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NOVEMBER 2013 - Levity
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"A Little Levity Please!" Series

Editor’s Note: Let’s face it – the practice of law can sometimes be a little stressful. Even if you’re the type who thrives on stress, it can still be good to crack a smile every now and again. In this "A Little Levity Please!” series, WLALA will feature stories designed to bring a little humor to your day. Submissions welcome from all members!

Deposition Dogpile

By Angela S. Haskins

It has been my experience that often something completely ridiculous is the only thing that will push past the bickering and get the job done. The following is an example of how this attitude has impacted my career as a trial lawyer.

We medical malpractice defense attorneys are, generally speaking, an affable group. In multi-party cases we end up spending an inordinate amount of time with one another, and we can get a little punch drunk when we’re together for the 8th expert deposition in a case where more than 30 experts have been designated. In these depositions we can get a little cantankerous, or jovial, because the plaintiff is not present and everyone in the room is somewhat immune to the seriousness of the underlying facts.

When I was brand new Associate, I was assigned to defend our client in a case involving more than a dozen defendants and pretty much every medical malpractice defense firm. We had travelled across most of the California and even to Atlanta, taking the depositions of the multiple plaintiffs and twice as many defendants. The handling partner had made it clear my role was simply to attend the depositions, sitting quietly in the back of the room, taking good notes, and trying to ensure nothing negative was attributed to our client. But mostly sitting quietly.

Anyone who knows me at all knows that being quiet is not my forte.

Given the overall exposure of the dozen defendants in the case, a virtual Who’s Who of trial lawyer partners attended the depositions on behalf of their clients. I was ecstatic to be in the room with these legends, and happy for the opportunity to learn from the best of the best.

I even managed to comport myself in fairly strict accord with the "sit quietly” directive until the deposition of a vascular surgeon expert. Bizarre incomplete hypothetical questions from plaintiff’s counsel were met with some pretty spectacular opinions in response.

As this went on, a pattern emerged in which the attorney most offended by the question or answer would shout out an objection, followed by grumbled utterances of "join” from a few others. It progressed to a sort of call-and-response routine, where multiple defense counsel would chorus an objection, and all the rest would echo their joinder. Watching the only other woman in the room (the court reporter) start to sweat made me feel very sorry for her as the men in the room shouted over one another, jockeying for position to object before questions or answers were even out of their respective speakers’ mouths. It sounded like the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

This went on for two solid hours. We hadn’t taken a break since the deposition began. The tension crescendoed as cacophony filled the room. Plaintiff’s counsel consulted his papers and readied himself to pose the next question, but before he even opened his mouth to ask it, I saw every attorney in the room stiffen and lunge forward in their chairs, poised to pounce on the question and tackle it to the ground in a barrage of thunderous objections.

It hadn’t been easy for me to sit quietly through all this, but dutiful Associate that I was, I had held my tongue. At this point, however, I could resist no longer. Calmly, respectfully, even cheerfully, I said one word. "Dogpile.”

As a graduate of The Ohio State University I learned the term "dogpile” from college football. The "pile” part is pretty self-explanatory: defensive linemen engage in the attack of the guy with the ball, taking him down to the ground, and then more members of the team pile on crushing the intended victim beneath their weight. I am told that the "dog” origin is from the actions of a large litter of puppies as they collide and climb over one another to get at a table scrap. Since this was—figuratively if not literally—what the attorneys had been doing, it seemed the only relevant comment.

The entire room erupted with laughter, and even the court reporter smiled for the first time since the start of the deposition. I believe that by humorously bringing the situation under control, I earned some stripes and a modicum of respect from those trial lawyers from whom I have since learned so much. I know that the memory of that deposition still makes me smile nearly 13 years later.

Angela S. Haskins served as President of WLALA (2010 – 2011) and is a litigation partner with Baker, Keener & Nahra, LLP, specializing in the defense of healthcare professionals. Experience has taught her that laughter may not actually be the "best medicine” but claims rarely arise from its prescription or administration. Ms. Haskins is also an Adjunct Professor at Southwestern Law School (Interviewing, Counseling & Negotiation).

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*If you would like to contribute to this series, please contact the WLALA Communications Officer, Heather Stern at heather.stern@kralikjacobs.com.

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