In litigation, depositions play a crucial part in the discovery phase. Traditionally, depositions have taken place in one location where all the parties can go and be in the same room. However, things have changed over the last two years, and now you need to know how to prepare to take a deposition remotely, using modern technology.
As measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19 ramped up around March 2020, depositions were rescheduled for a few weeks. However, after it became apparent that the situation would not be resolved quickly, there was a need for a new way of doing things.
This was when depositions began taking place remotely. While it was initially a stop-gap measure, remote depositions now seem to be a mainstay. Given the impact of depositions on outcomes, it’s integral that you know how to prepare to take a deposition remotely.
Steps to Take Before a Remote Deposition
Ordinarily, preparing for a deposition is tedious. You need to make sure everything is set, and your witness or client is ready for what’s to come. Along with all that, remote depositions also have unique elements that you have to account for and prepare for.
To begin with, ensure that you:
- Notify each party you wish to have the deposition with that the proceeding will be via videoconference
- Get in touch with the court reporting firm and notify them the deposition will take place remotely
- Send the exhibits to all parties via email before the deposition, if necessary
- Say on record that the deposition and oath-taking will occur remotely
Before the Deposition
Aside from the above, there are additional steps that you must take to ensure that the deposition goes well. These include:
1. Understand the Governing Rules
Remote depositions have now become common practice in the legal arena. However, how you handle the deposition greatly depends on the applicable laws. In addition to the Federal regulations that apply across the country, some rules vary from one state to the other.
For instance, some states permit remote swearing-ins, while others maintain that a court reporter must be physically present. So, ensure that you are aware of the regulations that apply in your jurisdiction and observe them.
2. Get in the Schedule
As you may know, you’re likely going to be one of several attorneys who’ll ask questions in the deposition. So, ensure you’re in the schedule and know where you’ll be positioned. Having a clear schedule and where everyone knows who is next in line is vital for remote depositions.
Otherwise, there may be unnecessary interferences and awkward silences while you try figuring out who’s next to question the witness.
3. Choose the Location
One of the biggest differences between remote depositions and in-person ones is the need to look for a suitable location. In the past, there would be an ideal location where all the parties would meet. But now, you’re the one responsible for ensuring that you, your client and all to be deposed are in a location suitable for video.
The first option is likely a home office. However, be sure that the surrounding environment is conducive, one where there is plenty of privacy and quiet. You may or may not be physically present with your client, so if they are in a separate location, be sure to check if their location is suitable.
Other things that you should account for when choosing a location include:
- Avoid using virtual backgrounds as they can be distracting
- Declutter the background and ensure nothing stands out
- Ensure that there’s sufficient lighting, whether from artificial sources or a window so that faces are visible (a ring light behind the camera is a great option)
- Have a bottle of water and some Tylenol at hand, as headaches are common after a full day behind the screen
One of the most important things in remote depositions is ensuring that your client is comfortable. One simple trick you can use to assist with this is positioning their screen as close as possible to the camera. This way, it will seem as if they’re talking directly to the other parties, helping them maintain full focus.
4. Determine How to Share Exhibits
If there are exhibits you want to use to support your case, you can present them during the deposition. In this regard, you have several options, and each has pros and cons. The method by which you handle sharing exhibits will depend on the deposition platform you’re using. Some platforms are designed to simplify such tasks to ensure depositions proceed smoothly.
On the platform, you’ll have a private folder where you can pre-load all the exhibits your wish to use. You can then introduce them as needed during the deposition. When you do, it will appear in a folder that all the parties involved in the deposition can access. Some platforms also allow you to upload exhibits on demand.
Alternatively, you can email the exhibits to all the parties before the depositions or as you introduce them. However, it adds more work on your part, and it’s dependent on each party being able to access their email during the deposition, which may cause some interference. Moreover, if the file is big, there may be issues such as delays when sending it.
Another option to consider is providing all the parties with paper copies of the exhibits. As you can imagine, you need to send the copies in advance, thus ruining the element of surprise with this method. This is why this method is highly discouraged.
If available on your remote deposition platform, you can also use a screen share solution to display your screen to others. While this option allows you to preserve the element of surprise, the opposing counsel may object to its use. This is because you will have full control of which elements of the exhibit you can share.
Should you use the screen share option, be careful not to give away your strategy and case notes. You can do this by ensuring that the exhibit is the only thing on your screen as you share it. If you use Zoom or other standard business video conferencing platforms, you may not have the ability to determine exactly what the parties see, including open tabs and app icons. On the other hand, a legal-first video platform makes it possible to show only what you intend to show and nothing more.
