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 It is beyond outdated to sit in a conference room surrounded by boxes of papers.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.

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