11 Ways “Free” Deposition Review Tools Cost you Money – And What to Use Instead

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When Westlaw was new, your firm may have considered it an extravagant purchase – after all, they already had a law library. But times change. Practitioners often believe that by avoiding investments in technology, they will keep costs low while protecting billable hours. However, modern legal technologies are now providing so much value from increased efficiencies, this claim is rapidly being proven invalid. 

Software that helps attorneys do everything from document review to deposition video synchronization to case chronology creation to time tracking may come at a cost. Still, these platforms are comparatively cheap insurance against some of the hidden costs of ignoring them. 

Free-is-freeing ideology informs activities that occur in all stages of the litigation lifecycle, with burdensome impact on areas such as deposition review and witness assessment. Here are 11 ways in which “free” is the most expensive possible option to support these efforts:

1. Limited collaboration

Even if you've moved away from having bicycle couriers lug a single deposition binder to each case team member to annotate, in some ways your current process may not be much more efficient if you’re using a free deposition review tool. For example, you may be more likely to keep your ideas to yourself than attempt to share them via PDF or in that Word document you only sometimes keep updated with key testimony.

To turbo-charge your case development process and strengthen strategy, consider implementing a solution that centralizes all team activity and work product in a single, cloud-based place where all case team members can see who annotated what and build on each other’s thinking.

2. Lack of automation

When preparing for depositions, motion practice, or trial, it’s a painful reality that no amount of style setup in Word can negate the need for the formatting-intensive work that comes out of drafting documents. Yet, with a free tool, trying to format pasted testimony into a document or copying citations for use in briefs, designations tables, or motions can quickly commandeer time that would be more impactful to devote to strategy.

Instead, it’s possible to insist on a toolset that allows you to automate and templatize the more time-guzzling aspects of your work such as work product formatting, summarization, and reporting, freeing you up to focus on the highest-value work that only an attorney can perform.

3. Risk to case strategy

Not all search is created equal. Free search methods can preclude litigators from finding the best designations to support their story, a risk almost certainly more expensive than “free.” For example, running Ctrl + F searches in a PDF viewer to identify key excerpts of testimony at best returns only what the reviewer already knew to look for, and only if the deponent happened to utter those words verbatim. 

Opting instead to pay for a deposition review platform that offers powerful search features eliminates many “unknown unknowns” at a far lower cost than leaving a case vulnerable to potential — and potentially expensive — gaps in strategy.

4. Precludes substantive legal work

Performing manual, low-value work yourself in place of using technology can rack up considerable costs both to the strength of your case and the time you have to build it in. For instance, consider each attorney on a case team marking up their respective PDF copies of each deposition transcript and then repeating that process for each phase of discovery. This process yields work product already created from the initial review while eating up time that could have been spent on higher-value work. 

Paying to automate or streamline work that doesn’t require legal judgment is dirt-cheap when you consider the billables you’re returned to reallocate to more strategic efforts. 

5. Cost-shuffling

Avoiding investment in case development doesn’t reduce costs as often as it merely moves and hides them. For example, without a systemized way of recording and storing witness assessments across case files, the right expert can only be identified via firm-wide emails sent for each case.

Software designed to help attorneys create witness performance assessments easily accessible to anyone at the firm allows case teams to quickly select the best experts for each case and avoid rehiring poor performers.

6. Lack of incentive to improve

Because deposition review doesn’t typically present any noticeable problems for firms, the efficiency of its process can go unexamined for years if not decades. Developing a case strategy with the aid of the $100 legacy software your firm installed in 2004 feels free — which is why it doesn’t inspire improvement. 

Adopting a solution purpose-built for deposition review empowers you to transform a nothing-to-lose approach into potential case value and revenue, say by using automated deposition summaries to better prepare for an upcoming deposition or to write a more compelling motion.

7. Inability to use video

Going without the files and tools required to meaningfully review deposition videos can have severe consequences for strategy and costs. Case teams commonly mistake deposition video synchronization for prohibitive expense and so don’t order it. In practice, these supposed savings are often negated as soon as the team attempts to review videos and transcripts together, must compel a witness to testify at trial in place of nonexistent video, or misses impeachment risk that deposition video would have made plain.

Solutions that offer automatic, no-cost video synchronization empower your team to use video from the beginning of a case and avoid unwelcome strategy surprises down the line.

8. Lost work and re-work

Whenever an attorney leaves your firm, not only does considerable institutional knowledge leave with them but so too does the legal thinking behind any notes they ever left in the margins of deposition transcripts. Buried in a case file or the recycling bin (if written down at all), work product like this that’s sprawled across documents reviewed using “free” tools has to be redone every time it’s needed in a new case – and so is often lost entirely to the daunting prospect of recreating it.

Switching to a platform that allows your team to perform deposition review work only once and then instantly recall it at any time via search, filtering, and reporting can boost both the strength of each of your cases as well as your firm’s collective knowledge and expertise.

9. Lack of flexibility

As firms have urgently and rapidly transitioned to entirely remote practice, many discovered that the free tools they were using at the time failed to stand up to the flexibility and robustness required during such a dramatic process transition. Attempting to review depositions from your teams’ respective homes when key documents and work product are stored in on-prem tools, PDFs, or paper binders at the office often reveal processes rife with inefficiency and risk.

Look for cloud-based platforms that you can access no matter what location or device you’ll be practicing from and whose functionality clearly demonstrates the strength and malleability required to weather future transitions.

10. Lack of customization

Trying to customize a free deposition review tool to the precise needs of your practice area or litigation group can be far more trouble than it’s worth. Employing highlighters and sticky notes to delineate designations from key issues in each attorney’s copy of a deposition transcript precludes your team’s ability to customize these markup schemes to the nuances of each case and introduces more opportunities for human error.

Investing in modern deposition review software that allows your case teams to create issue tags customized to each case to annotate depositions, designate critical testimony, and assess witnesses equips your firm to offer services that are at once bespoke and scalable.

11. Lack of mentorship opportunities

Throughout their tenure at your firm, your associates generate work product across documents, case files, Post-It notes, and their minds. However, if they’re relegated to using free deposition review tools, your ability to regularly track and analyze their work product to guide talent development, mentorship, and career guidance opportunities at your firm can be limited.

Putting a comprehensive deposition review platform into practice can grant you ready visibility into your associates’ work, both day-to-day and for longer-term mentorship purposes, through searchable access to their notes, issue tagging, and annotations throughout their cases.

You and your clients incur deposition review costs in some combination of dollars, risk, and time. When deciding where to pay, consider that neither risk nor time can be predicted or controlled nearly as readily as dollars intentionally put towards reducing them.

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Susan Stuehrk

Susan Stuehrk is the senior manager of product marketing at DISCO. She has over 10 years of experience driving sales and go-to-market strategy for SaaS and AI technology companies.