Ron Carey, chief revenue officer with Esquire Deposition Solutions, discusses the use of remote deposition technology, how the COVID-19 pandemic supercharged the trend, and why it’s here to stay.
CCBJ: Esquire Deposition Solutions recently published an infographic about COVID-19’s impact on technology for depositions. What had you observed that led you to create this infographic?
Ron Carey: Back in 2018, we at Esquire created what we called remote depositions, which, as the name suggests, are basically depositions done remotely using technology platforms. From 2018 through March of 2020, adoption of the service was very low – just a couple of hundred depositions total in that two-year period. That changed when the pandemic hit, as people realized that depositions could be done remotely too, and adoption of the program just took off from there.
We went from doing just those couple hundred remote depositions in two years to doing more than 100,000 of them since the pandemic started. Our volume is through the roof, and we wanted to get a better picture of the situation in terms of our future planning, strategic planning, and our organization. What things would look like for us in a post-pandemic world. There are a number of people, both general counsel and those at law firms, who were reluctant to use this service at first who have now realized the advantage of doing so. We also wanted to make sure that we continued to invest in ways that would allow us to meet the needs of the new post-pandemic landscape, the so-called “new normal.”
We wanted to learn a few different things. First, will people continue to use remote platforms once they have the ability to take depositions in person again? And if so, at what level? We also wanted to better understand a few things having to do with deliverables. One of the other interesting dynamics we’ve seen a move away from printed transcripts and toward more requests for digital transcripts, so we wanted to look at our investments in print technology and shipping costs, things like that. What should we plan for in that area? We thought it prudent to do a broad survey to really understand from both the corporate side and the law firm side of the house, what are we planning to do post-pandemic?
Where do you see the future of depositions going?
We have a very large corporate portfolio, mainly insurance companies, energy, pharmaceutical, and medical companies that have large need for litigation and/ or things like claims on the insurance side. Time is the enemy, generally, of extended litigation cycles, and many corporations want to leverage technology to ensure that they’re able to keep legal matters pushing forward as required and as allowed by state and federal mandates. What’s happened as a result is that organizations are seeing less pressure on their litigation calendar. There’s a court reporter shortage, which was really being felt pre-pandemic, all throughout 2019. But remote world, you don’t have court reporters having to take down their equipment, package it up, get in the car, drive to a new location and set the equipment back up to take the next deposition. Instead, they can sit in the comfort of their home and go from deposition to deposition, never having to move. In other words, the bandwidth of court reporters greatly improved, taking pressure off of the calendar.
The fact that we can get to litigation fast means that organizations can get through their matters faster, which means less expense related to litigation. On the law firm side, attorneys are having to travel less, so they can focus on their billable hours rather than those non-billable hours associated with travel. Then, of course, on the corporate side, they’re not having to reimburse law firms for attorneys’ expenses related to travel because there’s less travel for litigation right now.
So, I see remote depositions as part of this overall trend, and I expect that they will continue to be a big part of how we do business going forward.
What are some other key takeaways from the survey?
First, the number one platform out there is Zoom, and most attorneys have familiarity with it. We offer Zoom, of course, along with Webex and Blue Jeans and some other platforms based on client requirements. But Zoom is the bulk of what we do. All of these platforms are video-conferencing platforms, and then there’s also exhibit management software like AgileLaw that gets used as well.
There are two dynamics happening with attorneys. One is that some attorneys feel like the focus on technology might take away from their ability to practice law and be effective within the deposition. So, we’ve really bolstered our offerings around making sure the attorneys fully supported before, during and after that deposition. That’s one piece. The other piece is that there were some issues with the attorneys managing exhibits using the video platforms as well. That’s why we’ve added tools like AgileLaw that allow us to more easily manage exhibits on the platform. If you think of remote depositions 2.0, it’s a purpose-built platform.