5. Be Sure Your Video and Audio Work Well
Standard deposition practice for most people is dialing in 10-15 minutes before it begins. Instead of waiting until this time to do so, dial-in earlier to confirm that your audio and video work well. This will be easy as court reporters usually dial in 30 minutes before the deposition.
As such, you’ll have them to yourself at this time to help you as needed. While you have the court reporter to yourself, you can also request them to set up virtual break-out rooms. These give defendants the opportunity to communicate with each other privately from their counsel and plaintiff.
6. Familiarize Yourself with the Technology
For the virtual deposition to take place without a hitch, you’ll need to use a virtual platform that can accommodate all your needs. If it’s a platform that you’re not used to, take some time before the deposition to familiarize yourself.
If you will not be in the same room with your client during the deposition, request them to do the same. Also, ensure that you have IT support to assist with any issues that may arise during the deposition. And don’t forget to have a backup system in place.
At this stage, you’ve already laid all the necessary groundwork. However, not all is done. Videography is paramount, providing that “in-person” feel if done correctly.
Remote depositions use videoconferencing technology to ensure that they’re as similar as possible to in-person depositions. While it’s possible for a deposition to take place without recording the video, if an attorney does want to capture a video of the witness, they should be sure to notify the court reporting company they are working with.
Keep Your Video On!
Avoid switching off your video during the deposition. Just as you’d love to see the witness when you question them, the court reporter also wants to be able to see you. They want to watch your lips to understand what you’re saying along with the audio. Moreover, if there’s a momentary issue with your audio, they won’t take notice of any objections you may have if they can’t see you.
To ensure the highest video quality, leverage a remote legal platform that doesn’t require a physical camera to capture video of the witnesses. It should have a video capture that produces witness-only, timestamped, HD-quality video and audio so nothing is missed, even subtle behavioral nuances that can impact the testimony. The video should be available for download immediately upon the completion of the deposition and should be synchronized with the transcript for easy search.
How Do Remote Depositions Compare to In-Person Depositions?
From a legal perspective, preparing for a remote deposition is similar to an in-person one. The same way you’ll prepare your questions for witnesses and prepare your client is the same thing you would do for an in-person deposition. However, there’s also the element of technology. You need to ensure that your internet connection, deposition platform, and devices are at par.
Moreover, it’s important to note that just because a deposition is taking place remotely does not mean decorum is thrown out of the window. In this regard, here are some of the things you should take note of:
- Even if you’re not in a suit and tie, ensure that you’re dressed professionally. Avoid hooded sweatshirts, heavily branded t-shirts, unkempt hair, and informal bottoms.
- Despite the adversarial nature of depositions, ensure that you introduce yourself professionally at the beginning of the deposition and when questioning the witness. This simple step helps humanize the process, making the interactions less combative.
- Do not eat or drink during the deposition as there are scheduled breaks you can use for this.
What Technology Do You Need for a Remote Deposition?
Remote depositions rely on high-quality technology to run smoothly. So, as you learn how to prepare to take a deposition remotely, you need to ensure that you and your client have the necessary technologies. These include:
- Strong internet connection
- Laptop or desktop computer with a webcam
- Secure, online deposition platform
Why You Need A Specialty Remote Deposition Platform
Until recently, there was no need for deposition platforms. Even when remote depositions first came to play, attorneys relied on other video conferencing solutions. While they are effective, they were not specifically designed for depositions.
Now that remote deposition will be a key part of legal proceedings in the future, there’s a need to have a specialty remote deposition solution. Some of the features of a top remote deposition platform include:
- Deposition specific video conferencing
- Exhibit management that makes it easy to upload, mark, and share exhibits
- Break-out rooms for participants to have private and secure communications
- Automatic interpretation and translation
- Rapid rough drafts
- Transcript-less depositions
- Certified transcripts upon request within days
- Network, storage and streaming services encryption
Enhance Case Outcomes with a Specialty Remote Deposition Platform
The discovery phase, more so depositions, are the foundation for building a strong case. Should you miss a key detail during the process, it will significantly impact your ability to strengthen your case accordingly. This is where Remote Legal comes into play. It’s a specialty remote deposition platform that has been designed with you and your clients as the priority. Schedule a demo today to find out how you can enhance your deposition experience.
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