This article is part one of a two-part series and is meant to provide some guidance, suggestions, and insights for younger attorneys that have little or no deposition experience that are tasked with leading the brigade for their client(s) in taking and defending an array of depositions. Think of this as a blueprint and roadmap for what to expect based on my recent experience as a younger attorney taking around 20 depositions in a two-month span. Part one will focus on maintaining one’s personal well-being during this strenuous time, while part two will emphasize substantive means and methods to prepare for the task at hand. I deliberately began this series with the mental well-being component first because, from personal experience, that is the area I had a more difficulty with.
In January and February 2020, I deposed a multitude of experts in a complex, construction defect matter, which correspondingly entailed evaluation of each expert’s report—sometimes quite lengthy—in preparation of same. During this time, I also deposed several fact witnesses in another large, complex case. In total, I took around 20 depositions during a two-month span. By any measure, this was quite the responsibility bestowed – on behalf of the respective clients, my firm, and my supervising partner. With this responsibility and challenge, there are many stressors that a younger attorney will encounter, and while I “figured it out” along the way, I wish I had a blueprint for what to expect during this period, and providing a few insights to help younger attorneys similarly situated in taking a plethora of depositions and handling (and surviving) same is my primary aim for this series of articles.
Depositions. For younger attorneys that have not previously taken or defended depositions, the word alone can draw ire and fear. I think this is partly because the law school curriculum—vis-à-vis, the lack of required course on this key practice area—inadequately prepares students for this undertaking. The law school curriculum is great for erudition and teaching minds to “think like a lawyer,” but there are gaps when it comes to preparing law students for the actual practice of law. The taking and defending of depositions is no exception. While everyone’s experiences will be unique, I believe there are certain commonalities that transcend practice area and the individual attorney.
The taking of depositions is an expectation when you practice in the arena of complex civil litigation. But what about when the circumstances dictate nearly a deposition a day over a two-month span? And managing a full caseload on top of that? Well, admittedly, as someone who has recently faced this gauntlet, there are ubiquitous challenges.
Here are some items to consider that may be beneficial for your own well-being during this interval. And I think it is important to characterize this time as a “interval” as this inherently acknowledges the ebbs and flows in practice, and connotes a finish line with the multitude of depositions, which is important to keep in perspective for one’s mental well-being.
First, it is crucial that a game plan is in place, both personally and substantively. Plan ahead as much as possible in every aspect of your life. Whatever the circumstances dictate, whether that be a couple months’ notice, a month’s notice, a couple of weeks, or even a few days, there are opportunities to plan ahead. While I am not necessarily suggesting a rigid calendar of hour-by-hour activity a month or a week in advance—acknowledging that works perfectly for some people—knowing, or at least planning, chunks of time for designated activity a week in advance is a method that has worked well for me. Carving out some windows for personal activity during this busy interval will go a long way for one’s mental health. In one’s personal life, this largely boils down to communication, like so many facets in a healthy, functional, and fulfilled life.
I cannot emphasize enough the need to communicate with your loved ones and/or friends that there will be less time spent with them than typical, perhaps very little. Communication is critical during this interval. Properly manage expectations of others around you. In the little down time you have, make time for your loved ones and friends the best you can. Try to do something new, such as going on a hike at a new trail or undertaking a new activity, as that will give you something to look forward to in the midst of the chaos you are enveloped by. You need to mentally prepare to make sacrifices, including (mostly) giving up any independent relaxing time or any hobbies during this interval, but as much as possible try to do something that you enjoy. Be intentional with your actions. It is easy to become enveloped by the all-encompassing nature of taking a multitude of depositions, but if you are intentional with your time and carve-out one or two items you “must do” a day, you will complete those items, and such tasks will become habitual and be a springboard for maintaining and launching further habits once a more normalized interval commences. Admittedly, I was not as intentional with my actions in creating personal time carve-outs as I should have been during this interval.
Despite this, I had better success at finding an outlet that provided rejuvenation benefits and kept everything in perspective, which I cannot recommend enough. For some this may take the form of meditation, yoga, or prayer, among other possible replenishing activities. For me, my outlet was going to the gym and lifting weights. In life there are some things beyond your control, but in the gym you are in complete control of your effort and time. A brief workout, even if you feel like you have no time, is incredibly beneficial for one’s physical and mental health and has a resetting effect, which will be needed to get through the plethora of depositions you have to encounter.
Speaking of which, the second, and final, article in this series will focus on the substantive means and methods to prepare for the taking of the plethora of depositions. It can be daunting, but doable, particularly when implementing proactive mental well-being efforts ahead of time.