What is a Deposition? Legal Definition & Process

In many court cases, depositions are used. Knowing the deposition definition in law and how it works can help as you prepare for your case. Discover below answers to your questions about the definition and the process of depositions and how to prepare for them.

What Is a Deposition: Definition

What is a deposition, especially a deposition in court cases? A deposition, meaning giving sworn evidence, is a part of pre-trial evidence that is sometimes taken during the discovery process in a civil lawsuit. Depositions can be requested during various legal proceedings but are extremely common in personal injury cases.

An oral statement is taken from a witness under oath outside the courtroom, often in an attorney’s office. The deposer can ask the witness about their opinions surrounding the legal matter, which can provide insight into what the witness knows and reduce the risk of unwanted surprises during the trial. Any person with relevant facts supporting either party involved in the case may be deposed. Depositions can also include expert witnesses whose specialized knowledge qualifies them to present their understanding in legal proceedings. 

Reasons for a Deposition

The testimonies offered by deponents during depositions can give the party taking the statements better insight into the facts surrounding the case. Lawyers can use this information to help formulate a theory and strengthen their argument. There are significant benefits to taking depositions. The six main reasons to take a deposition are: 

  1. Seeking discovery; 
  2. Seeking admissions; 
  3. Testing theories; 
  4. Gaining material for motions; 
  5. Preserving testimony; and 
  6. Evaluating witnesses.  

Seeking discovery

The discovery phase of a case is when the parties exchange information and evidence ahead of a trial. Evidence is typically gathered in three ways: documents, physical evidence, and testimony. A deposition not only provides an attorney with information via testimony, but the witness’s statement may also lead to other evidence being discovered that was previously undiscovered or being held by the other party. Depositions also help to piece together the parts of a case, giving a better idea of how the physical evidence and the documents related to the case are connected.

Seeking admissions

An admission occurs when an individual reveals some truth of a fact that they may not have wanted to be admitted into evidence. Admissions can be a vital part of the discovery process and may happen during a deposition. They can allow lawyers to form the basis of the theory for their case. When asked carefully during a deposition, the questioner may get the deponent to admit to crucial facts.

Admissions are also helpful when filing a motion for judgment.  If the testimony from one party coincides with a theory from the other side, motions may be more likely to be granted.

Testing theories

Depositions are also helpful in testing theories before the trial. Several angles can be assessed to help evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of each. If the witness has an answer to the question that disregards the theories, the deposer will know not to take that angle when building the case.

Some lawyers argue that testing theories during a deposition can harm a case, as it gives the opposition insight into the perspective being targeted. However, using the deposition this way can allow attorneys to choose the best angle to present to the court at trial. It can also reduce the risk of unanticipated responses from the witness, which may be detrimental to the case.

Gaining material for motions

During a deposition, the witness will either support or argue against the deposer’s theories. The undisputed facts can help to support a summary judgment motion, which is when one party attempts to convince the judge of the evidence and subsequently win the case without going to trial. The information can still be useful even if the motion fails. The party may need to call fewer witnesses to prove the uncontested points, simplifying the trial. 

Preserving testimony

Under Federal Rule 27, depositions can also be used to preserve testimony. Taking a deposition can be helpful when there is a chance that the witness cannot give their testimony later. Examples could include a witness who is dying, a witness who will be away on vacation, or someone who resides outside the US and will return home before the trial.

Evaluating witnesses

A deposition also allows lawyers to observe and evaluate their witnesses. They can see how the witness will likely respond to specific questions and what makes the witness most uncomfortable. Therefore, taking a deposition allows evaluation the deponent and determining whether they will be a strong witness to bring to the stand.

How Does a Deposition Work?

How a deposition is conducted depends on the state law. These laws may limit the number of depositions each party is allowed, how long the questioning can last, and where the session takes place.

