When Arranging Your Global Depo, Don’t Forget To Plan For Exhibits! Part II

Continuing from Part I. In Part II discusses several answers to the question of dealing with moving your mountains of exhibits, depending on the kind of country you’re working in, the relative quantity of exhibit pages, and your budget. Here are the different options:
1) Bring Your Exhibits on the Plane
It’s simple: you pack up all of the documents into boxes, ensure that they are clearly labeled, and the traveling attorneys check the boxes in with their luggage. This is the time-honored approach, and can often be the safest. However, it’s not 100% foolproof. A lot of international flights lose or misplace baggage on a regular basis – it’s a question of probability, essentially – and lost bags can often take days to resurface. So if you’re checking in your boxes of exhibits as luggage, always be sure to bring a backup copy of every single document in digital form on a USB drive or on your laptop. You won’t regret it. That way, if push comes to shove, you can always print the exhibits out on-site if needed (see below for details on that option)!
A huge factor associated with bringing your exhibits on the plane, or by any other conveyance, is the cost. With our friends in the airline industry routinely extorting ever-increasing sums for each pound of luggage checked in, you will find yourself paying upwards of USD $100 per box (and much more if you go over two items per person, or if the boxes are extremely heavy). Expect to spend several hundred dollars or more when bringing multiple boxes.
Plane Versus Shipping
When compared to international shipping services such as Fedex, the cost of checking in your exhibits as luggage may actually be lower (believe it or not! – see the international shipping option, below). But this can vary depending on many factors. Making the best choice based on cost will require weighing your boxes and then making a call to your airline, and then to Fedex, to determine the least expensive option. The overall cost really depends on the country, weight, and shipping option you want to use. So do your homework, or feel free to contact me should you need any additional advice for your specific situation.
The advantage of bringing your exhibits on the plane is that they are always “with you” (unless there is an issue with your baggage getting lost, which can happen – it occurred on a recent job a client organized in Sweden). But if you carry a digital backup, even lost baggage is not a show-stopper. 99 times out of a 100, you simply take the boxes with you to the airport, check them in, and then carry them straight into your hotel room in the deposition country.
Get Ready to Schlep!
The disadvantage of bringing the exhibits over yourself, of course, is that they actually need to be carried. And those boxes can be heavy – not to mention awkward to manage. This pain can be reduced by making liberal use of such services as curb-side check-in, bell-hop services, etc. If you don’t foresee these as being possibilities for you, invest in a good luggage trolley to help lighten the load. Still, sometimes you’ll just need to lift and schlep, and if you’re going to be in a country with hot and uncomfortable weather, or if you don’t want to appear too obtrusive when traveling, schlepping can be a big inconvenience.
2) Ship Your Exhibits by International Courier
With the availability of amazingly efficient global shipping services like Fedex, UPS, and DHL, it’s often very easy to ship boxes of documents to foreign countries with a very high likelihood of timely delivery. My personal favorites, based on thousands of shipping experiences worldwide, are Fedex and DHL. But there are issues to consider when using a shipping service. Here are our tips to ensure that your global shipment gets there without a hitch:
Be Aware of the Cost
Although it’s a bit counter-intuitive, using a fast global shipping service like Fedex can sometimes cost more than checking in the boxes of documents on a plane. This depends, of course, on a variety of factors: the best way to know for sure, as I mentioned above, is to weigh your exhibits and then call the airline and shipping company to compare.
One of our clients recently shipped a very large Fedex box (total weight of about 60 pounds) full of exhibits to Singapore for a deposition we organized out there. The box arrived fast and at the right address, but the bill was heftier than the box itself: about USD $400.00. Bringing the same load of documents on a plane would have cost closer to USD $100-200. But the exhibits did get there safely, with no schlepping involved.
Eliminate Unneeded Documents
If you’re going to ship, the final cost depends on weight. Are you 100% sure that all those documents will be needed? Can some of them be broken out and carried with the attorneys in their luggage? When shipping internationally, the lower the weight, the lower the cost. Many clients choose to carefully eliminate documents they’re not sure they’ll need (those can always be brought on a computer or USB key and printed out on-site, during a break, if necessary). By only shipping the exhibits you’re sure you’ll use, you save money.
Do Things Right To Avoid Customs Delays
When you ship any kind of object into a foreign country, you can rest assured it will first have to go through customs before it will reach its destination. When your box of urgently-needed exhibits ends up being held up by the Guatemalan customs authority, for example, that fast Fedex delivery of 1-2 days can suddenly stretch into an agonizing 1-2 weeks. In such cases, there’s nothing the shipping company can do to help you: your box is now in the slow, and more or less incompetent, and sometimes more or less corrupt, hands of a foreign government.
Customs exists for a good reason: to protect against the cross-border shipment of dangerous or illegal goods, and to ensure customs duties are collected to protect local tax systems. Luckily, piles and piles of boring legal documents do not fit either of these categories. Therefore, by correctly filling out the paperwork, you can almost always avoid customs hassles or delays. Here’s how to do it:

