You knew him only as “the senior partner,” so you were honored, but also a little nervous, when you were asked to accompany him to a client’s deposition. You were surprised to have been asked so soon. After all, you’d only been at the firm for three months, and everything you knew about depositions you’d read in books.
You knew the senior partner would be “defending” the deposition—that is, not asking the questions himself, but objecting when the other lawyer asked his questions. From reading books, you knew that before depositions, lawyers are supposed to “woodshed” their clients by telling them what and what not to say. The very good lawyers never did this explicitly, of course, both to avoid problems of ethics and of poor form. Instead, the good lawyers cloaked their woodshedding in a haze of ambiguity.
“If you’re asked something like this,” they might say, “I think the correct answer is probably something like this.”
When you showed up for the pre-deposition meeting a little early, it was the woodshedding that you were thinking about. While waiting for the senior partner to arrive, you engaged in some uncomfortable small talk with the client about baseball and TV.
Finally, the senior partner arrived. The woodshedding was not exactly what you’d expected. It took precisely five seconds and went something like this: “Sorry I’m late. You’re going to do fine. Let’s go.”
Three years of legal education, and it’s clear that you don’t know the first thing about practicing law! You make a quick note about proper pre-meeting technique and sit down at the deposition in a corner of the room, where you wait for the senior partner to display the qualities that made him great.
And that’s when you get a big surprise. As the deposition begins, you see the senior partner pull something out of his briefcase—not documents you recognize from the case, not pleadings or discovery answers but . . . a stack of bills! After that, the senior partner produces a checkbook and begins . . . paying his bills!
What about the lawyering? What about the objecting? The senior partner doesn’t make any objections. In fact, he looks up from his bills only once, to tell the deponent—your firm’s client—to “answer the counsel’s question. Please.”
It’s quite a shock. Quite a shock indeed.[Like this post? It's one of many included in my book How to Feed a Lawyer (And Other Irreverent Oberservations from the Legal Underground). Details here.]