Will remote depositions disappear as legal professionals emerge from the pandemic? Not according to a recent survey by the court reporting company Esquire Deposition Solutions, which found that 78% of attorneys plan to continue conducting up to half their depositions virtually in a post-pandemic world.
In anticipation of that new reality, Esquire has partnered with the company vTestify, developer of a remote deposition and exhibit management platform, to launch Esquire eLitigate, an all-in-one virtual deposition solution that combines the services of Esquire’s court reporting professionals with the technology of vTestify’s platform.
The solution is being launched today in a pilot phase and will be released commercially in August.
I reviewed vTestify’s platform in May 2020, noting that unlike Zoom and other generic conferencing software, vTestify was specifically built for legal applications and “offers the features, functionality and security that lawyers and court reporters would want in a deposition platform.”
The new eLitigate offering marries that technology to the full range of deposition and court reporting services Esquire provides, covering everything from assigning court reporters, providing and hosting the remote deposition platform, managing electronic exhibits, cloud storage of exhibits, and storage of and access to transcripts, all in a secure integrated platform.
During a demonstration last week with Terrie Campbell, CEO of Esquire, Michael J. Hewitt, CEO of vTestify, and Alex Hewitt, vice president of product at vTestify, Campbell said that the solution also builds on her company’s experience gained from handling over 100,000 virtual depositions.
Although Esquire has offered remote deposition services since 2018 using products such as Zoom for videoconferencing and Box for exhibits, Campbell said that even before the pandemic, she recognized the need for a purpose-built platform that would better serve the needs of attorneys, witnesses and court reporters.
“We wanted to look at how can we create and deliver to market a service-delivery platform that is an end-to-end solution,” Campbell said. “What has come together is much more expansive than what you see in the market today.”
eLitigate goes beyond point solutions such as Zoom and Box, she said, to handle the entire workflow from calling in to schedule a virtual deposition all the way through to delivery of the transcript.
A Purpose-Built Platform
In my review last year of the vTestify technology, I wrote, “For critical depositions that must go on even in the midst of a quarantine, vTestify is the next best thing to being there live — and in some ways it is even better.”
One of those “even better” features is ScriptSync, which provides a real-time transcription of everything that is being said. Once the deposition is complete, this transcription is synced with the video, allowing the entire video to be searchable using keywords.
The platform also provides robust exhibit management, enabling attorneys to privately upload documents and control which are shared as exhibits. It also offers industry-standard timestamping, customizable exhibit stamps, and archiving in a secure cloud repository.
Within the vTestify platform, the screen is divided to show participants’ video feeds to the left, with the witness always the top video. In the center is exhibit management. In a collapsible panel to the right is the ScriptSync real-time transcription.
Every eLitigate matter includes four private sidebar rooms for off-the-record conversations. Attorneys can lock these rooms to ensure they are secure from other participants in the deposition.
The exhibit management portion of the display uses tabs to allow attorneys to view both their private exhibits and the live exhibit that is being presented. An attorney can privately preview an exhibit within the platform and then share it for everyone else to view. The court reporter can mark and manage the exhibit.
People and Process Meet Technology
“If you think about people, process and technology, where the relationship between Esquire and vTestify comes together is that we provide the people and process and vTestify the technology,” Campbell said.
“This relationship with vTestify helped us really solidify and isolate what we believe is a critical need in the market, so we’re quite excited about that.”
The two CEOs, Campbell and Hewitt, said that they began working on this solution before the pandemic, but the pandemic provided a unique proving ground both for the concept of virtual depositions and for the importance of a purpose-built technology.
That resulted in hundreds of enhancements to the platform, Hewitt said, and also led them to look ahead to future enhancements. Already in the works is extracting data from the platform to create analytics that could potentially be useful to insurance companies and corporate clients in assessing the value they get from deposition-related legal services.
“The market need for a better solution that provides integrated virtual deposition and exhibit management capabilities is now,” CEO Hewitt said. “While Zoom has made it substantially easier to function in a virtual environment, the legal industry has been slow to respond with a comprehensive, purpose-built solution. With Esquire eLitigate, that’s all about to change.”
That Esquire survey that I referenced above concludes that “not only are remote depositions here to stay but that they will become common practice among litigating attorneys.”
I believe that is true. Although remote depositions are not ideal in every instance, there will continue to be many matters in which it makes more sense to conduct the deposition remotely, particularly to avoid the cost and expense of needless travel.
At the same time, I have seen firsthand that Zoom can be a clumsy way to conduct a hearing of any kind, with no native way to manage exhibits or video feeds and an awkward system of breakout rooms.
That is why I liked vTestify when I first saw it last year, and why the soup-to-nuts integration of its technology with Esquire’s court reporting services makes it even better.
Of course, the cost of a solution is always a factor in evaluating it, and when I asked the cost, I was told eLitigate is sold on a per-user per-use basis, but not given a dollar amount.
You can read more about the new eLitigate service at Esquire.