This past week in Dade Legal Aid’s Guardianship department, I was able to observe and take notes on four depositions—two on Monday and two on Tuesday. A deposition is a formal, recorded, question and answer session that occurs when the witness is under oath. In other words, depositions are the process of giving sworn, out-of-court evidence. In the depositions I observed, the opposing counsel questioned the witness first, then the staff attorney from Dade Legal Aid would ask questions, and finally the opposing counsel would ask any follow up questions that had arisen, all of which were being recorded and transcribed by a court reporter. Questions included who the witness was, what their job responsibilities and their involvement with the case was, where they worked and how they had met the client, etc. Each deposition lasted more than two hours, with the longest one being a little over four hours. The witnesses as well as the attorneys are able to ask for a break at any time during the deposition, but even with some breaks, these depositions were a very tense (sometimes prolonged) process.
Dade Legal Aid is the only one of the three partner organizations of the DukeEngage in Miami program that does not solely focus on immigration cases. Nonetheless, these depositions reminded me of my mother’s Green Card interview to obtain her U.S. permanent residency. A Green Card interview is the U.S. government’s way of meeting the Green Card applicant in person to verify that the applicant is eligible to become a permanent resident and that all of the information on their application is valid. The USCIS immigration officer interrogating my mother was very harsh and direct, and he asked many questions, much like the opposing counsel in the depositions. Sometimes when the USCIS officer asked my mother certain questions, my mother’s attorney would interject or respond for her, much like the attorney from Dade Legal Aid when she would object the form or relevance of a question that the opposing counsel asked. Like my mother, most of the witnesses were nervous. Even I was nervous during the green card interview and depositions, despite just being a translator in the former and a notetaker in the latter. (Actually, after the depositions, I would stand up and hear my entire back pop, and my neck would be super tense and sore.) Meanwhile, my mother’s attorney and the staff attorney from Dade Legal Aid seemed just fine and swiftly but methodically advocated for their respective clients.
Especially after this week, I have grown a deep appreciation for how attorneys are able to handle high stress situations and think under pressure. I know I will encounter different but similarly stressful situations in medical school and practice, so I’m grateful to have been able to attend these depositions. Most of all, I feel very fortunate to have helped one of Dade Legal Aid’s staff attorneys defend the best interests of a client with intellectual disabilities to ensure the client’s safety and well-being.