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Five Best Practices

Video Depositions: Five Best Practices

Video Depositions:  Five Best Practices Every Paralegal Should Know.

In this blog we will be talking about video deposition’s five best practices. When preparations are in order for an upcoming trial, there may be a witness or witnesses that cannot attend in the courtroom itself. This is where you would normally call upon your court reporter to set up a video deposition. There are many advantages of having the ability to not just read the testimony but to gain a visual of the witness as he\she answers each question under oath.

Ask that all other electronic devices be turned off.  To ensure the clearest sound and best playback for the record, ask that all cell phones and unnecessary technology be turned off. Also keep any paperwork from being in the way of microphones. Believe it or not, shuffling paperwork can cause interference to the recording.

Reserve enough space for everyone to be comfortable. When booking a room for a Video deposition, keep in mind that you will need to let your court reporter know how many people will be in attendance outside of the attorney, the videographer, the court reporter and the witness. This will be a good time to address any special needs of anyone attending also.  Be sure to state special needs a couple days before to ensure everything goes smoothly and as planned.

 Early access for the videographer. At least one hour is the common standard for the videographer to set up his equipment and run all necessary tests, adjust lighting and to troubleshoot any technical issues that may arise beforehand.

Make it clear when you’re off the record.  Microphones are extremely sensitive.  Always remember that until clearly instructed that it is off the record, the video and audio are being captured. Another important factor in conducting great video depositions is to instruct everyone to speak one at a time. Try giving 2-3 seconds after being asked a question to give your response. This will also help you keep your cool and think before you speak.

Keep the space being recorded clean and free of clutter. You want to be certain that all things obstructing the clear view of the witness be removed. The jury’s attention is to remain on the testimony and not on distracting objects that do not belong there in the first place.

Video depositions are a very useful tool to save time and money.

 

Preparing Your Witness for a Deposition

Court Reporters preparing for CourtAs a paralegal, your role in the deposition process is critical to the overall success of each case. In addition to helping the attorney prepare the claim, you’re also responsible for preparing the witness. Whether the witness is your client or a support witness for your case, thorough preparation can make a big difference on deposition day.

When prepping a witness for deposition, you should always work under the guidance of your attorney. However, there are a few things that you still should know.

Explaining the Deposition Process

Most witnesses are new to the world of legal litigation. Whether the witness is the average deponent or an expert, providing evidence can be overwhelming for anyone doing so for the first time. Your role is to explain the deposition process in a straightforward manner, and in doing so, you might be able to remove any anxiety on the witness’ part.

The information you provide should include:

  • An explanation of a deposition.
  • How a deposition fits into the overall legal system?
  • What are the possible outcomes of a deposition?
  • How will the outcome affect the case on a whole?
  • What is the role of the witnesses?
  • The importance of giving evidence at a deposition.

In your explanation, you’ll also want to allow room for questions. It might also prove helpful to prepare a general document or brochure; explaining the deposition process.

Answering Questions

Some witnesses are uncomfortable testifying in front of the other parties. This can create a great deal of anxiety, especially if the witness is attending a deposition for the first time. Whatever the nature of the evidence, there are several items that you’ll want to share with your witness, before they begin answering questions. Here are a few of them.

  • Listen to the Questions – It is vital that you impress upon your witness, that they listen carefully to each question. Explain to your witness that their answer is being recorded, and so it is important to ensure that their answer is really the response to the question asked.
  • Answer the Question Being Asked – Sometimes witnesses can get sidetracked and offer more information than what is necessary. Since this can complicate the case, you’ll want to convey the importance of only answering what they’re asked, as opposed to giving long winded answers that aren’t relevant to the question.
  • Seek Clarification – Occasionally, you may encounter witnesses who don’t understand something but refuse to ask questions. You can address this beforehand by assuring the witness that it is okay to seek clarification on anything that he may not understand.
  • Don’t Make Things Up – Your witness should enter the deposition room knowing that they don’t have to know the answer to every single question. So remember to encourage the witness to be truthful and accurate during the testimony.

Since a deposition is essentially a question and answer session, preparing the witness should be a top priority for you.

Advice on Physical Posture

While a witness’ physical appearance is not important to the recording of the evidence, it is a tool that attorneys sometimes use to determine the witness’ emotional state and how truthful he may seem. With this in mind, you may want to emphasize the value of maintaining an upright posture while being deposed.

  • Your witness should sit up straight in her chair and avoid looking rigid.
  • Where possible encourage your witness to avoid looking distressed, angry or frustrated.
  • Maintain eye contact with the person asking the questions.

Our bodies have the ability to transmit unintended information, so encourage your witness to practice projecting a calm demeanor.

