Palm Beach County Bar Bulletin
Reach Out and Depose Someone
By Bard Rockenbach
Chairman, Technology Committee
My review of useful services recently brought me to I-DEP®. Actually, I was told about the service by one of my partners who had just completed a long and grueling deposition junket from hither, to yon, and back again. We all seem to share the same loathing for business travel these days. The airlines have made traveling a painful process, and it is always hard to be away from the family. So I-DEP seemed like a good idea.
The first thing I learned is something that I have long suspected. In Florida, we shorten the word deposition to "depo" while the rest of the country shortens it to "dep." I have no idea why this is, but I'm sure that it's related to the election problems last year. We can blame everything on the election debacle.
The second thing I learned is that there actually is a good alternative, albeit not perfect, to traveling to depositions out of town. I-DEP (800-498-4337) is a service that allows you to attend a deposition over the Internet and, with some caveats, it seems useful for the right situation. First, a brief explanation of how it works and what it does.
When a deposition is scheduled to be attended with I-DEP, the court reporter receives a field kit, which is a briefcase containing a Sony VAIO laptop computer, a small camera, and a miniature microphone. The camera is about the size of a deck of cards and the microphone is the standard lapel type. The court reporter must be a certified I-DEP reporter, and certification requires only a small amount of training. The important thing is for the reporter to be a certified real-time court reporter, which they must be in order to be certified by I-DEP. For those of you who have not used real-time, it is a direct computer connection from the court reporter's computer to your computer, which shows you the deposition transcript in Summation or similar software at the same time as the testimony is given. The laptop computer is then set up with the camera and the microphone and logged onto the service over the Internet. The camera broadcasts the deponent's testimony at about 15 frames per second with audio. Unfortunately, the video and audio features run about eight to 10 seconds behind the actual testimony, so it is likely that you will want to get the audio by speaker telephone. In order to broadcast, the computer must be connected to at least a DSL connection.
On the receiving end, the person attending the deposition needs to be logged onto the I-DEP Internet Web site with a password and username. Only authorized attendees may receive the deposition. After logging on, the Web site presents four frames. The video of the deponent, a 2-inch by 3-inch Windows Media Player image, is in the upper left corner with the chat room directly below it. Each message sent is color-coded according to the person sending it to aid in identification. On the right side of the screen is the streaming real-time transcript of the deposition. There is also a feature to send cryptic objections over the system, but that seems to be of limited value.
The big advantage that this service has over videoconferencing is that the service provides a real-time transcript of the deposition, with the ability to annotate the transcript as the deposition progresses. The other important advantage is the chat feature, which allows you to send either public messages to everyone attending by I-DEP, or a private message to just one participant. These same advantages apply when it is compared with telephone conferencing. In addition, the fact that you can see the deponent adds an important feature to the deposition.
The service has an hourly rate, which is capped at four hours, no matter how long the deposition is. The average cost is between $500 and $700 per deposition. It is obviously not cheap, but when you start out by saving the cost of a plane ticket, it seems very reasonable.
I-DEP has been used successfully in cases with several parties where the parties can take turns actually attending the deposition with the others appearing via I-DEP. It can also be used to allow a client to attend a deposition without having to travel. All anyone needs to access the private deposition is a computer with at least a dial-up connection at 48 Kbps and an Internet browser program, such as Microsoft Internet Explorer. That means that you can attend a deposition being held anywhere as long as you have a connection to the Internet.
The service also has limitations, of course. It probably would not work to take the deposition of an important expert witness or a party. It probably would not work very well with a witness who will refer to exhibits. It is most suitable for witnesses whose depositions are being taken by a co-defendant and you just need to attend. It is also useful if a senior partner wants to attend a deposition being taken by an associate in the firm or if a client wants to see testimony live. According to the company, several large corporations are interested in using I-DEP in order to get a better idea of how discovery is proceeding without having to actually attend and to limit their travel expenses.
Overall, I-DEP provides a service that you may find useful, especially if you are not the type of person who enjoys business travel. At least with I-DEP, you are guaranteed of only having to eat bad airline food if you have it delivered to you. E-mail me at brockenbach@smb-law com.
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