The coronavirus pandemic has altered the professional landscape of the legal industry, where so many steps in the litigation process rely on in-person collaboration, meetings, or court appearances. As such, video conferencing and virtual collaboration tools have found their way into the daily workflows of legal professionals across the country. Though a barrage of new technology may feel daunting, remote work solutions present seamless options to handle all kinds of litigation-related issues—from pretrial matters, to depositions, to trial itself. With respect to expert witness testimony, video conferencing technology allows attorneys to increase their access to the nation’s most talented experts and consult those previously inaccessible because of distance.
Even before the days of COVID-19, more and more attorneys have taken to video conferencing with their expert witnesses simply because it saves time and money. Trial activities are costly, exhaustive, and time consuming. Instead of buying plane tickets, booking hotel rooms, and lugging around boxes of documents, experts can appear on a screen and look through documents on a file-sharing application. And now, with virtually the entire nation confined to home offices and remote work, working effectively with expert witnesses has never been more important.
But where should you even begin? The number of programs and applications available increases by the day, and at first look can be a bit overwhelming. To help you select the best solutions for your firm, we researched all the different technologies available to work with experts remotely.
The technology behind the most robust video conferencing services makes use of dedicated combinations of hardware and software that are available from several different manufacturers. In a typical “point-to-point” set-up, each location is set up with a microphone, camera and a display platform, such as a TV or projection screen. It then operates vis-a-vis video conferencing hardware known as a “codec”. This sort of setup is ideal for permanent locations such as courtrooms or conference rooms.
Though a permanent video conferencing set up will yield better quality video and audio, these dedicated solutions can be fairly expensive. When many experts— and perhaps your team as well—remain working from home, video conferencing platforms are a fast, easy, and intuitive way to get in touch with your expert. They’re simple to download onto any device and, in many cases, offer free access. Some of our favorites include Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, and Zoom.
The Center for Legal & Court Technology (CLCT) has been a leader in exploring the use of such technologies in the legal context, especially in courtrooms during trial. An increasing number of courtrooms across the country are being updated and fitted to accommodate these advanced ways of presenting evidence. One of the most important steps in preparing to use any kind of video conferencing technology in litigation is to make sure to troubleshoot ahead of time. The best way to do this is to first check out the venue yourself. If you are unfamiliar with what technology you need, CLCT offers consulting services for courtroom technology. These preparations will ensure a smooth video call experience for expert testimony or calling upon other witnesses.
A key part of staying on the same page as your expert—and team—is organization. Especially when dealing with multiple experts, or even multiple cases, things come up and appointments or hearings need to be rescheduled quickly. Below are a few apps to make scheduling a hassle-free affair.
Calendar offers a seamless experience to scheduling meetings—without emails flying back and forth to find a time. Its smart scheduling link technology will create meeting events in a few clicks and syncs with Outlook and Google calendars. Calendar also provides a Team feature so your whole firm can stay up to date on all expert-related events.
Asana is an end to end project management software but its calendar feature is an especially sophisticated tool. The Asana calendar allows you to easily see tasks and events across your team and seamlessly track to-dos against approaching deadlines. Plus, when used in tandem with the larger Asana platform, you can simply toggle between calendars, in-progress projects, and all related documents.
Combat the endless email threads with software solutions created for team-wide case collaboration. We’ve found a few of the best options available to make sure all expert preparation is on time and accounted for.
Mavenlink is a full-service project management software specifically geared towards professional services. This platform offers document management, project management tools, and centralized communication for each case on your desk. This is especially helpful if your firm is juggling multiple experts per case and an abundance of records or files.
Evernote, originally a notetaking application, has released a version for simple team collaboration. Easily manage different cases, timelines, and deadlines all in one place. Evernote will also integrate with Slack, Outlook, Google, and Salesforce.
Wrike is another project management solution with seamless collaboration tools. Firms can create dashboards for each case at hand and easily track related documents and progress. Wrike emphasizes visibility across team projects and allows all stakeholders to track progress, especially as team members and experts work together remotely
Basecamp provides intuitive team project collaboration capabilities. This application offers a centralized view of each case you’re working on, including pending tasks, related documents, and a native chat feature to keep communication clear. The platform also allows for easy organization of expert reports, schedules, and related activity.
