The Use of Skype for Presentation of Live Witness Hearing Testimony

As most tech savvy persons are aware, Skype provides an internet communications service allowing both video teleconferencing and telephone services via the Internet.  The video teleconference service is generally free.  You can also use the service for VOIP calls for a nominal charge.

I first learned of Skype a couple of years ago when my family and I were invited to a traditional Italian first communion reception.  I was amazed as the Grandmother in Italy was present at the reception via Skype on a laptop with a built-in camera.  Using a WIFI setup, our hosts walked Grandmother around the reception.  It was almost like she was there.  Since then, my own children have used Skype to keep in touch with their grandparents who live in another state.   I have also used Skype to allow one of my partners to make an impromptu “live” pitch for a practice specialty that came up as a need during a marketing meeting with a client.

Last week, I represented a client in an arbitration hearing in which a number of witnesses were outside the jurisdiction and unable to travel.  Early in the case, I had negotiated an agreement with opposing counsel and the arbitrator that witness testimony for the hearing could be presented by video teleconference. At the hearing, we used Skype to present two key witnesses who were located thousands of miles away from the venue. The equipment setup included a PC Laptop and a separate HD USB Camera (Microsoft Lifecam 3000), a high quality computer projector, and a desktop speakerphone (to ensure good sound communications).  We used a hardwired high speed internet connection.

The separate camera was used to allow the camera to be focused on the person doing the questioning without physically moving the computer.  The arbitrator, who had some eyesight issues, had the laptop computer screen placed directly in from of him. Everyone else viewed the projected image of the witness on a screen in the room.  If you try this setup make sure that you turn off the Skype sound from the computer to avoid feedback.  If you want to try and use the Skype audio as well, you will need a couple of amplified computer speakers, as the volume from the PC speakers alone is inadequate.  This does not ensure the witness can hear everything in the room, although the lifecam we used does have a built-in microphone and would probably work fine.  Because this setup was experimental, I elected to use a speakerphone for the sound, both to ensure that everyone could hear, and also as a back-up in the event that we had any technical issues with Skype.

In preparation for the hearing each internet witness loaded Skype on their computer.  This setup was tested from the hearing room. The parties agreed in advance upon the exhibits to be used with each witness and these were sent to the witness in advance of the hearing. A copy of the deposition of the one witness who had been previously deposed was also provided (to allow an impeachment reference).

A robust internet connection is definitely desirable.   Remember that you need a good internet connection on both ends for Skype to work satisfactorily.  The set-up worked almost flawlessly at the hearing, with the exception that there was a buzz on phone line for one witness.  This was rectified by the witness going off speakerphone and using the phone receiver.

Lesson learned– remember to turn off your online notifications.  During one of the witnesses’ testimony, a small notification appeared in the corner of the screen indicating my son was on line. In this case, it was hardly noticed.   Fortunately, my son did not attempt to Skype me during the hearing.

In this particular application, I used a laptop PC.  However, this same setup should work with a Skype equipped iPad2 with an LCD or HDPT adapter.  The main difference would be that, to my knowledge, there is no ability to use a remote camera with the iPad2.  Thus, you would need to move the iPad in front of each questioner– cumbersome, but probably workable.  My goal was to make the technology as invisible as possible, so I went with the laptop.

The Arbitrator, Court Reporter and opposing counsel all remarked that, while they had been skeptical, they were pleasantly surprised how well the setup worked.  Everyone agreed the video/phone combination was preferable to phone alone.

I would be glad to answer any questions you might have regarding the use of Skype in formal hearings.  I would also encourage the sharing of any law technology solutions you think might be of interest to our readers.


The Use of Skype for Presentation of Live Witness Hearing Testimony — 2 Comments

    • At some point you have to rely on the ethics of the lawyers. I think that it is better than telephone testimony because you can see the witness and overt coaching would probably be obvious.

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