Many experienced paralegals sit in on depositions not to ask questions but to take notes and assist the attorney in “reading” the witness. By this I mean; while the attorney is asking questions, usually prepared questions, the paralegal’s job is to take notes about what the plaintiff answered as well as pay close attention to the demeanor of the plaintiff while answering the questions. Is the plaintiff fidgeting? Did the plaintiff say something “new” something that was not mentioned during is responses to discovery?
The attorney’s job is to ask questions, follow up on original questions in order to get additional information out of the witness when the plaintiff’s answer is vague, and pay close attention to what is being said so that he or she can object or follow up with another question. The paralegal’s job is to scan the room constantly and keep a close eye on the witness and the adversary attorney(s).
As a paralegal, one of many suggestions to you, is to learn to take very good notes and learn to interpret non-verbal communication. Those two skills will make you an invaluable member of your legal team.
As an example: A few years ago I was sitting in a deposition with my managing attorney. We were deposing a plaintiff in a personal injury matter. During the initial discovery process of the case we had been getting medical information from the plaintiff by using the social security number he had provided us with his answers to interrogatories.
During the deposition the attorney asked the plaintiff for his social security number. When I heard the number, it didn’t make sense to me. I made a note of it and while the attorney continued to follow his line of questioning I took a look at plaintiff’s answers to interrogatories. I noticed that the social security number we had been provided was different from the one plaintiff was giving us at this time. During one of the deposition breaks I informed the attorney. When we got back to the deposition the attorney was able to question plaintiff regarding that other social security number and we found out that the plaintiff had come to the country illegally and received an illegal social security number. When he obtained his legal status he received the legal social security number.
After the deposition I went back to my desk and, after speaking with the attorney, I sent out requests medical records. However, I used the new social security number. A few weeks later I received the new medical records informing us of a completely different accident.
We were able to show that the injuries of which plaintiff was complaining were pre-existing conditions and the plaintiff had been involved in an earlier personal injury action which he settled a few years before ours.
I’m not saying that the attorney would not have been able to pick this up at some point. However, because I had all the documents with me and was taking notes, the attorney was able to concentrate on his line of questioning and put the witness at ease by making eye contact.
The witness had no reason to believe that we had just caught him in a lie because the attorney’s demeanor did not change and the attorney did not have to take time out to write anything down which would have caused the witness to be able to “recover” from the lie or think about an excuse.
Make sure you work on your note taking skills. It sounds like a boring task but it can be invaluable to your attorney.