Technology and International Depositions, Part I

Like every other field of human endeavor, technology plays un undeniable role in how U.S. depositions are conducted abroad. This article is the first in a series where we’ll explore how technology can be harnessed to make foreign depositions easier and less expensive.
Low Tech but Still Useful: Telephonic Depositions
One of the main costs involved in deposing witnesses in foreign countries is getting the attorneys out there. The travel time, airfare, hotels bills, taxis — not to mention those inevitable cocktail tabs — can really add up fast, provoking sometimes hostile behavior from clients. Do not panic: there are solutions to avoid such potentially harrowing scenes. A number of technological solutions exist which allow you to remain comfortably at your home or office, while deposing a witness who may be thousands of miles away in a different country, culture, and time zone.
“Hello, Charlie!”
Would you be surprised if I mentioned that nineteenth-century invention, the common telephone?
Do not denigrate it: the telephone is a piece of technology which still reaps rewards for depositions abroad. This admittedly low tech, but still oft-used solution is a great way to depose witnesses from remote locations, particularly when coupled with that 1970’s innovation, the speaker phone (think Bosley from Charlie’s Angels here). A large number of depositions that I organize abroad feature one or more attorneys who choose to participate by telephone in order to save their clients the expense of flying in. Almost any hotel conference room or business center abroad can provide a good quality speaker phone system that will allow you to speak with, and clearly listen to, the local witness and any travel-weary attorneys who might be participating on-site. You simply dial in, conduct your depo, and hang up – you’re done!
Great for Developing Countries and Rural Areas
The telephone has a big advantage in developing countries or very rural locations where Internet connectivity is still very slow or unavailable in large swathes of the globe.
Don’t Forget the Reporter and Videographer!
Of course, you’ll need to have a court reporter present physically with the witness. Very few reporters are willing to work over the phone due to the lack of visual cues and lower sound clarity. I also very strongly recommend having a legal videographer on-site with the witness, in order to provide a professional, crystal-clear audio and visual recording that can be used after the depo to clear up any uncertain passages. Your reporter will be thankful that you’ve used a videographer, as digital audio can be ripped from the video and given to the reporter to be used for scoping after the depo has completed.
Videoconferencing: As Close As You Can Get Without Being There
Now that we’ve covered technology from the nineteenth century up to the 1970’s, let’s fast-forward a bit… next stop, the 1990’s. Remember that wonderful time? Bill Clinton, MC Hammer, and budget surpluses? Well, in addition to the fine art of not inhaling, the 90’s also witnessed a very significant technological revolution: videoconferencing rooms finally available to the masses. If you have the budget for it and don’t want to travel, videoconferencing can be a cushy way to go. Videoconferencing facilities provide large, comfortable conference rooms, with high-quality sound systems, big television screens, and – most importantly – very high bandwidth data connections that let you take a deposition from the U.S. as if the foreign-based witness was right there with you.
An Added Cost, But Worth It
Videoconferencing isn’t cheap, because the data connections are expensive and the conference space comes with a price. Costs typically fall into the USD $400 per-hour range, and can go higher depending on the country and connections used.
Keep the Reporter and Videographer with the Witness
Even though you may be conducting your deposition by videoconference, we still recommend having the court reporter and legal videographer right there in the foreign country with the witness so that you get the best possible record for later use. In some cases, when there is agreement with the judge and opposing counsel, you can opt to have your reporter there on the U.S. end with you, taking the record over the video link. This approach can save on travel costs, but you risk problems with the record due to occasional echoes and lack of audio clarity. You should always have a legal videographer present with the witness abroad, as the video record is an important safety measure for disputed or unclear sections of the record – or in the unlikely event of a videoconferencing failure, because those connections can occasionally fail.
Test It Beforehand
A test call is when your videoconferencing facility in the States makes a test connection with the videoconference facility abroad ahead of time, to make sure everything works between the two rooms. Typically, test calls are included free of charge when you book services through an agency, and they should ideally be made several days in advance of the actual deposition. Remember the time difference – it’s often the next day or late at night in your witness’ home country, which is another reason these things need to be planned ahead. When a test call works correctly, you can be pretty sure that your videoconference will proceed on the deposition date without any issues.
Always Have a Backup Plan
Videoconferencing, like any technology, is not foolproof. Even if a test call worked fine a few days ago, that does not mean problems won’t arise on the actual day of the deposition due to unpredictable issues with the local phone network (for ISDN calls) or the global Internet (for IP calls). That is why I always recommend a lower-tech backup plan: be sure to have a speakerphone handy in each facility, so that the deposition can be continued via telephone in the unlikely event that videoconferencing fails. Make sure you have telephones ready on both ends, and that you have numbers handy in case people need to dial in. AT&T can provide conference call services should you have multiple participants who need to dial into the same line. This should all be prepared well in advance as a “Plan B” in case the videoconferencing fails for any reason. Having a legal videographer there with the witness is another key safeguard – you can always rely on the video record if problems arise and you need to switch to the telephone.
Virtual Presence
A recent and very exciting development in videoconferencing involves a technology called Virtual Presence. Virtual Presence facilities are very high-bandwidth videoconferencing centers which feature HD images that give you life-sized images of the far-end participants. Some Virtual Presence rooms have each remote participant seated at the table on human-sized screens around you, as if they were actually there. New developments in HD video and sound, better compression methods, and extremely fast network connections have made this possible. Currently, Virtual Presence is only available in a few large cities, such as London, New York, and Mumbai, but it is catching on fast and will soon be the de-facto approach to videoconferencing.
What About Skype?
To be continued… where we will discuss Skype depositions, and beyond!

Ian Hardy is the President and lead Global Deposition Expert at Optima Juris, the world’s first and only reporting agency that exclusively handles depositions abroad