Working with Experts Remotely – Tips, Tech, and Best Practices


Working with Expert Witnesses RemotelyVideo conferencing is more popular now than ever before in the legal context. Video calling technologies like Skype and Facetime are finding their place in the tool-kits of savvy lawyers across the country. It’s a useful way 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 lets attorneys increase their access to the nation’s most talented experts. People that were previously inaccessible because of distance.

The reason that more and more experts are being “video conferenced in” is quite simple. It saves lawyers time and money. Trial activities are costly, exhaustive, and time consuming. Now, 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. The number of programs and applications available for use is significant, 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.

 

Video Conferencing – The Technology

Videoconferencing

The technology behind today’s video conferencing 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”.

The Center for Legal & Court Technology has been the leader for 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 that the technology will work! The best way to do this is to first check out the venue yourself. If you are unfamiliar with what technology you need, trial consulting companies can provide trial technicians who are experts in courtroom technology. Just be sure to do this way ahead of time if you intend to use video calling as a way to present part or all of your expert’s testimony. This is so you know what you have to work with.

Consulting Experts

While the best option for conducting high-stakes meetings and interviews remotely, a dedicated video conferencing solution can be fairly expensive. When conducting somewhat informal meetings, such as scheduling appointments or calling for a quick fact check about something on the expert report, commonly used video-chatting applications can be a fast, easy, and way to get in touch with your expert. Some of these include:

ooVoo 

With ooVoo you can video call with up to 12 people, send multi-media messages including picture and video. If your expert’s testimony uses trial graphics and you’re working with a trial consulting team, this is a good way to quickly meet via video call.

Skype 

The mainstay of video chat familiar to most, Skype is a tried and true solution.

 

Project Management

Project Management

If you are working with an expert witness, there is a good chance you are also working with a team of other people to flesh out your case. Whether that includes associate lawyers, paralegals, or an entire trial graphics team, applications that enable screen-sharing and instant file-sharing are a great way to communicate with everyone.

 

Scheduling

A key part of staying on the same page as your expert is organization. However, effective communication with your expert is very important as well. Especially when dealing with multiple experts, or even multiple cases, things come up and appointments need to be rescheduled quickly. Below are some examples of apps that make scheduling with your expert easier.

Guidebook 

 This tool actually allows you to create your own app to make a timeline for your project. Just choose from a template and include the features you want. In 4 steps you have an app ready to share with your team to keep track of important events, schedule meetings, and the like.

Timebridge 

 This app offers simple, clean, and efficient scheduling. Used by 250,000 business professionals, Timebridge is an independent way to schedule your meetings and manage your time without involving your email inbox. With Timebridge, you can do things like arrange outbound meetings and accept inbound requests.

Asana 

Endorsed by project teams from Harvard University to Uber car service, Asana is a good way to manage your project schedule. This feature has an instant chat app. So members of your team can communicate with each other about schedule and other project issues.

This online collaboration tool makes project management easy with a project “roadmap” page where all parts of your project are in one place. One of the key features of this app is measuring performance- from project progress to client’s profitability.

 

Collaboration

Evernote 

Available in 4 different versions varying in price. Evernote Basic (free) gives you the tools to keep your work effortlessly organized.

Wrike 

Loved by popular companies such as HTC and PayPal and even one we have explored in an earlier article, HootSuite. A unique feature of this app is the emphasis on visibility across team projects-. In other words, “seeing the big picture.”.  Moreover, this app enables a team to customize their own workflow to suit their business and team collaboration needs.

Basecamp

A similar team project collaboration app, what sets this program apart is their attentive and helpful customer service.

 

Screensharing

TeamViewer 

This award-winning app makes sharing documents and communicating with team members remotely a seamless process. It has over 1 billion installations worldwide.

Join Me 

A simple and instant online meeting solution that makes collaboration easier than ever. With no downloads for viewers, it lets you share ideas and collaborate in seconds from your desktop to your tablet to your smart phone. In the free version of this program, audio and video calling are unlimited and free.

 

File Sharing

HighTail

A strong feature of this file-sharing app is how it enables users to share feedback on shared files.

DropBox 

A traditional, simple, and often preferred method of uploading and storing files and documents to be shared with other users.

 

Depositions

Deposition

Attorneys have often expressed skepticism over using video conference to depose their expert witnesses. They thus opt to spend the time and incur the cost of physically bringing in their expert. A commonly cited reason is because of the need to gauge the witness’s body language and demeanor. However, advances in video conference technologies should alleviate these fears. With HD resolution, it is now possible to see minute details of an expert witness during testimony. Something as subtle as slight wrinkles on the forehead or, as attorney and Professor Frederic Lederer points out, beads of sweat. Always be sure to check your local rules for whether a notice of a video conferenced deposition is required.  As well as whether the deposition site is capable of hosting such a deposition. Below are some apps that are useful when deposing an expert remotely.

eDepoze 

This app is designed specifically to provide a platform for remote witness depositions.

iLinc 

Offers tools to manage online meetings and real-time collaboration, large-scale webinars and online events, online training and virtual classrooms and enterprise solutions for mid to large organizations.

