Take a self-deposition to steer your retirement strategy
You might be grappling with questions around retirement, or perhaps you’re feeling the effects of practicing law in challenging times. If you’re feeling out of sorts in your practice, retirement plans or personal life, may I suggest a solution that worked for me? Look no further than your own legal training and experience.
When I struggled with my retirement strategy, I took a self-deposition to prioritize my goals, and through this process of self-interrogation, I discovered the answer was to retire in stages.
The ‘right wall’
One of my heroes is Joseph Campbell—author of The Power of Myth and a professor of literature at Sarah Lawrence College for 38 years—who spent his life studying and teaching comparative mythology. Campbell urged his students to follow their “bliss.” He also famously said, “There is perhaps nothing worse than reaching the top of the ladder and discovering that you’re on the wrong wall.”
Well, how do you find your own “bliss” and the “right wall”?
You can find it through self-examination that leads to self-discovery! Lawyers are trained in the Socratic method, a question-and-answer process for achieving knowledge. And that’s exactly what trial lawyers do in depositions—undertake an interrogation process that gets to the truth of the matter. So why not depose ourselves to get to our own truths? After all, the very process is called discovery!
I have developed a self-deposition framework based on more than 40 years of trial experience that can help lawyers and others find their bliss—in other words, help us to set our ladders against the right walls.
The oral deposition is perhaps the most valuable tool in a trial attorney’s arsenal. We recount depositions as evidence at trial or to impeach witnesses who try to change testimony. In a deposition, a witness is placed under oath and questioned about the facts of a case by skilled attorneys. It is a very formal legal proceeding, and a certified court reporter takes down every word. After the oral deposition is completed, a written line-by-line transcript is generated and sent to the witness to sign before a notary. The penalty for not answering the questions truthfully can be criminal perjury.
Admittedly this is a daunting exercise, just like a legal deposition but intensely personal. One afternoon, I closed the door to my study, took out a few sheets of paper and took my own deposition. Before I started, I promised myself that I would be completely honest.
I fashioned an oath similar to the one a witness takes on the stand with the right hand on the Bible: “I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.” My personal deposition involved five distinct steps:
1. Create a narrative based on the issue on my mind to frame my questions.
2. Pose a series of basic but broad-sweeping questions.
3. Reflect on the first two steps, and then repeat step No. 2 with more direct and pointed follow-up questions akin to a cross-examination designed to dig deeper still and gain more insight.
4. Reflect further on the second set of answers, and then compare the first and second sets of answers.
5. Authenticate the process with a loved one or a close confidant.
In this initial step, frame the issue you’re facing—retirement, in my case. It’s autobiographical, so clearly write out the issue and what you hope to gain from the self-deposition.
Once you have completed the narrative and framed your issue, get ready to tackle some difficult questions in part II. These questions should be open-ended to allow for a complete answer. They may appear deceptively simple at first, but they are designed to make you think. There are no trick questions and no right or wrong answers. The only bad answer is the one never written or not written honestly. Take your time with each one, and then repeat this exercise with more specific follow-up questions and a guide to further assist you in answering them.
Direct questions for your deposition:
Q: Do you enjoy what you do for a living most of the time?
Q: Are you satisfied, challenged and fulfilled by what you do?
Q: What do you like about it, and what do you not like about it?
Q: Do you wish you were doing something else?
Q: If so, what would you be doing?
Q: Do you wake up wanting to go or dreading going to work?
Q: Do you feel that you have any limitations on doing what you really want to do?
Q: If you are not doing what you really want, what obstacles are in your way?
Q: How difficult would it be to remove them and do what makes you happy?
Q: What are you waiting for?
Sample cross-examination questions:
Q: Do you feel complete, or as if something important is missing from your life? Explain your answer. If you feel complete, describe the reasons. If you do not, describe why not.
Q: Based on your answers to the above, do you believe that you are climbing the right ladder that will lead to your bliss?
Q: If you aren’t, what changes would you have to make to start climbing the ladder that leads to your bliss?
Q: Are you willing to make these changes and live your bliss?
Reflect and verify
After answering these questions, reflect on your answers and, finally, verify them with a trusted person for feedback and authenticity. This is akin to signing your deposition transcript. Then you will have completed your deposition!
This exercise was a very enlightening and a very painful experience as well as an honest assessment of who I was and what I wanted next in my life. Through this exercise, I discovered my own “right wall” for my retirement plan and beyond, and so can you.
The legal deposition turned out to be the ideal tool for self-discovery. The questions can easily be tailored to your own situation, whether it involves relationships, spirituality, love, family, friends or interests—there’s no limit.
This story was originally published in the October/November 2022 issue of the ABA Journal under the headline: “‘Right’ your future: Take a self-deposition to steer your retirement strategy.”
Stratton Horres is senior counsel at Wilson Elser's Dallas office in its complex tort and general casualty practice, focusing on catastrophic high-exposure cases and crisis management. His email is [email protected].
This column originally appeared on ABAJournal.com July 5. It reflects the opinions of the author and not necessarily the views of the ABA Journal—or the American Bar Association.