How does new technology affect the traditional roles of paralegals in deposition preparation?
Jenni White is the head paralegal of a complex litigation firm located in Texas. She has been with the firm for nearly 10 years and knows all the ins and outs of the firm. One of the roles for the paralegals at her firm is to help attorneys with their deposition preparation. Jenni will get a task from one of the attorneys to gather specific documents, organize them for the deposition, and then be prepared to scan them back into the firm’s document management system after the deposition. Jenni has been through this process countless times before and never really considered that there may be a better way.
In order to truly grasp how this system of deposition preparation could be improved let’s take a look at how depositions are taken now and compare it to how they could be taken if current and readily available technologies were used.
Deposition Preparation (circa 2000 B.C. – 2012)
Every firm’s procedure for preparing for and taking a deposition is different. But the typical process goes something like this:
1. eDiscovery/Discovery – This phase is when all the documents and exhibits associated with a specific case are gathered.
2. Document Management – Documents that are collected during the Discovery/eDiscovery phase are then entered into a Document Management System (LexisNexis, Thomson Reuters, Summation, etc)
3. Initial strategizing – Attorneys come up with a list of witnesses to depose and which documents to use in each specific deposition.
4. Paralegal deposition preparation – Paralegals print off multiple copies of each document for each participant in each deposition (deponents, opposing counsel, court reporters, observers, etc.). Documents are placed into binders, pages are tabbed for reference, and binders are placed into banker’s boxes for transport.
5. During the deposition the binders are given to the participants as they are revealed by the attorney. Participants then sift through pages and pages of documents as attorneys try to ask them about specific things within the documents (eg. “Is that your signature on page 5?” “Is Claim 30 in the middle of page 5 of the patent clear?”) Deponents mark on documents as needed.
6. Documents that have been revealed are then marked with exhibit numbers by the Court Reporter. The Court Reporter then scans all the documents with corresponding transcripts and charges several dollars per page.
7. Paralegals then re-upload the documents into the firm’s Document Management System (DMS) or, if the firm is really behind the technology curve, files the paper copies in filing cabinets.
Deposition Preparation (circa 2012 – present)
The clear trend towards digitization, cloud based DMSs, and the propagation of tablets has changed the way firms can and should take depositions. Here’s how it should be done:
1. eDiscovery/Discovery – Documents/exhibits are gathered and entered into a DMS and filed by case.
2. Initial strategizing – Attorneys determine which documents they want to ask deponents about in the deposition.
3. Paralegal’s deposition preparation – Paralegals drag and drop files from DMS into deposition software and create digital “binders”. Labelling and ordering of documents during the deposition preparation allows for depositions to be more structured and controlled by the attorney.
4. During the deposition the attorney simply hands the deponent a tablet and reveals documents as needed. The attorney can force the deponent’s screen to go to certain pages or documents so that questioning can continue unabated by page flipping, confusion, and paper cuts.
5. Documents that have been revealed to the witness can be marked on by the witness at the attorney’s discretion and exhibit numbers can be permanently added to documents.
6. At the conclusion of the deposition all participants can be emailed a copy of the revealed exhibits immediately. No need to wait for court reporters to mark exhibits and scan in documents. Paralegals can then immediately e-file those documents back into the firm’s DMS.
What does this new technology mean for the future of the paralegal’s role in depositions?
Some, like Jenni, might see this automation of the deposition preparation as a threat to the future of the paralegal profession. But as you can see the paralegal’s role in deposition preparation hasn’t been eliminated; it’s just been made easier. Paralegals are still needed for the same tasks (organizing exhibits, annotating, building digital “binders”, filing exhibits) as before. Deposition technology, however, makes both the attorney’s and the paralegal’s job a lot easier. Paralegals will no longer be standing in front of printers and scanners burning through paper and ink. Thanks to current cloud and deposition software the paralegal can simply drag and drop from the Document Management System into the deposition software and then organize the documents based on the attorney’s guidance. The attorney then has more time to strategize for the deposition and can even do mock depositions digitally on their tablet from anywhere.