As an attorney, there are many documents you have to look over when working on a case. Your entire team is responsible for reviewing any and all evidence associated with the case, which could include a mountain of paperwork such as:
- phone records,
- email transcripts,
- Homeowners Association (HOA) documents,
- user agreements,
- employment contracts
Adding to that list of paperwork you will find depositions.
The Meaning of Digesting a Deposition
Digesting a deposition describes the process of creating a shorter or more relevant copy of the deposition. This version of the deposition will be easier to read and presents only the items which are most relevant to your case.
Who digests a deposition?
The person responsible for digesting a deposition is usually a paralegal or a legal assistant within the office, but it can also be an attorney. It is important that the person digesting the deposition has litigation experience as this experience provides an understanding of what type of information will be most useful in a courtroom setting, and therefore what types of information are considered useful and/or essential facts out of the litany of information contained in a deposition transcript.
Deposition Transcript vs. Deposition Digest: What the Difference?
The deposition is an investigative process where each party meets with certain members of the case, witnesses, the defendant or other experts. Individuals are interviewed about the case, their involvement, and/or what they may know or have witnessed. Individuals who are being interviewed must swear to tell the truth and must answer a series of questions from different attorneys. A deposition transcript is a complete word-for-word transcript of the deposition.
Every single thing that is said, including lawyers’ questions, answers provided, “ums”, sighs, and clarifiers goes into the deposition transcript.
Depending on the case, a deposition can go on for days and as a result, the deposition transcript can be several hundred pages. Effectively, reading a deposition transcript requires an attorney or a paralegal to read a script. The transcript can include multiple pages where a question is being repeated by multiple parties, or someone is answering a question with more questions. Therefore, there may be dozens of pages that do not have any useful information or facts pertinent to the case.
In these situations, a deposition digest serves as a shortened version and/or summary of the pertinent or relevant information. Depending on the case and client being represented, not every question asked during the deposition will be relevant.
For example: If you are overseeing a case where you are trying to prove that a driver was negligent, you might ask questions during a deposition that have to do with establishing that a particular driver has a record of traffic violations and/or that they were negligent at that time. However, the attorney representing the driver on the other side of the case, may not need to include any of that information in their deposition digest as they are trying to build a case that proves the other person involved in the accident was running a red light.
For this reason, the deposition digest serves as an opportunity to read only the questions and answers from the deposition which are most relevant to the case being built.
How Do I Summarize or Digest a Deposition?
If you are a paralegal, knowing and understanding how to digest a deposition will prove invaluable to you as you will likely be the one responsible for reviewing and summarizing the deposition for the lawyers on the case. The most important legal components and items your team needs for litigation are prepared in a summary form that other attorneys can review quickly.
- The first step is to go through the deposition a copy of the deposition transcript and a pen and highlighter. As you read through the deposition and find items which are relevant or thematically close to information your team needs for its case, you can highlight them.
- You may choose to annotate while you are highlighting to note which quotes might be best for your final report. You can use this opportunity to write the answers provided in the deposition in the form of a timeline, establishing a series of events based on the answers and direct quotes. Depending on your firm’s procedures, as the paralegal you may not be asked to categorize, and instead, simply retrieve relevant quotes and facts and then give them to the attorney to categorize. The final step is to write up a report that includes the relevant information, facts, and direct quotes from the deposition.
Tips to Digest a Deposition
When you are digesting a deposition it is crucial that you follow these tips:
- Before you write anything down in a summary or digestion, take the time to read over the entire testimony, analyze what you are reading, and take notes. After you have read through the entire testimony, you can then decide which fact or items are integral to your case.
- Avoid editorializing. Your goal is to convey the spirit of which questions were asked and the response given while maintaining a neutral attitude. It is not your job at this stage to form theories or editorialize, rather to simply restate the relevant information that was obtained.
- Ensure that you include any and all relevant details that might be helpful to the attorneys or lawyers on the team. Accidentally leaving out one or two key details or facts can make the difference between winning and losing a case.
- Never alter the context of the material provided in the deposition. To ensure that context is clear, you can add information around the question, such as a short summary of what questions were asked ahead of time or what question was asked directly before the particular quote you have taken. However, never take quotes directly out of context or try to change them so that they fit the narrative you are looking for.
- Maintain accuracy. You will need to consider the context as well as the circumstances when you make a decision as to what items you want to include in your summary. Do not include any repetitive data or unnecessary text. A deposition transcript will include literally every single small cough, sound, hesitation, or clarifying question. Therefore, if the attorney asked the same question three times before the client understood what they meant, you do not need to include all three iterations of the question.
- You should make it easy for the attorney to locate the relevant item in the summary, with a direct correlation to its location in the actual transcript. There may be occasions when the attorney reading the item in your summary requires more context. Therefore, they may want to read for themselves how that answer came about during the deposition. They will therefore go to that location of the deposition transcript and read a few pages before and after the answer.
What are the Deposition Summary Formats?
Breaking down, summarizing, or digesting a deposition can really be done in whatever fashion works best for you and your firm or your team. However, typically there are two types of deposition summary formats: 1) a fact-based summary, where only relevant information is included, no matter which page, and is then put into a readable flow spaced on category or theme; or 2) a page by page summary.
The first type of deposition summary format is to create a deposition brief that targets only the facts that are considered the most essential for your case, no matter where they occur in the deposition.
For example: If you have a case where you are trying to prove the other party in a divorce has adequate funding to provide childcare, a lawyer may need information from a deposition that pertains to assets, income, or any career information that might be relevant. In this case, the format for the deposition summary may only include the critical information, relevant quotes and questions from the witness testimony, and what page they occur on in the full deposition for future reference.
The second type of deposition summary format is to provide a summary on a page by page basis. When using this format, the lawyer may decide that the summarizing process does not require a summary of every single page if that particular page does not include information useful to the case.
For example: If your case requires legal evidence that the company was required to provide their customer, your client, with an advanced warning about a potential defect in a product when the company took over ownership of the business, you can have a paralegal provide a summary of the pages of the deposition that have essential information such as items that relate to this advanced warning, the potential defect, or information provided to the customer. A note about all other pages will say something to the effect of “no information” or “no essentials”.
Overall, digesting a deposition is an extremely important part of providing effective legal counsel. The deposition summary does away with unnecessary and repetitive data and provides a concise summary of the most relevant details or facts from the deposition for litigation. Digesting a deposition is an essential task that helps attorneys find what they need to build a better case. While there are many ways it can be done, chances are you will be asked to annotate and highlight important components and then format the deposition summary in a way that works best for your team.