The great John Wooden, in addition to being the highly respected UCLA coaching legend, also brought us pearls of wisdom to guide us in all our endeavors.  Some would liken litigation to a sport with dueling  sides, fierce battles , victorious celebrations and  crushing defeats.  The decreasing civility in the arena  of the deposition has served to scar  the reputation of those of us that litigate and erode the confidence level of the public that we serve.  Let’s not forget that character and conscience are the guide posts that we owe to our profession when we walk into the deposition room.  The manner in which we comport ourselves should be an integral part of the definition of “representing our clients best interest,” not an afterthought.

It seems, as of late, that civility in depositions has become not only devalued, but almost scorned upon as weak.  The ugliness, the personal attacks, the flagrant disregard for judges guidance on how to conduct ourselves not only creates the need for more litigation, but also goes counter to what is ultimately in the best interest of our clients both financially and emotionally.  When the dust settles and we remove our egos from the playground, we are left with what has always been a human endeavor … civil societies attempting  to resolves disputes among  its citizens in a manner  that is both  sustainable and dignified.   Let’s not lose sight of the fact that time is money in the world of litigation … and the more we effectively use our time to advance our client’s case, the closer we get to achieving the goals of efficiency and financial responsibility.

As Coach Wooden so succinctly stated, “ Sports Don’t Build Character … They Reveal It.”  Indeed, the field of litigation may also borrow a page from this insight into human nature when we look at how litigators conduct ourselves in our profession. A zealous representation of our clients must include the all-important skill of removing one’s ego that may stand in the way of effective litigation and replace it with reasoned, forward thinking, as well as effective responses to opposing counsel and deponents stimuli. Engaging in sarcasm, personal attacks, and colloquy is not only improper in depositions but also serves to take the focus off the purpose of the deposition, turning it instead into a battle of wills.  Surely we cannot condone such behavior.  

As an eternal optimist, I’d like to think that when we bring our “A” game to our craft.  Our “A” game must  include comporting ourselves in a way that shows others in our profession and society at large that we place as much value on the way we litigate as to how we litigate. 

Litigation is not a game whose end is to gratify the ego of its players.  It is the best system a civilized society can embrace wherein disparate parties can be heard and disputes resolved.  Unless and until we preserve the civility on the field of “battle,” we run the risk of losing the confident of the clients we serve, the respect of the Judges in front of whom we appear and, most importantly, the legacy of the legal community.

By Laura Reiland

Laura A. Reiland, an associate attorney at Northrup Schlueter, focuses on the areas of construction defect litigation representing builders, general contractors, subcontractors, and homeowners. She has represented plaintiffs and defendants in complex litigation matters including construction defect defense, medical malpractice, class action product liability, employment discrimination and Federal civil rights violations. With more than 15 years of experience in both trial and binding arbitration, Ms. Reiland credits effective communication skills and early strategic case management for her track record of bringing parties together to work toward early, efficient and fair resolution of cases.