Court reporting is an industry in flux. Its function hasn’t changed—as always, a court reporter’s job is to record a complete and accurate record of legal proceedings. But technological advances and the rapid transition to remote depositions have upended the means and methods court reporters use to do their jobs, forcing the workforce to learn new skills or risk getting left behind by the pace of change.
Here’s an overview of how court reporters are adapting to today’s remote depositions and the critical role virtual deposition software is playing in that evolution.
Today’s Legal Deposition Landscape
Less than a decade ago, most depositions took place in person. The video conferencing technology necessary for conducting remote depositions had long existed, but most lawyers still preferred examining witnesses in person in an office conference room. That method was safe and familiar, and lawyers as a group didn’t feel the urge to vary their process.
But a sea of change was brewing. By the late 2010s, video conferencing had made the jump to online solutions, expanding its accessibility to anyone with a laptop and internet connection. That shift accelerated exponentially when the Covid-19 pandemic forced everyone — litigators and litigants included — to conduct business remotely.
Today, remote depositions are becoming as common in pre-trial discovery as in-person sessions, and their popularity continues to grow. Lawyers and witnesses alike appreciate the convenience and potential for cost savings that remote sessions offer. It’s not unrealistic to expect virtual depositions to become the dominant mode of conducting oral discovery in the next decade.
Challenges Court Reporters Faced in the Shift to Remote Depositions
The adaptation to remote depositions hasn’t been without its hiccups. Lawyers and court reporters have had to climb a learning curve and overcome challenges that threatened to undermine the efficiency and effectiveness of virtual testimony.
One significant barrier consisted of a mismatch between the promise of remote depositions and the tools lawyers initially used to conduct them. When the need for virtual depositions first arose, lawyers turned to generic video conferencing platforms like Zoom as the setting for their remote sessions, and the results were mixed. Those platforms ably served the purpose of connecting deposition participants by video but, by and large, did not offer features to facilitate deposition nuts and bolts like scheduling, preparation, exhibit management, transcription, and videography.
Court reporters encountered innumerable challenges in trying to perform their essential job functions in depositions conducted on generic conferencing platforms.
- The limitations of those applications often made it difficult for reporters to hear and transcribe what witnesses and lawyers said.
- A lack of document management tools injected dizzying complications into the core (and previously straightforward) court reporting tasks of marking and keeping track of exhibits.
- Too often, capturing reliable, useful video footage of depositions required threading multiple applications and service providers, adding cost and inefficiency.
As a result, the quality of transcriptions and videography declined, and reporters struggled to meet deadlines.
Adapting to the New Normal of Remote Depositions
Court reporters confronting those challenges had no choice but to adapt their practices. Initially, they resorted to creative workarounds to address the shortcomings of generic video conferencing platforms. But increasingly, they’ve also embraced becoming proficient in using purpose-built remote deposition software to ensure the accuracy, quality, and timeliness of their work product.
Reporters’ initial efforts to maintain quality and consistency involved familiarizing themselves with an evolving body of remote deposition “best practices” (culminating in an official set of recommendations promulgated by the ABA in early 2023). Those practices counseled deposition participants, including reporters, to devise detailed protocols and procedures for scheduling and conducting remote depositions.
Court reporters had to learn how to suggest, assimilate, and abide by elaborate exhibit management procedures that could vary from case to case. Generic video conference platforms lacked purpose-built document management and review tools that could replicate the act of handing a sheet of paper to a witness to review.
Weeks before a scheduled deposition, lawyers would have to come up with agreed methods of sharing and marking exhibits remotely. Ideally, they would involve the designated court reporter in that exercise, but if not, the reporter would need to get up to speed before the session to ensure everyone was on the figurative and literal same page.
Reporters adapted in other ways as well. They had to learn to halt proceedings and propose solutions when technical problems and participant errors prevented them from hearing and transcribing spoken dialogue. Some learned how to use professional remote video capturing and editing software to retain videography business. And others invested in voice-to-text transcription tools to assist them in creating an accurate record.
Overall, court reporters found new ways to accomplish previously simple tasks that generic video conferencing solutions had suddenly made significantly more difficult. They adapted as best they could, but even their most intuitive solutions weren’t ideal.
Adaptation Through Proficiency in Remote Deposition Solutions
Amid implementing patchwork solutions, enterprising court reporters, in conjunction with the legal tech industry, recognized a pressing need for purpose-built tools that are designed for conducting remote depositions. Upon developing them, the fruits of their efforts were solutions packed with features that solved many of the challenges reporters had thus far faced in the virtual environment, such as:
- A secure, all-in-one platform for accomplishing all deposition tasks, from initial scheduling to live witness examination to exhibit management to final production of transcripts and videography.
- Tools for coordinating participants and booking a technologically proficient court reporter.
- Extensive exhibit management tools that facilitate pre-uploading, uploading on the fly, marking, and tracking.
- User-friendly on-screen document review tools for lawyers and witnesses to use simultaneously and collaboratively.
- AI-assisted, real-time streaming voice-to-text transcription.
- Immediate delivery of rough draft transcripts at the end of a deposition.
- Timely turnaround of certified transcripts in any required hard copy or digital format.
- Professional videography services for quick production of courtroom-ready deposition clips with overlaid transcript text.
The broader court reporting community quickly recognized the immense value of these litigation-first, purpose-built solutions. They began learning to use them and encouraging their litigator clients to embrace them.
Where Court Reporters Stand Today with Virtual Depositions
The court reporting industry is in the midst of a wholesale embrace of purpose-built remote deposition software and services. To be sure, traditional court reporting services for in-person depositions remain a staple of the profession and likely always will. But court reporting agencies ranging in size from sole proprietorships to multi-office juggernauts have uniformly recognized that they must also develop proficiency in the leading remote deposition software solutions to stay competitive. Ultimately, we expect that evolution to drive down the cost of court reporting services while simultaneously delivering on the promise of high-quality, efficient, virtual depositions.
Remote Legal is an industry-leading developer of remote deposition solutions. Our purpose-built virtual deposition software platform offers litigators and court reporters all the tools they need to schedule, prepare for, take, defend, and record remote witness testimony. Court reporters continue to embrace our solution as the future of the industry. Contact us today for a product demo.
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