How to Improve Online Depositions

Until a few years ago, online depositions happened on the outer margins of litigation practice. Most litigators preferred to take depositions in person. Occasionally, they’d take testimony by video conference when deposing minor witnesses or if logistical complications demanded it. But resorting to an online video platform for conducting a deposition was a last resort. 

Today, all of that has changed. Paradigm shifts in how we work and interact online, supercharged (but by no means caused) by the pandemic, have led to online depositions becoming an effective, efficient means of taking oral discovery, and a viable — even attractive — alternative to in-person sessions.  Still, not all lawyers have adopted the best practices or leveraged the latest technology to make the most of remote testimony. Some legal professionals continue to rely on inadequate tools that hamper their productivity and efficiency.

Fortunately, improving ineffective online depositions isn’t difficult. It just takes a few adjustments to your discovery practices.

Plan for an Online Deposition Environment

Like every economic sector, the legal industry has been on a veritable bullet train of technological progress for the past decade. But that doesn’t mean lawyers — a notoriously change-averse bunch — have happily hopped aboard. The adoption of new technologies and workflows has crept into law practice only incrementally. Sometimes, that slow pace of change has worked to lawyers’ detriment.

Related: The Impact of Remote Depositions on the Legal Industry

That’s been the case for online depositions. Lawyers tend to get the most out of them when they embrace remote testimony as a new and distinct method of conducting oral discovery requiring new practices and purpose-built tools. But those who treat an online deposition as nothing more than an in-person examination conducted via an internet video conferencing platform may struggle to realize the full potential of the medium. 

Recognizing and planning for the unique characteristics of an online deposition improves the effectiveness of remote testimony. To improve on ineffective online depositions, lawyers can, for example: 

  • Ensure everyone joins the deposition from a quiet, private, well-lit location with a reliable internet connection and adequate hardware and software.
  • Upload exhibits to an exhibit management system to facilitate screen-based viewing 
  • Agree with opposing counsel on protocols for addressing technological glitches. 
  • Review and comply with court rules governing notice and conduct of virtual depositions.

In short, conducting an effective online deposition requires anticipating the demands of the digital setting. Plan for the differences between live and online depositions, and you will command the digital environment as you would a courtroom or conference room. 

Practice in the Designated Digital Setting

In-person depositions are pretty much the same everywhere. You sit on one side of a table. The deponent and opposing counsel sit on the other. And the court reporter and videographer set up in the spots most convenient for them to do their jobs. With rare exceptions, the dimensions and composition of the room and its furnishings — the setting, in other words — don’t particularly matter in conducting the proceedings. 

Online depositions, however, are a different. One or more software applications define the virtual “space” where the deposition occurs and mediate the interactions between the participants. Every aspect of the session — seeing and hearing the witness, marking and reviewing exhibits, lodging objections, and so on — depends on the functionality of the software that enables it. 

The digital setting of an online deposition can vary significantly from one session to the next. Conducting an effective witness examination requires familiarizing yourself with the software that will mediate it so that you don’t make mistakes or waste time learning on the fly.  So, before every online deposition, be sure to: 

  • Choose a platform that works on all browsers and that doesn’t require and downloads.
  • Practice with a colleague and your client (if necessary) to master the nuts and bolts of questioning a witness, reviewing exhibits, having sidebar discussions with a client, and all other aspects of taking or defending a deposition. 
  • Confer with opposing counsel to refine protocols to address any potential shortcomings of the process. 

It is critical to familiarize yourself with the digital setting of an online deposition before sitting down with a witness. It’s the only way to ensure you’ll have the most productive session possible while minimizing the amount of hassles and hiccups experienced. 

Use a Purpose-Built Online Deposition Solution

Litigators started scheduling online depositions en masse during the Covid-19 pandemic. Initially, they had few options for the software they used to conduct proceedings. Most online depositions happened over generic online video conferencing platforms, which were the default solutions for virtual meetings back then. 

But as convenient and essential as those platforms were for connecting parties working remotely, they provided little more than a virtual conference room in which to hold a deposition. They did not offer legal-specific tools or features designed to facilitate taking remote testimony. It was up to the parties and their counsel to hash out how to connect with a competent court reporter, capture usable video, mark and share exhibits, take breaks to confer confidentially, deal with technological glitches, and conduct all other aspects of a deposition. And that necessarily eroded the effectiveness of taking testimony online. 

Related: How Remote Court Reporting Software Can Help Lawyers Save Time and Money

In the years since, however, the landscape has transformed. Today, lawyers can question witnesses via platforms built specifically to facilitate online depositions. The leading solutions offer a wealth of features designed to enable litigators to conduct efficient, effective witness examinations via the internet, including: 

  • Integrated scheduling of technologically proficient court reporters licensed to administer oaths and record testimony in any relevant jurisdiction; 
  • A dedicated server to host, share, and access exhibits uploaded before the deposition or during questioning; 
  • An all-in-one deposition interface to which all participants connect, featuring high-quality streaming audio, video, real-time voice-to-text transcription, and exhibit review tools; 
  • Virtual breakout rooms for confidential sidebar discussions between lawyers and clients; 
  • High-quality audio and video capture suitable for courtroom use; 
  • Rough draft deposition transcript delivery within 30 minutes of the end of a session; and
  • Timely delivery of certified deposition transcripts in any required digital or hard-copy format. 

Experience the Benefits of Effective Remote Depositions

Using a purpose-built online deposition solution solves multiple problems for litigators and their clients. It streamlines online deposition scheduling. It eliminates the need to devise complicated protocols for accomplishing tasks like marking and sharing exhibits or taking breaks to confer with clients. And when adopted consistently, it reduces the burden on attorneys to master a new software application before they can confidently question a witness. Purpose-built solutions make an online deposition as effective as an in-person witness examination and can be less expensive.  

Remote Legal is an industry-leading developer of solutions that boost the effectiveness of online depositions. We offer purpose-built remote deposition software and services designed with the needs of busy litigators in mind. Contact us today for a product demo. 

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