Depositions: The Final Paper Frontier

Most depositions are conducted in-person, with clunky machinery, an old-fashioned stenographer and, most importantly, stacks upon stacks of paper. Medical records, business records, tax returns. All produced in hard copy, many times over, on the conference room table. Not to mention the fact that in-person attendance for all attorneys makes scheduling depositions nearly impossible.

The technology exists to make this process more affordable, more streamlined, more efficient, and more environmentally-friendly. So why haven’t we made the collective switch? Because of fear.

There are three distinct parts of this:

  1. Fear of the unknown.
  2. Fear of judgment.
  3. Fear of the electronic deposition plain old not working right.

I have noticed fear as a thread through some of my technology-related writing. It seems the scare factor looms larger than I had originally anticipated and is a higher hurdle to clear.

Coupled with this is simple inertia. It is easier to keep doing the things we already know how to do. This is our fear of the unknown at play. Of course, this is followed up with, “what will all of the other attorneys think of me?” And then, the ultimate doozy, “what will they all think of me if this iPad stops working 2 hours into this deposition?”

We must bite this technology bullet. It is beyond outdated to sit in a conference room surrounded by boxes of papers. And, frankly, it’s completely unnecessary. Documents are created, sent, and produced to each other through electronic means. Yet there is a breakdown when it comes time for the deposition. How do we fix this?

I reached out to O’Brien & Levine Court Reporting for some thoughts, as they gave me a demo last year for a service that does a completely paperless deposition on iPads. (The company even provides the iPads.) And yet, they told me “attorneys love paper. This is the world they work in.” They noted transitioning to a paperless deposition will take time, patience and repetition. But, since no one seems to want to jump in first, very few attorneys have taken them up on this new, cost saving option.

This commentary is spot on. Instead of having a witness draw circles on the piece of paper in front of them, we will soon be asking them to use the highlighter on the iPad to show us what’s relevant in a particular exhibit. This is as foreign to many lawyers as orbiting the moon. But it is also the future; a future we must embrace as our practices change.

Suffolk Law School, located in downtown Boston, has introduced the concept of “majoring” in technology and has developed the Institute on Law Practice Technology and Innovation. Suffolk, and other enterprising law schools, are finding new ways to turn out competitive graduates who will be poised to disrupt the practice of law.

If we don’t start transitioning into the future, in a few short years it will be a young associate introducing documents with their iPad across the table from you. Practice makes perfect. If we start trying, and keep on trying, we’ll gradually understand that technology is the new normal. Stacks of paper will become foreign. We’ll save time, money and trees. Something lawyers thought they would never be able to say.

About Victoria Santoro

Victoria Santoro
Victoria Santoro is an attorney at Meehan, Boyle, Black & Bogdanow, P.C. in Boston, Massachusetts. Victoria litigates cases on behalf of injured people, handling a variety of different types of cases including wrongful death, general liability and medical malpractice. Extremely active in the legal community, Victoria serves on the Board of Directors of the Young Lawyers Division, and on various committees at the Massachusetts Bar Association. She’s also a member of the Massachusetts Academy of Trial Attorneys and the Women’s Bar Association. Victoria, a graduate of Wesleyan University and Boston College Law School, was voted a Super Lawyers Rising Star in her first year of eligibility. An avid writer, Victoria contributes to several blogs, including her own website, The Limber Lawyer, where she frequently tackles work-life balance issues. You can reach Victoria at vsantoro@meehanboyle.com. You can follow The Limber Lawyer on Twitter here.

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  • I like that this article takes a “we need to change” approach rather than just saying what the paperless depo is. The one thing I will say though is that younger attorneys coming out of school struggle with implementing technology into their law practice almost as much as the older attorneys do and it will be this way for the foreseeable future.

    The reason for this, in my opinion, is the rate of change. For example, I hear a lot of people saying that younger attorneys will have an advantage “because the grew up with the internet.” A 25 year old recent grad may have grown up with the internet and computers but the world looks a lot different now then it did when they were younger. Cloud computing wasn’t really an option when they were younger, the first iPad wasn’t introduced until 2010, new social networks pop up regularly, etc. In other words, just because someone has always had access to technology doesn’t mean that they’ve used tech that looks anything like what can be used in practice today.

    I really like this article and am glad it tells attorneys to embrace change and to stop fearing it. This fear is what’s leaving many lawyers behind.

  • AgileLaw

    Lawyers, though they “love paper” nevertheless have learned to embrace email, document review systems, and other technologies that make their practice easier. These things obviously are no-brainers…people will say the same thing about paperless depositions in 5-10 years as well… :)

  • We at eDepoze.com have scratched our heads from time to time regarding the reluctance of attorneys to adopt technology that is a clear improvement to their practice and in their clients best interest. The author is right to identify these simple yet entrenched barriers to adoption. I think we all know it’s only a matter of time before we reach a tipping point.