Two years in, Covid-19 continues to upend life as we previously knew it. All business sectors have been substantially impacted and changed, and the landscape of the civil justice system is no exception. When lockdowns halted state and federal legal proceedings overnight, attorneys and jurisdictions needed to find a solution. Enter virtual deposition services.
Virtual depositions have long been permitted under federal law, however, they required a special stipulation. For that reason, they were uncommon and often cumbersome to organize and execute. Today, remote depositions are the new norm, with remote deposition services emerging as one of the most useful legal tools to come out of the global pandemic.
In this guide, we’ll explore virtual deposition platforms and tell you what you need to know to ensure you’re using the most advanced and secure services available.
Virtual Deposition Services
A deposition is a routine litigation activity used to capture a witness’s sworn out-of-court testimony. It is a critical step for gathering information pre-trial, and it is essential to the discovery process.
Virtual deposition services mirror the familiar and traditional in-person deposition experience, with the biggest difference being that they provide an online platform to conduct a deposition from anywhere, remotely. With the click of a button, a remote court reporter can swear in a witness, introduce exhibits, provide transcription, and more.
Depositions conducted remotely can still be just as effective as those conducted in-person and actually have many benefits like cost-effectiveness and efficiency.
Unlike generic video conferencing tools — like Zoom, Skype, WebEx, Microsoft Teams, and Google Meet — legal-specific virtual deposition platforms are built specifically for legal proceedings. They offer encrypted streaming and secure storage solutions that are designed to meet legal industry compliance regulations.
Although virtual depositions have been around for some time, their popularity rose at the onset of COVID-19 in response to the government’s lockdown and social distancing policies. But what’s the future of virtual depositions post-pandemic?
Will Virtual Depositions Survive Post-Pandemic?
COVID-19 ushered in unprecedented disruptions that changed the way we live and work. The legal industry, in particular, experienced a dramatic shift to remote litigation that accelerated the industry’s digital transformation for years.
The pandemic changed everything. In many cases, the only way for lawyers to continue their practice during COVID-19 was to take advantage of remote technologies. At the height of the pandemic, about 90% of all depositions were conducted remotely.
But as the government lifts most of the COVID-19 restrictions, it remains to be seen what the future holds for remote depositions. Will virtual depositions go back to being the “exception” rather than the rule?
On the contrary, and despite the return to the office, virtual depositions will not fade away. Most experts agree that remote depositions are here to stay, and will have a lasting place in our judicial system.
For example, virtual depositions for certain types of witnesses will remain the preferred option, especially in cases where travel expenses can be burdensome. Why pay hundreds of dollars an hour for someone to travel long distances for a two-hour deposition when it can be conducted virtually at a fraction of the cost?
Experts predict that a semi-remote system will become the new norm once the pandemic fully clears. While many depositions will take place in-person, there will always be situations where attorneys need to depose a witness remotely.
In a nutshell, virtual depositions will remain a fixture in the post-pandemic world.
Discovering the Benefits of Virtual Deposition Services
Historically, the legal world has been slow to accept technological innovations.
However, the Covid-19 outbreak forced attorneys to adapt quickly, and the prevalence of virtual depositions is evidence of this.
Amid the pandemic, many members of the legal community grew increasingly comfortable with holding depositions remotely. In the process of doing so, law firms and attorneys realized the tremendous benefits of hosting depositions remotely.
Let’s explore the benefits of using virtual deposition services:
The convenience of Remote Work
Remote work has proven beneficial to nearly every industry, including the legal field. Gone are the days of traveling long distances to conduct a deposition. Instead, attorneys can depose a witness from the comfort of home or a local office, which allows lawyers to spend more time on tasks that are otherwise difficult to complete from the seat of a car or plane.
Exponential Cost Reduction
The costs associated with in-person depositions can add up quickly, especially when a case involves overseas or out-of-state witnesses.
In terms of costs, the savings in remote depositions are significant. Airfare, accommodation, food, local transportation, and conference room rates are some of the traditional costs incurred—not to mention the administrative costs of managing these meetings. With remote deposition platforms, law firms can avoid these expenses.
Additionally, remote depositions are a cost-saving solution for less important witnesses for whom the fees tied to an in-person deposition might be hard to rationalize.
Reduced Exposure to Covid-19
Remote deposition tools are useful for keeping all parties healthy and safe, as there’s no longer a need to pack many people into one small room.
Also, a witness who tests positive for Covid-19 and is contagious, but is otherwise asymptomatic and well enough to be deposed, can still provide a statement in a timely manner without endangering the health of participating attorneys and court reporters because everyone is located in a separate place.
Efficient Use of Time
One of the biggest benefits of virtual deposition services is that they save time. In addition to reducing time (and costs) associated with travel, remote depositions make it easier to coordinate with the schedules of witnesses.
Also, virtual services can rapidly reduce the turnaround time typically required for transcription and/or translation services by harnessing the power of technology.
Not having to travel so much means attorneys can be available for more depositions. This can come in handy, especially when you have multiple cases to attend to in a given time period. It saves you time and enables you to be present for all depositions without having to leave your home or office.
Whether you want to juggle a few different litigants or simply keep an eye on a newer attorney, virtual depositions allow you to tune in from wherever you are.
Virtual depositions make exhibits and transcripts easily accessible to witnesses and attorneys. While it might take a little effort to learn a new software program, the ease of having the option to share and submit them ahead of time, or handle them on the fly, is worth the effort.
