Many years ago, I took a deposition that every attorney in the case thought was unimportant.
I was deposing a woman who was the daytime, weekend receptionist for a building where my clients leased office space.
Guess what she told me.
She had given a copy of my client’s key card to the two corporate espionage defendants in our case. They had used it to steal trade secrets from my clients on a Sunday afternoon in broad daylight. That admission was the smoking gun that broke the case wide open.
Why did she tell me this?
Simple: because I was the nicest person in the room, and I treated her with respect. Nobody thought she knew enough to warrant prep time prior to her deposition.
There are a lot of lessons in this scenario for young attorneys who are just getting into the deposition game.
For today’s purposes, the lesson is this: deposing attorneys exhibit different personality types, and you need to prepare your client differently for each of them. Today, we’re looking at the top three personality types you might encounter in a deposition.
#1: The super-nice attorney
Being the super-nice attorney was the tactic that most often worked for me.
My game was to hold off on entering the scheduled deposition until everyone else showed up. Then, I’d arrive with smiles and handshakes and genuine questions about how everyone’s weekend had been.
More often than not, by the time the deposition started, the deponent was feeling safe and very chatty.
This reaction isn’t surprising. In fact, people who smile are generally trusted more than those who don’t.
I also tried to appear humble and calm, which are two traits not always associated with attorneys. They are, however, attributes that make a person seem more trustworthy.
Fortunately, if your client is about to be deposed by a super-nice attorney, the preparation is relatively simple.
Remind your client that no matter what happens, that attorney is not their friend. Make your client repeat that mantra no fewer than 53 times the morning of the deposition.
If you see your client starting to fall for the super-nice attorney’s whims during the depo, call for a break. Remind your client again that this person is not their friend. Disrupting the attorney’s flow of charm is an effective way to keep your client focused and on track.
#2: The hyper-aggressive attorney
The next attorney personality-type that you’ll often see in depositions is the hyper-aggressive attorney.
These are people who walk into the deposition room angrily, slam their papers down on the table, speak with excessive volume, and just generally give off a vibe like they think everybody else in the room is guilty of something.
They ask questions like they’re annoyed with the deponent, and they’ll often berate the deponent if they don’t give an expected answer right away.
There are two hard-and-fast rules when preparing your client for this attorney personality-type: (1) be calm; and (2) be prepared.
These attorneys are trying to shake your client off their game. The antidote for that is to have your client remain as calm as possible no matter what the attorney throws at them.
Help your client understand that if they start to get flustered, they can ask for a break. Remind them that they can (and should) pause and breathe before giving any answer to an attorney like this.
Perhaps more importantly, make sure your client is thoroughly prepared for the deposition.
After all, the hyper-aggressive attorney’s whole strategy is to catch your client off guard so they’ll say something they shouldn’t. The more prepared your client is, the less likely that is to happen.
So, do a few practice depositions with your client. In fact, if you can talk a colleague into playing the part of the aggressive attorney during these practice sessions, your client will be much better prepared to face the real thing.
#3: The monotone attorney
This may seem like an odd personality-type to profile, but you’ll know these attorneys when you see them.
They typically speak in very low, slow, monotone voices. They appear calm, unrushed, and methodical in their questioning.
Interestingly, monotone speakers are known to mask their emotions. This may seem like a good thing after reading about the hyper-aggressive attorney, but it can actually be very confusing for your client.
Humans have long used emotional cues as facilitators of productive conversations.
Without those cues, your client may have a hard time deciding how to respond to questioning.
One good way to prepare your client for this type of deposing attorney is to have your client mimic the monotone behavior.
The reason for this is simple. In normal conversations, people tend to mimic each other’s emotions. If one speaker projects sadness, for example, most people will respond with a show of empathy or a more depressed affect of their own.
The absence of this mimicking behavior in a conversation can actually be quite startling. Yet, if your clients are prepared to engage in this sort of emotionless conversation, not only will they experience less frustration, but they might end up frustrating the deposing attorney.
Throughout your career, you will undoubtedly encounter these and other personality types in depositions.
You’ll also develop your own deposition personality.
If you know that the deposing attorney frequently uses a specific strategy, it’s a good idea to prepare your client ahead of time. As with everything in the law, the better prepared you are to handle these things, the better off your clients will be.