How to Choose a Court Reporter for Your Case

Not long ago, attorneys gave little thought to choosing a court reporter to handle their depositions. They, their assistants, or their firms typically had a long-established relationship with a handful of local court reporting services to whom they would send their business, more or less by default. A reporter’s job would be to record the deposition stenographically and then deliver timely, accurate hard-copy deposition transcripts. So long as they did so reliably, they got the work. 

But times have changed. To be sure, local court reporters still constitute the backbone of the industry. But today’s attorneys also need court reporters at their disposal who offer purpose-built tools and support services for conducting remote depositions, which have become increasingly popular in the post-Covid era. Many local court reporters lack those capabilities, which means that lawyers must look elsewhere to ensure the efficiency and effectiveness of the remote depositions they take or defend. 

That said, here’s an overview of the current landscape of court reporting, the capabilities lawyers should expect from a court reporter, and how to choose a court reporter that fits the needs of the deposition you’re about to take or defend. 

The Core Functions of a Court Reporter

In the context of a deposition, the fundamental job of a court reporter is, and always has been, to transcribe oral testimony into an official written record that can serve as admissible evidence in a court or other official proceeding. By definition, a deposition cannot happen without the essential element of a court reporter who can swear witnesses, handle exhibits, record testimony, and certify transcripts. 

Today’s court reporter, however, must also wear other hats in a deposition. To succeed in a competitive marketplace, a court reporting service that specializes in handling live, in-person depositions typically also needs to have the capacity to: 

  • Record, or arrange for the recording, of quality video and audio of a deposition
  • Provide post-deposition audio-visual services, like syncing transcript text with video and audio
  • Promptly deliver digital rough draft transcripts in a format readable and searchable by the attorney-customer
  • Deliver timely digital and hard copy certified final transcripts in formats acceptable in the relevant jurisdiction

Attorneys have come to expect these capabilities from all court reporters. A service that performs them efficiently and reliably will tend to win repeat business from local litigators taking or defending in-person depositions. 

The New Remote Deposition Paradigm

But in today’s changing environment, in-person depositions are no longer the only game in town. Remote depositions are growing in popularity, spurred by technological advances and supercharged by the rapid shift to video meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Increasingly, attorneys find they need a court reporter who offers remote deposition services featuring the same suite of deliverables and capabilities that lawyers have come to expect when taking in-person testimony, but in additional capacities. The format of a deposition, in other words, has emerged as a crucial differentiator for attorneys in choosing who to hire to record and transcribe proceedings. 

Related: How to Use Rough Draft Transcripts for Case Preparation

Remote depositions, as the name suggests, are depositions in which none (or only some) of the required players are physically present in the same room.  These depositions have existed for a while — attorneys have been taking minor or difficult-to-schedule depositions by a conference call for decades — but they’ve only recently taken hold as a mainstream, attractive, and comparable alternative to conducting these proceedings in-person. 

Today, depositions can, and frequently do, take place entirely remotely, with attorneys, witnesses, and court reporters all connecting to a video and audio stream from their separate offices or homes.

A remote deposition done right is convenient, cost-saving, and no less effective from an evidentiary standpoint than an in-person sitting. One done poorly, however, could suffer from the countless lags, glitches, and frustrations that typify the worst of pandemic-era mainstream video meeting sessions, only with the added consequence of squandering the only opportunity an attorney might have to secure critical, sworn testimony from a key witness. 

Attorneys, in other words, find themselves at a perilous moment in the evolution of litigation best practices. On one hand, remote work in all forms, including depositions, is indubitably here to stay, and litigators who fail to adapt will get left behind. On the other hand, depositions are still high-stakes endeavors. Lawyers can not afford for the transition to a remote environment to undermine their effectiveness in taking or defending a deposition. 

The Modern Court Reporter’s Role in Remote Depositions

The burden of figuring out how to manage remote depositions initially fell to attorneys, paralegals, and law office admins, with mixed results. Many found it difficult to cobble together the suite of services they needed to ensure a remote deposition approximated an in-person session. 

