Depositions

In last week’s column, I discussed the importance of effective deposition defense, with a focus on the client-facing aspects of the process. Now it is time to focus on the true star of the show, the witness.

Yes, some witnesses will be important, perhaps even a senior executive at a client. Or a technical expert, on whose testimony your case rides. And other witnesses will be more tangential, like the IT guy you need to defend with respect to e-discovery issues.

Yes, I understand that every witness is critical, especially when it comes to e-discovery. Human nature, however, is to treat “important people,” like executives and experts, with an extra level of care. As a lawyer, the key is to treat every witness you are preparing for deposition with respecr — while remembering your role as an advocate, tasked with winning your client’s case. Effective defense of depositions goes a long way towards achieving favorable litigation results.

Here are some tips:

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Biglaw litigators may enjoy healthy pay, but they are also the target of some ribbing — particularly from the trial-lawyers bar. Anyone who has practiced litigation in Biglaw has heard that they are at best a “deposition lawyer,” better suited for churning out endless motions than for performing in front of a judge or jury. There is no doubt that for the majority of Biglaw litigators deposition experience is much easier to come by than trial experience. And while trials are definitely more intensive and fun, in my experience preparing for a critical deposition in a patent case is in a way more difficult. Unlike at trial, where nearly all of the direct and cross examinations are scripted, there is an element of the unknown at a deposition.

When it is an important witness, such as a technical or damages expert, everyone involved in the case knows that a deposition can be a make-or-break event. In fact, one of the things that makes preparing for trial testimony easier than preparing for a deposition is that when we prepare for trial, we rely heavily on prior testimony in the case. The best source for that prior testimony? Deposition transcripts. But going into a critical deposition, there is much more uncertainty. Everyone on the team worries if the witness will hold up. Does not matter how experienced the expert is, or how senior a business person. The wrong answer can doom a case.

While it may seem like deposition defense is a thankless job, it also provides a priceless opportunity to “hear” your opponent’s approach to important issues in the case. And that can be even more valuable than trying to extract information from a well-prepared witness at a deposition you end up taking at another point in the case.

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A few weeks ago, I discussed whether it was possible to go paperless. I want to pick up where I left off and drop a few more tips for how to go paperless and why it’s important. For me, as a solo practitioner, I have to be efficient. It’s how I keep an edge over other small firms and how I level the playing ground with big firms. But, it’s not all about competing with others. I reduce my paper use because I am just way too busy to spend 3 hours doing something that I could do in 30 minutes.

Also, just to be clear, when I say “paperless,” I really mean “mostly paperless.” It is not possible or practical to go entirely paperless in this current decade, but I think that the less paper we use, the better.

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Litigators get away with a lot of obnoxious stuff during discovery. For better or worse, the pre-trial discovery phase of civil litigation is every lawyer’s opportunity to relive those times when parents leave kids alone for the first time: every slight, disagreement, and jealousy on a slow boil explodes into anarchic back-biting once there’s no authority figure around to enforce civility. Bring on the mean-spirited letters and smack-talking RFAs.

When it comes to depositions, it doesn’t always reach “fatboy” levels, but a federal deposition isn’t a deposition until someone threatens to call the magistrate — though never does.

Which is why this benchslap, where a federal judge levies a sanction straight out of elementary school, is so appropriate….

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Dropbox is one of my favorite programs. It certainly changed the way we share files and collaborate on cases. Another one of my favorite programs is TrialDirector, the best program for presenting evidence in trial. It’s got great tools for organizing and annotating evidence. Both programs have their pluses and minuses in terms of price and features.

When those two programs have a baby, that baby is awesome. The baby’s name is TDNotebook.

What Is TDNotebook?

TDNotebook is a cloud-based evidence management tool for collaboration between your office, co-counsel, vendors, and experts. It’s free like how Dropbox is free – you get a certain amount of free storage, and for anything above that, you have to pay.

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Kentucky State Rep. Will Coursey

Let me ask you this. Did you tell her, “Don’t be a cockblocker”?

– Attorney Thomas Clay during the deposition of Kentucky State Rep. Will Coursey, who is currently facing a retaliation suit from one of his former staffers, Nicole Cusic. Coursey’s lawyer, William Johnson, wants the deposition to be sealed because the questions Clay asked were “the kind of smut and gossip that the media and the public would love, but [have] nothing to do with the relevance of this case.”

(Keep reading to watch video of part of Coursey’s “smut-filled” deposition.)

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The ceiling of a Columbia dorm room collapsed on a student, giving her a herniated disk and persistent headaches. She claims the back injury compromised her ability to get a decent night’s sleep and forced her to take muscle relaxants to deal with the pain.

Now the newly minted lawyer is suing the school over her injuries, and the school’s lawyer is suggesting that the victim can’t really have this back injury because she kept getting good grades.

Brilliant legal strategy!

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[Shawn Carter aka Jay-Z] is one of the most prolific and hardest-working businessmen and recording artists in the world. This summer, among many other commitments, he is headlining a grueling 18-city North American concert tour with his wife, Beyoncé Knowles, between June 25 and August 6. With the tour opening fast approaching, the next four weeks are already filled beyond capacity with production and business meetings and rehearsals. Preparing for a stadium tour is a non-stop effort. And this is all in addition to Mr. Carter’s usual duties as the CEO of several businesses, at least two scheduled product launches, and curating a first-of-its-kind, bicoastal, music festival in August…. [S]cheduling an early deposition would unnecessarily burden and harass [Jay-Z].

Cynthia S. Arato of Shapiro Arato & Isserles, in a letter to Magistrate Judge Ronald L. Ellis (S.D.N.Y.), detailing her client’s unavailability for a deposition.

Arato represents UMG Recordings, Island Def Jam Music Group, Roc-A-Fella Records, and Jay-Z in a suit filed by Dwayne Walker, who claims he’s owed $7 million in contractual royalties for the use of a logo he allegedly drew in 1995. Walker is represented by one of most infamous lawyers to ever grace these pages: Gregory Berry, he of the “superior legal mind.” In her letter, Arato claims that Berry has made “improper efforts to sensationalize” the case.

(Keep reading to see the full letter, which really hangs Greg Berry out to dry.)

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“… TO BE SANCTIONED!”

Usher wrote this song called Bad Girl. It’s got a good beat and you can dance to it. Anyway, this guy named — I s**t you not — Dan Marino claims he wrote the song and Usher and his cronies stole it from him. He wants millions and millions of dollars. But rather than trigger the fall of the House of Usher, his lawyer got handed his hat.

He hired a lawyer named Francis Malofiy to zealously represent his interests. To his credit, “zeal” is not a failing of Mr. Malofiy. Courtesy, respect, professional responsibility — these things might be lacking, but he’s got zeal covered.

And, as it so often does, the latter failings (coupled with the former strength) gave rise to an epic benchslap….

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Time and again, we’ve seen outrageous behavior and absurd antics from both lawyers and litigants during depositions. Sometimes deponents tell attorneys to “suck [their] dicks,” and sometimes attorneys actually draw pictures of dicks.

Sometimes, Biglaw partners get so frustrated due to the sheer stupidity of the deponent’s testimony on the record that they come thisclose to losing their minds.

Luckily, in this case, we’ve got it on video…

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