LETTER FROM THE PRESIDENT
James D. Ratley, CFE
Depositions are grueling. Let’s say you’re an expert witness for the defense. As you walk into the conference room of the plaintiff’s counsel your heart rate ascends, your palms sweat and you reach for a glass of water as you sit at the table. You know what’s coming: incessant, pointed questions from attorneys as you give sworn testimony. You also know that all parties will use your words in court as evidence or as weapons to attack your inconsistencies.
Eric A. Kreuter, Ph.D., CFE, CPA, CGMA, the author of Fraud Magazine's latest cover article, feels your pain, and he wants to help relieve some of it. He’s testified in scores of depositions and knows how hot that seat at the table can get.
Kreuter writes that the primary reason for an attorney’s aggressive demeanor, of course, is to place a witness on the defensive and trip them up. In all depositions and court cases in which I’ve been involved the defense and prosecution will use belligerent and even bellicose tactics to get what they want.
The author writes that he maintains his composure during a deposition through mindfulness and relaxation. “I allow examining attorneys to be themselves, and I stay fully in command of my sensibilities and remind myself that I’m prepared and ready,” he writes. Attorneys’ decibel levels rising? Your voice stays even and calm. Attorneys questioning your facts, career background and even character? You remain professional as you present your meticulously prepared evidence.
Kreuter says that when he first walks into a deposition room he tries to sense the moods of all the participants — additional attorneys, clerks, opposing expert witnesses — so he can be independent of their subtle, distracting influences.
“This tactic is similar to a basketball player who attempts a free throw in a crowded arena: They must tune out distractions like crowd noises, music and people waving signs,” he writes.
During my years as a police officer and fraud examiner, I discovered that reading the moods of all players in a case could determine my success or failure in gathering evidence. I would use this skill when it came time for me to answer the questions. I’d work to control my temperament as the mercury began to rise in the deposition room. As the author writes, I wouldn’t attempt to build rapport with the examining attorney; I’d just answer the questions with (hopefully) unbiased answers.
You don’t have to be afraid of testifying as an expert witness, Kreuter writes. Although the stakes might be high, you can teach yourself to read the room and cope with common stressors of the process and flow of a deposition. “The road to becoming an effective expert witness certainly isn’t easy, but it can be professionally rewarding even if your seat at the deposition sometimes heats up,” he writes.