I’ve written about dealing with difficult or overly coaching counsel when trying to conduct a deposition. Considering that the entire purpose for taking a deposition is to gather evidence, and a coaching or otherwise difficult opposing counsel can undermine this goal, this is an important issue. Unsurprisingly, Professor McElhaney, in his excellent Litigation (aka the Bible), offers a wise strategy for dealing with these situations. In a chapter entitled “Pit-Bull Depositions,” he discusses The Wedge.* Because I cannot say it better, here’s a quote: “[T]he lawyer is coaching the witness because he is afraid of what the witness might say. That means he has not adequately prepared the witness for the deposition. It also means he is afraid you are getting close to something that might help your case or hurt his. . . . [T]here are probably better things to do than run to the judge when a lawyer coaches a witness during a deposition. One of them is to drive a wedge between the lawyer and the witness.” (Id. at 53.)
How to do this? Professor McElhaney suggests you change the dynamic of the deposition, so that the witness begins to see how her attorney is interrupting her and preventing her from telling her side of the story. The witness will likely already be irritated that her lawyer did not adequately prepare her for the kinds of questions you are asking (or perhaps did not prepare her at all). Capitalize on this dynamic by encouraging the witness to finish telling her story. In addition to the above, I would add that a calm, prefatory response to the attorney might also be useful. I’m thinking something along the lines of, “Counsel, you and I both know that what you’re doing is against the rules and making the deposition a miserable experience for your client. That’s not my goal. It’s also going to make this take much longer than necessary because I have to re-ask the question every time you do it. Your client is entitled to tell her own version of the events, let her do it. We can hash through your technical objections later with the judge.”
This, of course, requires the examiner to maintain a calm, professional composure throughout. Raising your voice, or even scowling will tend to reinforce the Us vs. Them dynamic and cause the witness to cling to her lawyer, regardless how poorly she was prepared for the deposition.
*McElhaney credits New York lawyer Patricia Hynes for this strategy. That either renders this post triple hearsay or I owe Ms. Hynes a royalty.