The Future of Digital Court Reporting
New technology has fueled and facilitated change in every corner of the legal industry, and court reporting is no exception. While the court reporter’s core responsibilities remain largely unchanged, the demands of a seismic, industry-wide shift to remote work have forced transcription services to embrace digital tools and workflows that barely existed a decade ago. And the landscape continues to evolve.
The future of digital court reporting will be one of constant evolution and adaptation. Remote depositions will become as common as in-person witness examinations. Purpose-built remote deposition platforms and single-source court reporting services will replace traditional modes of collecting and transcribing sworn testimony. And ever-more-accurate, AI-driven language recognition solutions will likely supplement if not supplant stenography equipment as a dominant tool of the trade.
Here’s an overview of the future of digital court reporting as we see it.
The Remote Deposition is Here to Stay
Until recently, taking an effective deposition without being physically present in the same room as a witness was an elusive dream for most litigators. To be sure, technology made remote depositions theoretically possible but rarely practical. Depositions by telephone or video conference (the fisheye-view-of-a-long-conference-table variety) failed to replicate the intimacy and insight of in-person testimony. And high-end video conferencing technology that might bridge the virtual gulf, like telepresence solutions, lay beyond the price range of most firms.
Then COVID-19 happened, and everything changed. Overnight, internet-based video meetings vaulted into the mainstream of global business practices. Investment and innovation in those technologies took off like a shot. And from top-to-bottom, workers and institutions embraced modes of getting things done without being in the same room as one another.
The pandemic has ebbed somewhat, but the sea-change it brought to our work lives hasn’t. It’s not just that people got used to working remotely— it’s that we’ve developed the solutions and practices to do it effectively, paving the way for the acceptance of “remote” as the equivalent of “in-person” in a wide variety of work settings.
So it is with depositions, for two reasons. First, the distance has shrunk dramatically between what lawyers expect from in-person testimony and what technology can reliably deliver in the form of remote depositions. Second, the novelty of taking a remote deposition — a feature formerly anathema to most lawyers — has worn off. Witnesses practically demand them, opposing lawyers accept them, and some court reporters have begun to specialize in handling them (more on that below).
Related: Remote Depositions in a Post-Covid World
Embracing Purpose-Built Remote Deposition Platforms
The reason the industry hasn’t already reached a tipping point is, we think, a question of technological adoption and standardization. When a new technology emerges, a period of competition and consumer maturation inevitably follows — think VHS vs. Betamax, Netscape vs. Internet Explorer, Yahoo vs. Google, and so on. Eventually, the paradigm shifts, and a dominant standard emerges.
The world of digital court reporting finds itself in one of those moments of differentiation. Two competing means of taking remote depositions currently exist, but only one will survive into the next decade. The battle is on, although if we’re honest, we hardly think it’s a fair fight.
Generic Tools Can’t Really Do the Job
On one side of the battlefield is assembled a hodgepodge of generic remote meeting technologies that lawyers have cobbled together to allow them to take remote depositions. We’re talking about the Zooms, Google Meet, and other video conferencing platforms that gave us a vital lifeline during the pandemic. They’re not built for the task of taking depositions, but determined attorneys and their support staff can make them work … sort of.
If you use these tools to take a remote deposition, you still have to put up with lags, audio delay, and the assorted glitches we’ve all come to expect from these mainstream tools. You also have to work out how to manage other deposition-related tasks remotely (since generic video meeting platforms don’t do them for you).
This includes getting everyone on the same page about when, where, and how to join in, marking and sharing exhibits with witnesses and opposing counsel, and finding a court reporter prepared to tackle the unique challenges of producing an accurate transcript without sitting in a room with the participants.
If you get these elements perfect, it’s possible you could realize the lauded efficiency and efficacy of a remote deposition. But expecting perfection might be asking too much from generic tech and your busy office staff. And that means you’re taking a potentially costly risk. If (let’s face it—when) something goes wrong in a remote deposition you’ve constructed out of the digital equivalent of duct tape and baling wire, you could easily end up losing your only chance of securing key testimony from a crucial witness.