Preparing the Witness via Mock Depositions

Under the direction of your attorney, you may choose to organize a mock deposition. In this scenario, your responsibility is to ensure that the witness is ready for the mock deposition. Additionally, you may want to confirm that your witness is familiar with the documents are part of her deposition.

Once you have completed the preparatory work, be sure to follow up with your witness and find out if they have questions or concerns. Another step you can take is to organize pre-deposition meetings with the attorney.

A well prepared witness is not only good for your case, but also ensures a smooth deposition process. Fortunately, as a paralegal, you have the opportunity to tilt the odds in your favor by preparing your witness for deposition. Hence, the saying, ‘a paralegal’s job is never done’.

Preparing for Deposition Day as a Legal Secretary or Paralegal

The role of a legal secretary or paralegal professional is to use your legal training to assist the attorney with her legal work. In keeping with these overall roles and responsibilities, professional paralegals must be equipped with the necessary skills to help the attorney prepare cases for deposition. This piece will cover several specific steps that the legal secretary or paralegal can do prior to deposition day.

As the legal professional hired to represent the client, the attorney is in charge of the overall direction and focus of the case. Hence, it is important to have a meeting with the lead attorney handling the matter. In this meeting you’ll want to discuss any issues that are key to your client’s situation. So remember to gather as much information as you can to build upon the overall legal direction of the case. This type of information will inform your research and preparation.

While taking the initiative is good, it is also prudent to gather any research material deemed helpful to the case from the lead attorney. You will need to meet at the beginning and middle of the process to ensure that you are on the right path.

Research the Pertinent Legal Issues

The art of preparation begins with research. Following from your meeting with the attorney, as the paralegal, it is your responsibility to do the necessary research on the issues that concern the case. It is important to be as detailed as possible and compile your research in a way that is easy to read and accessible by the attorney.

Your research will include gathering relevant case law and research to substantiate your case, as well as getting information that could be used by your opponent. The latter will help the attorney to better formulate the case at deposition.

Finding previous testimonies by the witness or about the witness can provide the attorney with valuable information. The attorney for the case should be armed with all the available information on a witness and as the legal secretary you can help in gathering this intelligence.

Draft Potential Questions

The advantage of taking on research responsibilities as a paralegal is that your mind will be filled with questions. In assisting the attorney in his preparation, you can formulate potential questions for each witness. Depositions are about discovery and the best way to discover all you need to before trial, is to ask all the questions that will direct you to the right answers. Your proposed questions can be very valuable to a lawyer, as you may propose questions he or she may not have contemplated.

Prepare Necessary Documents and Exhibits

On deposition day, an attorney will want to focus on the task at hand. Your job is to make sure that documents and exhibits are obtained, copied, labeled and readily assessable. As the paralegal, the attorney will require your assistance in retrieving documents on deposition day. Hence, being organized and prepared is not only meant to help the attorney, but for your benefit as well.

The taking of depositions in a civil matter is very important. As a paralegal or legal secretary, the preparation work that you are required to do represents the well oiled machine of organization and research that is at the foundation of your client’s case.

The Paralegal’s Guide to Scheduling Depositions

As a paralegal, your job is critical to the success of the law firm or organization that you serve. Indeed, paralegals are tasked with a vast array of legal duties, among them is participating in depositions. While the primary depositional duties are taking notes and observing the plaintiff’s behavior, paralegals may also be asked to schedule depositions. However, due to the amount of detail and the number of steps involved, doing so can be intimidating.

As a paralegal, your job is critical to the success of the law firm or organization that you serve. Indeed, paralegals are tasked with a vast array of legal duties, among them is participating in depositions. While the primary depositional duties are taking notes and observing the plaintiff’s behavior, paralegals may also be asked to schedule depositions. However, due to the amount of detail and the number of steps involved, doing so can be intimidating.

Having worked for many years in the court reporter profession, I wanted to provide a helpful overview for paralegals seeking to schedule their first deposition. If you follow the steps provided below, you should find it to be a manageable process, despite its complexity.

Scheduling a Deposition – How to Document the Scheduling Attorney

If you are looking to schedule a deposition but are not the scheduling attorney, you must be prepared to provide details on the scheduling attorney, including contact information. The typical contact information required is:

  • Name of the scheduling attorney
  • The name of the firm
  • Physical address of the firm
  • Best phone number
  • Fax number
  • Email address

It’s vitally important that you include this information in the deposition request because the court reporting firm needs to be able to reach the attorney in order to share any news or information that they might receive.

The Notice of Deposition and Case Detail Documentation

Upon contacting the court reporting firm to schedule the deposition, typically you’ll be asked for the case caption, which contains pertinent information, such as the name of the witness, docket number and case name. This information is also included in the notice of deposition, so you should keep it handy. If you do not have the notice of deposition prepared at the time of scheduling, it is critical to send it as soon as you have it ready.

