Esquire Deposition Solutions is hoping to ease law firms’ pro bono efforts—and possibly win new business—by cutting its page rates for some deposition transcripts.
Esquire’s general counsel, Avi Stadler, said the company is offering a 50 percent discount on originals and first copies of depositions in pro bono matters to assist lawyers who’ve taken on more complex pro bono cases. “We want to help people have equal access to justice,” he said.
The discount applies to legal aid groups as well, said Esquire’s chief markeing officer, Brenda Keith. “We already partner with [Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation] and anticipate partnering with more nonprofits.”
“We want this to be nationwide, not just in Atlanta,” she added. “It’s a program we think is important.”
The Atlanta-based court reporting company has 35 offices nationally, including New York, Miami, Chicago, Houston, Dallas, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Stadler and Keith talked to pro bono partners and other lawyers at firms around the country to see how Esquire could help them. What they kept hearing, Stadler said: “If you can give us better rates, we can do more pro bono.”
The cost for a deposition transcript varies by city, he said, but generally runs somewhere between $3 and $5 per page. “An eight-hour deposition with a 200-page transcript could be $1,000—so it quickly gets into real money,” he said.
Stadler acknowledged that many routine pro bono or legal aid cases, such as landlord-tenant disputes or unpaid wage claims resolve quickly, without protracted litigation and depositions. He said that, of the 100 or so pro bono cases he’s handled through AVLF, he’s never taken a deposition.
But there are plenty of more complex pro bono cases. Tamara Caldas, the pro bono partner for Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton, said discovery and depositions become vital for particularly tangled disputes and for civil rights cases.
“It’s meaningful for a court-reporting company to say they want to make these services available at less cost,” she said.
“To make a strong civil rights claim often requires a lot of discovery and evidence. Civil rights cases based on how human beings are treated require a lot of depositions.” said Caldas, who’s also been the deputy director for AVLF and a staff attorney at the Southern Center for Human Rights, which sues a lot of prisons and jails.
Caldas and Stadler both brought up a massive labor-trafficking case against Signal International as the uber-example. A dozen large firms—including Kilpatrick and another Atlanta-based firm, Sutherland Asbill & Brennan, now Eversheds Sutherland—pitched in on a national pro bono effort to help Indian guest workers who claimed they were held as virtual prisoners by Signal, their employer.
The company had recruited them to repair oil rigs and then held them in so-called “man camps” at its Gulf Coast shipyards, paying subpar wages after reneging on promises to provide green cards.
When a federal judge in Louisiana denied class action status, the Southern Poverty Law Center spearheaded a massive pro bono effort joined by 100 lawyers at the 12 firms to file suits for about 210 individual plaintiffs. Kilpatrick and Sutherland collectively represented about 50 guest workers.
Lawyers spent five days deposing Signal’s CEO alone. “It was federal multidistrict litigation gearing up for trial,” Caldas said, adding that meant hundreds of depositions of the guest workers and the various parties being sued.
In the first trial, the plaintiffs won a $12 million jury verdict against Signal, which subsequently declared bankruptcy. Signal settled the other cases for $20 million.
Esquire’s Keith said they’ve already been getting a lot of response from firms about the discount program. “We’ve seen more interest from large firms so far, which is not surprising, given they have pro bono budgets, but this is open to all firms,” she said.