Lights, Camera… Action! Setting the Stage for Your Video Deposition
Many courthouses have been closed to the public for the past several months due to the coronavirus, though the litigation process continues. Technology has allowed attorneys and litigants to litigate their cases in the digital world. One key part of litigation that has had to adjust to this new reality is the deposition process. A deposition occurs when an attorney requests a party or a witness to testify under oath about the facts of the case. Usually, this would be done at an attorney’s office or court reporter’s office, but with the virus requiring us to social distance, these depositions are now taking place virtually over video conference.
Keep in mind that one of the most important reasons for a deposition is so the attorneys can evaluate the credibility of the witness or party. This is largely based on how that individual comes across in the deposition. If you have a sloppy appearance or even technical difficulties that make you sound or look bad, this could hurt your case or your credibility. If this is your first experience with a video deposition, here’s what you need to know.
Technology is what makes a virtual deposition possible. To ensure that you are fully prepared for your virtual debut, confirm your location has a strong and stable internet connection. This is the most frequent problem we’ve encountered and will make it impossible to take your deposition. If possible, wired internet access with a laptop or desktop is preferred. If you have to use a smartphone or tablet be sure to do a test before the deposition. If using a laptop that is relatively new, it most likely has a built-in webcam.
For a desktop computer, you will need an external webcam that plugs into your computer. And a reminder about your smartphone, video conferencing software uses a lot of data to stream video. Be certain that you have unlimited data on your cell phone plan. Otherwise, you’re going to get hit with a huge phone bill from the video conference.
The sound quality of video conferencing is improving every day. Try not to rely on the speakers on your device, as they may get unwanted feedback or echo. To improve the quality of your sound, consider a good pair of earbuds or headphones. This will eliminate feedback and echo, and may also have a better microphone than your computer or phone. Now that you have the technology pieces covered, make sure you have the appropriate software.
The most frequent platforms used for video depositions are Zoom and WebEx. Do your homework and find out what settings you need to enable on your device that will allow you to utilize your specific platform. The attorney or court reporter will usually provide this information to you in advance or offer a link to test your connection. Keep in mind you may have to install software or download an app. You should do this well in advance of your scheduled deposition. Most video conference platforms have tutorials on their website to help you learn how to use them. In our firm, we do at least one practice session with our clients before their video deposition. This allows us to make sure they are fully prepared, and everything checks out.
Next, make sure you are in the right environment for your virtual deposition.
Find a Quiet Place
Look for a room or space that is free from distractions and ambient sounds. This includes your children, other family members, loud air conditioning units, or traffic noises. Let your colleagues, family, or roommates know that you are on a video call and can’t be interrupted. Make sure the TV is turned off and the room is quiet.
Check Your Lighting
Now that you’ve got the proper acoustics, it’s time to set the lights. Lighting should be bright and natural (not fluorescent). Make sure your face is well –lit. Try sitting in front of a window with the blinds or curtains open, or in a room with plenty of light. Be sure to have the light facing you so that your face is not cast in a shadow. Never have your back to a window because the lighting coming from behind you makes it difficult for you to be seen. If necessary, move a small table, TV tray, or desk in front of a window so you will be well–lit with natural light. If you don’t have a window nearby, move a lamp to light your face, but avoid having the lamp right in front of you if it’s too bright.
Position Your Camera at Eye Level
Position your camera at eye level so you are looking straight into the camera, not up or down. You don’t want the viewer to have to look up or down at you, which can result in an unflattering appearance. This may require that you prop up your laptop or tablet on some books or a box to get the proper height. If you are using a smartphone, don’t try to hold it in selfie-mode for your entire deposition. It’s going to look terrible, and you’re going to get tired. Instead, make sure you have a stand or lean it against something so you will be hands–free during the deposition.
Check Your Surroundings
Be aware of what’s behind you on camera and choose an appropriate background. Although virtual backgrounds may be fun for some calls, they should usually be avoided for depositions unless you have a “green screen”. Pay attention to what is behind you because that’s what the viewers (the attorneys and court reporter) will see. Avoid having any clutter or distracting pictures or art. Depending on the type of case, however, family photos may be a nice backdrop because they personalize you and make you more relatable. When in doubt, a solid wall may not be the most attractive, but it won’t distract the viewer.
Dress for Success – Not for Lounging
For clothing, dress the same way you would if you were going to the attorney’s office for the deposition. Although you may be at home for your virtual deposition, that doesn’t mean you can wear your robe or pajamas (although some attorneys have tried).
Try to Connect with the Other Person
Finally, get comfortable and address the camera as if you were addressing a person. Avoid unnecessary twitches – twirling the hair, moving around, or twisting side-to-side – you want to appear professional. Speak up and make sure your voice is heard loud and clear. Although you may be able to see separate video feeds from each of the parties and yourself, focus on the video of the attorney asking the questions. It’s natural to look at yourself on video but it can be very distracting when you need to focus on the questions. In addition, depending on the software being used, we advise our clients to “pin” the video of the attorney asking the questions. This should be the only video you can see. Alternatively, clients can click the option to hide their own video feed (it’s called “Hide Myself” in Zoom).
Although the deposition is virtual, it is still a deposition and should be taken seriously. Remember everything you do, not just what you say, is being judged in your deposition. Your credibility is under a microscope. The way you dress, speak, and your background are all factors that the attorney asking the questions will be evaluating. Now that you have all that you need to prepare for your video deposition, take a deep breath, and remember the most important rule of depositions – always tell the truth.
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