Networked computing is arguably one of the high points of modern technology, and its expansion raised a natural question among legal professionals: Why can’t legal video depositions be conducted remotely?
The COVID-19 pandemic made the issue more pressing as courtrooms began using online video conferencing platforms for other common practices. For instance, oral arguments for the Supreme Court of Texas and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals are now conducted on Zoom. Many attorneys already depose witnesses over generic video conferencing platforms like Microsoft Teams, and in the fall 2020 issue of The Judges’ Journal, retired judge Herbert B. Dixon Jr. wrote that “in-person depositions will no longer be the rule.” Is existing technology ready for these transformative changes or should law firms look for superior solutions elsewhere?
Sadly, the status quo has glaring problems, many caused by generic video conferencing platforms that utterly fall short of legal needs. However, as attorney-first remote legal video deposition platforms step up to fill the gaps, the outlook is brightening. Here’s why the field is ripe for disruption – and eight features to look for in a legal video deposition application.
What’s a Remote Legal Video Deposition, and Why It’s So Important?
A deposition is the taking of testimony outside a courtroom. Usually before, but sometimes during or after trial, a lawyer deposes (questions) a witness (deponent) face to face.
Throughout a deposition, a court reporter stenographically transcribes, records audio, or does both. Their efforts lay the groundwork for an official record of the questions, the deponent’s responses, and any commentary from the counselors present. That testimony may later show up in the courtroom as substantial evidence.
Now imagine the above, but with all the players distant from one another and meeting only on the Internet by video. Participants can join the online session from a laptop, phone, or tablet. They might call in from an office, a bedroom, or even while sitting in their car.
Trials require testimony, and in today’s COVID-19 era, remotely deposing witnesses by video makes perfect sense. After all, legal video depositions bear considerable benefits, from saving lodging and transportation costs to easing scheduling difficulties and enhancing convenience.
Generic video conferencing platforms have brought the legal community its fair share of growing pains, however. Depositions remain crucial components of legal proceedings, but their longstanding traditions and contemporary technology must find a viable middle ground.
Remote legal video platforms offer a refined, modern alternative for conducting depositions, capturing official records, and producing transcripts. These systems present minimal technical barriers by improving workflows made familiar by tools like Skype and Zoom. The big difference is that they’re explicitly designed for legal community needs. Here are eight of the most helpful features to look for when choosing an ideal platform.
Feature One: The Court Reporter Takes Everyone On or Off the Record
A law professional might request that a deposition temporarily goes off the record for various reasons. For instance, a lawyer might want to privately advise a deponent to avoid saying too much while under questioning. Or they could request a quick break to allow their client to examine an exhibit in detail.
No matter why a proceeding switches from on- to off-record or vice versa, such transitions can become sources of confusion. For instance, suppose that a lawyer believes certain moments in the deposition were off the record. If an opposing lawyer disagrees, it might take costly, time-wasting litigation to resolve the dispute.
Advanced remote legal video deposition platforms clear up the confusion by keeping everyone aware of when the proceeding is on the record and when it’s not. These applications are also easily managed. A court reporter can readily confirm the on- or off-record status for all participants, thus heading off potential conflicts.
Feature Two: Lawyers Can Share Exactly What They Want Everyone to See
Ordinary video conferencing tools come with a learning curve that often catches legal professionals off-guard. For instance, an attorney might click on a screen-sharing feature to display a presentation, only to reveal their desktop – or entire deposition outline.
While such a faux pas might seem negligible, legal teams have to earn as much audience trust as possible to win cases: Every bungle counts against them.
Well-designed legal video deposition software puts precise sharing power in your team’s hands. It makes it straightforward to control who sees what, eliminating a major source of stress.
Feature Three: Safe Picture-in-Picture Ensures Simultaneous Visibility of Exhibits and Witnesses
Legal proceedings demand skill from legal teams competing to portray their arguments in the best light. With online legal video sessions, the field of play has changed significantly.
In their November 2020 article for Bloomberg Law, attorneys Daniel B. McLane and Michael P. Pest point out that with remote witnesses, “The in-person opportunity to evaluate the witness’ demeanor, gestures, and other conduct that may assist the fact-finder in making a credibility determination is substantially altered.”
In an average face-to-face deposition, everyone sees the exhibits and the witnesses’ reactions simultaneously. Generic video conferencing platforms drastically limit this ability, often by automatically shrinking witness images to mere thumbnail size when showing exhibits.
Standard tools also make effective, organized presenting practices highly inconvenient. A lawyer might need to frantically click to rearrange the witness window and the exhibits’ window so that the audience can see both clearly. This makes it hard to present a professional argument that highlights a witness’s credibility.
Exhibits and witnesses have more impact together, so effective technology
doesn’t emphasize one at the expense of the other. Quality video deposition software makes it easy to present and view both – even when they’re competing for screen space.
Feature Four: The Power to Preload or Alter Exhibits On the Fly
Conducting a deposition is a crucial skill for lawyers to master. The artful presentation of exhibits is one of the most critical components of successful depositions, but being an effective speaker is only half the battle; you also need preparation.
