Journal of Court Reporting — April 2012
Reporting freelance and court work remotely is a growing, if still uncommon, niche in the court reporting field. Here are the experiences of a few who have tried remote reporting.
Many court reporters gravitate to the freelance side of the business because of the flexibility it affords, which includes enabling them to earn a good living while doing some of their work — the actual transcription — on deadline but in the comfort of their homes.
Now, technology has arrived that promises the court reporting community even more flexibility. Remote depositions — where the reporter, attorneys, and/or the witness are not all in the same physical location — are still fairly uncommon, but they are slowly gaining traction in the United States.
Jason Primuth, co-founder and executive vice president of NextGen Reporting in the Philadelphia area, is a big believer in remote depositions, and he suggested that remote reporting is simply an extension of the way technology is changing not only the legal community but also the corporate world.
“The whole notion of remote deals and remote meetings have become commonplace in business thanks to videoconferencing,” Primuth said. “It may not be something they use every day, but they’re not afraid of it anymore.”
NextGen was founded with a business model based in part on remote reporting, and Primuth estimated that currently about half of his firm’s depositions are done remotely. In some cases, it may be just one attorney who’s listening in, while the remaining attorneys, court reporter, and witness are in the same physical location. In other situations, everyone, including the reporter, is in a separate location.
Primuth stresses that this isn’t designed as a way to cut costs so that the firm can offer lower prices than its competitors. He said, “We don’t discount a rate by 5 percent because of no travel. But we can help the client save a lot of money. We videotape all of our streams so other clients who are a party to litigation can review the video. There’s also a value to an attorney who doesn’t have to travel a day and a half to get to some out-of-theway location. Now, attorneys can sit down at a desk, do the deposition, see the person, and then go right back to work.”
Denise Phipps, RDR, CRR, CBC, CCP, and owner of Captions Unlimited based in Reno, Nev., explained that her firm does a mix of captioning, CART, and traditional deposition work. Her firm is now using remote technology to provide court reporting to a small community hours from her offices.
“We went out there and spoke with them, and the attorneys saw the value of not having someone drive all that 40 APRIL way,” Phipps noted. “Since then, we’ve been able to build on those relationships, and those attorneys are now recommending us to others.”
Phipps has built out her own technology for remote reporting, using a combination of off-the-shelf hardware and software that includes audio-enhancing equipment. But she stressed that the only thing you really need to get started is a good audio connection.
“We don’t use a Web cam — the attorneys we work for are very low tech, so they want to pick up a phone and do it that way,” Phipps said. “But we do stream the text back to them, so they’re getting a realtime feed.”
While CART and captioning reporters have been doing remote work for decades, Phipps noted that remote deposition work is different. “In the legal setting, it has to be verbatim, whereas the captioner can occasionally get away with dropping a word or turning an ‘a’ into a ‘the,’” she said. “One thing we always do is record everything that is being said. I have a splitter coming off my telephone, and I can run one straight into my system via Audiosync. Then, I also record it into a digital recorder, so I always have some form of backup. We’ve also done court work remotely in some of these rural communities, and they actually record [the proceedings] on their end, and we’re the live reporters.”
There are already a host of companies that are anticipating a surge in remote reporting and are designing tools and software to facilitate that process. One such company is Live Depo si - tion.com, which provides both voice and image via a streaming Internet connection.
Steven Genter, an account executive with LiveDeposition, said his company has already signed up 150 court reporting firms from around the country, providing each with access to their own dedicated Cloud-based server and branded LiveDepo sition.com Web page for conducting remote depositions. “We have very low latency,” he explained. “All of our servers are in the cloud, but they’re all dedicated and secure.”
LiveDeposition can host video and audio from as many as 16 different individuals, showing all of them one screen. “We feature realtime exhibit loading, so attorneys can share and mark exhibits,” Genter said. “We also just released apps for the iPhone, iPad, and tablets, and we’ll soon be targeting the Android market.”
LiveDeposition has a one-time $100 initial start-up fee, but outside of that, court reporting firms can participate for as little as $99 a month — though Genter noted that larger firms often choose $5,000-$7,500/month deals that allow close to 80 attendees to participate in various remote depositions.
Genter feels there’s already a lot of pent-up demand for remote depositions, but many court reporters simply don’t realize it yet.
