How To Find Efficiencies In Deposition Services Costs: It's Not Magic - Just Smart Litigation Management

Friday, October 1, 2004 - 01:00

Marty Steinberg
Sherion Deposition Services

How much should you pay for court reporting (deposition) services? If you're among the majority of corporate legal departments employing the services of outside counsel, you may have no idea. Why? Law firms traditionally roll these expenses into their overall legal bills and corporate legal departments can't itemize deposition services into a specific category.

We, at Spherion Deposition Services (New York, NY), believe that, as experts in the field, it is our responsibility to provide some executive straight talk about deposition services and the ever-changing deposition services management landscape.

The corporate counsel community usually acquires deposition services expense as an unaudited, bundled-in component of their overall legal services. There is, however, an alternative methodology available that can significantly reduce fees for this litigation support activity while, at the same time, improving overall deposition services administration and functionality.

Deposition Services In The Limelight

Deposition services are a major litigation activity and often range between 5 percent - 15 percent of the total litigation cost. For large corporations managing hundreds of cases, this can run into the millions of dollars. Standard transcript page rates, extra copy fees, appearance fees, charges for video depositions and associated litigation support services (e.g., video conversion, editing, transcript and video synchronization, etc.), delivery services, additional levies for real-time depositions and charges for electronic media (e.g., CDs, DVDs, email) are just some of the individual component costs that vary greatly between vendors and venues. When these services are broken out, and negotiated on a case by case basis with a national vendor for prearranged rates, the deposition services cost is managed more efficiently. The customer receives expected high quality, while finding these services eat up a much smaller percentage of their planned budget. Please note, however, that price reduction can only be negotiated within states that allow "contracting" of reporting services.

As the end purchasers of these deposition services and the ones justifying the cost to the client or insurance carriers, corporations do have the ability to tell outside counsel which vendors to use on their behalf. Chances are good that your outside counsel is already familiar with this concept, as many corporate business managers already seek ways to comply with budget control and cost containment programs. But how can you know if using a preferred deposition services vendor will save you money if you can't be sure what you're paying now?

In order to track expenses in relation to services received, it is first necessary to isolate deposition services from other litigation costs. Commonly, this is a two-step process. Step One unbundles deposition services from other litigation costs by either 1) requiring outside counsel to invoice deposition services as a separate line item, or 2) requiring deposition service vendors to invoice your corporation directly, rather than through the law firm that hired them. After this is done, Step Two is to conduct a detailed audit of recent deposition component services charges; it is best if this information is analyzed regionally. At this point, you'll not only know what these services have been costing, but which components of deposition services your corporate legal department uses most often.

Most corporate counsel business managers we've surveyed are surprised by the results. They find that typical deposition service costs are much higher than expected and can account for as much as 15 percent of the total litigation expenditure. This can be a substantial cost for corporations involved in heavy litigation. Armed with the results of their cost/services audit, it is now possible to address cost reduction without sacrificing quality of service by creating a business relationship directly with a national vendor at a materially reduced fee.

What You Need Is What You Get

Deposition service fees vary greatly, depending on which components are utilized and venue geography; this is where preferred vendor arrangements can really improve your cost containment effort. Your detailed audit has revealed exactly what services your company most commonly utilizes. Now it is time to look at each individual component. Only by unbundling and valuing each component and its associated cost will you pay only for services needed without incurring superfluous charges. Some of the most common deposition service add-on components available from national vendors include:

  • Web-based scheduling - you and your outside counsel can schedule multiple depositions in multiple venues online or with one phone call. (You can do this through Spherion at www.Spherion DepositionServices.com or 1-800-622-5858). This can save hours of paralegal or associate time normally spent researching local court-reporting companies in every deposition venue.

  • Electronic delivery of transcripts - much more than email alone, electronic delivery products such as E-Transcriptª (from Denver, CO based RealLegal) encapsulates the deposition into an electronic format with easy look-up word index and hyperlink capability. E-Transcripts can be delivered on diskette, CD, DVD, or via email.

  • Hyperlinking through RealLegal's Publisher or Livenote - allows for transcript and exhibit coupling. For example, an attorney can play back the transcript and, where appropriate, bring up the image marked "exhibit 101" by simply "clicking" on it within a selected transcript segment.

