Bankruptcy attorney and SynerG member Alan Seitman shared this “SynerG War Story” about what he learned about witness preparation, listening, and assumptions when he was “less experienced”: Over 30 years ago, as a young attorney, I had the opportunity to represent an entrepreneur who had incurred significant debt in connection with a failed start-up business.
Immediately after I filed his Chapter 7 case, a major New York creditor retained a large downtown Atlanta law firm to challenge the bankruptcy. The creditor’s theory was that my client had provided false financial statements when completing his loan application.
My client’s deposition and the creditor representative’s deposition were scheduled back-to-back in the Atlanta firm’s office. And, of course, the large firm appeared with a senior partner, an associate and a paralegal.
The partner conducted my client’s deposition first. Unfortunately, my client’s testimony revealed some potential errors and misstatements in his financial statements. The partner immediately walked out of the conference room after conducting the deposition…leaving the associate and paralegal to handle the case. The partner either assumed that he had substantially proven his case and/or there was very little a young attorney could accomplish in his absence.
I proceeded to conduct the creditor representative’s deposition. And, I asked him a very basic question about the financial statements: “What specific information did the creditor rely upon in extending credit?” To my amazement, the representative testified that he couldn’t answer the question because his primary attorney (the partner) had just left the room, and ultimately, that attorney would make that decision.
This testimony basically doomed the creditor’s case because the Atlanta law firm obviously had no part in the loan process and “reasonable reliance” was a key element of their cause of action.
The paralegal then left the room, returning about five minutes later with the partner. When I finished my examination, the partner questioned his client on the record and attempted to “clean up” his testimony. Again, to my amazement, the representative repeated his previous testimony and the two of them actually engaged in a rather heated argument…with each other!
The objection to the bankruptcy was withdrawn two days later.
Morals of the story:
- Always prepare your witness before a deposition or a trial;
- Sometimes simple questions in a deposition reveal surprising answers; and
- Most importantly…don’t underestimate a young attorney.
Alan I. Seitman, Alan has a general bankruptcy, debt collection, and business litigation practice.
His website is https://www.alanseitman.com/ and he can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org. SynerG Member since April of 2019, https://synerglawcomplex.com/team-members/alan-seitman/
Submit your review