A Lawyer's Guide to Cross-Cultural Depositions

Copyright © by Nina Ivanichvili, CEO, All Language Alliance, Inc.

Respect the Deponent's Ethnic Identity

Attorneys sometimes are careless and confuse the country of origin, native language, or ethnic identity of the deponent. For instance, perestroika put an end to several decades of forceful "russification" of areas with predominantly non-Russian populations. Having become independent states, the former Soviet republics elevated their national languages to the status of official languages. Several former Soviet republics, such as the Republic of Moldova and the Republic of Uzbekistan, even rejected the Cyrillic alphabet and Latinized their writing. To avoid alienating deponents from countries such as Lithuania, Armenia, or Tajikistan, deposing attorneys should not refer to them as "Russians."

By the same token, all the Spanish-speaking countries today are independent states. Therefore, it likely will be puzzling- if not offensive- for a Spanish-speaking deponent from Costa Rica or Uruguay to be referred to as Mexican.

Set Clear Deposition Ground Rules

Even to an English-speaking person, a deposition can be a confusing experience with a language and rules of its own. Most non-English-speaking individuals who were raised in foreign countries have never been in contact with lawyers, lack knowledge of the American legal system, and have different perceptions of private property and dispute settlement procedures. For such deponents, a deposition can be intimidating.

Sometimes, non-English speakers try to use a deposition as a venue for making lengthy and evasive statements about their case, feeling triumphant that they finally have an opportunity to be heard. They may ramble, answer a question with a question, and easily forget or disregard instructions given to them by counsel.

Attorneys involved in a cross-cultural deposition would benefit by establishing clear ground rules from the start. Counsel might advise the non-English-speaking deponent regarding:

  • speed and simultaneity of conversation (no interruptions are allowed; only one person may speak at a time; the witness needs to pause from time to time to let the interpreter interpret)
  • not engaging in conversation with the interpreter
  • answering only the questions asked
  • providing intelligible verbal responses to each question asked rather than nodding or making "uh-huh" sounds.

If the witness starts providing long-winded responses to the questions, counsel can allow the interpreter to use a hand signal with a deponent to alert the deponent when he or she is talking too fast or too long. By raising a hand, the interpreter will ask the deponent to pause and let the interpreter convey the uttered statement.

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