The impact to the legal landscape due to coronavirus compounds every day. Months have gone by with no jury trials. Access to virtual hearings for other motions and finalization of orders, judgments and settlements have been limited. Right now, depositions and discovery are the most accessible avenues to push case matters forward.
As an injury trial lawyer specializing in witness prep, focus groups, and case consulting, I know well the complexity of working virtually in these shifting times. Let’s walk through how to prepare your clients for a virtual deposition, taking into account both logistical and testimony considerations.
Logistical Considerations for Virtual Depositions
- Technology: Does your client have the technology needed to appear virtually?There are several virtual platforms being used to conduct depositions, such as GoToMeeting, Zoom, and Microsoft Teams. At a minimum, each platform requires Internet and a tablet/laptop/computer.I’ve seen lawyers mail clients a tablet to use for the preparation meeting and deposition. You may or may not have that capability. Compromising on low speed internet or a cell phone can cause frustration for everyone and likely end up with your client in a second deposition.
- Location: Does your client have a suitable place in their home to appear virtually?Your client needs to have a private space, either a bedroom or office, to appear for the deposition. A place is needed where they can close the door to distractions and feel safe sharing. They may not want their children or spouse to hear about their emotions or feelings related to the lawsuit.Alternatively, the client may not want the prying eyes of strangers, like a court reporter or opposing counsel, seeing into the privacy of their home. Opposing counsel will take note of anything in the background. You can alleviate privacy concerns by using a virtual background on the client’s settings in the virtual meeting. But, keep in mind that a virtual background does not protect against interruptions by family members of the human or pet variety.
Testimony Considerations for Virtual Depositions
- Is it safe: Is your client a caretaker for children or elderly?
With daycare programs and schools closed, parents are staying at home with children. The expectation is that daycare programs and camps will slowly re-open this summer, but that does not account for folks who can no longer afford the luxury of childcare due to lost wages or layoffs. You will need to be considerate of your client’s concerns about who will supervise children during preparation and depositions, as an alternative to childcare may not be available.
In the same vein, does your client have to leave the home to provide care or groceries to elderly parents or grandparents? Again, your client may be someone else’s lifeline during the coronavirus pandemic.
Be mindful of time constraints if parents are trading off childcare and make the opposing counsel aware of the childcare situation. Set clear start and stop times. If the opposing counsel cannot agree, then you need to wait until childcare options improve for the client. Forcing a client to choose between their caretaker obligations and focusing on testifying will be a losing battle for your case.
- Distractions: Will your client be too distracted to testify?
Your clients may be experiencing loneliness, anxiety, depression, and/or grief, either consciously and subconsciously. COVID-19 is a hidden, deadly danger and this preys on our Reptilian minds, making us move to a hypervigilant state. If our brains stay in this heightened state of mind, stress hormones increase, sleep lessens, and our bodies start to break down. Your client may appear to be coping from the outside, but this current state of being (as of May 2020) is not normal. Their pre-COVID-19 lives are gone and the future is filled with uncertainty. People are working through grief of their lives lost, and missing or cancelling life events during shelter-in-place orders.
Take the time to ask AND LISTEN to your client’s COVID-19 experience. Ask them what is happening now? What have they missed out on?
Bonus Virtual Deposition Preparation Tips:
- Use the Zoom platform for preparation meetings. This will help the client practice on the platform and adjust to staring at the screen for hours.
- Avoid screen fatigue by finding ways to assist the client and yourself in taking breaks. Here’s a quick article about signs of screen fatigue.
- Holding your preparation meetings virtually will also allow your client to find a good private space in their home before the deposition.
Have questions about preparing your client? Schedule a call.
Elizabeth is here to help secure your case by strengthening your client, making your witnesses confident and your case rock solid. Contact Larrick Law Firm today to get started on organizing the information we need for witness preparation.