Secure File Sharing
Overnighted boxes of sensitive files and records are a thing of the past once your firm has adopted a file sharing platform. These are a few of the best solutions for digital document distribution.
Hightail allows users to securely share large files with team members or experts. You can also track delivery and downloads of any documents sent. For even tighter security, Hightail offers password protection and expiration dates on its file sharing tools—giving you control on any content shared.
DropBox offers a business version of their document management and sharing platform. This also includes team organization tools, so files for different cases stay consolidated. DropBox also touts a “secure, distributed infrastructure” to ensure all data remains safe. DropBox also integrates with Google platforms, Slack, and Microsoft Office.
Box is a cloud-based content management platform with secure file sharing tools. Box even has a webinar specifically for the legal community to explain its capabilities aimed at seamless legal workflows.
Preparing for Deposition
On the surface, attorneys may be skeptical of deposing an expert via video and potentially losing the intangible aspects of in-person deposition. But the alternative is to invest immense time and money to physically bring in an expert—a solution no longer possible during lockdown. But technology has advanced to a level where even the most minute details of body language and demeanor are perceptible remotely. With HD resolution, it is now possible to see something as subtle as slight wrinkles on the forehead or, as attorney and Professor Frederic Lederer points out, beads of sweat. Always consult your local court’s rules for deposition during COVID-19, but where video is allowed, these are some of our favorite solutions.
eDepoze is a specialized deposition exhibit software. It’s a great tool for organizing and sharing materials to participants joining virtual depositions. The service also offers annotation tools, intuitive document organization, keyword search function, and automatic exhibit logs which can be exported with hyperlinks to the individual documents.
StoryCloud is a virtual deposition platform. It connects all deposition participants through a secure conference bridge and the service includes a court reporter to act as a moderator and offer technical support. Audio, video, and transcripts are all available after the deposition.
Preparing for Mediations and Arbitrations
Complex business disputes are often settled out of court. But expert testimony remains a key component of these proceedings. To include experts remotely in these kinds of adjudications, we suggest exploring the following platforms.
LiveLitigation is a web-based solution developed specifically for litigators. It includes tools for video conferencing, exhibit display, secure non-discoverable chat, and built in scheduling. This allows you to easily include experts where needed as you work through dispute resolution virtually.
Mediate2Go, as the name would suggest, is a specialized platform for remote mediation management. It is an intuitive tool inclusive of all aspects of the mediation process. This includes case details, document management, time tracking, and scheduling. Paired with your video conference platform of choice, Mediate2Go creates a cohesive remote mediation experience for all participants and experts involved.
Preparing for Trial
In the COVID-19 era, courts are quickly adapting to remote hearings and other proceedings. Especially unders the CARES Act, the U.S. court system now has funding specifically for instating video conferencing technology. As you prepare to appear in virtual court with an expert witness, it’s critical to be well acquainted with the platform of choice. Whether Zoom, WebEx, or perhaps GoToMeeting, it is an attorney’s responsibility to prepare themselves and their expert for technical success. This includes testing internet connections, cameras, and microphones. Pre-trial prep in a virtual instance should still include guidance for personal grooming, attire, and attentiveness. Prepare for court as you would in a traditional capacity— just with a bit more care for computer battery and background lighting.
Virtual Reality: The Future of the Courtroom
Looking forward in the legal technology landscape, virtual reality could be a powerful tool for future trials and presenting compelling expert testimony. Though not yet used in litigation, VR offers a sense of realism and understanding for a jury that cannot be replicated by traditional testimony. It can also be an aid for experts explaining an accident reconstruction or scientific concept. The possibilities of virtual reality during trial are especially wide at the moment, particularly as the court system has shown a propensity for tech adoption in the current pandemic climate.
Leveraging Experts and Technology
We don’t know how long the pandemic impact on the legal process will last. For now, litigators must resort to virtual courtrooms and video hearings. But for an industry so closely tied to tradition and legacy processes, this remote era presents an opportunity to experience the benefits that new technology has to offer. One such benefit is the freedom afforded to expert selection. Attorneys may source the ideal expert for their case, no matter their geography. Remote arrangements also eliminate travel and lodging costs related to trial. Litigators may also permanently adopt the ease and security of digital exhibits and document sharing. From clients, to team members, to experts, online platforms can provide seamless experiences for document management. After all the dust settles from a 21st century pandemic, we may just see the legal process and expert relationships advance as well.