Practical challenges abounded, from figuring out a protocol for marking and sharing exhibits with a witness and opposing counsel to developing a strategy for ensuring that the video record wouldn’t resemble a chaotic group chat circa April 2020. 

From crisis, however, springs innovation. While platforms like Zoom served their purpose for families and businesses hoping to connect, it wasn’t working for the legal industry, which required advanced security and features that mainstream platforms simply weren’t prepared to offer. Instead, firms have turned to specialized platforms that eliminate roadblocks and streamline the remote deposition process with features like: 

  • Integrated remote deposition scheduling
  • Exhibit pre-uploading and marking
  • Video and audio streaming and capture, built with depositions in mind
  • Virtual break-out rooms for sidebar conferences between clients and attorneys
  • On-the-fly exhibit uploading
  • Tools for seamless, real-time sharing of exhibits with witnesses and opposing counsel
  • Live rough transcript text stream
  • Rough digital draft transcripts delivered with 30 minutes of the end of the deposition
  • Synced video, audio, and transcript text
  • Multi-format certified transcripts

Features such as these relieve attorneys and their staff members of the burden of figuring out how to depose witnesses remotely.  A single-source solution realizes the full potential of remote depositions, making them viable, cost-effective alternatives to in-person sessions and, in many cases, simplifying the process for choosing an expert court reporter.

Choosing the Court Reporter You Need

Choosing a court reporter for your next deposition starts with deciding on the deposition format appropriate for your case. This needn’t be an all-or-nothing decision, mind you. Plenty of litigations call for a mix of in-person and remote depositions to suit the needs of the parties and their counsel. 

For In-Person Depositions

Live, in-person depositions are still appropriate in a wide variety of situtations, especially in cases involving parties located in a limited geographic area. But even so, a court reporter shortage continues to plague the courts in many states, and if you can secure an in-person court reporter, you’ll still need witnesses and opposing counsel available to sit down together in a conference room. That’s something lawyers used to take for granted, but can’t anymore in a  post-Covid world. 

Related: Tips for Scheduling Depositions Effectively

If you and opposing counsel opt for an in-person deposition, choose a local court reporter who has the full suite of capabilities we’ve described above. Be sure to ask about your local reporter’s latest technological proficiencies — new legal tech springs forth constantly, and you never know what new services your longtime reporter might offer to enhance your deposition taking (or defending) effectiveness. 

For Remote Depositions

Since the pandemic, remote meeting options have become the new normal. Clients often prefer giving testimony via remote deposition because it’s more convenient and comfortable than occupying the proverbial hot seat in a law firm conference room. Some lawyers are slower to appreciate the benefits of remote depositions, but there’s no denying the covenience, cost savings, and efficiency of this new technology, if you can find a court reporting platform up to the task. 

Remote depositions are easier to schedule and less expensive to attend because no one has to travel. They’re undeniably convenient, in the sense that you can participate from a location of your choosing, with all the materials you need at your fingertips. And with the right tools at your disposal, remote depositions may even enhance your ability to examine or defend a witness. 

So how do you choose a court reporter who can work with you in the remote capacity you need? 

Simplify Your Remote Court Reporter Search

To get the most out of remote depositions, turn to a single-source remote deposition service provider that offers a built-in, expert court reporter. The right platform allows a firm to seamlessly schedule, facilitate, administer, video capture, and transcribe remote depositions.

Using a reporting service specializing in remote depositions eliminates the risk of bad technology ruining a crucial element of discovery. It also helps to win over opposing counsel who might not yet feel comfortable with the paradigm shift that remote depositions represent. Remote Legal is an all-in-one platform that offers legal industry standard security and every feature you need to effectively and efficiently conduct your remote depositions. Get started today to see how we can streamline your search for an expert court reporter — along with every other part of the deposition process. 

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