Gotomeeting

With GoToMeeting, every customer receives a personal meeting room with custom URL – your new base of operations. GoToMeeting is the only solution that integrates with Salesforce, Outlook, Gmail and more. So your online meeting app fits right in and syncs with the way you would have communicated with team members before. Now you can just do it from one place.

The recording of the deposition is a crucial part of this discovery activity. In addition to making use of video calling technology to save time and money when working with an expert witness, it’s important to be familiar with the court reporting companies that offer services for recording video conferenced depositions. Here are two companies that specifically provide services for these kinds of remote witness depositions:

  1. Aptus
  2. Esquire Solutions

Mediations, Arbitrations and Out of Court Settlements

Quite often, complex business disputes are settled out of court. However, the need for expert testimony is just as great as that at trial, if not more. When it is more practical to video conference an expert’s opinion in these kinds of adjudications, explore these programs:   

Cisco

A secure and reliable connection to a shared work space, Cisco is a good program to use for video calling.

Vidyo

The VidyoWorks software platform lets you embed point-to-point and multi-point video, audio, content sharing, and collaboration inside your own applications, workflows, and custom web portals. This makes presenting expert testimony as smooth as possible.

 

Trial

Trial

As mentioned above, the The Center for Legal & Court Technology has pioneered the way for the use of modern technologies as a way to present evidence in the courtroom. It is becoming increasingly common for judges to allow video conference witness testimony, especially for experts. The purpose of using the expert is to educate the jury. So the testimony is very often presented in conjunction with some trial graphics or animations. Below are a few video conferencing technologies specifically endorsed by the CLCT:

  1. Polycom
  2. Tandberg
  3. Lifesize

 

The Future (Virtual Reality)

Virtual Reality

When storytelling fails, people will say “you just had to be there.”. Now, with virtual reality technology, you can be. The effect of these virtual reality environments-or “IVE’s”- is that it is truly as if the user is present in that environment; all sensory perceptions are internalizing and reacting to stimuli that isn’t actually there. This is accomplished by using a device called a head mounted display or “HMD”. It can block out the outside view and noise (much like a helmet). So the user perceives only the simulated environment. IVE technology can also track exactly where a user is looking, allowing the device’s computer to readjust the output. More advanced virtual reality systems can even track bodily movements along joints and similarly update an internal computer to a user’s movements. Thus creating a truly realistic experience.

Though not yet used in litigation, VR is very much on its way with the first successful test run in a mock trial experiment in 2002. In December 2014, researchers at the Institute of Forensic Medicine in Switzerland explored the use of VR Oculus Rift headsets for jurors to see recreated crime and accident scenes.

This technology would have a huge impact on the jury; since “seeing is believing”. Re-creating an environment in a way that evokes the feeling of real time presence in a juror is an incredibly persuasive tool for any litigator. Especially when concerned with expert witnesses, virtual reality is undoubtedly the strongest way to present evidence and illustrate an expert’s testimony. Picture a medical malpractice case where a juror, via an IVE, can be “present” in an operating room while an expert explains the kinds of tools and procedures at issue in the case. Every aspect of an expert’s testimony is portrayed to jurors from a “first person” point of view; as if they’re in the same space where the injury occurred or where a certain medical device is used.

Up-and-Coming VR Technology Providers:

  1. Oculus Rift
  2. Iris
  3. InsiteVR
  4. Glyph

 

The Law and The Jury

Remote witness testimony has been used in both state and federal courts pursuant to FRCP Rule 43(a). Further demonstrating that such testimony is tantamount to the expert’s physical presence in the courtroom. For a variety of reasons, an expert’s physical presence during testimony in a deposition or trial may be impractical or even impossible. The advancement and increasing acceptance of video calls as an alternative means of presenting expert testimony affords a greater opportunity for parties to get the exact expert that is best for their case. No matter where the expert may be. Most importantly, the convenience of connecting to the courtroom in real-time does not undermine the opportunity for opposing counsel to cross examine the witness.

In terms of persuasiveness, the use of any visual aid, such as trial graphics to illustrate expert witness testimony, has been proven to result in high rates of retention among jurors. Moreover, in the context of the expert’s testimony itself as a video presentation, jurors are just as likely to remember a good visual presentation that is engaging as they are the same kind of testimony had the expert been physically present. The key then, traces back to the importance of having a strong, easy to follow and engaging testimony. This will help the jury understand the issues at stake in the case.

As the cost of travel increases, and the cost of video conferencing technologies decreases, remote expert witness testimony will become more prevalent in the courtroom and trial related activities in general. The legal world is shifting quickly as a result of new and more convenient ways to adjudicate matters and appropriate relief. This is sparing many of the burdens of litigation without compromising the integrity of the process. It is important to keep up with these changes to ensure you are providing your client with the best and most efficient representation possible. When your case heavily relies on expert witness testimony, explore some of these apps to make your trial preparation easier and ultimately have the best possible testimony to present to the jury.

 

About The Author

Mehjabeen Rahman, J.D., is an associate litigator specializing in property and tenant proceedings, debt recovery, bankruptcy, Supreme Court matters, and hearings in Administrative tribunals.