  • Realtime and remote realtime services - this incorporates both the "act" of taking a deposition in realtime and associated realtime-compatible software that allows an attorney to view the deposition text on a PC as it is occurring, either at the deposition site or remotely. The attorney views the court reporter's transcription in English as it is output through realtime-enabled software such as LiveNote, RealLegal Binder, or Summation.

  • Realtime captioning by court reporters - requires accuracy, speed and technical capabilities. Therefore, locating a court reporting firm for this sophisticated task can be challenging. A deposition services vendor, however, has available court reporters who hold proficiency certification for realtime deposition work, having passed industry-standard speed and accuracy testing. Spherion has found a unique way to attract highly-skilled professionals by rewarding their reporters with weekly pay. Many other court reporting firms wait until they receive payment before paying the reporter.

  • Video services - these include video taping of depositions, and synchronizing the text transcript. This can be extremely useful for trial preparation and playback in the courtroom.

  • Centralized online archiving - case depositions and exhibits can be archived to a repository. All deposition transcripts are placed at a single distribution center for quality control and easy accessibility. If an attorney has a question about a deposition taken in any venue connected with a case, or wants to check out a specific item, he/she has 24/7 secure access to archived information from any PC via user name and password.

  • Continuity and coordination - numerous law firms, counsels, and venues are sometimes involved on large multi-party cases. Each may have a different set of criteria relating to deposition technology, formatting desires, and copy distribution requirements. With one designated deposition services vendor assigned to the case, a standing order can be created covering production and distribution needs for each party, without going through the reordering process for each deposition. Exceptions are no problem; they are easily handled through the assigned case manager.

Single Point Of Contact Clarity

Dealing with multiple deposition service vendors can be a coordination nightmare. Additionally, in large cases with several venues, several law firms, and varying deposition format requests, administration can become quite cumbersome, driving up costs. Consolidation and centralization of deposition services is key to administration control and cost containment. With one court-reporting services provider like Spherion Deposition Services, you'll have a single point of contact to schedule any deposition request, via Web, a toll-free phone call, or fax. You'll also have a central, integrated site for viewing all case-related depositions, no matter who the outside counsel or where the venue.

Unbundling deposition services costs from other legal and litigation support services leads to potential fee reductions based on prearranged volume discounts, and easy comparison pricing between deposition service vendors. Placing all deposition services across the enterprise under one case manager, with a single point of contact for all users, consolidates administration and management of the deposition process, thereby further reducing cost while improving overall service.

Another advantage of one-vendor deposition services is the additional management tools at your fingertips. Quarterly management reports detail savings and services usage by law firm and venue, better tracking your litigations and associated costs. These same management reports can capture almost any data relevant to the court reporting process, including tracking how many attorneys attend depositions on your behalf, and potentially duplicative orders (for example, a rough disk, realtime and daily copy, etc.)

Billings can be customized in any requested format, detailing unit charges, who requested the service, venue involved, and special instructions. The whole cost of deposition services is much simpler to track and to negotiate with a single source provider. Billing can also be accomplished electronically and Spherion can deliver invoices through various corporate cost management systems such as Serengeti and Datacert.

Summary

By consolidating all deposition services with one vendor across your corporate legal department and unbundling deposition services as a unique expense category, significant cost reductions are obtained. These reductions occur through prearranged fees for each component of service provided, improvements in administration and functional efficiency, and interpretation of management reports that track all relevant costs associated with the court reporting process. By taking this approach, some companies have reduced their deposition services cost by as much as 25 percent.

Marty Steinberg, a Spherion Senior Vice President, is responsible for the Spherion Deposition Services business group. An industry veteran, he has nearly 20 years of management experience in the deposition services profession, and in technology organizations that generate products and services for the legal profession. Mr. Steinberg founded and was president/CEO of several legal software companies. The most recent was RealLegal (formerly PubNetics, which he sold 4 years ago), a software company that develops applications for court-reporting, law firms and court systems.Mr. Steinberg was instrumental in creating the digital-transcript standard, E-Transcript for the court-reporting profession. In addition he was responsible for providing unique technology for managing large multi-party litigation.This technology has been used in a number of high-profile cases including the Microsoft antitrust case and the Oklahoma City Bombing trial. Mr. Steinberg can be reached at martysteinberg@spherion.com.