Are Virtual Depositions Here to Stay? Which Platform Is Best?

Virtual depositions are an essential pandemic adaptation, as these remote proceedings prevented the entire legal system from grinding to a halt. Virtual depositions were used to some extent pre-Covid but were nowhere near a ubiquitous practice.

During the immediate adjustment, many opted for video conferencing tools like Zoom, WebEx, Microsoft Teams, or even Skype. These options are popular and may be appropriate for the general business world, but they’re entirely unsuited for the legal field. The tools are generally insecure, unreliable, and can be incredibly inconvenient. 

These issues take on a different weight during legal proceedings.

Zoom’s Shortcomings for Virtual Depositions

Too Insecure for Virtual Depositions

Zoom is the most widely used video conferencing solution for remote legal proceedings, yet it’s infamously insecure. It advertised end-to-end encryption, but users quickly discovered that this basic security feature wasn’t in place.

Few people would think of streaking through an in-person court hearing. But courtrooms and other video meetings have been plagued by lewd messages and graphic images.

The platform only took serious action to address its security issues after lawsuits, a letter from the New York Attorney General, and a public privacy warning by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Even so, Zoom has several inherent security problems and new issues routinely pop up.

Data Privacy

Healthcare has HIPAA, Europeans have GDPR, and credit card users are protected by PCI DSS. But as of now, there are no privacy compliance standards regulating video conferencing solutions being used for legal purposes. Platforms like Zoom take full advantage of this oversight.

Zoom has faced a series of incidents, such as “accidentally” routing data through China, having an accused PRC-spy as an executive, and sharing user information with Facebook and other third parties.

It also provided users with a paid service that let them see the real LinkedIn profiles of other Zoom users, whether or not those individuals had signed on with a pseudonym. This raises an alarm for sensitive court cases involving any kind of domestic or interpersonal issue.

Despite being forced into an $85 million settlement for a host of issues, Zoom has not acknowledged any wrongdoing.

Unprofessional

Zoom is built to bring people together and facilitate remote connections. It sounds good in theory, but many professionals have ended up embarrassed by inadvertently using some of its sillier features. One attorney showed up to court as a cat after using a computer that a young child had been playing on.

As funny as it may seem, video filter incidents are plain unprofessional and unbecoming of an attorney. A tool capable of entertaining six-year-olds is simply not appropriate for legal or court use.

Procedural Complications

Zoom’s collaboration features weren’t designed to facilitate legal proceedings. Presenting deposition exhibits, entering records, maintaining chain-of-custody, and handling other routine procedures through Zoom requires lengthy, time-consuming protocols.

A Bloomberg Law publication recommends that lawyers opt-out of using Zoom’s document sharing feature and advises against sharing exhibits through email. Instead, lawyers are advised to use a purpose-built platform.

Sharing exhibits through a video conferencing screen share function is inappropriate for delivery. Even though some court systems have switched to email, this usually doesn’t permit document tracking or control.

More Than Growing Pains

These aren’t just growing pains as Zoom and other video conferencing tools adjust. As helpful as they are for general meetings, these tools were never intended for virtual depositions or other sensitive legal proceedings.

There’s no real upside for Zoom. You aren’t trading data security and functions for platform reliability, as one judge discovered when he was unceremoniously booted out of his own virtual courtroom.

Mishaps Aside, Virtual Depositions are Here to Stay

Remote legal proceedings are likely to continue beyond any health and safety requirements. Court systems and conservative firms may only have signed off on them out of pure necessity.

But once virtual depositions were put into practice, many in the legal field experienced definite advantages. Headlines tend to focus on the litigants Zooming into court from the operating room, poolside, or while driving. But the flip side of these stories is that virtual depositions are incredibly accessible, cost-effective, and time-efficient.

Including virtual depositions in the long-term can help courts clear backlogs, avoid delays, and speed up proceedings with far-flung respondents. These benefits outweigh any of the difficulties experienced. And fortunately, legal tools are evolving.

The Early Evolution of Virtual Deposition Software

The legal field isn’t tech-averse. Cloud storage, document sharing, digital collaboration, and electronic discovery tools are mainstays. Several courtrooms already permitted live streaming, allowing litigants or expert witnesses to stream in from time to time.

With the technology available, it was already possible to do remote or partially remote legal work. However, there wasn’t a single tool designed to facilitate an entire distance proceeding or handle the ins and outs of a deposition from beginning to end.

With a sudden need and increasing demand, newer solutions are evolving to meet the demand for secure, reliable, and convenient virtual depositions. The first iterations were designed to work with other videoconferencing platforms and compensate for their shortcomings.

These more basic solutions usually focus on a few critical points – exhibit sharing, record-making, and sometimes shoring up security. Some virtual deposition workarounds include integrating third-party tools, like Box cloud storage, into Zoom.

But newer solutions are rethinking this approach altogether.

The Legal-First Evolution

A legal-first virtual deposition solution operates more as a digital service provider than a videoconferencing tool. It facilitates the entire legal proceeding within a single platform, with no third-party tools required. This begins with mapping out a user interface (UI) that translates in-person court proceedings into digital interactions.

For example, remote exhibition sharing can be as simple as uploading to a purpose-built storage folder that distributes documents to the other parties at the appropriate time.

It’s far more efficient than current Zoom workarounds, which may require emailing exhibits into court ahead of time or sharing documents with opposing counsel in advance. And it provides flexibility for late additions or updates.

Generic vs Purpose-Built Deposition Platforms

Another legal-specific advancement is secure sidebar rooms. Generic conferencing tools offer private chats and new options like breakout rooms for more private sub-meetings. 

However, these features are designed for group collaboration and require active management from a host. Virtual deposition platforms are built with attorney-client privilege in mind, with no chance of the wrong person being inadvertently added to a private conversation.

Advanced virtual deposition tools bring together the best of interactive videoconferencing and legal tech. Both exhibits and witnesses can be examined in greater detail. Witnesses can use precise annotations and markings on exhibitions, while their expressions are captured on HD video for counsel to analyze.

Popular document annotation tools, like iAnnotate and Good Reader, aren’t legally oriented, making it difficult to maintain the integrity of an exhibit. Along with a robust technical build, the platform can include professional legal services such as court reporters, stenographers, timestamped video witness recordings, accredited interpreters, and certified transcripts.

This is the latest iteration of virtual deposition technology, only made possible once the courts authorized remote legal proceedings. Many courtroom services are run on near-obsolete technology or practices and should be either replaced or complemented by emerging disruptive technologies.

For example, voice-to-text transcriptions create more accessible depositions that can be easily tracked and followed.

This is where virtual deposition platforms are leading the way for the legal field. This pandemic adjustment is a vastly superior way to handle exhibits and witness questioning. It’s more than a tool or temporary workaround, virtual depositions are a full legal service built on a secure, single-source platform with no risk of accidental cat filters.

Attorneys who have adopted virtual depositions are beginning to normalize their procedures, skipping the security risks, hassles, and excess work that come with Zoom.

Are you ready to experience virtual depositions on a video conferencing platform designed for the legal field? Contact us today to schedule a demo.