Utilizing the "Wired" Court Reporter

(The original of the below article was published in the Milwaukee Law Journal in 2002. Footnoted below are innovative changes to the technology and process since the original publication.)

The introduction of computers to the court reporting industry in the mid-seventies opened the door for many new reporting products and services and is ultimately creating greater capability for litigators. Computer-aided transcription (CAT), the process of having a computer convert the reporter’s stenographic notes to English, was the advent of a technology that has shaped today’s wired reporting world. Like all other industries, court reporters are now part of the fast-paced, technologically-advanced world of iPads, internet, etc. [1]

Following is a brief case scenario incorporating the many services currently available from the technology-savvy reporting firm in discovery or evidentiary depositions and at hearing or trial:

A weeklong series of fact witness depositions are commenced after discovery documents are produced by all the parties. Deposition transcripts are produced on paper in full size and condensed (up to 16 pages per physical page) along with digital PDF versions [2] that have the exhibits indexed and linked to each instance within the testimony for instant retrieval, and inASCII files, in the many formats available, for searching through the text on computer via case management or trial presentation software.[3] A week later, counsel travel to a remote location to depose a witness. So that the remote reporter can accurately transcribe in realtime (immediate live transcription of the spoken word, viewable on a computer screen), a word list containing the various unique terms from all the previous depositions in the case was earlier emailed. Several opposing counsel chose not to attend in person but instead decided to receive the realtime ASCII feed, plus the video and audio through remote videoconferencing, live on their desktop computers in their office via a standard internet connection, making personal annotations and chatting online with co-counsel, making objections as necessary via the videoconference.[4] One attorney was stranded at a remote location but still attended the deposition via her iPhone. At the deposition’s conclusion, the realtime feed, in essence a rough draft ASCII file, is stored on the attorneys’ computers for use in preparing for the next deposition (prior to the certified transcript being produced). The annotated version was emailed to staff or a colleague to draft a motion.[5] The video and audio was likewise stored online for immediate review.[6] One attorney was on a flight at the time of the depo and was viewing the realtime text feed on an iPad via the plane’s internet connection, which he was then able to annotate on the plane in preparation for the next deposition.

All along, reporter scheduling was handled by secure login to the reporting firm’s online scheduling manager, producing both electronic and paper confirmations.[7] A secure internet connection was used by counsel to view activity reports, download and view ASCII files and exhibits, and verify the deposition schedule on the reporter’s network system 24/7. There were a few last minute needs for info, deposition location, earlier deposition transcripts and exhibits, that the attorney was able to pull up on his/her iPad/iPhone using their mobile app. An exhibit that was thought to be contained in that big banker’s box went missing, but the smartphone app gave access to that exhibit and all others in the case.

A series of three expert witness depositions are now scheduled, two in New York on Monday and Tuesday, and one Wednesday in L.A. The first two days are to be produced with daily delivery and in realtime, with the expert in L.A. (Wednesday’s witness) receiving both days of testimony live via video/audio/text streaming, plus an email of the rough draft ASCIIat each day’s conclusion in order to prepare for his deposition.[8] The transcript from Tuesday requires additional delivery attention when the Wednesday witness’s email was down. The reporting firm arranged with a local business to receive, print and deliver the transcript within an hour. The L.A. trip could not be made by two of the counsel, so they received a realtime feedat their respective offices where they also viewed and participated in the deposition via remote videoconference. Remote videoconference was likewise used for the L.A. expert who needed to be deposed in his office, using a standard computer with a video cam and an internet connection.

Videotape services were requested for all three experts with picture-in-a-picture production so that the witness and the documents referenced could be viewed simultaneously. The video was later synchronized with the ASCII text file, the exhibits hyperlinked to the text as well, and stored on DVD, portions of which are to be utilized in a large-screen trial presentation for impeachment purposes.

