Legal Video Deposition Standards for Trial Presentation

Dear Legal Videographer -

Ah, the old MPEG1 v. MPEG2 debate rears its ugly head once again. Here are some thoughts and opinions on what I would like to see if you provide depo video to me. Not that I'm the only guy out there, and I’m not usually the one ordering the video from you, but I do represent the trial presentation community in that there are certain things that work better than others for us when we go to trial. If I have to rework the files, I will have to tell my client (your client) what I had to do, and why. You might even ask your client if they have a trial tech or consultant who will be taking this to trial to make sure you get it right for them. The attorney does not always understand what they really need. “DVD” can mean a number of things to anyone. (hint: If they do not have someone, this might be your opportunity for some extra money on a referral to your favorite trial firm). We covered some of this last weekend in the NCRA CLVS Trial Presentation Tech certificate program.

1. Deposition quality - May be significantly lower than other types of video, such as Day-in-the-life, site inspections, etc. Like it or not, it’s only a talking head, and if it is high quality MPEG1, especially when shot on digital and encoded with hardware such as Digital Rapids or Optibase, it will look just fine. On the other hand, if you are shooting directly to DVD, you will end up with a good MPEG2, which is also fine. Nobody has ever asked me in trial, “Who shot that nice depo video?” 352x240 works just fine. Be careful with software transcoders – sometimes they will work OK, sometimes not.

2. File length – In my experience, the 2-hour “standard” seems to work just fine. I have not seen anything longer that worked. Not that it couldn’t work if it were set up properly, but I’ve had issues with it. I would much prefer you give me the original 4 files than attempting to join them together for me. You’re not doing me any favors with that.

3. File size – I would prefer if you able to keep each 2-hour file at or around 1GB. Yes, you can provide a single 2-hour file at over 4GB on one disc, but if it’s a large case, I won’t want all of that extra weight on my drives, nor the increased access time when I want to play a video clip. I will be forced to reduce file size.

4. My favorite – The best format you can hand to me that I can easily use without issues is multiple MPEG1 on a single DVD. If an entire depo is on there, life is quick and easy for me. Again, MPEG2 is OK, but please be mindful of file size. VOB files will have to be converted to straight MPEG2 or MPEG1 for trial.

5. File naming and sync – If you will do the sync, you will have to name the files. If you name the files in some fashion that makes no sense or becomes duplicative in the trial database, I will be forced to rename the files and then re-associate them with the transcript. I have seen some strange naming conventions, including ridiculously long and descriptive names, short duplicative names, etc. If you do not sync, I can easily rename the files when I do the sync. Anything I am forced to do which takes excessive and unnecessary time to correct will be reported to my client.

6. Non-depo video – Shoot as clean as you wish. If you’re shooting a site, Day-in-the-life, etc., quality is then very important. MPEG2 is the desired format. We don’t want to have to locate and load any new “cool” codecs to play video in court.

7. Shooting depos with documents – I would recommend trying to discourage this practice. With trial presentation software, it simply doesn’t make sense to shoot video of a document the deponent looks at. It is blurry and difficult to read. If you absolutely must shoot something that will have to be displayed, then you will have to jack up the quality for that, but it would be much better to let counsel know that the best practice is to keep them separate until trial.

Take all of this for what its worth. Not everyone has the same opinions, but I have simply shared some info that may or may not be helpful to you. Remember that you’re not shooting Hollywood video at the depo, and that someone like me may have to work with your product, should it go to trial. This will be posted on the LegalVideoForum Yahoo Group, Trial Technology LinkedIn Group, and also on the Court and Trial Technology Blog.

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