COVID-19 is causing a disruption in the way we travel, work and attend events. Being in close quarters with people, especially larger groups, is something everyone is trying to stay away from. Every day, we are hearing about additional conferences that are canceling or postponing and travel bans that are limiting where we can go. We are also hearing from the folks we work with regularly – clients, reporters, videographers – that they are concerned about the novel coronavirus and the risk of exposure when participating in legal proceedings.
We understand that an ideal deposition involves you, face to face with the witness, getting direct testimony. Nothing can replace seeing expressions as someone answers your questions. However, being live with a witness is not always possible, as we are seeing firsthand with what is taking place in the world today. Factors such as prohibitive travel costs or immobile witnesses have always been a reason to conduct a virtual deposition, but add into that a rapidly spreading viral outbreak and you may need to rethink how to conduct your next deposition.
While video conferencing can be a great alternative for conducting depositions, this requires the use of large-screen TVs and HD cameras that some small and medium-size firms might not have access to. Renting this equipment can literally cost hundreds per hour.
With nearly every laptop having a built-in camera, attorneys can now conduct a virtual deposition very easily and cost-effectively. A virtual deposition is hosted in a virtual conference room that utilizes 256-bit encrypted connections for secure access by only the authorized parties. Once connected, participants will be able to see the witness and other participants as if they are all in the same room, even though they may be hundreds or even thousands of miles apart. Virtual depositions can be useful in isolation scenarios where it is hazardous for the attorneys or witness to be in the same room.
A virtual deposition happens on a platform that has been customized to include legal-specific features such as the ability to see the real-time transcript text from the court reporter. This gives a remote party access to scroll through the transcript, annotate key pieces of testimony and even locally save a rough copy. There is also an integrated chat feature enabling parties to send messages to the entire group or privately to a single participant. This is a great feature for co-counsel who may be “sitting in” on the proceeding from afar.
Going virtual also creates an interesting scenario for dealing with exhibits. How do you share paper exhibits with parties that may be spread around the globe? Go digital. Utilizing an exhibit-sharing tool, attorneys can preload any exhibits they may need during the proceeding. From there, documents can be introduced, digitally stamped and securely distributed to other parties with just a couple of clicks. This also facilitates the use of native files, such as Word, Excel, audio or video. Combining an exhibit-sharing tool with a virtual deposition platform makes these types of proceedings nearly identical to their face-to-face counterparts.
With just a webcam-equipped laptop and an internet connection an attorney has access to a virtual deposition. This means a deposition can easily be conducted at any time, from anywhere. As people look for alternative options to keep legal proceedings moving forward as scheduled in the wake of travel restrictions and sanitary protocols, virtual depositions in conjunction with exhibit-sharing tools can ensure the proceeding is just as effective as being there.