Today’s status quo for legal video depositions typically asks attorneys to submit their exhibits ahead of the proceeding. Sometimes, legal teams must send in their exhibits a full 48 hours before the event so that organizers have time to prepare the presentations.
Excellent legal video deposition platforms empower lawyers to preload exhibits when it’s convenient and adjust their presentations on the fly. By replicating the in-person experience via a secure online platform, these tools offer seamless, efficient workflows. Why give up control over exhibits just because a deposition is remote?
Feature Five: Real-Time Transcript Rough Drafts Powered by AI
Legal teams aren’t the only parties that need transcripts. For instance, an insurance carrier might want to review a high-dollar-value case before approving a settlement. No matter who’s asking, however, the faster they can get their hands on a high-accuracy record, the better.
Generic video conferencing platforms provide little to no extra assistance when it comes to getting quality transcripts done quickly. Court reporters set the pace, and high demand can create inconvenient bottlenecks. If a court reporter has a backlog of other transcripts to complete, the legal team simply has to wait – or pay exorbitant fees to expedite the work.
Advanced legal video deposition software for remote proceedings harnesses the power of artificial intelligence to supply fairly accurate transcript rough drafts in real-time. In other words, it becomes easier for lawyers to discuss ongoing cases or send transcripts to other parties.
Feature Six: On-Demand Breakout Rooms for Off-the-Record Conversations
Most modern video conferencing platforms allow for breakout rooms, private spaces where subsets of participants can communicate. For example, if two lawyers needed to brainstorm privately after a witness gave a surprising answer, a breakout room might seem like the obvious solution. From security breaches to service outages, however, generic consumer video conferencing software comes with ample problems, and standard breakout rooms are no exception.
Although breakout rooms like those found in Teams, Zoom, and Skype ought to make private conversations easier, they tend to miss the mark. For instance, a court reporter needs to assign each person to a room individually, which can be inefficient and frustrating when you’ve already got a lot happening. In many of these cases, it’s easier to simply switch to an external call – defeating the purpose of the video conference in the first place.
Effective legal video deposition software tackles this in a few unique ways. For starters, bespoke applications make creating a breakout room and inviting participants seamless, reducing the work involved in maintaining privacy and keeping proceedings hiccup-free. Once everyone has joined, a room’s creator can lock it, preventing other parties from subsequently wandering in uninvited.
Don’t accept the idea that such features should be extra perks or premium add-ons. They’re so integral to sharing information privately and conveniently that they ought to come baked into your preferred deposition tool by default.
Feature Seven: Audio and Video Automatically Sync with Rough Transcripts (Without Massive Delays)
Lawyers that want to win cases place a high value on recorded depositions. For instance, an attorney might glean valuable clues from thoroughly reviewing a witness’ reaction to a particular question. The rough draft transcript, audio, and video should all combine seamlessly, producing a uniform record that legal teams and other pertinent parties can consult on demand.
Historically, however, things didn’t always play out so smoothly. Traditionally, courts that needed video recordings of their depositions had to hire expensive videographers in addition to bringing on court reporters.
Even if adding personnel seems like a minor issue, it often caused heightened logistical burdens in practice. Before a court videographer could get started processing their footage, they had to wait for the court reporter to complete a preliminary transcript – otherwise, they wouldn’t know how to edit the video correctly. In some cases, things were even more complex, such as when the videographer and court reporter both forwarded their completed work to each law firm involved, which then had to hire more people to combine the two. Either way, adding video to court reports was a significant burden due to the number of moving parts involved.
Modern legal video deposition platforms represent a massive improvement on the old norm. By using artificial intelligence to pick up on the meaning of a court proceeding’s transcripts and associated video, these tools can sync audio and video with the relevant records automatically.
Deposition software does more than simply tackle these jobs without inducing head-splitting logistics headaches: It also limits the number of people that need to view sensitive information in the process. Even better, its increased speed means that legal teams can get to work reviewing the proceedings sooner.
Feature Eight: Attorneys Can Setup Accounts After Depositions for Faster Access
Digital solutions don’t always solve every problem, particularly when it comes to provisioning and resource oversight. How should you arrange IT billing? Should you hire an in-house tech guru? These questions represent significant barriers to entry for many legal firms, which primarily focus on law – not technology.
The best legal video deposition platforms make such uncertainties a thing of the past and decrease startup times. They don’t confuse the issue by requiring you to create complicated logins or profiles: You can jump into a deposition securely and worry about your account details later.
Court Reporting and Remote Legal Video Depositions Need to Change
The legal world is long overdue for a better system for remote video depositions. History and tradition are important, but so is innovation. Fortunately, the legal profession is finally catching up with technology.
The Remote Legal platform revolutionizes the way you work by being engineered to satisfy the stringent demands of legal professionals from the beginning – not as an afterthought. With trained court reporter integrations, intuitive exhibit management, secure streaming, and network protection, it’s the only intelligent way to manage proceedings. Schedule a demo today to get more out of your depositions.
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