All counsel plan to receive a realtime transcript feed and certified daily copy transcript delivery at trial so that they will have the necessary tools for witness preparation and impeachment where appropriate. The prior testimony of all witnesses and the previously scanned evidentiary documents now reside with them in court on counsels’ computers. If they discover a transcript or exhibit file is missing, it can be immediately recovered via connecting with the reporting firm’s online access. One of the attorneys requested a portable video file that was compatible with her trial presentation app for her iPad.

At the forefront of all of these technologies currently is realtime translation. As described above, this service has given attorneys tremendous assistance in immediately tracking testimony at depositions or trials of large cases, or any complex litigation, where the litigation team needs to keep stride with events as they happen (and make available to the hard of hearing).[9] When compared with the costs of overnight rush or daily copy, realtime is actually less expensive. You still have the costs associated with a final certified transcript from the reporter, but you would likewise if you had ordered a rush transcript; moreover, with realtime the rough version is already in hand when the proceeding is concluded for the day. More capability, time saving, and less expensive – well worth it!

How does realtime work? The realtime court reporter attaches their computerized stenograph machine via cable or wireless to their notebook computer containing software which translates the keystrokes from the stenograph machine against a global dictionary of words written by the reporter in her stenography theory.[10] As the reporter strikes the steno keys, the computer quickly cross-references those strokes against the reporter’s dictionary and displays matches and “untranslates” (raw steno for which there is no match) on the computer screen. The same results are exported from the reporter’s computer to software (LiveNote, Summation, CaseViewNet) on counsel’s computer for monitoring, annotating, issue coding and digesting.

A realtime feed is unedited and will most likely contain some errors. It is not suitable nor allowed to be used for citing in legal proceedings because it is not a certified transcript.

Complex, technical cases require the reporter to prepare for realtime by inserting the unique case terminology into their dictionaries so that they can produce a more accurate realtime feed. The more experienced and skilled the reporter, the more developed the dictionary, the more controlled the speakers are in the forum, and the better the realtime results.

Be certain to request a reporter whose realtime skills you are already familiar with, or when traveling, request a Certified Realtime Reporter who has been tested and certified by the National Court Reporters Association. For more information on realtime and other reporting services, contact your local court reporting agency.

[1] It took several years for court reporters and the reporting technology industry to realize the benefit of utilizing these new technologies. Today’s court reporter can barely exist without them.

[2] Linked (or hyperlinked) documents — creates a connection to an external document instantly viewable when clicked on. Now the attorney can view the transcript and view each exhibit as it is mentioned in the text.

[3] PDF documents are now the dominant, most universal file format used by computer users worldwide for viewing text and graphics, having grown to become the standard over the last 10 years.

[4] Remote videoconferencing is the rage for 2012 — the ability to utilize videoconferencing technology between portable computing devices (iPads, notebook computers, etc.) and standard videoconference equipment (Polycom, Tandberg) via the internet. Unlike Skype or Google Hangouts, reporting firms use products that are encrypted for extra security and stability.

[5] Legal video and audio of depositions can be stored in the cloud for immediate review via the internet.

[6] Products like TextMap, Summation and LiveNote export a document containing attorney work product (marks, annotations, etc.) that can be shared with team members.

[7] Tech-savvy reporting firms provide online portals to set and track deposition scheduling, download and view transcripts and exhibits, and access activity reports and calendar.

[8] Video and text streaming make it possible to attend the deposition and view the realtime text live from anywhere with an internet connection.

[9] The federal government’s ADA requirement that all network TV be closed-captioned by 2006 has caused a drain on our realtime court reporter talent pool, creating a shortage. Competition now exists between reporting firms and captioning companies for realtime writers. This shortage gave incentive to the federal government to pass legislation recently approving financial grants to reporting/captioning training programs across the country. These schools are now offering scholarships to encourage more students to enter these programs so that the closed-captioning mandates of the ADA may be realized.

[10] It is now standard practice to receive a realtime feed via Bluetooth wireless, as an alternative to a wired connection.

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