March 19, 2020

Tips on Conducting Remote Depositions During the COVID-19 Crisis

by Angie Starbuck, PRI Court Reporting, LLC

We are all facing new challenges we never thought possible before we heard the terms “coronavirus” or “COVID-19.” The good news is we’re all in this together and can work together to solve new problems that arise.

Unfortunately, the judicial system can’t come to a complete halt during this time and its participants must learn to work within the restraints of the government orders to limit contact with others. Sometimes we just need to think outside the box a little and be flexible in times like these.

As a litigator, you may be concerned about how to keep your case and your discovery timeline on track amid this health crisis. You’re probably wondering how you can keep your depositions moving forward when everyone is required to work from home. Canceling depositions, especially last-minute, can be costly to your client.

With today’s technology, conducting a deposition remotely (which is allowed under the Ohio and Federal Rules of Civil Procedure; see Ohio R. Civ. P. 30(b)(6); Fed. R. Civ. P. 30(b)(4)) would ensure that parties would not have to share an often-cramped room for many hours in order to conduct a necessary part of litigation. One of the best ways to do this is by remote videoconferencing. It’s a simple setup, allowing all participants to attend the deposition remotely from their home or office – even the court reporter!

Here are a few tips to ensure success for a remote deposition by way of videoconference:

Prior to the Deposition

  • Notify all parties, including the witness, that you’d like to conduct the deposition via videoconference. Ohio R. Civ. P. 30(b)(6) states, “The parties may stipulate . . . that a deposition be taken by telephone or other remote means.”
  • Contact your court reporting firm and tell them you’d like a stenographic court reporter and you’d like to conduct the deposition by videoconference. They will set up a link to a videoconference platform like Zoom or Webex. They will distribute a link to all parties and the witness. They may suggest running a test with everyone the day before or the day of the deposition.Be prepared to place a stipulation on the record that the deposition will be conducted remotely by videoconference and the oath will be administered remotely.
  • You can e-mail the exhibits to the court reporting firm and the other participants prior to the deposition. The court reporter can print them and mark them during the deposition. You can also use a screenshare function to show exhibits on the screen if you’d like.

Technical Tips
  • You’ll need to use a device with a built-in webcam or use an external webcam. You can use a computer, iPad, or cellphone.
  • Close as many browser windows and programs as possible. Only keep open the ones you’ll need during the deposition. This will prevent an interruption or lag in your streaming.
  • Make sure you have good bandwidth/internet speed in the location you’ll be participating from. You can check this with your internet provider.
  • If testing reveals problems with your computer audio, you can call in to the videoconference via the telephone number provided by the videoconferencing platform.
  • Be sure to turn off all notifications on the device you are using for the videoconference so your stream isn’t interrupted.
  • A hardwire connection to the internet is the best option (instead of Wi-Fi), if possible.
  • If you have a speakerphone available, use that.
  • Remember, videoconferencing is only as good as the weakest link. If one of the parties on the conference is having trouble with their connection, it will be disruptive to all.

Courtesy Rules During the Depo
  • Give the court reporter time to get all the appearances before starting the deposition.
  • If you’re not questioning, please mute your microphone or telephone. Your dog barking at the UPS driver could be distracting to everyone!
  • Place your computer or microphone or telephone as close to you as possible. And don’t rustle papers over it, as that will distort everything you’re saying.
  • Be patient! Follow the normal Golden Rules of a deposition: speak slowly, speak one at a time, read slowly from documents. It may be a little more difficult for the court reporter to hear everyone, so be patient if they ask for clarifications. Remember, you may be able to hear the gist of what someone is saying, but their job is to hear every word!
  • Ask the witness to spell proper names (companies, streets, people). You may be very familiar with the case and know all of these, but the court reporter may be hearing them for the first time. And when using videoconferencing, sometimes things sound very similar and need to be clarified.
  • Give the court reporter time at the end of the deposition to check any spellings with the witness and to get orders before everyone jumps off the call.
  • Be patient!

If you’re working with an experienced court reporting firm, they should be able to walk you through this process and help you get set up. It’s really very simple to get started and is a great way to keep your depositions moving forward.

Obviously videoconferencing everyone in remotely for a deposition may not be ideal and it certainly brings its own challenges, but with the situation we find ourselves in today, it is a great way to keep your case on track, providing your client with a good alternative to show them their case is important to you.

Angie Starbuck
With today’s technology, conducting a deposition remotely would ensure that parties would not have to share an often-cramped room for many hours in order to conduct a necessary part of litigation.