Single Source Solutions Will Win the Day
On the other side of the arena stands the favorite for winning the battle over how we will conduct remote depositions into the next decade and beyond — a single-source remote court reporting solution built specifically for depositions and the litigators who take them. This tech will win the day because it addresses and solves the problems inherent in using off-the-shelf generic video meeting tools to depose a witness. It encompasses features like:
- Scheduling tools that connect litigants with technologically proficient, fully licensed court reporters
- Exhibit pre-uploading and marking
- A video platform designed for the task of witness examination
- On-the-fly exhibit uploading and sharing
- Time-stamped witness video capture
- Virtual break-out rooms for attorneys and their clients
- Instant, live voice-to-text stream
- Rough draft transcript delivery within 30 minutes of the end of a deposition
- Certified transcripts in hard copy or digital format
- Security features to ensure integrity and confidentiality of proceedings
Attorneys who use a single-source platform overwhelmingly prefer it to the cobbled-together approach for obvious reasons. It takes the guesswork and risks out of conducting remote depositions. It enables an examination that is every bit as effective as taking in-person testimony. And it delivers on the promise of efficiency and cost savings that have long been a selling point for remote depositions. Eventually, purpose-built platforms will become the dominant industry standard, and the shift to the new remote deposition paradigm will be complete.
AI in the Ascendancy
Everywhere you turn these days, it seems someone is telling you about how artificial intelligence (AI) is about to change your life. In the digital court reporting world, we can’t claim any special insight into when the singularity will happen. But we can confirm that AI-driven technologies have already had, and will continue to have, a massive impact on how court reporters do their jobs.
Most significantly, AI-enabled voice recognition and transcription technology have already begun to supplementstenographic equipment as the primary means of turning spoken testimony into a written record. It’s what powers the voice-to-text features of today’s remote deposition platforms.
But notice we didn’t say AI can replace court reporters themselves. For now, machine learning transcription tools can do a credible job of translating voice-to-text. But they’re not perfect (yet), and they can’t take oaths or act as notaries. Human court reporters will remain an integral part of depositions for the foreseeable future.
Still, we expect artificial intelligence technologies to continue to facilitate the shift from in-person to remote depositions. Voice recognition will improve as machines learn how to parse accents and interpret lip movements and facial expressions from video feeds.
Deposition solutions may also learn to anticipate specialized, case-specific vocabulary by incorporating the content of pre-loaded exhibits into their vocabulary. And, over the horizon, we expect that the day will come when we trust machines to do the work of swearing witnesses and certifying the accuracy of a transcript.
In whatever way the new technology evolves, we can confidently predict that digital court reporting will trend inexorably toward faster, more efficient, more accurate transcription of spoken testimony. This will lead to significant cost-savings for attorneys and witnesses alike, making remote depositions the preferred means of conducting oral discovery in the future.
Related: What to Know About Legal Videography Rates Today
Choose a Court Reporting Service Prepared for the Future
The inevitability of remote depositions has thrown the court reporting industry into flux. For generations, most court reporters have walked a local beat, serving a geographically concentrated group of lawyers and institutions. Many are small businesses, and few have the wherewithal to construct a purpose-built remote deposition platform from scratch.
In other words, lawyers who want to conduct a remote deposition cannot necessarily rely on their local court reporting service to manage the process. Small court reporting agencies will undoubtedly adapt in time. But for now, attorneys would be well-served to turn to digital court reporting agencies that offer single-source services and purpose-built platforms for taking and defending remote depositions.
Remote Legal is an industry leader in providing remote deposition services for lawyers seeking to embrace the potential and need for conducting remote depositions. Contact us today to see how having every necessary feature at your fingertips will streamline your deposition while providing all the details you need to effectively build your case.
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