I have a saying around the office regarding the likability of clients: “The clients I would most enjoy spending casual time with usually give the worse deposition testimony.”
This is generally because genuinely nice people want to be helpful and are under the misconception that the point of a deposition is to prove their case. It’s not. A deposition is a recorded personal statement about facts that will be argued in the event of a trial. It acts as an opportunity for the opposing legal team to gather information from the person giving the statement. Opposing counsel will then seek to use this information against defendants, witnesses, plaintiffs, or whoever is being deposed, in any way they can.
How many times have you watched a television cop show and asked yourself, “Did that guy really just say that?” The Constitutional Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination when questioned by police after being arrested has been around since the Supreme Court decision in 1966, Miranda v. Arizona. When arrested, you “have the right to remain silent,” and yet day after day people don’t use it. Some people may believe that they are invincible to prosecution, others may be ignorant of the workings of the legal system, and still others may falsely believe that in giving all the information they have they will receive some sort of leniency. In my experience with social security disability, worker’s compensation, and personal injury claims, I unfortunately witness this same tendency to over-reveal fairly regularly.
Whether it is ego or simply a polite eagerness to please, we as people think that if we talk enough, eventually we will convey our message to the party listening. We, for some reason, equate the quantity of words with the ability to convince others of the outcome we desire; but, this is not the case. Generally, the ability to convince someone is based on the structure and content of an argument, not the amount of words used. In legal matters specifically, it has more to do with how well a point of law is argued, not for how long. How many times have you been persuaded from a position in which you felt confident by lengthy or informative arguments presented from the opposing side? For most of us, this is rare. Usually, when our positions are shaky on a topic we are able to be swayed one way or the other, however, a firm stance is less likely to be influenced. For an attorney, part of the job and one of the skills that we hone is this exact ability to sway those who are not firm in their stance and attempt to influence the perception of those who have already declared their position. This ability to skillfully argue a position is valuable and something which we study and practice on a daily basis.
In my personal experience, as well as situations I have heard about from other attorneys, there are times when great cases are destroyed because of a client’s well-meaning actions. In the heat of a moment, people have been known to send lengthy, wordy, and thorough documentation to the agency with which they have placed a claim (insurance, SSD, etc); detailing what the person believed was their entire case. While this person, who afterwards hires an attorney and becomes their client, may believe that honesty is the best policy and that being forthcoming to all involved is the right thing to do, the truth is that instead the client gave away something they should have kept. The information that they might reveal may not have been necessary to reveal or share, and in truth the client may have adversely affected their own case by revealing not only these details, but the nature of their personality, and their likeliness to react emotionally to various pressures.
While the client feels that their actions were justified, (“But Mr. Smith, it is all the truth!”) the attorney for the opposition will use every resource at their disposal to their advantage, including any direct correspondence to them, statements given to insurance agents or police, postings on social media such as Facebook or Twitter, and sometimes even the informal statements given to friends and relatives.
So please stand up, protest, write letters and argue your case, but do it to an attorney. Realize that the statements you want to make can and should be evaluated by an attorney on your behalf, to establish the validity and legalities of your claim. Once you’ve engaged counsel on your behalf you should make the most of your relationship with them to correspond with all others involved in your claim. Let the experience of legal representation work for you to fullest capacity, including knowledge of what information is required to be revealed to opposing counsel. Please, accept an attorney’s advice on how and when to “plead the Fifth,” and on how to appear and speak at a deposition, hearing, or in court.