It's been my experience that depositions often go on much longer than is really necessary. Since I've contributed to the problem as much as any other lawyer of my acquaintance, I thought I'd do penance by coming up with some suggestions for keeping depositions short.
- Don't cover the same ground twice. It seems to happen fairly often that towards the end of a deposition, the questioner returns to topics that have already been adequately covered. You can make sure this doesn't happen to you by following an outline that has some logical method of organization, even if it's known only to you.
- If you don't know why you're asking a question, why bother? Keeping depositions as short as possible requires some preparation and planning. Before you begin, be sure to understand what you hope to accomplish during the deposition, how the deposition fits into the overall discovery plan, and how the deposition will be used at trial.
- If the witness is rambling, assert control. Of course, there can be good reasons for allowing a witness to ramble. For example, it might mean the witness is volunteering information that is useful to you. At other times, however, the witness might just be a nervous talker or a selfish time-waster. In this case, feel free to politely interrupt to tell the witness he has gotten off track. Then start over by asking the question again.
- Omit the throat-clearing questions and get to the point. Often, lawyers circle around and around for hours before they finally get to the key questions for which they noticed up the deposition in the first place. If this describes you, refer back to Rule #2: Why are you asking all those throat-clearing questions? Sometimes it helps to engage in the fun practice of beginning a deposition smack in the middle with the most difficult questions first. This strategy is guaranteed to catch both the opposing lawyer and the witness off guard, and in certain situations, it can be very effective.
- Do you really need the deposition at all? Here's another great way of keeping depositions short: cancel them if they're not really necessary.
- Know when to violate these rules. There are situations calling for very lengthy depositions, and if that's the situation you're in, so be it. But for the great majority of depositions, the three-hour rule in Illinois requires you to know how to keep depositions short. If you think you're pretty good at it already, ask yourself how you'd conduct the deposition differently if you were given only two hours. It can be a very useful exercise, and it might help to get you home by dinnertime.