Legal Videography Business
I'm starting a new legal videography business. What would you recommend for the following?
How do you recommend storing equipment? Thank you.
Well not definitely not a DSLR, you want a traditional videocamera that can reliably run for say 2-3 hours at a stretch uninterrupted. I don't know this for a fact but you may need the ability to burn in timecode - maybe even while filming as opposed to adding a timecode window in post.
I am not even sure editing software comes into play because I am not an expert in this field and you really need to research this very carefully. The material you are filming could end up being used as evidence in a civil or even criminal trial. Basically what you want to be able to say to any Judge that asks is "All I did was the mic the person you see on camera, point the camera towards them in a nice wide shot and turn on record" because anything that could be construed as "editing" may invalidate the whole thing. Also there is the whole "chain of possession" of the raw tapes, again I stress I am no expert, I just watch a lot of TV! ha ha
Tread very carefully here, consult with multiple attorneys and people who are experts in this specific field for the real answers.
This is the polar opposite of creative fillmmaking, it's documenting in the truest sense without any creative input - so good sound, focus and capturing everything that happens is critical (Im thinking here of depositions and the like) Also find out what kind of output your clients will need, some may actually want VHS tapes, CD, DVDs or God knows what.
Since you will be dealing with attorneys and witnesses who may be under pressure, develop a thick skin, always have at least one back up for everything (what happens if your camera suddenly dies at a critical moment or your sound goes out???) and good luck!
DSLR is a nogo if you are going into Legal Videograpy aka Depositions.
I know a few legal videographers here in Vegas and they are still using SD cameras. DVX100 and VX2000. For depos, you don't need the latest and greatest camera.
This is what you need:
Camera that records to either tape/media that can burn a date/time in the video. Most important that it does that.
A external DVD recorder. I recommend the Sony MRC5 dvd recorder. You will go composite out of the camera into the recorder.
A small mackie mixer. Depending on the lawyer and the number of them. You not only need to mic the person doing the depo (lav) but also you may need to place two or three cardio mics around the table to pick up lawyers' questions.
Ive seen lately that the lawyers want an audio file right away. So a audio recorder of some sort.
Laptop to make DVD copies, audio CDs, etc.
And plenty of coffee, red bulls, etc to keep you awake. These depos are long and boring.
You don't need any lights, fancy lens, etc. Shoot it against a plain wall.
Software, eh. Not much editing out there you need to do with Depos. There are programs out there that can do search words base on words said.
Usually, they make $75.00 an hour with gear. Get in with a good lawyer firm and you can make money. Go on trips, etc. Buddy of mine goes to NYC on a monthly basis to film depos. They fly, dine, room, etc.
I used to work at a production company that does Legal video from 2000 to 2006.
Travis - good to hear my intuition wasn't too far off on this one! :-)
This field wouldn't be for me...sounds boring as hell.
Are depos the majority of assignments?
For legal videos, Yes. Sometimes you could be hired to film a "A Day in the Life" where you follow around a person for a day from morning to nighttime to see how they live their life. Usually these are done for injuries claims, disabilities, etc.
I could not do Depos, I did one and that was one too many. Besides being boring as hell, you have to pay attention because you have to note objections, and in case a lawyer wants to take a break, etc. My old boss told me that he literally watched a pimple grow on a lawyer's face...
Another note, do not stop recording unless the lawyer who hired you said so.
What's your budget?
Save early. Save often.
I shot depositions for about 5 years - 1998 - 2003. Back in those days we were still shooting VHS and frequently what we shot today got played back in court tomorrow - any editing of testimony was not permitted, and timecode needed to appear on screen.
Our set-up was basically this: shoot 1 tape in camera while copying out to a tape deck simultaneously for a back-up copy. In this business you cannot afford to not shoot a live back-up as if your original fails you and your client are royally screwed.
For audio we used a Shure Mixer that accommodated up to 4 mics which were Sony EZM 44's (wired lavs).
Audio was monitored from the camera headphone jack, not the mixer. We also recorded a simultaneous audio cassette for the court reporter. as a courtesy - it makes their job easier, and frequently they are the ones who refer business to you.
There's a home study course on this that may help you. See
It specifies the equipment you will need, but more important are the procedures you must follow. Since a video deposition is a legal document, it must follow some very specific rules.
Anecdotal evidence, as it were: I trained for legal video depo work as a new career path. Had lots of video and audio tech background, so no problem there. I also thought I would use much of this equip to also get into something like corporate or wedding videography, perhaps as a second shooter.
Learned: the very friendly and helpful person who spent many hours training me in his method did not seem to have upcoming work sufficient to keep me even somewhat busy. But here is the real lesson: the equipment needed -- no substitutes -- was ancient.
That is, as mentioned above, an old (really obsolete) video camera which has SD out, a cassette (yes, cassette) recorder, a DVD recorder (household type), not great mics, some rigged-up cabling to connect it all, including headphones for the shooter and the court reporter. None of this equip was good enough to use for other ventures, such as wedding video. And just finding a cassette recorder or DVD recorder meant going to Radio Shack or eBay.
Why this equip??? This guy worked for another larger legal depo company and it was they who REQUIRED that a DVD and cassette be given to their court reporter on site at the end of the depo. No chance to duplicate it later.
In sum, it might have been a few thousand thousand dollars of old (unreliable) equip that could not be used otherwise. Compare the required setup as described here with some current camcorders that allow dual (redundant) recording as HD MP4 files with excellent digital audio. Just hand them an SD card. But not a chance.
He also made it very clear that in his years doing this work that the source of clients has shifted to larger companies who in turn hire the shooters. So the money is less and they call the shots. This means that a new shooter would likely have to connect with such a larger company to get work.
BTW, I did not find this work totally boring but one certainly had to stay awake: absolutely no nodding or looking sleepy even after three hours of droning by the attorney.
So that's my story and I'm stickin' to it.
I've done some work for a trial/jury consulting company. They don't want to anything left. At one point they needed a camera that would record directly to DVD. This DVD was given to their client immediately after having been recorded. Then, after the client signed off on receiving everything, it was all shredded and destroyed. The company didn't want anything left. Apparently, this is common practice.
I have done some consulting and a couple depos through them and I simply recorded it all with a home DVD recorded live from my camera. I didn't even keep a tape running (it was a dvx100). They specifically requested that I NOT bring anything to my office - no copies allowed. It you have all hd equipment, run it to a converter (hd to sd) and just record the feed directly. I don't even have vhs anymore, but the client specifically requested it. Seems the courts are not all hi-tech and are still working in sd. As for copies its a basic liability thing - I'm sure there's more to it than that too. At least I didn't take my work home with me. ;)
Save early. Save often.