How to Trust Your Clients and Prepare them to Shine in Depositions

Yep, it’s true. Lawyers sometimes act badly when it comes to client deposition preparation. That behavior can lead to client confusion, loss of client trust and poor client deposition performance, all of which can directly impact case settlement and case value!

What is bad lawyer behavior?

  • Telling the client exactly what to say and how to say it.
  • Telling the client to answer questions with only “yes,” “no” or “I don’t know” responses.
  • Telling the client to say as little as possible or risk losing the case.

The root cause? Lawyers behave badly when they fail to trust their clients in deposition.

Think about it. Client deposition is the one time when the opposing counsel has open season to ask the client any question. Client deposition is the one time that we, as lawyers, cannot speak for the client.

 One of our biggest hurdles is to trust our clients. Year after year, we’ve all had clients neglect to follow instructions and say something wrong in a deposition. This happens so often that most lawyers have built up pretty big walls of distrust and are wary that a client might fail in depositions.

So, what is underneath a lawyer’s distrust of client performance? It’s fear, plain and simple.

Fear that the client will say the wrong thing.

Fear that the client might not comprehend the question.

Fear that the client will say too much.

How can good lawyers work on bad behavior? By addressing their underlying fears in two steps.

Step one. The best thing you can do is to spend time at the start of deposition preparation asking your client open-ended questions and then listening to the responses. Get to know them and what they might say before jumping to conclusions and discounting their instincts. Follow up with questions that coax full explanations from the client. Clients have fears too and they are probably the same as yours! Listening builds trust.   

Step two. Set up a realistic role-playing opportunity for the client. Ask a colleague to join you and act as a defense lawyer. Tailor the scenario to specifically challenge that individual client, making it a true test. Afterwards, work together with your client on the weaknesses.

You know the adage, “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” The same applies here. You can bark orders at your client, but they won’t take heed until they truly want to or need to. Role playing allows them to witness the problems and feel the panic when the defense lawyer goes in for the fifth time on the same topic. First-hand experience will prompt them to be much more open to listening and following your lead.

Ultimately, as lawyers, we must respect who our clients are, what they have been through and trust them to tell the story best in their own words. Furthermore, we must trust that the jury will see our client as an authentic person.

Is this a personal struggle for you? Do you want to learn more about the steps you can take to relieve your fears and trust your clients more? Let’s set up a consultation call or email me a time you’d like to talk.