A deposition is essentially a verbal statement made under oath by a witness or a party involved in a lawsuit. Lawyers commonly use depositions as an investigation tool during the discovery phase of a lawsuit, and depending on a deponent's testimony, the suit may proceed in one of several directions. Often a deposition serves as the catalyst for further investigation into the facts of a case, but it can also reveal an opportunity to settle the matter outside the courtroom.
After a lawsuit is filed, each party has the right to fully investigate his opponent's case. This is called the "discovery phase." There are several tools available during the discovery process, and one of these is to take depositions of witnesses. A deposition normally happens at the office of one of the attorneys involved in the case, and both parties' attorneys, as well as the parties themselves, are usually present. A court reporter records the witness' statement and produces a word-for-word transcript. A deposition serves two purposes: to find out what a witness's testimony will be at trial, and to preserve that testimony until the case is tried. Depending on the information uncovered in a deposition, a lawsuit normally proceeds along one of three courses.
Often, a deponent reveals information that requires additional follow-up. For instance, an attorney might learn that he needs to verify facts, obtain additional documents, or speak to additional witnesses in order to proceed with the lawsuit. In this situation, the next step will be to conduct further discovery.
A deposition might serve as the final piece of the litigation puzzle, clarifying the issues and allowing the attorneys to reach a settlement on behalf of their clients. Depending on the facts of the case and the testimony given during the deposition, a settlement might be reached immediately or the parties might engage in more lengthy negotiations before reaching a resolution.
On the other hand, sometimes a deposition is the final step in the discovery phase, allowing the attorneys to prepare for trial. Often, deposition transcripts are used at trial to ensure that witness testimony remains consistent. On occasion, a witness can't attend trial, and his deposition substitutes for his appearance at trial.