“We tell court reporting firms that if they don’t offer it, their clients won’t know it’s there,” Genter said. “We just sold [our services] to a large insurance company that has mandated to its 400 outside counsels that it is not paying for travel anymore, and all depositions going forward are to be streamed within our software.”
Sandy Bunch VanderPol, RMR, CRR, a freelance reporter in Lotus, Calif., has worked with LiveDeposition. She noted, “I recently did a deposition where the treating physician was in a small town in central California, and the attorneys were in Seattle and Portland. They used the live video and audio feed to attend that way.”
In the California market, VanderPol said, “Remote court reporting is not that common — most of the time, the court reporter is there where the witness is. But what is happening is remote attendance by the attorneys, because of all the new technology that’s out there.”
Everyone stressed that remote reporting is not without its challenges, though the swearing in of witnesses remotely isn’t one of them as long as the attorneys agree. “There was one time where that was a question, but as long as everyone agrees to it, it’s not an issue,” observed Dianne Naulty, a reporter in Philadelphia who works with NextGen. “I am a notary, and that’s what I do. I swear in the witnesses, and with video, I can see them, and they have the option of seeing me.”
Naulty has done just under a dozen depositions remotely, including one where she was in New York and the witness was in Russia. “It is a little bit more of a challenge,” she said. “But I’ve been reporting for 20 years, and my skills are at a level where I know when to stop and when it’s appropriate for me to speak up when I don’t hear something. Our technology works really well, and if there’s a question of spelling, I wait until after the deposition, and then I talk to the person over the phone to answer that.”
Phipps pointed out that there are also some jurisdictional issues that need to be kept in mind. “You have to find out if there is a law against practicing in the state where the remote deposition takes place. In Nevada, you can’t do a remote deposition unless you’re licensed in that state. In other states, an RPR is sufficient, so crossing state lines is something you need to be aware of.”
“We actually spent the first year of our business preparing for all those jurisdictional issues,” added Pri - muth. “There are rules in all states, as well as at the federal level, and we’ve mapped all that out.”
Toni Christy, RPR, CRR, CBC, has been court reporting for more than two decades and has done official work, freelance depositions, and remote CART and captioning. Now focused exclusively on CART and broadcast captioning, she pointed out that while the technology is there, remote work may not be for everyone, especially those new to reporting.
“There’s a myth out there among students that they can just jump into remote work,” Christy said. “But you need some years of experience behind you and all that writing where you’re really comfortable being on your own and being able to troubleshoot your own equipment.” There are other potential drawbacks as well. “It can be easier to discern what someone is saying if I can read lips,” Phipps noted. “On the telephone, you can’t do that. One other potential drawback can be if they read from exhibits, and you need to have the attorney mark them and keep track of them. And if the attorney wants the exhibit attached, he or she has to send it to you later.”
For those reasons and others, NextGen’s Primuth suggested that remote deposition work won’t ever completely replace having the court reporter in the same room as the witness and attorneys.
“There are some depositions that lend themselves to this really well, and some that don’t,” Primuth said. “If you have an intense deposition where you’re reading from hundreds of documents, you should be in the room or have somebody in the room.”
Phipps also dismissed the notion that eventually national firms will be able to use remote technology to take business away from court reporters in each local market, adding that personal face-to-face relationships still count for a lot in the legal community.
“Frankly, my hope is that this is only used in rural settings where they can’t get a live reporter,” Phipps added. “You would not want to promote it locally and take work away from a reporter who is in your market.”
Technology can be disruptive, and some traditional court reporters will no doubt have the urge to fight remote reporting because it has the potential to change the way they do their jobs.
But VanderPol suggested that most reporters should look at remote depositions as an opportunity. “This technology can be a real business generator for the reporters and firms that have it,” she said. “But you have to look at the market. Some markets will accept that remote reporter. If you’re in some incredibly remote location where it’s impossible to get a reporter there, then it’s better to have a reporter there remotely than to not have one at all.”
David Ward is a freelance journalist from Ramona, Calif. Comments about this article can be sent to jcrfeed firstname.lastname@example.org.
“[T]he treating physician was in a small town in central California, and the attorneys were in Seattle and Portland. They used live video and audio feed to attend. . .”