipped together? In separate folders?  In any case, always provide extra copies of the exhibit for the court reporter.  That way, the original deposition transcript is complete if it needs to be filed with the Court.  It’s always easier to make the record complete from the beginning than to recreate it later.  A more tech savvy way to deal with exhibits is to stream or have your exhibits pre-loaded into an application for sharing online, but in this instance, you will want to coordinate with the court-reporting firm before the day of the deposition.  Streaming exhibits are an additional fee, but it can be money wisely spent depending on your particular litigation needs.

Preparing Questions

There’s a very good chance that in some ways you are more familiar with the facts of the case than your attorney.  Use this to get a leg up and start a draft of the deposition questions for your attorney.   There are standard questions that almost every deposition includes, such as background or education.  Your attorney will appreciate you getting this started and jump-starting the deposition preparation.  If a key fact needs to come from the witness –- or if there’s a discrepancy in prior statements — add it in the witness file or even on the deposition questions draft.

Creating Dictionaries

Another tip to make your deposition preparation and trial better is consistency.  When you have a specialized case, there is nothing better than having court reporters who know  your case.   This is one reason why using the same court reporting company for the entire case is key.   Good reporters who know they will be taking additional depositions will create a dictionary of commonly used terms, names, etc.

Also, if you have a highly technical  case with technical words or phrases unique to a particular industry (or even if you don’t),   it is a great idea to create a list for your court reporter to help ensure that your transcript is accurate.  A “players” list is also helpful to the reporter to make sure that names are correctly spelled.  That way, when you’re searching the transcript, the names you’re looking for are in the word index.

Help with Deposition Preparation

Short of tarot cards or tea leaves, you’re not going to be able to read your attorney’s mind.  Asking the right questions, though, and anticipating needs during deposition preparation will make your attorney’s life –and thereby yours — easier.  And if you need any particular information on deposition services or cost-saving strategies, call CompuScripts Court Reporters and Legal Videographers.  Our experienced team can guide you every step of the way.