Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, more and more attorneys are resorting to a video conference deposition to safely collect witness testimony. In complex cases with several witnesses, it’s often not feasible for each party to travel to depositions.
Video conferencing platforms offer attorneys the ability to depose witnesses who are out of state or are unable or unwilling to travel. This, in turn, reduces the hassle and expense that often accompanies a standard deposition.
However, if you’re used to holding in-person depositions or using video conferencing platforms not designed for legal proceedings, you may not be familiar with the process of setting up for a virtual deposition.
In this guide, we’ve put together a list of best practices for conducting a professional video conference deposition for powerful, credible, and compelling testimony.
What Is a Video Conference Deposition?
A deposition is a witness’s out-of-court testimony that’s useful for gathering information for the discovery process. The deponent (witness) answers questions regarding a case to provide information through their account of events.
A deposition usually takes place outside of the courtroom but is still under oath. Depositions typically involve capturing video of a witness and/or transcribing their testimony into a document for future court review.
It’s important to note that a video deposition is different from a video conference deposition. The latter is a deposition that takes place remotely where each party connects via video conferencing software, no matter their physical location.
Zoom, Skype, Google Chat/Hangouts, WebFX, and Microsoft Teams are among the most popular video conferencing platforms attorneys and court reporters use to record witness testimonies. But, as you’ll see later, these aren’t the best options if you want to ensure security and have built-in features designed specifically for legal proceedings.
These technologies make recording witness testimonies and remote transcription possible. Video conferencing technology captures and transmits both audio and video. It allows users to record, stream, or store video and audio on DVDs for distribution to counsel or store it online in password-protected legal video archives.
What’s the Purpose of a Video Conference Deposition?
A video deposition is a powerful way to record the testimony of a witness and can often have a strong impact on a jury as well as the outcome of a case.
Video depositions can also be a good option because:
- They make exhibit references easy to follow
- They can make witnesses more forthcoming
- They provide attorneys with valuable insights
When one conducts video depositions over digital channels, it is much more convenient for all parties involved. For example, remote depositions reduce travel time and expenses and make it possible to collect testimony from witnesses located all over the world.
The popularity of video conference depositions has significantly increased since the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Rising Popularity of Video Conference Depositions
Remote depositions became more common during the COVID-19 pandemic. And before the pandemic, many attorneys held “semi-remote” depositions. These were usually depositions wherein a questioning lawyer or other participants might join the deposition via phone or video instead of in person.
Since the global pandemic, legal teams have grown familiar with a “fully remote” deposition where every party involved has only a video feed.
The witness, the defense lawyer, the plaintiff’s lawyer, the court reporter, and the videographer can all be in different locations. In a short period of time, fully remote depositions went from a nice-to-have capability to a must-have solution because of COVID-19.
And court reporters, lawyers, witnesses, and videographers already had the right tools at their disposal – devices with cameras and reliable WiFi access – to make fully remote depositions run smoothly.
So, the barrier to video conference depositions isn’t technology. Instead, it involves the deposition process as a whole. For example, how can you use exhibits in a remote deposition? What about coaching and preparing the witness in terms of body language and other forms of non-verbal communication?
This is why thoroughly preparing witnesses before a deposition is paramount. Even if the attorney can’t physically meet the witness before the virtual deposition, they can conduct a video conference to prepare the witness for the testimony.
Besides those challenges, remote depositions can offer many benefits, including:
Can a Deposition Be Done on Zoom?
A deposition can be done on Zoom as long as attorneys and witnesses have internet access and a device with a camera. Unfortunately, it isn’t this simple.
For example, Zoom and other video conferencing platforms don’t have the features and technology to handle privacy/security issues, safe screen, and exhibit sharing, AI-based and near real-time transcriptions that are searchable and synced with the witness video testimonies, etc., related to legal proceedings.
Other platforms aren’t stable and require lawyers to spend a lot of time upfront building their account so they can’t just jump into the deposition. This all equates to a lack of ease of access from inefficient technology.
This is why it’s important to consider a video conferencing platform that offers better security features, integrations that allow for screen and exhibit sharing, and other features that can be helpful in a virtual deposition.
A video conferencing platform specifically dedicated to virtual legal proceedings can be beneficial in this process.
Things to Consider Before Conducting a Video Deposition
There are various factors to consider when conducting a video conference deposition.
To ensure a smooth deposition, it’s essential to consider your witness’s technical specifications. The first step is to determine whether the deponent has the necessary video equipment to conduct the proceeding.
Network speed is another critical component of a successful video connection. If your connection speed is too low, there’s a strong chance that there will be considerable lagging during the deposition.
Therefore, to avoid or minimize potential technical difficulties, make sure all parties have a minimum of 20 megabits download, and 5 megabits upload speed.
