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  Legal Assistant Today

September - October 2001

The future is now
Online depositions are saving firms time and money

By Barbara Mende

Attorney Robert Berry, based in Rome, Ga., wanted the physician he was defending in a complex malpractice case to attend the deposition of an expert in New York, but the defendant couldn't make the trip.

Thanks to I-DEP®, a Chicago-based Internet browser deposition service, paralegal Leigh Ann Chaffin and the defendant participated in the deposition online. They were able to see and hear the proceedings on a computer screen and add notes to the transcript, which was synchronized with the live video. More important, the attorney could type out questions for Chaffin and the defendant through I-DEP's chat feature, and they could reply both instantly and confidentially.

Legal professionals are beginning to see the benefits of Internet depositions. Online depositions, staged through I-DEP or through the DepoCast product provided by LegalSpan Inc. of Gilbert, Ariz., aim to save time and travel costs by enabling as many as one to 200 authorized people to sign on from remote sites to observe depositions and communicate with the onsite attorneys.

Chaffin's firm, Brinson, Askew, Berry, Seigler, Richardson & Davis, also in Rome, spent less then $400 on the service, saving on time and expenses on airfare, hotels and meals.

Legal assistants can get the full effect of the witness's testimony that a written transcript can never convey.

"It allows your whole team to participate," explained I-DEP co-founder and CEO Jay Jackson. "Experts can drop in, clients can drop in. Many of our insurance clients are inside counsel who like to drop in on their outside counsel. Paralegals and associates, who are frequently more familiar with the details than the attorney at the deposition, can keep the attorney up to date."

Attorney C.L. Mike Schmidt of Dallas used I-DEP to communicate with his office during a deposition in Philadelphia. "My people could watch the depo on video from my office, see the reporter's text in real-time, and e-mail back and forth via the chat concept," he reported. "My nurse legal assistant could sit in the office and ask, 'Why did the lawyer not follow up on that question? Why don't you?' There are still kinks to be worked out; the image of the witness isn't real clear. But they're working on it."

Knowing how the witness will appear before a jury can be more important that what he or she may say.

"In the case of two equal expert witnesses who have diametrically opposed opinions, the one who relates to the jury and conveys that opinion best always prevails," Chaffin said. "I-DEP gives the paralegal the opportunity to make judgments that can't be made simply by reading a transcript. ...The paralegal gets the 'big picture' in a case, and it makes them much more valuable players when it comes time for trial."

Equipment needs are minimal. LegalSpan provides DepoCast through court reporters. I-DEP handles the logistics for its depositions, including a scheduling tool.

While Internet depositions could theoretically be held without any attorneys on site, not even the vendors recommend that. LegalSpan President John Davis pointed out that Internet audio synchronization is imperfect. Remote I-DEP viewers can use two-way audio or the live "objection" feature, or the chat feature. Jackson said chat is used extensively because of the opportunity to confer privately between onsite and offsite participants.

"Sometimes we tell clients that a video conference makes more sense," Jackson said, "but you can't have experts online communicating with you privately in a video conference, or see the transcript along with the video."

While depositions are often held at court reporters' offices, "Viewers can be any place in the world where they can obtain an Internet connection," Davis said. "[If you] have a big securities case where each deposition lasts a week, and different attorneys ask the questions, they can follow the deposition on DepoCast from wherever they are."

People who miss a deposition can view it on demand afterward using both I-DEP and DepoCast. Transcripts also can be stored online indefinitely by either service.

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