The Covid-19 pandemic accelerated trends in many industries, and the legal field experienced some dramatic changes. Facing a rise in demand for services alongside a crippling pandemic, firms initially turned to remote depositions en masse out of necessity. Now, with a new normal settling in, the same technology that helped law firms through shutdowns is providing opportunities to thrive in a rapidly changing environment.
While some firms will be tempted to return to pre-pandemic practices, remote depositions are widely considered too valuable of a tool to ignore. With the scarcity of court reporters worsening and technology trends favoring online court proceedings, it’s now apparent that there is no going back to the way it was. Here’s a look at how Covid-19 changed the legal profession and why remote depositions are poised to remain a popular option for the foreseeable future.
Increased Demand and Lockdowns Forced Firms to Quickly Adapt During the Pandemic
If demand for legal services had simply held steady during the pandemic, remote depositions would have still been a critical refuge for law firms. Instead, law firms had to deal with a new reality: a significant increase in potential clients. On the fly, associates had to find out how to reach more clients while accepting lockdowns and pandemic health measures.
As the Harvard Law Bulletin noted, a confluence of factors led to this surge in demand for legal services during the pandemic. Financial issues tied to business shutdowns, social issues, and employment upheaval all contributed to an elevated level of litigation.
While lawyers were understandably flummoxed in the earliest days of the pandemic, it was clear that technology was the only way to meet that demand. After an initial drop in revenue, even tech-resistant firms began to see the silver lining and quickly evolved. Even as a sharp global recession hit global markets, law firms reported a revenue increase of more than 25% from 2019 to 2020.
This doesn’t mean firms can count on such lofty revenues moving forward. At the same time, trimming expenses with legal technology has already proven to be a way to increase profits. As the tide of the pandemic retreated, it was soon apparent that most firms had ample incentive to keep remote depositions as a standard component of their practices.
The Steady Popularity of Depositions After Covid
Although the circumstances of the pandemic were less than ideal, the new financial reality of remote proceedings is hard to ignore. Firms save about one-third of their budget on travel expenses on remote depositions compared to the traditional approach. Even if in-person depositions are sometimes preferred, remote depositions offer a clear path to curbing costs and saving time.
Related: The Advantages of Remote Depositions
Beyond the head-turning cost efficiency of virtual depositions, they are also viewed very favorably among most law associates in the U.S. According to the ABA’s 2022 Practice Forward Report, 88% of associates demonstrated a favorability for remote depositions. Older ABA members also responded that they wanted more resources about remote legal technology, suggesting that associates broadly agree about the importance of technology moving forward.
Legal professionals even viewed remote depositions as more favorable than virtual proceedings. While remote pretrial hearings had a similar level of support, jury trials and bench trials were less favored; only one in five ABA members wanted virtual jury trials.
With such precise favorability numbers for remote depositions, firms that are behind the curve on legal tech could struggle to retain associates – or attract new talent – in an era of unusually high turnover. Firms that don’t promote virtual solutions for standard procedures will inevitably be a less desired home for many associates, particularly for younger lawyers who are more accustomed to technology.
Firms are Focusing More on Valuing Their Legal Technology
A clear trend has emerged in the rise of Covid-19: law firms are taking a closer look at the valuation metrics for their in-house legal technology. In 2020, 79% of firms regularly looked at the value of the legal technology they were already using regularly. For the firms that did not, the value of the legal tech they used was largely theoretical.
But that dynamic has significantly changed. By 2022, more than 90% of firms were reportedly forming valuations of their legal technology. This trend shows that more firms understand the value that the right technology platform adds to their bottom line. Instead of being a necessary tool amid a crisis, legal tech is now considered a part of the status quo for law firms.
Other Reasons Remote Depositions Are Likely to Stay Very Popular
That remote depositions have reached a high level of popularity is no longer in question. But what factors can sustain that popularity as we settle into a new sense of normal? In addition to the often-cited benefits like lowered travel expenses and improved efficiency, some of the factors include:
- The court reporter shortage. As fewer prospective reporters enroll in schools and the older generation retires, attaining accredited court reporters for depositions will be an ongoing challenge. To manage this, many firms are utilizing legal-first remote technology that condenses the total number of experts needed for a deposition, bypassing standalone court reporters and reducing deposition fees.
- Initial resistance has been overcome. As associates are already aware, only some were keen on switching to remote depositions at the start of the pandemic. This dynamic has significantly changed, however. Remote deposition naysayers who didn’t think the technology was up to the task have overcome initial worries. Across the board, judges and lawyers at all different levels have started to see the upside of remote depositions.
- Overall tech literacy rose during the pandemic. Lawyers aren’t the only ones who have quickly learned to embrace technology. General technological literacy improved considerably during the pandemic, helping associates overcome a potential drawback of remote depositions. Everyone from judges to clients is now in a much better position to participate in remote legal proceedings than before the pandemic.
- Remote depositions add considerable client value. While firms are excited about improving efficiency and lowering costs, they can pass on savings to their clients. A remote deposition can end up saving clients thousands of dollars. This dynamic then puts firms that are not proficient in remote depositions at a disadvantage to their peers.
How Overall Conditions are Still Improving for Remote Depositions
One of the drawbacks of online court procedures cited by the Harvard Bulletin was access to the required technology. As firms turned to remote proceedings in the earliest days of the pandemic, there was significant inequality regarding low-income populations and seniors. While wealthier regions and tech-capable demographics quickly pivoted to remote depositions, firms had more difficulty working with vulnerable people. A lack of consistency in litigation rules complicated the situation even further.
But some of these headwinds are already in the process of fading. While about 65% of U.S. adults had broadband internet in their homes just before the pandemic, that number has continued to rise in recent years, and more progress is expected through the FCC’s Connect America program.
Broadband access among seniors is also improving, with roughly two in three seniors regularly using broadband internet. Overall, access to high-speed internet has yet to be ubiquitous, but the trend is encouraging.
As for litigation rules regarding remote proceedings, law firms have likely already seen the worst. Although the upheaval of the pandemic led to uncertainty in this regard, these tensions have started to unwind as lawyers and judges become more accustomed to the virtual world. With the promise of more standardization going forward, remote depositions and online proceedings should become even more efficient and effective in the near future.
Firms are Improving Their Ability to Work with Underserved Clients
For those who still have inhibited access to high-speed internet, firms are in a better position to bridge the gap and move forward. These issues affect rural areas the most, as limited broadband competition can lead to an absence of quality internet access.
Satellite-based connections – technically considered high-speed internet – can create roadblocks due to high lag times, although legal professionals can quickly counter this with mobile hotspots. With a relatively inexpensive mobile hotspot and proper due diligence, firms can utilize remote depositions in nearly all areas of the United States. More importantly, that coverage should only improve as technology improves and broadband internet expands.
Remote Depositions Can Flourish in a Post-Covid World
As we become more and more familiar with remote legal proceedings, forward-looking firms can now evaluate precisely how to utilize legal technology to their advantage. Although the initial surge in remote deposition adoption wasn’t anticipated, the benefits have become evident as firms adjust to the hybrid world following the pandemic. With technological limitations becoming less of a factor and tech literacy rising, remote depositions can also be critical in confronting challenges like court reporter shortages.
To see how your firm can add client value, improve efficiency, and trim deposition fees, contact Remote Legal to find out what our single-source solution can do for you.
See Remote Legal in Action
Let us show you our single source solution so you can get back to doing the things you love.