To their credit, law firms across the country commemorated Earth Day by assessing the measures they are taking to use less energy and generate less waste in their day-to-day operations.
Whether it’s for the purpose of cutting costs, creating efficiencies, or polishing their reputations as responsible members of the business community, law firms are taking the responsibility of reducing their environmental impact more seriously than ever. These firms are purchasing electricity from renewable sources, downsizing physical office space, promoting work-from-home arrangements, and going paperless wherever possible.
It’s also time to start thinking about remote depositions as a meaningful component of a law firm’s commitment to sustainable, environmentally responsible business practices.
For busy law firms, particularly litigation firms, business travel is one of the largest contributors to the firm’s carbon footprint. Within the category of business travel, travel for depositions is a significant contributor to a law firm’s energy usage.
Fortunately, it’s never been easier to transition aggressively to remote technologies, thanks to the radical re-thinking of the need for in-person meetings that took place during the COVID-19 pandemic. Litigators are succeeding with remote depositions and remote hearings. And courts are mandating — not merely permitting — remote depositions and remote hearings.
Moreover, clients want to see their lawyers traveling less often, whether that’s for cost-saving concerns or a desire to promote environmentally responsible business practices among their vendors. Among companies that are endeavoring to comply with the Greenhouse Gas Protocol (GHGP), a standardized framework for measuring and managing emissions from business operations, these companies will have to offset their lawyers’ energy use by paying a carbon tax or charging an equivalent amount back to the lawyers.
Remote depositions can partially — or completely — eliminate the energy use associated with traveling to and from depositions, depending on how many deposition participants are spared the time and energy use associated with the deposition.
Federal courts have consistently embraced efforts to save litigation costs through the use of technology. For example, in Guillen v. Bank of America Corp., No. 10-05825 (N.D. Cal., Aug. 31, 2011), the court ordered that depositions could be taken via Skype videoconferencing technology. The court, after observing that videoconferenced depositions are cost-effective because they minimize travel time and costs, declared that “a desire to save money constitutes good cause to depose out-of-state witnesses via telephone or remote means.”
Remote depositions taken because they are a sustainable and environmentally responsible alternative to unnecessary fossil fuel consumption would seem to fall well within the spirit of the Guillen court’s reasoning.
Reputational Benefits of Remote Depositions
Remote depositions are highly effective at cutting litigation costs and eliminating the energy usage associated with business travel. They also provide additional, significant benefits that law firms should not overlook.
Sustainability measures such as remote depositions burnish the firm’s reputation as responsible members of the community with both clients and prospective clients. Law firms that develop a working, hands-on expertise in legal and operational issues related to sustainability measures can leverage that expertise to attract new business. Many companies today are actively exploring steps they can take to lower energy use and the environmental impacts of day-to-day business activities. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s recent proposal to require publicly traded companies to disclose climate-related risks has heightened an already acute awareness of sustainability issues among many law firm clients.
Law firms can also expect that developing a reputation for environmental responsibility will help them compete for new legal talent, as well as retain the legal expertise already within the firm.
Are you sold on becoming a more sustainable firm? A good place to start is the Law Firm Sustainability Network. LFSN, created in 2011, aims to “establish environmental sustainability as a key component of our professional responsibility to deliver excellent service to clients.” LFSN works to identify sustainability best practices within the legal services industry. In addition to the benefits of remaining informed about sustainability best practices, LFSN membership gives participating law firms the ability to brand themselves as environmentally responsible members of the business community.