The short answer is YES – expert witness depositions are proceeding during social distancing via Zoom and video conference. Below are tips to excel at your expert witness deposition via video conference during the lockdown and likely after it finally ends.
In the age of Covid-19, adaptability has become a common theme across all sectors. For many this is a time of learning and readjusting to a new definition of the word “normal.” For those taking depositions, the word “normal” has nearly always included video conferencing. According to JP Prins, Corporate Administrator at Agren Blando Court Reporting & Video, the challenges posed by Covid-19 are nothing unusual. In fact, Mr. Prins reports that Agren Blando has been providing remote services for over twenty years. Though depositions usually involve face-to-face interaction, video conferencing is a solution that allows the integrity of the deposition to be maintained while simultaneously ensuring that the benefits of social distancing remain intact. “One of the biggest challenges,” Kenneth Zais says, “is not the software itself, but getting to the point where people want to be trained to use it.”
Mr. Zais, the president of O’Brien & Levine Court Reporting & Video, looks at this corona crisis as an opportunity for users to become acquainted with technology that will allow them to become more streamlined and competitive in offering remote services even after this crisis has resolved. Mr. Zais stresses the importance of training counsel in adapting to this new “normal.” While the use of technology in depositions does not change their substance, there are some tips that individuals can employ to make this transition easier on themselves and their clients.
The first is to prepare ahead of time. Retaining counsel should be conferring with opposing counsel to determine and share proposed exhibits ahead of time. Sabrina Boyd, production specialist, notes that the sharing of exhibits has not posed an issue in any of the depositions on which CRC Salomon has assisted. Ms. Boyd remarked that while there have not been too many requests for sharing exhibits, this is largely due to the fact that attorneys are sharing their exhibits ahead of time. While this portion of the preparation work can be left to the lawyers, its important to have a conversation with retaining counsel about which exhibits may be used so you can familiarize yourself with them ahead of time.
Another tip is to spend time prior to a deposition becoming familiar with the tools offered by the platform you are using. Tammy Vandervort, Client Relations Manager and Court Reporter, notes the importance of the whiteboard function on Zoom and ability to use breakout rooms for private meetings between clients and counsel. “We had to go to Zoom depositions, but it’s working out better than expected,” Ms. Vandervort says, “It is a really incredible thing in the midst of the chaos.” In addition to building familiarity of resources within platforms, it is important to become educated about the benefits offered by different platforms. Mr. Zais describes the utility of various applications stating: “Zoom really specializes in face-to-face interactions, and we use eDepose specifically for exhibits.”
Finally, comfort and confidence are key. Prior to beginning the deposition, ensure that your Wi-Fi connection is stable, and have a back-up option just in case. Practice with a family member to ensure that there is no microphone feedback and that you come across on camera the way you want to be portrayed. Seeking out training in advance and practicing beforehand can help you become comfortable with this new “normal.” Schedule time to “zoom” with retaining counsel in advance of the scheduled deposition so you can see and discuss how things look on both ends of the conference. Remember, even though you may click away from the video screen on your computer to look through documents, everyone can still see you! So, avoid touching your face, picking your nose, or moving around sporadically.
As the reality of Covid-19 sets in, video conferencing services involving expert witnesses are becoming an integral part of litigation. Mr. Zais notes that while the use of these services were slow to take off initially, the use of these services are increasingly gaining traction as people adjust. In the words of Mr. Prins, “It’s all been quite seamless” — in spite of the quick transition and elevated use of such services.
We at SEAK predict that the use of video conference depositions will be far greater after the lockdown than before. Attorneys and experts will recognize the enormous cost saving and logistical benefits of remote expert witness depositions and use them increasingly by choice instead of necessity. Expert witnesses will be well served to learn how to excel at a video conference / zoom deposition.