The text transcript has long been the evidentiary gold standard for recording a witness’s sworn testimony and proving it in court. Transcripts are as potent a piece of evidence today as they were one hundred years ago. And yet, the black-and-white certainty of a typewritten transcript also leaves something to be desired. It strips spoken words of essential features that affect their meaning, like vocal inflection, pitch, emphasis, volume, speed, and emotion.
Seasoned litigators understand how critical the nuances of spoken testimony can be to their case. That’s why they’ve been videotaping depositions for decades. Nothing turns a jury against an opposing witness quite like showing them a video of that witness being rude or evasive during a deposition. Today, capturing high-quality video of a deposition is easier than ever, thanks to remote video deposition services. And while the videography those services produce seems unlikely to replace text transcripts as an evidentiary medium, it undoubtedly adds significant depth and meaning to the words on a page of typewritten testimony.
The Enduring Value of a Text Transcript
A text transcript is a tangible, permanent, immutable record of what a witness says under oath. When printed in hard copy, it requires no technology to read or show to a witness during courtroom questioning. You can linger over a text transcript, absorbing its essential passages, highlighting keywords, and taking notes in the margins. It’s easy to include a text transcript in an appellate record, excerpt it in a court filing, or read it aloud to a judge or jury.
Text transcripts, in short, have much to recommend them. That’s why they’re enshrined in rules of civil procedure nationwide as a bulletproof form of admissible evidence. Few documents command immediate acceptance of their authenticity and accuracy like a text transcript certified by a court reporter.
Given these attributes, it seems unlikely that an alternative form of evidence will replace text transcripts as a favored means of proving witness testimony. There will always be a need in American courts for a written record of what someone says under penalty of perjury.
What Text Transcripts Leave Out
Still, transcripts are far from perfect. Indeed, as any experienced trial lawyer will tell you, for all their cut-and-dried precision, they’re deeply flawed. A transcript does not capture a witness’s tone of voice, emotional affect, accent, or any of the countless other verbal and non-verbal cues humans use to understand each other’s speech. And that deficit can have significant consequences for litigators.
For example, transcripts almost always fail to convey sarcasm. If your client does an exaggerated eye roll while laughingly saying, “Oh sure, I’m at fault” in response to a question at deposition, everyone watching understands they meant the opposite. But anyone reading those words on a printed page may take them literally.
That loss of meaning can cause significant problems if, at trial, the judge permits opposing counsel to impeach your client with the words alone, shorn of their visual and verbal context. So too can a text transcript’s lack of nuance work to your detriment on appeal when judges have only a paper record to go on in deciding if the trial judge erred by overruling your objection.
Videography Enhances Deposition Transcripts
The inherent deficiency of a stale, paper record is not news to litigators. That’s why, since at least the early 1980s, they’ve been bringing video cameras to depositions and training the lens on their witnesses. Time and again, that addition has proved invaluable. Every trial lawyer can tell a story about some witness’s nervous tick, long pauses, sweaty brow, or belligerent outburst that turned a staid deposition into dynamite trial evidence.
Reading a text deposition transcript and then watching footage of it can feel like passing through the proverbial looking glass. A witness whose answers seemed stunted and evasive on paper transforms into a sympathetic character on screen who looks bewildered and intimidated by a lawyer’s aggressiveness. Conversely, the deponent whose answers come across as concise and straightforward on the page can morph into a smirking villain who appears to delight in knowing some bit of information that eludes his interrogator.
As the value of filming depositions became clear to lawyers, deposition videographers upped their game. Video quality improved thanks to professional sound and lighting and sophisticated editing software. And digitization makes it possible to superimpose transcript text and exhibits on the screen to enhance a viewer’s ability to digest particular passages of testimony.
But top-quality videography services don’t come cheap. Limited budgets can force lawyers to pick and choose which in-person depositions to record and what bells and whistles to order from the videographer. For cost purposes, high-end, professional videography of in-person depositions still eludes many litigators who would prefer not to rely on a text transcript alone.
Remote Video Deposition Services Take Transcript Enhancement to the Next Level
The Covid-19 pandemic ushered in a new era in litigation discovery by forcing everyone, temporarily, to take depositions via remote video. At first, the accuracy and quality of text transcripts and videography suffered. Depositions conducted via generic video conferencing platforms experienced data lags, frozen screens, sound drop-outs, and other glitches that prevented court reporters and videographers from capturing a clean record of proceedings.
Soon, however, remote video deposition services began offering purpose-built software platforms designed for litigation discovery. Today’s industry-leading solutions provide litigators with an all-in-one hub for scheduling, preparing for, conducting, transcribing, and recording remote witness testimony. Significantly, remote deposition services make it straightforward and inexpensive for lawyers to obtain cutting-edge videography that integrates the text transcript of a deposition with hi-resolution video and audio of the deponent, the lawyers, and deposition exhibits.
The videography that remote video deposition services can produce holds the potential to free litigators and courts from the limitations of text transcripts. It shows the full context of a deposition—not merely footage of the witness answering questions, but a clear, often up-close picture of the witness’s demeanor and emotional state and how the witness interacts with exhibits. Remote deposition services make top-quality videography affordable enough for lawyers to purchase at scale, eliminating the risk of being stuck with a text transcript that a court or opposing party may misread.
The Future of Text Transcripts
No one expects text transcripts to go the way of the dodo. They’re too entrenched and serve too many practical purposes to disappear from litigation. But as remote depositions become the norm, lawyers will undoubtedly take full advantage of affordable, cutting-edge deposition videography to enhance and enrich the paper record. Eventually, courts may even come to expect lawyers to integrate text-enhancing videography into briefs and other filings to eliminate any uncertainty about what a witness said or meant.
Remote Legal is an industry-leading provider of remote deposition solutions. We offer an all-in-one platform for scheduling, conducting, transcribing, and recording depositions remotely, together with top-quality deposition videography tailored to a litigator’s needs. Contact our team today for a product demo.
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