Of the fifty US states, the majority follow the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to govern depositions. This limits the number of depositions to ten for both plaintiffs and defendants. Each session is limited to a single day, and the questioning cannot last seven hours. However, some districts will have their own rules with different limitations. Generally, depositions will be two to three hours long. The length depends on how many questions the attorney has to ask and the witness’s responses. Some depositions can be as short as 15 minutes.

A deposition will take place in an attorney’s office. The attorney, the deponent, and a court reporter will be in the room. Other parties can attend, and the witness may choose to have a lawyer present.

What Happens During a Deposition?

Witnesses may need to be deposed before a trial, but some may ask what a deposition hearing is. Hearings are held before the judge, but most jurisdictions define deposition as a question-and-answer session during which testimony is given outside the courtroom. 

During the session, an attorney will ask the witness questions. The questions asked are typically more generalized than those allowed during a hearing. The deponent’s attorney can offer legal advice and object to questions asked when appropriate. 

However, objections are not common, and the witness is often obliged to give a response to everything. Any objections to questions posed during the deposition can be presented to the judge later.

What To Expect at a Deposition

For any witness, the questions asked can be grueling. The deponent’s attorney generally helps to prepare as much as possible. Knowing what to expect at a deposition is vital for successful preparation.

An attorney can help his or her client by asking probing questions similar to those that may be asked during the deposition. The attorney can coach the witness on how to answer questions in such a way as only to give the required information. Any public profile may be used against the witness by the opposition. Hence, a key step in preparing for the deposition is to check social media images, posts, or other online content that may come up during the testimony.

It is important to note that a court reporter will be present to record the deposition testimony word for word. The court reporter will provide a transcript at a later date. 

In exceptional cases, such as when the witness cannot attend the hearing, the deposition may be video recorded and presented at trial. Therefore, the witness should be careful not to say anything they do not wish to be recorded.


What is a deposition? A deposition, meaning the question-and-answer session with an attorney and a court reporter, is the process by which testimony is taken from a witness to the case before trial. These statements are beneficial when building the theory surrounding the case and can prevent unwanted surprises at trial. 

The deposer must formulate questions revealing the information they need for a good deposition. As deponents are under oath when speaking, preparing the witness in advance is essential.


How long does a deposition take?

The duration of a deposition, also known as an examination before trial, can range from a few hours to several days if ordered by the court. The total length of a case’s depositions depends on various factors, including the complexity of the case, the number of witnesses involved, and the amount of evidence presented.

In general, a deposition will last from two to four hours. However, the depositions may take many hours if the case involves multiple witnesses or complex legal issues.

Additionally, the deposition length can vary based on the witness’s availability and willingness to cooperate.

It is essential to remember that a deposition is a critical part of the discovery process in a lawsuit. It allows the parties to obtain relevant information and evidence to prepare for trial. As a result, it is essential to take the time needed to conduct a thorough and effective deposition.

If you have further questions or concerns about the deposition process, consider consulting with an attorney for additional guidance.

What happens after a deposition?

After deposition, the court reporter will create a transcript of the testimony from stenography or audio recordings. The deponent’s attorney will review the transcript, and the deponent will have the opportunity to make changes or corrections. Transcripts of depositions may also be used as evidence in court proceedings.

Can you refuse a deposition?

Whether or not you can refuse a deposition depends on the circumstances. Generally, if you have been adequately served with a subpoena, you must attend and provide testimony. 

However, there may be specific grounds for objecting to a subpoena or refusing to testify, such as if the subpoena was not properly served or if the testimony would violate your Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination. Consider discussing your concerns with an attorney if you are considering refusing a deposition.

Article by Karyna Pukaniuk

Karyna Pukaniuk, Head of Legal at Lawrina. Experienced Tax and Corporate Lawyer, team leader, and legaltech pro. Led and backed the smooth operation of the legal team and accompanied several different projects simultaneously. Worked closely with department's leads, and shareholders and advised them through all legal, regulatory, and risk management matters. Supervised multi-million dollar M&A deals, and actively participated in the company's product development.

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