Court reporting has undergone a transformation in the past decade. The combined effects of a stenographer shortage, the pandemic, and—perhaps most importantly—remote deposition technological innovations, have re-laid the foundations of the industry and created new possibilities for how lawyers conduct discovery. In 2023, despite labor market headwinds, court reporting looks poised to deliver on the long-awaited promise of convenient, efficient, effective remote depositions and litigation proceedings. Here’s how.
A Wild Decade for Court Reporting
Just ten years ago, the future of court reporting didn’t look so rosy. A leading industry trade group predicted a looming shortfall of trained stenographers, blaming demographics and the profession’s failure to attract recruits to its schools. New technologies like video depositions and transcriptions from courtroom audio recordings had made inroads, but the job description for a stenographer hadn’t changed much from a half-century earlier. Most transcription of testimony still happened on a stenography machine operated by a court reporter sitting next to lawyers and witnesses in courtrooms and conference rooms.
As the 2020s dawned, the predictions of a labor shortage were proven right. Civil litigators and some courts found themselves struggling to book court reporters and enrollment continued to lag at training programs, some of which were forced to shutter.
And then Covid happened. Overnight, court proceedings and civil discovery went remote. The pandemic presented lawyers, judges, and court reporters with a classic Hobson’s Choice: take testimony over a video link or don’t take it at all. For a little while, some opted for the latter and put proceedings on hold. But as the enormity of the public health crisis came into focus, courts and litigators realized that was unsustainable. They had to adapt to the new reality to keep the wheels of justice turning.
For the change-averse legal profession, it was a chaotic, painful transition. Most lawyers and court reporters who participated in a deposition in the early days of the pandemic shudder at the memory of trying to shoehorn tried-and-true litigation practices into the unfamiliar medium of a Zoom conference.
Litigators discovered, to their consternation, that nuts-and-bolts deposition tasks like marking an exhibit and handing it to a witness became inordinately complicated and time-consuming via video. Even if everyone’s internet connection and hardware worked perfectly—and they rarely did—lawyers found they needed extensive protocols to ensure a deposition didn’t devolve into pointlessness. You were lucky in those days to cover half the ground with a witness that you could have by conducting the examination in person.
Court reporters struggled to adapt, too. Getting an accurate transcript became exceedingly difficult. The audio stream delivered via the internet on generic video platforms was at best unreliable and often incomprehensible. Conferencing software automatically muted audio streams not just during cross-talk (the bane of a stenographer’s existence even in good times) but also whenever any participant’s microphone picked up a stray sound.
Questions, answers, and objections went un-transcribed. Turnaround times for transcripts stretched to months and error rates soared. For many court reporters already nearing retirement, it was all too much. They called it quits, deepening the existing stenographer shortage.
But as crisis always does, the pandemic also served as a wellspring of innovation in court reporting. Entrepreneurial court reporters saw a need for purpose-built remote testimony solutions and rushed to develop them. Soon, litigators had the option of using software platforms and services specifically designed for remote depositions instead of off-the-shelf video conferencing apps. And those who made the switch found that they could finally take remote testimony as effectively as they could in person, with significant cost savings to boot.
Court Reporting Today
The biggest story in court reporting today is the post-pandemic resiliency of remote depositions. What was once a marginal solution suitable only when you couldn’t get people together in a conference room has become a go-to option for oral discovery in most cases. And although the stenographer shortage persists, the industry is steadily moving toward a new equilibrium. In most markets, today’s litigators won’t struggle to book a court reporter if clients and opposing counsel give them the option of taking or defending a deposition remotely.
The State of Remote Deposition Solutions in 2023
Today’s remote deposition software and services offer features litigators could only dream of when the pandemic first struck. Industry-leading solutions simplify and streamline virtually every aspect of taking and defending remote testimony. Lawyers and their staff who use them can:
- Coordinate scheduling among all deposition participants, including lawyers and witnesses
- Book a court reporter qualified to administer oaths and transcribe remote testimony in any jurisdiction needed
- Upload and mark digital exhibits to a dedicated server in advance or on the fly during questioning
- Convene and conduct a deposition on a single, purpose-built conferencing platform that combines reliable connections with intuitive audio, video, exhibit-sharing, and voice-to-text transcription tools
- Conduct confidential sidebar discussions in virtual breakout rooms
- Record courtroom-ready videography with overlayed transcription text
- Receive draft transcripts within 30 minutes of testimony concluding
- Order certified transcripts in any digital or hard-copy format required
For virtually every glitch and hiccup that arose during early-pandemic remote depositions, today’s digital court reporter platforms have engineered a smart, intuitive solution. Lawyers who use the latest remote deposition tools can accomplish just as much, if not more than they might have in an in-person session—all while saving on administrative and travel costs.
To be sure, there’s still a learning curve for some lawyers and witnesses as they get used to remote testimony. And the industry will likely yet undergo a period of consolidation and standardization. But those are common features of a market that has undergone rapid transformation. Court reporters and lawyers nevertheless uniformly agree: thanks to technological innovation, remote depositions are here to stay.
The State of the Court Reporting Labor Force in 2023
Today, industry watchers estimate that there are approximately 11,000 fewer licensed stenographers in the U.S. than there were a decade ago, according to a National Center for State Courts report. Some expect the trend to continue, potentially posing problems in high-demand markets or large court systems still reliant on in-person transcriptions of proceedings.
Still, there’s much room for optimism. The rise of remote depositions has changed the metrics for a labor market that, historically, has been highly local in nature. Court reporting agencies once served only the area within a reasonable drive of their office. Today, subject to state licensing requirements, they can provide remote transcription services anywhere without driving a single mile.
Remote Depositions in 2023 and Beyond
Remote deposition services may effectively expand the labor pool for any given deposition to include every reporter within a state’s borders, if not further. By making transcription assignments broadly available, remote deposition service providers stand a good chance of easing the effects of the shortage and potentially attracting new reporters to the profession. As technology advances, the remote deposition has become an efficient, effective, and valuable solution to the ongoing challenges in the industry.
Remote Legal is an industry-leading remote deposition solution and service provider. We offer purpose-built tools and convenient services that enable litigators to conduct productive, cost-effective remote depositions. Contact us today for a product demo.
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