Much ink has been spilled over the last couple of years, including here at New York Commercial Division Practice, on the topic of practicing law remotely in the COVID (and likely post-COVID) era. As we all brace for the coming wave of Omicron, which may well be the fastest spreading virus in human history, let’s take a quick look at the newest ComDiv rule on the topic — Rule 37 Remote Depositions — which went into effect on December 15, 2021.
We’ve reported on the recent trend of remote depositions on at least three occasions over the last year or so, including the ComDiv Advisory Council’s September 2020 proposal for, and request for public comment on, the new rule. As noted in the memo supporting the recommendation, in light of COVID, whereas “remote depositions were previously the exception, they are now the rule.”
But more than that, “[t]here is good reason . . . to encourage their continued use . . . after the pandemic is brought under control.” Why? Because, as we all have learned from experience over the last couple years, “remote depositions can be quicker, easier, less costly, and more efficient than in-person depositions.”
New ComDiv Rule 37 — which generally permits courts, “upon the consent of the parties or upon a motion showing good cause, [to] order oral depositions by remote electronic means — is accompanied at new Appendix G by a fulsome template stipulation setting forth a remote depo protocol that addresses common practical concerns regarding technology, security, private communications, and the use of exhibits. Some key excerpts:
- Administration of Remote Depo Services. “An employee . . . of the [court reporting] service provider shall . . . be available at each remote deposition to record the deposition, troubleshoot any technological issues that may arise, and administer the virtual breakout rooms.”
- Audio and Video Clarity. “Each person attending a deposition shall be clearly visible to all other participants, their statements shall be audible to all participants, and they should each use best efforts to ensure their environment is free from noise and distractions.”
- Communications During Questioning. “Deponents shall shut off electronic devices . . . and shall refrain from all private communication during questioning on the record.”
- Use of Virtual Breakout Rooms. “Parties may use a breakout-room feature, which simulates a live breakout room through videoconference[, but c]onversations in the breakout rooms shall not be recorded . . . [and] shall be established by . . . and controlled by the [court reporting] service provider.”
- Collaboration and Advance Troubleshooting. “The parties agree to work collaboratively and in good faith with the court reporting [service provider] to assess each deponent’s technological abilities and to troubleshoot any issues at least 48 hours in advance of the deposition . . . [and] also agree to work collaboratively to address and troubleshoot technological issues that arise during a deposition.”
- Sufficient Technology. “Counsel shall use best efforts to ensure that they have sufficient technology to participate in a [remote] deposition . . . [and] shall likewise use best efforts to ensure that the deponent has such sufficient technology.”
To be sure, given the ominosity of Omicron, the new ComDiv rule concerning remote depositions comes to us at an appropriate time. But given the efficiencies associated with the practice that we all have discovered along the way, and with essential safeguards now in place at Appendix G, one can expect frequent and ongoing invocation of Rule 37 long after the infection curve has flattened.