  • In the goods description part of your shipping waybill, be sure to specify: LEGAL DOCUMENTS, NO COMMERCIAL VALUE. Underline the “NO COMMERCIAL VALUE” – those are the magic words for getting documents through foreign customs without the slightest delay.
  • Often times, shipping companies will require a “Pro Forma Invoice” to be included with your shipment. This is basically a document describing the items being sent, and if they are commercial in nature, their value. Fill this form out carefully (you’ll need to indicate the “Shipper” – that’s you or your firm, and the “Receiver” – that’s the hotel, conference center, or foreign law firm you’re shipping them to). Use the same language as in the waybill to describe the items: LEGAL DOCUMENTS, NO COMMERCIAL VALUE. If you’re confused on how to fill out the pro forma invoice, your shipping company can usually advise you.
  • In the parts of the various forms that ask you to declare a “Customs Value,” I always put in a very low number, trying to keep it less than USD $10. You can put $1 or $5 – it really doesn’t matter. Many countries have a threshold price above which they will automatically charge customs duties (and delay your shipment until they are paid). Such thresholds can start as low as USD $20 — so never declare any dollar amount higher than that. Remember, your hard-sought legal exhibits may seem like gold to you, but they are actually worthless paper from a customs official’s point of view. Declaring them as such will help ensure that they get through customs without a hitch.

Use That Tracking Number, and Have Your Recipient Confirm Delivery
International shipping is a wonderful thing because you can track your package’s trajectory online. Use this feature! Always note of the tracking number and check it from time to time to ensure delivery. If the tracking system says the package has been delivered, don’t believe it: call the recipient (your hotel, conference room, or correspondent local law firm) to make sure they’ve gotten there safely and to have them ready for your arrival. You’d be surprised at how packages can sometimes get delivered to a neighboring business if the shipper wasn’t able to find the right address, or if your recipient happened to be closed when the courier passed by.
3) The Eco Solution: Print Everything Out On-Site
With more and more law firms scanning exhibits, and with the ease of transporting a small USB key or laptop computer, many attorneys are opting to travel light, printing out all their exhibits in the foreign deposition country. This approach has the added environmental benefit of reducing carbon emissions by cutting down on countless hundreds of pounds of global, dead-weight cargo.
For relatively small amounts of documentation, I typically applaud this idea. However, it’s important to plan carefully and to be aware of potential snafus. Here is our advice for those who wish to harness the digital age by printing out their exhibits in a foreign locale:
Always Bring Redundant Copies
This may sound obvious, but things get lost or stolen all the time. I always advise attorneys to bring their exhibits on laptops (each attorney should have a full copy of the exhibits on each person’s computer), and to also carry an emergency USB key or external hard-drive containing copies of everything. The key is to separate the your storage media when traveling: if you’re bringing your laptop with you as a carry-on, be sure to keep the backup hard drive in your checked-in luggage. That way one of them will surely arrive.
With a good IT team or a strong sense of technology and planning, many attorneys arrange to keep a safety backup online. The simplest way is to email your exhibits as attachments to your gmail or other online account. Then you can download them from abroad in a pinch. Or, your firm may have an FTP service or cloud file sharing system online which allows for added security. Just be aware: in many countries, particularly in the developing world, download times can be slow, that is to say, if the Internet is working at all.
Be Aware of Local Printing Resources (or Lack Thereof)
I recently worked on a deposition in Bangalore, India, for a very large case involving tons of paper exhibits and days upon days of witnesses. The attorneys brought all their exhibits with them on a laptop, thinking they could print them in the irhotel business center and save time and money.
Well, it so happened that the depositions took place at exactly the same time as the Indian Air Show, a time during which all of the large business hotels in Bangalore are booked solid months in advance. The small boutique hotel we did manage get was very pleasant, but their “business center” consisted of a small inkjet printed with a few sheets of paper in it. Printing the exhibits out on that would have taken about two decades.
One truism when you’re working in the developing world is that many things you take for granted in the States are either non-existent or extremely costly. For example, there is not yet a Kinko’s franchise in India (or, at least there wasn’t one in Bangalore when we were there). After much frantic searching, the attorneys were able to locate a local variant of a decently-sized photocopy shop, but the language and cultural barriers made it hard to just leave everything at the print shop and expect that the work would be done as expected. The attorneys had to stay at the shop to supervise the work and ensure that everything was printed out correctly and in the right quantity. All in all, they spent two solid days getting their exhibits printed out. What was intended as a cost and time-saving measure (printing their exhibits out on-site) had become a very costly and time-consuming mistake.
The moral of this story? Always be sure to survey the local printing resources in your deposition city in advance, and to have a workable plan in place for printing loads of documents. Sometimes, if you feel that the line of communications is clear and collaborative, you can call around in the weeks leading up to the deposition, send the files over digitally, and have the foreign printing service begin work before attorneys even arrive.
Always Budget More Time Than You Think
When you’re working abroad, you don’t always have the resources and wonderful secretarial assistance that you would at your firm at home. Take the amount of time you think it will reasonably take to print out all your exhibits, and double it. Then, triple it — to account for the transport time it may take to get back and forth by taxi in local traffic with all that printed material.
4) Have a Trusted Local Firm or Reporter Print Exhibits For You, Before You Arrive
This can be a good option for medium-sized quantities of exhibits: simply ask the hotel, conference center, local firm, or reporter to print everything for you ahead of time. That can take the burden of transporting the exhibits off of your shoulders, and you know (or at least are pretty sure) that they will be ready on-site when you arrive.
Just check carefully on the pricing first: some court reporters in Europe will charge as much as 50 cents to a dollar per page for copying exhibits, which can make shipping seem cheap by comparison. Hotel conference centers can be equally costly. Be sure to always compare the trade-offs of each approach, as well as the costs, to determine the very best way to handle your exhibits for your particular international deposition.
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.