There are several options for the method of delivery, however, email tends to be the most preferred, as it offers several unique advantages. First, the court reporters will immediately receive your notice of deposition, and typically they will confirm that they have received your emailed notice. Alternatively, you may choose to schedule your deposition online, through the court reporter’s website. In this case you simply enter the relevant information, and the court reporting firm will contact you to confirm that they have received your notice.

Scheduling the Proceedings

When scheduling the proceedings, you must provide the following information:

  • The name of the deponent
  • The chosen location for the proceedings
  • The time and date that the proceedings will begin
  • Whether there is a requirement to schedule a conference room

Estimated Duration of Proceedings

Most firms will request that you disclose the estimated length of time required for the proceedings. This will help the court reporting firm in scheduling any other depositions, as court reporting firms typically handle many depositions in any given day. If you believe that your deposition may take up the entire day, it is important to notify the court reporting firm, so that they can provide you with a reporter who is available for the number of hours required.

Other Items to Gather

A case description is highly useful to the court reporting firm. If the deposition is going to deal with medical or technical language or other professional jargon, your court reporting firm may choose to send a reporter with more experience in the language spoken by professionals in those fields.

You should consider whether you will need special services from the court reporting firm, such as a videographer, a real-time reporter, streaming video, conference room reservation, an expedited transcription, a speakerphone, online deposition, or an electronic transcript. If any of these services are pertinent to your deposition, make sure you let your court reporting firm know beforehand.

In closing, scheduling a deposition can be an intricate process, especially for new paralegals. Nonetheless, it’s a task that becomes more manageable with time. The key to developing proficiency in depositions is repetition and the sort of foreknowing, that only comes from ‘hands on’ experience.

Five Best Practices for Managing Video Depositions as a Paralegal

Video DepositionsAs a court reporter, I’ve seen firsthand the extent to which video testimony can improve depositions by cutting costs and improving trial effectiveness. Indeed, this has a lot to do with the rising popularity of the practice and it’s why you, as a paralegal should familiarize yourself with best practices for video depositions.

Video depositions are quickly becoming commonplace in litigation. While the attorney and the witness are the stars of the show, the paralegal has an important role to play in several aspects of the video deposition, before and during the procedure. Here are several ways the paralegal can help the attorney manage a successful video deposition.

Preparing for the Deposition

Preparing for a video deposition can be an involving process. There are so many moving parts to manage and as a paralegal much of it will fall on your shoulders. Here are some of the steps that you may want to take to ensure that the ordeal goes smoothly.

  • Getting Organized – You should have the file organized and know where to find everything, just  in case the attorney asks for it.  It’s also a good idea to familiarize yourself with the general order in which the questions will be asked. This can help you determine what ancillary materials may be necessary at the deposition, such as prior pertinent depositions by the witness.
  • Secure the important parties – Paralegals are also tasked with ensuring that important parties attend the deposition. This includes contacting and possibly subpoenaing witnesses, hiring a videography team, as well as the court reporter.
  • Choosing a Room – The room that you conduct the deposition in will need to be large enough for the stenographer and videography team, along with the attorneys and the witness. You will also want to make sure that the room has comfortable seating, surfaces, easily accessible electrical outlets and good lighting (the video team will thank you for this later).
  • Getting the Room Ready – After you’ve chosen a room you can begin making it comfortable. A big part of this is stocking the room with beverages prior to the start of the deposition. You should also work to create an unobtrusive background. Blank neutral colored walls are actually preferable. Also, make sure that any video that is taken is timestamped and dated. If you’d like, you could even ask the sound person to allow you to do a sound check prior to the start of the proceedings.
  • Prepare the witness – Staring into a camera can be a frightening experience; even to the most outgoing of extroverts.  This is why many paralegals often confirm that the witness is comfortable before starting the deposition preparation.  The next thing that you want to do is guide the witness in how to remain focused throughout the process. Also, don’t forget to remind the witnesses to be truthful and polite and avoid being adversarial or anxious.

When filming begins, don’t forget to keep those water bottles and cups away from the witness. A witness might play with a bottle cap or take a drink when questioning gets tough. This is exactly what you do not want to capture on video, so it’s best to try and avoid these situations altogether.

Other Video Deposition Tips

Take thorough notes; observe the witness and the opposing attorney for nonverbal clues. Paralegals should listen intently and think on their feet. A witness or an attorney could expose  relevant and material facts during a deposition that may have been missed elsewhere.

Remind the attorney that the camera is always rolling and everything is on the record unless the parties agree to go off record. The microphone may pick up any side conversations, even when you’re not directly in front of it.

