Student Post: Kindness as a Legal Strategy

by Brooke, Class of 2016

It is only the third week of my co-op with the ACLU of Arizona, but I have already adjusted to the busy pace and am constantly learning what I see as invaluable lessons. For example, I have tried to make it a habit to arrive half an hour earlier than required, so I have time to make myself some coffee and eat breakfast while getting ready for the day. While I could just eat breakfast at home, this half hour is the only time I can finish things up before the chaos of the day starts and I get new, more urgent assignments. My time at my desk is frequently broken up by depositions and trips to the courthouse, so it is important that I figure out how to maximize my uninterrupted time. In the two and a half weeks I’ve been here, I’ve already gotten to sit in on several depositions and observe court proceedings. I’ve taken to keeping a blazer on the back of my chair at work and in the backseat of my car, because you truly never know when you might need to put on your business face.

Somewhere in the back of my mind I knew that Federal Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 16 governed pre-trial conferences (Thanks, Professor Williams!), but I didn’t have any real idea of what that entailed until last week when I sat in on a status conference in federal court. As I sat in the mostly-empty court room, the judge broke down the pending time table for class certification (FRCP Rule 23!) and the discovery deadlines. While a status conference may not seem so exciting, I was thrilled to get out of the office and into court, even if it was only to observe the creation of a trial schedule.

The other major break from computer work I get is the opportunity to help prepare for and sit in on depositions. Deposition prep can be anything: I’ve both had to search for every quote ever given by a certain public official, as well as pour over previous litigation documents. It just depends on what the examiner is trying to get out of the deponent. Speaking of the examiner and the deponent, there is something that these last three weeks have gotten me thinking about: compassion. So much of what I have learned on co-op really is not a lesson on citations and research and legal intricacies as much as it is a really detailed study in how a human being should and should not interact with another human being.

This crystallized for me during a series of particularly grueling depositions last week, some of which lasted all day plus. When everyone is on edge and the attorneys are sparring back and forth about time limits and objections and privileged information, the attorneys who were the most successful in getting what they needed from the deponent were those that treated them like human beings who were being forced to sit in a room all day and answer very uncomfortable questions on the record. Kindness helped pull out the answers, even when the answers were hard for the deponent to admit.

Basically, from what I can tell, a good deposition depends on: 1) an amazing paralegal to help you know what you’re doing; 2) precise organization of the million exhibits you’re bound to have; 3) kindness to the deponent and the court reporters; and 4) a thesaurus to help you reword every question the deponent won’t answer. (Just kidding about that last one.)

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