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  Investor's Daily

Lawyers Give Online Depositions Trial Run

By Donna Howell

The legal industry is warming up to the online world. Lawyers can access millions of court records, do legal research and negotiate disputes online. Now they can even take depositions in cyberspace. Thank an attorney's hectic schedule for that.

Jay Jackson, 41, who had his own Chicago marketing firm called Jgroup Inc., was working on a project to help physicians meet with patients online. Julie Furer, his girlfriend, is a lawyer who must travel to many out-of-town depositions. The couple put two and two together for a "natural marriage of ideas," said Furer, 32.

Said Jackson, "When you date a lawyer who's constantly flying off to depositions every two days..." What they did is develop a service called I-DEP that lets lawyers participate in depositions online. I-DEP is the first such service to provide complete live deposition video, audio and transcript service over the Internet, Jackson says.

Other companies offer live transcript viewing online, such as Live-Note Inc. of Philadelphia. LegalSpan, a unit of Gilbert, Ariz.-based Data Corp., has software that allows video, audio and live transcript viewing via the Internet. However, live video viewing is limited to three users at any one time.

With I-DEP, while a witness is being deposed, attorneys back at the office can see it via live video on their personal computers. There's two-way audio to ask questions and hear the deposition. And I-DEP's software converts the court reporter's transcript into text that lawyers also can see on their PCs.

To use I-DEP, a court reporter carries a field kit along with his stenograph machine. The kit includes two Sony Corp. VAIO portable computers outfitted with cameras and proprietary software.

One computer is used for uploading the deposition data. The other is positioned in front of the lead attorney, who can use it to send private messages back and forth to others viewing the deposition remotely.

Private Messaging Killer App

Private text messaging is something legal professionals might consider a killer application. Lawyers can type secure messages to one another, so a colleague in the office can "talk" strategy with the lawyer on the site of the deposition or with any lawyer following the deposition from any location.

Remote users don't need special software, but must have a password to log onto the deposition at I-DEP's Internet site.

"You could suggest a particular line of questioning" or examine whether a witness has answered a question fully, said attorney Michael Leonard.

Leonard's firm, Meckler, Bulger & Tilson, is among those trying out the services of I-DEP LLC. Both the law firm and the company are based in Chicago.

Leonard tested that service in a recent employment case. As a deposition took place at the office of the opposing counsel in Chicago, his firm kept tabs from a distance. The subject of the deposition didn't mind being videotaped, Leonard says. He calls the I-DEP setup unobtrusive. Still, a lawyer's physical presence is needed for many, if not most, depositions.

"When you're confronting someone live three feet across the table vs. across a video feed, that's a whole different dynamic," Leonard said. In person, an attorney can "pick up better on nervous tics or hesitation in answering."

But Furer, an attorney with Schiff, Hardin & White of Chicago, says there are times when doing depositions online is ideal. "I and my friends who are attorneys have been accustomed to flying out and sitting in on depositions where we don't have a lot of participation," she said.

In cases involving several parties, attorneys often attend deposition hearings in which their own participation is minimal. And there's also an issue of attorneys being unable to go to depositions they really should attend.

"A more senior attorney might go take the deposition, but they're sometimes not the attorneys who have worked most closely on the case," Furer said. In such cases, being able to log in online would be an asset.

Online depositions also might be appropriate for expert witnesses, Leonard says. "Usually with experts, there's the question of paying them to come to your venue or paying your own expenses to go to them," he said. "In the right circumstance, you could opt to do that online."

$2-Plus A Minute

The first deposition taken with I-DEP, in March, had a lead attorney in Las Vegas. But the expert witness being deposed and another attorney were in Chicago.

Jackson estimates that, factoring in travel time and attorney fees, an Internet deposition can cut costs by half or more.

The laws governing depositions and discovery in federalcivil cases, called the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, allow testimony to be recorded by a variety of means. Rule 30 says: "Unless the court orders otherwise, it may be recorded by sound, sound-and-visual or stenographic means."

Attorneys like the service, Furer says. "The light bulb goes on as soon as you explain it," she said.

I-DEP has eight employees and 35 subscribers in the Chicago area. The company also has subscribers in Los Angeles and New York.

Jackson says the cost of the I-DEP service probably will be $ 2-$ 5 a minute.

I-DEP sends audio-video signals and two-way audio through two streaming media services' networks to provide the necessary bandwidth.

Jackson says the company is working with $ 1million in seed money from a private investor.

In conjunction with a national court reporting firm, I-DEP is bidding for work on a major government case. Jackson estimates it would involve about 50 people signing on to view more than 100 depositions online. Each side wants their own private chat room, he says.

It could be the company's "real first truestress test," Jackson said.

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