It can also be helpful to use a hardwired connection rather than WiFi because it’s often more consistent and reliable.
Before the deposition, you can also conduct a visual lag test. Set up a virtual test meeting with your witness to ensure no delay between you and your witness’s communication. If the delay is more than half a second, it can pose a problem during the actual deposition.
There are a few considerations concerning location when it comes to virtual depositions. For example, your court reporter and deponent may not be able to meet in the same location. If neither can be together physically, the court reporter may also need to participate via video conferencing.
Attorneys may also be in different locations. If this is the case, ensure that you consult with your firm’s IT department and court reporting agency to determine your options.
You can use a platform that allows you to connect multiple locations to a single conference. Another option would be to use a video conferencing platform that connects all counsel on one end, and then has a single connection from that end to the deponent’s end.
Video Conferencing Service
Ensure the platform you’ll be using is compatible with all browsers (i.e., Chrome, Microsoft Edge, Firefox, Safari, etc.)
Also, ensure that it offers full HD audio and video to ensure everyone can be seen and heard clearly and easily.
Screen sharing features that show up clearly on any device are also crucial. And for optimal security, ensure the platform has end-to-end secure encryption with meeting-specific vital logins.
Determine if you want to record the video conference deposition: As discussed earlier in this post, recording a deposition isn’t the same as holding a virtual deposition. So, if you choose to record the virtual deposition, be sure to comply with local rules.
Prepare for the Video Conference Deposition
Choose a Quiet Location
Make sure to film your witness in a quiet location where there’ll be no noise, distractions, or interruptions. An ideal location would be a conference room, office, or room where witnesses can close and lock the door.
Also, consider the witness’s background. Ensure that there are no distracting paintings or people walking by. If this isn’t feasible, you can use a solid backdrop to camouflage their actual background.
Keep Lighting and Camera Angle in Mind
It’s easy to forget about the small details when preparing for a video conference deposition.
The camera angle is essential, as it plays a role in credibility and the overall appearance of the witness. So, ensure that your witness raises the camera to eye level so that they can make proper eye contact with the audience. Not taking this measure will make it appear as if the witness is looking down at the jurors.
Lighting is another important consideration. If the audience can’t properly see the deponent, it can ruin the video testimony. A good rule of thumb to follow is to ensure the witness has their desk set up with the light source (i.e., lamp, window, etc.) in front of them. So, their laptop should be facing away from the light source.
Follow Video Conference Conduct Rules
For a professional appearance and demeanor, ensure your witness isn’t:
- Making frequent eye movements
- Glancing off-screen
- Crossing their arms
- Placing their hand over their mouth
- Pointing their fingers
- Laughing inappropriately.
Also, have the witness speak clearly and at a reasonable volume. And when they’re listening to others speak, remind them not to say anything unless prompted.
Have Your Witness Dress the Part
Ensure your witness dresses just the way they would in the courtroom. So, they should wear professional attire to bring an extra feel of formality to the proceedings and make them appear more credible to the audience.
Get to Know the Conferencing Software
Make sure your witness is familiar with answering the call and muting themselves. Also, ensure that they know the basics of the platform and any essential features they may need, such as screen sharing, whiteboard features, digital pointers, etc.
You might consider getting them to practice using the drawing and highlighting tools to ensure everything shows up clearly on the screen.
Test Your Technology at Least One Day Before the Deposition
Before the deposition, be sure to test everything to ensure it’s working correctly. This includes the audio and video quality and how the witness presents themselves.
Also, ensure that you’ve appropriately distributed the correct video conference link to all parties, including any of your clients.
One fundamental limitation of conducting virtual depositions is that attorneys lose the ability to physically control documentary exhibits. You have two options for showing exhibits:
- Send exhibits to the deponent’s location before the deposition takes place
- Use video conferencing software that allows you to display exhibits in real-time and upload them prior to deposition
If you know you’re going to be using exhibits during the deposition, it’s a good idea to let your court reporting firm know ahead of time. As a result, they’ll be more prepared, which will reduce how long it takes to reference the exhibits.
Choose the Suitable Video Conference Deposition Software
Choosing the suitable video conference deposition software is paramount to ensuring the virtual meeting runs smoothly and efficiently. A platform that doesn’t have the right capabilities can take away from the overall quality of the proceeding.
Remote Legal offers a robust video conferencing platform that allows you to:
- Manage exhibits before and during the video conference deposition
- Capture witness video
- Customize the video layout
- Ensure a confidential, safe, and secure virtual environment
We can also deliver a rough draft in two days or less, at no additional cost. And our expert court reporting professionals can prepare and deliver certified transcripts in 5-7 days instead of the 10-day industry standard. To learn more about how Remote Legal can help, schedule a demo today.
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