In February, we talked about the incredible work of court reporters. Another far less known role in the legal process legal videographers. Legal videographers are everywhere, but the part they play is rarely visible unless their work is made public. Last year, the 2015 video deposition of Purdue Pharma’s Richard Sackler was released and featured in some news programs, and was even parodied by the team behind Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. Legal videographers are an important part of the legal world, and they encompass a broad range of work and skills.
St. Petersburg Conference Center is very proud that our in-house legal videography company has reached the milestone of 20 years in business in 2022. To celebrate, let’s take a look at this fascinating industry.
What part do videographers play?
Like court reporters, videographers are hired by attorneys but are seen as neutral third parties. Videographers are not allowed to alter the video they’ve taken (unless an edit has been ruled on by a judge), and they must be unbiased and truthful. A videographer who does not follow the strict guidelines set forth for legal videography runs the risk of their video being ruled inadmissible by the court and causing trouble for the attorney who hired them.
What equipment do they use?
Videographers strive to deliver the highest quality video to their clients. Professional cameras that shoot in 1080p are a must, and some videographers have even made the switch to 4K. They are required to mic all speakers individually, so an audio mixer is a necessity. Videographers are required to record live to a backup source as well, so they may have a Rocket or a DVD converter. They also carry a portable backdrop so that there is nothing distracting behind the witness, and a professional-grade tripod for their camera.
And that’s just the basics. There’s also extra cables, extension cords, gaffer’s tape, and other backup supplies. No two videographer kits are alike, and videographers often add to them over the years as they find things they need. All of this equipment must be portable so that the videographer can travel to and set up in any conference room, attorney’s office, or doctor’s office that they are assigned to daily.
What do videographers do day-to-day?
That can be broken down into four major categories:
1. Provide a video record of the witness
While a written verbatim transcript created by a court reporter is essential to a legal case, the words on the page do not indicate intent or emotion. This is where a video comes in handy. The attorney can watch the video back (sometimes even synchronized to the written transcript) and analyze the witness’s body language, eye contact, and more. This can also be incredibly helpful for cases that stretch over several years. Before trial, the attorney can look back at testimony to refresh their memory.
2. Act as eyes and ears for attorneys
For a personal injury lawsuit, the plaintiff may be asked to visit one or more doctors hired to assess the extent of their injuries. In home insurance litigation, the insurance company may send inspectors to gauge the extent of the damage. The plaintiff’s attorney may choose to have a videographer present so that they can see what tests the doctor performed or what the inspector looked at. Most of the time these videos are not seen by anyone other than the attorney who ordered it, but they can sometimes be used at depositions or at trial.
3. Assist during trials
With permission of the court, videographers may also record trial testimony. Just like depositions, attorneys may want to watch testimony back as the trial proceeds to help them review and prepare. Videographers may also create graphics of exhibits or provide screen projection capabilities assist attorneys when presenting their case to the jury. Additionally, videography comes in handy when a witness is unable to appear at a trial. It may be because they live too far away, or because they have physical limitations or health issues that prevent them from coming in to the courthouse. Doctors whose schedule doesn’t allow them to be away from their office can also qualify. In these instances, their testimony is recorded in advance and played back for the jury.
4. Other work
There are many other ways legal videographers are involved in litigation. For personal injury lawsuits, attorneys might hire videographers to film what’s called a “Day in the Life” video, showing how their client lives day-to-day while dealing with injuries following an accident. Videographers might also film settlement documentaries, which uses interviews, reports, photos, and day-in-the-life elements to illustrate the attorney’s case. They may also film evidence at crime scenes.
The Switch to Remote
With the move to remote work since 2020, legal videographers – like court reporters – have had to adapt. It took a lot of patience and creativity to figure out the best ways to capture video off of platforms like Zoom while maintaining a commitment to the integrity of the profession. Videographers come from varying backgrounds that may not include computer skills, so learning how to record over the internet was brand new territory. They have had to become troubleshooters for when an attorney freezes mid-question or a witness is in their home with spotty internet.
Some proceedings have since moved to a hybrid format where some participants are in person and some remote. This sometimes requires videographers to bring a laptop and extra equipment for the remote participants, and sometimes even to provide a video feed directly from the camera into the remote platform.
Learn More Online
There’s no one way to become a legal videographer. A background in audiovisual technology helps, but is not required. Unlike court reporters, who attend specialized training and must pass rigorous speed tests to earn their certification, legal videographers can train in a variety of ways. Some court reporting agencies employ videographers directly, while others contract out to legal videography companies.
A legal videographer’s skill set is incredibly specific and not just “anyone with a camera” can do it. Videographers should have an understanding of the legal system and the rules of civil procedure, and must have good people skills for when interacting with attorneys, witnesses, court reporters, and judges.
If you’re intrigued, there are plenty of resources online to read more and learn about this unique profession. Like court reporters, legal videographers are another integral component that makes the legal world go ’round.