Two years have passed since the onset of the pandemic, and no matter how you look at it, things will never be quite the same. COVID-19 changed everything. In many cases, the only way for lawyers to continue to practice law and maintain business operations during the pandemic has been to take advantage of remote working technologies.
Many attorneys initially intended to use these tools in their firms on a temporary basis. But as the pandemic persisted, legal professionals began to adopt more robust and permanent software solutions into their firms to enable their employees to work from any location, as needed.
As mask mandates are lifted across the country, many firms are reopening their offices, and it remains to be seen which remote working processes will be permanently adopted. A few categories of remote work, however, will likely continue despite the return to the office.
For example, most experts agree that videoconferencing is here to stay. We’ve all become accustomed to it, and in-person meetings can be time-consuming and aren’t always necessary. Similarly, virtual depositions for certain types of witnesses, such as costly experts, will undoubtedly continue, especially in cases where travel expenses are unduly burdensome. Why pay hundreds of dollars an hour for an expert to travel across the country for a two-hour deposition when it can be conducted remotely at a fraction of the cost?
Virtual depositions were necessary during the pandemic. Because there are many benefits to this type of proceeding, including convenience and reduced cost, there was a rapid uptick in the number of virtual deposition software products and services released over the past two years. Similarly, another similar software category, AI-based court transcription tools, also expanded during that same timeframe.
Below you’ll find an overview of some of the virtual deposition transcription products and services available that rely on videoconferencing tools and software platforms to facilitate a remote deposition. Next month, I’ll cover AI-based court transcription options (some of which can also be used for virtual depositions). Note that the list of products below is not all-inclusive but is a selection of the more well-known software programs.
But before we look at some of the available options, it’s important to note that the software programs discussed below are cloud-based, and therefore, will house all data on servers owned by a third party. As a result, because you’ll be entrusting your law firm’s data to a third party, your ethical obligations will require you to vet the technology provider hosting and storing your data thoroughly. This duty includes ensuring you understand how that company will handle the data; where the servers on which the data will be stored are located; who will have access to the data; and how and when it will be backed up—among other things.
AI-based virtual deposition services
One category of remote deposition services relies on AI-based speech-to-text transcription, instead of court reporters to create deposition transcripts. This is an emerging category of virtual deposition services, so there are fewer companies available that offer this.
One option is Readback. I first learned about this company when they asked me to look at their software and offered to provide me with a complimentary iPad in exchange. I accepted the offer, and the subsequent demo of their product convinced me that this type of technology is here to stay and will become commonplace post-pandemic.
Readback is AI-based software that is used during virtual depositions. As the deposition occurs, the software converts speech to text while a team of transcriptionists simultaneously “clean up” the transcript in real time. Another individual, referred to as the “Guardian of the Record,” is also present and is responsible for facilitating the deposition process, the readback of prior testimony and the certification of the deposition transcript. Rough text from depositions is available within a minute of the testimony, rough transcripts are available within an hour of the deposition, and certified transcripts are available within one day. Pricing can be found here, and the handling of up to 12 exhibits is included in the price of each deposition.
Prevail Legal is another company that relies on AI-based software to provide near-instantaneous deposition transcription during remote deposition proceedings. Using Prevail’s virtual deposition software, you can upload exhibits before the deposition and during the testimony. A Session Manager is present during the process to provide guidance and answer any questions. Following the session’s conclusion, a human review of the draft transcript occurs before it is certified in its final form. Collaboration tools are also included in their platform to enable communication between a firm’s team members and clients during the deposition. Prevail uses flat-fee pricing, and the specifics are not available on the website.
Virtual deposition services
Another method of providing remote (or hybrid) depositions relies on the traditional way of creating deposition transcripts: through a court reporter. Typically, these virtual deposition services offer firms access to an online platform for hosting virtual depositions and a “concierge” who assists with the management of the remote deposition. The services provide a court reporter, and some offer attorneys the option to use their preferred court reporter. Some of these companies also incorporate speech-to-text tools in creating a working transcript, but court reporters are still used and are the primary way the testimony is transcribed.
Many options are available for this type of service, including Veritext Virtual, RemoteLegal, LegalView by Lexitas, DepoDirect, vTestify, and Steno. Pricing varies for each platform and typically is not available on the website. This means you’ll likely need to contact the provider to determine pricing.
The bottom line is that remote and hybrid depositions are here to stay, in part because now that we’re so familiar with videoconferencing, the novelty of interacting in that manner is no longer a roadblock. Of course, in-person proceedings will still take place, but the convenience and cost-savings of virtual depositions can’t be beaten.
As I’ll discuss in my next column, depositions aren’t the only type of legal proceeding that will continue to be held virtually post-pandemic. Court proceedings will also be conducted remotely, and speech-to-text technology may soon replace some court reporters during both in-person and virtual court appearances.