Even when represented by legal counsel, you will encounter terms, proceedings, and requests phrased in unfamiliar or intimidating legal jargon. Not having a thorough understanding of these various proceedings and official labels can add anxiety and uncertainty to an already complicated situation. Two commonly misunderstood and intimidating terms in legal vernacular are “depositions” and “mediation.”
What is a Deposition?
If you watch cable legal dramas, you may have some pretty wrong misconceptions on how evidence is gathered and presented at trial. In reality, it is gathered from a variety of sources, including proceedings that occur before trial called depositions. A person can request a deposition to take an official, on the record statement from a witness or party to civil litigation. These statements are often recorded into transcripts, sometimes by a trusted court reporting company, and can be used at trial. They’re simply a sworn testimony, but as a general rule of thumb, avoid answering anything other than what is asked. A deposition is like a conversation, but in many ways it is not a conversation.
The statements made during a deposition are instead given the same weight as a person’s in-person testimony in front of a jury. Depositions can help flush out issues, commit the deponent—the person speaking—to certain positions, and clear up questions. Participants will often have a lawyer present who can object to lines of questioning when appropriate, but generally is not allowed to speak during the deposition. It’s generally recommended that you prepare for a deposition with your lawyer, and what you and your lawyer discuss is privileged.
- Summary: Depositions are proceedings that occur before trial, in which a person can take an on-the-record statement from a witness that is usually recorded into transcripts. These are used at trial.
What is Mediation?
In some legal disputes, the parties may be able to reach an agreement without the need for a trial. Judges will often assess the specific case and the positions of the individual participants and order the parties to participate in traditional mediation. Other times parties may willingly agree or ask the other side to attempt mediation before progressing to trial.
Traditional mediation involves both the plaintiff and defendant and their respective attorneys attending the mediation to present their facts and arguments to the other side in the presence of a neutral, third party mediator. This mediator will not decide the case but instead attempts to work with the parties to help them resolve their differences and come to a mutual understanding. The compromise is documented in a mediation agreement which, when signed by the parties, binds each side to a specific result.
- Summary: Mediation occurs when legal disputes can be resolved without the need for a trial. These meetings include the plaintiff, defendant, respective attorneys, and a third-party mediator to present facts and arguments in order to come to a mutual understanding.
Whichever legal proceeding you may be facing, being armed with the knowledge of the process can eliminate much of the fear and concern associated with legal action.