Related: Pros and Cons to Remote Depositions
What to Look for When Choosing a Virtual Deposition Services Platform
When choosing a virtual deposition services platform, attorneys need to be aware that different companies offer different tools, ranging from witness vetting capabilities to third-party verification options. Additionally, the American Bar Association has released stipulated deposition protocols to consider during Covid-19.
Here is a list of services that should be considered standard offerings from a reputable service provider:
Secure Online Deposition Portal
The most important offering from a virtual deposition platform is a secure online portal. The platform should provide encrypted, real-time streaming capabilities that are easy for all participants to access.
No Download Required
The best virtual deposition platforms are web-based, so you do not need to worry about the hassle of downloading and installing new software. Furthermore, the service should be compatible with desktops, computers, laptops, tablets, and phones.
An option of customizing layouts improves the user experience. For example, picture-in-picture capabilities that allow attorneys to view witnesses and exhibits at the same time are handy.
Additionally, the ability to hide certain elements, change the color scheme, adjust text sizes and more are nice-to-have options.
Court Reporter Services
No deposition can occur without the presence of a court reporter. Without a court reporter to swear in participants, the proceeding cannot begin. Court reporters are also the experts when it comes to transcript formatting.
Sourcing a court reporter can be a costly and time-consuming task. That’s why the best remote deposition platforms provide a court reporter as part of the included services.
Keeping exhibits private until they are needed is crucial to a successful deposition. An effective means of doing this is to preload all exhibits into a dedicated space on the platform. It’s the modern-day equivalent of having an exhibit in a Redweld folder until it’s ready to be shared.
Instantly Load Exhibits
If you forget to load an exhibit before a deposition, or if a deposition goes in an unexpected direction, it’s essential to be able to instantly load documents. Drag-and-drop functionality makes this possible.
Live Annotation Capabilities
Often, it’s helpful to have a witness initial a particular area of an exhibit or even highlight a paragraph of a document. Look for platforms with functionality to mark and annotate exhibits in a live environment.
Capture Witness Video
Videoconferencing platforms need to provide HD-quality video of the proceedings, which can be made available immediately after the deposition. Additionally, the video, itself, should be timestamped so that there’s no question of the time and place of the deposition.
Immediate transcriptions allow attorneys to review depositions at their convenience and should include synchronized access to video and audio files. Transcripts should then be certified, and ideally, they are delivered in seven to ten working days.
Interpretation and Translation Services
When a deposition participant cannot speak or understand English, it can be a barrier to justice. Top virtual deposition service providers include simultaneous interpretation and/or translation services to ensure the deposition is fair and proceeds on time.
Secure Side Bar Rooms
The need to sidebar is a common occurrence in a deposition. With secure sidebar rooms, attorneys can confer with their clients in private without leaving the deposition, itself.
Traditional transcription services can be slow and run the risk of missing critical information. With live voice-to-text functionality, online virtual deposition services can provide a live stream of the running dialogue. This is the perfect tool for those who wish to reinforce the spoken word with the written. Also, this is particularly helpful when combined with translation services.
Virtual Deposition Dashboard
A dashboard provides an all-encompassing location for accessing critical information about a deposition, like real-time status updates about who has seen which exhibits, feedback on the quality of the recordings, a portal to access email reports, and more.
A specialized legal platform may allow attorneys to select the category of each witness (i.e., expert, party, or fact witness). This ensures that the correct terminology is used when entering a deposition and prevents confusion over what types of questions can be asked.
Some virtual platforms offer a government verification option, allowing attorneys to request all aspects of the deposition to be verified, such as witness identities.
Best Practices to Follow When Setting Up a Virtual Deposition
Attorneys, insurance agencies, and others who might benefit from conducting a virtual deposition should invest in thorough research before deciding on a remote platform and service provider.
Once a service has been selected, it’s important to follow a few best practices to ensure the maximum utility of the virtual deposition services are achieved and received:
- Ensure all witnesses have access to the most user-friendly technology. For example, depending on what device a witness is most familiar with, it may be beneficial to provide a laptop, desktop, tablet, or another device to ensure the witness can properly access and participate in the proceeding.
- Make sure that all technology is fully operational before the deposition starts. If ethernet cords and HDMI cables are needed to establish a connection to the Internet and video screens, ensure that the cables are not loose and provide a steady service.
- If connected to a laptop wirelessly, ensure that passwords are available and that the connection is easily re-established if dropped or lost.
Remote, virtual settings can provide relief from some of the pressure that can be felt at an in-person deposition when multiple attorneys are sitting in one room with a camera on a tripod pointed to capture all conversation. However, witnesses can still feel overwhelmed, so preparing them in any legally allowed way is helpful.
Choose A Virtual Deposition Provider That Delivers What It Promises
Virtual depositions are still generally new to the legal world, and some attorneys may not yet be comfortable with the proceedings, while others may be unfamiliar with the technology required.
That said, because virtual deposition services provide a cost- and time-saving alternative to traditional depositions — with remote testimony that can be recorded, transcribed by a court reporter, and streamed live — it’s important to get on board.
In-person proceedings are expensive, time-intensive, and no longer practical in many instances. Virtual depositions can be helpful for all types of cases and complaints. And they are here to stay. Born out of traditional court reporting, Remote Legal and its videoconferencing platform are designed and built based on a legal-first mentality, unlike other video services that only offer a generic connection. Our experts understand the intricacies of virtual testimony, which is why we develop innovative solutions for both attorneys and their clients. Schedule a demo today to learn more about our services.
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