In fact, we are about to announce the release of Esquire eLitigate, which is a purpose-built platform that leverages Zoom, Webex, RingCentral, Microsoft Teams and anything like that. It’s a proprietary platform that exactly emulates the interim deposition along with really robust exhibit management. Many of the things that we see evolving and emerging will be built into this purpose-built platform. It’s designed not as a video-conferencing platform, but as a depositions platform. It’s designed to address the concerns attorneys had about practicing law in this new technological world – that the technology was not necessarily comfortable for them, and especially that managing complex exhibits was difficult. We heard that very, very clearly, and we’ve worked hard to solve it.
Overall, what was the largest takeaway?
Remote depositions and technology are being accepted by the legal community, despite those complaints I just mentioned. They’re becoming more accepted. There was not much receptivity by the legal community to technology prior to the pandemic. But COVID-19 really created an absolute need to shift to a remote model that leverages technology. We found very quickly that corporations as well as law firms are seeing the advantages. It’s not scary. It’s not jeopardizing the record. In fact, in many ways, it’s improving upon the integrity of the record. And it’s highly scalable. So, we are coming out of the pandemic and into our new normal, if you will, with a whole industry that’s vastly more comfortable and more receptive to looking at technology – beyond just e-discovery, which was really the one place where you saw a lot of technology being leveraged in the past.
What else do you think our in-house counsel readers should know about this?
What we’ve heard over and over again is that, yes, everyone’s got a technology platform, right? And we’re all using the same sort of platforms – Zoom, whatever it may be – but it’s the support and the way that the platforms are operationalized in concert with a corporation’s needs that becomes so powerful.
Tools that allow corporations to understand their litigation calendar are very important, for instance. We use a product called EsquireConnect that allows anyone on the legal staff of a corporation to see all of depositions on the calendar, regardless of the attorney or the firm handling that matter. They can set depositions quickly. They can cancel depositions with the click of a button. They can receive transcripts digitally. They can access their video files.
As relates to the deposition itself, relieving pressure on the litigation calendar is so critically important. Remote technologies allow us to do that. It allows greater bandwidth for availability of court reporters, and it allows us to be able to do what we call “add-on business.” If a business calls us at 4 o’clock and says, “Oh my gosh, we forgot, we have a deposition tomorrow at 10 a.m. Can I get a court reporter available?” That’s very difficult to do in person, but very easy to do remotely. It removes the geographical burden that we used to have.
There are many things that bring efficiencies and, in essence, allow corporations to reduce legal spend. The variable costs of depositions – things like attorney travel – is certainly one of them. Remote technologies relieve the burden of those variable costs and help organizations bring that spend under control. And there’s really no degradation of quality of the deposition and no degradation of the deliverable either.
What the survey clearly states is that the acceptance of technology is the primary outcome, even as attorneys return to being able to do in-person proceedings. A large percentage of attorneys feel that a large percentage of their proceedings will still be held remotely, and we’re helping corporations with the litigation guidelines that they give to the law firms that support them, providing guidance on when remote should be used versus when in-person should be used.
For example, a corporation might decide that in in a complex matter they want attorneys there with a witness. But in some other matters, where it’s a low-risk situation or a low-exposure situation, they might decide that remote depositions are a more effective or more efficient way to manage it. We’re helping corporations write those guidelines and then publish them, and we provide a lot of reporting in the back end to make sure that their partners and attorneys that support their businesses are complying with the guidelines that they’ve written and published.
We also see a need for additional investment. That’s why we’re launching Esquire eLitigate, which is going to bring a whole new level of efficiency to the remote world. If we saw that the trend of remote depositions was going to decrease, we would invest elsewhere, but we’re not. We’re steadily investing in technology.
The last thing I’ll point out is that there’s a generational dynamic in play here as well. As some senior partners start to retire, they’re being replaced by newer partners who are more used to leveraging technology in their work. They understand the productivity benefits of technology and look at it as a complement to their effectiveness, not as a threat to their effectiveness or something that they’re uncomfortable with.