In this day and age, it’s important that paralegals be prepared to coordinate video depositions. The good news is that if you can use the tips above to help anticipate the needs of the witness, while also giving careful consideration to what’s ahead of you, handling these sorts of depositions through completion should get easier over time.

Spanish Speaking Clients

Assisting Spanish-Speaking Clients as a Paralegal

A recent census indicates that Latinos make up approximately 30% of the Phoenix, AZ population. This is one of the qualities that makes Phoenix special. So it should come as no surprise that business professionals that embrace the city’s ethnic diversity excel. However, what if you don’t speak Spanish? In this piece, we look at how paralegals can better assist Spanish-speaking clients.

Good communication skills are an essential part of the paralegal profession. Nonetheless, the longer you work in the field, the more you’ll encounter situations that make it difficult to communicate with your clients. For example, is your employer equipped to assist clients who only speak Spanish?  If you’re unable to answer this question, you’re not alone. Many legal secretaries and paralegals have found themselves grappling with the same question.

Since everyone deserves competent legal assistance, regardless of their first language, it is important that you deliver the same level of service to all of the firm’s clients. Here are four tips that can aid you in assisting Spanish-speaking clients.

Learning Spanish as a Paralegal and Legal Secretary

According to the US Census Bureau, the United States is the 5th largest Spanish speaking country in the world. Nearly 38 million people, across the nation, speak Spanish in their homes. Of this number, 25 percent speak little to no English at all. Additionally, given the growth that the Spanish speaking population is experiencing, these numbers are expected to rise.

In light of the above, we believe that learning Spanish represents a viable option for legal secretaries and paralegals looking to assist Spanish speaking clients. Of course, with the massive caseloads that many paralegals are accustomed to carrying, finding the time to learn Spanish won’t be easy. However, the benefits could be tremendous—both on a professional and personal level.

While speaking Spanish isn’t the sole option for paralegals, serving Spanish speaking clients, it does offer several unique advantages. Namely, it gives you the best opportunity to relate with your clients, on a personal level. This should make it easier to communicate with your clients to obtain any information required to advance the case. Likewise, if you’re able to speak your client’s language, you leave less up to chance.

Spanish Translation for Paralegals

Another option is for legal secretaries and paralegals, serving non-English speaking clients, to hire a professional translation or interpretation service. Although legal translation may not be the most effective method of communication, it does at least give you a general idea of your client’s situation. Additionally, there are times when choosing an outside translator service is more practical than attempting to handle translation and interpretation in-house.
For example, while holding a conversation with someone in Spanish may only require a basic understanding of the language, deposing a Spanish-speaking witness would require an expert level of language competency. So if you don’t possess a high degree of Spanish proficiency, you may still want to use a professional translator.

What Paralegals and Legal Secretaries Should Know before Hiring an Interpreter

Although it offers many benefits, interpretation has its limits. For instance, using an interpreter to assist with Spanish speaking clients means that you’re forced to rely on the interpreter’s version of what was said. It’s also easy to miss out on the original speaker’s emotions, when hiring an interpreter.

Nonetheless, despite their limitations interpreters and translators can help you grasp the key facts and enable you to ask the important questions. So to ensure accuracy, set some basic boundaries between you and your translator – upfront – to ensure that he places emphasis on what the client emphasizes. Likewise, if unclear on an issue, you can probe the interpreter further to ensure that you’ve captured the full meaning of what was said.

Furthermore, even if you decide to use an outside translation or interpretation service, you can still learn Spanish – which will allow you to pick up any details that the translator might miss.

Spanish to English Transcription

Just as there are times that call for Spanish to English interpretation, as a legal secretary or paralegal, you will also encounter situations where Spanish to English transcription is required. For example, if a deposition is conducted in Spanish, you’ll most likely need Spanish to English transcription. In these types of situations, it helps to have a court reporter who offers Spanish to English transcription services.

Attracting Spanish-Speaking Clients  

Marketing to the Spanish speaking population offers unique advantages. Namely, since it tends to be a close knit community, it only takes a few satisfied clients to build a large Spanish-speaking clientele via referrals. Likewise, the clients whom you’ve helped in the past, may also come to rely on you for subsequent cases.

Additional ways to reach Hispanic Americans include advertising in local news publications that target this demographic, including the phrase “Se habla español” on your marketing materials and tapping into the power of the Internet to reach US based Spanish-speakers.

The bottom line is that Spanish to English translators, Spanish-speaking legal assistants and Spanish to English transcription services are all viable responses to assisting Spanish-speaking clients. However, if you really want to deliver stellar service — while enhancing your paralegal resume — learning Spanish is a small price to pay for the clients that you’ll be able to help.