Depositions 101: What Law School Should Have Taught You.
Our firm recently covered an attorney’s first-ever deposition. When we asked why he chose our reporting firm over the many other options available, he informed us that he had no idea how to schedule a deposition or a court reporter and was just focused on the substance of the questions he was going to ask. To make a long story short, he asked a secretary in his office to set up the deposition for him. Had he asked a different secretary, it is entirely possible that some other Orlando court reporter would have been called. The point is that many young attorneys leave law school with little to no idea about how what makes one court reporting service more desirable than another. Many do not even know how to contact or schedule a court reporter other than a Google search.
While most attorneys have been taking depositions for quite some time, you know that our industry is rapidly evolving, so let’s evaluate what is important in choosing your court reporter. You should not leave your choice of court reporters up to a random internet search engine or by who gives you the largest gift card. Instead, it is important to understand that there are different types of reporters with different technological capabilities. As a litigator, consider the types of case you are handling, your budget, and your courtroom strategy when choosing a reporting format. Evaluate each court reporting firm’s technical abilities, their after-hour availability and their production department.
Modern Court Reporting
Court reporting has evolved from scribes to shorthand, shorthand to stenography, and now stenography to digital reporting. Stenographic and digital reporters have different capabilities. The best way to explain the differences between the two is to first define stenographic reporting.
Stenography works by using a specialized machine to phonetically record speech. In other words, a stenographic reporter writes testimony in a shorthand code and her machine will translate most of that code into readable English. Some words, especially technical ones, will not always be translated by the stenographic machine. Keep in mind that no stenographer is capable of typing the speech of two people simultaneously and must interrupt the speakers or choose which speaker to follow. It is also true that even the best stenographer is incapable of catching every word. That is why they rely on audio backup to proofread their work.
Stenographers offer some services that digital reporters cannot. For example, stenographers can provide real-time court reporting services that allow attorneys to read the transcript during the deposition. The best analogy would be that of closed captioning. Like the words you see across the bottom of your television screen, a good real-time court reporter can put the deponent’s words directly onto a laptop or tablet for you to view during the deposition. This service is justifiably more expensive as it requires substantial training.
Stenographers can generally produce a rough draft transcript immediately following the deposition even when given no notice of the need for a rough before the deposition. These will not be perfect transcripts but they provide a great working draft for an attorney faced with a short deadline.
The Emergence of Digital Reporters
A digital reporter uses modern recording equipment to capture multiple recordings of the testimony while annotating the proceedings. The reporter’s annotations are time-linked to the corresponding audio so that one can instantly go to that point in the record and listen to the actual testimony in real-time. Multiple audio recordings are taken simultaneously and can be downloaded to secure cloud servers in real-time. The transcript is then proofread twice. Such a system can be faster, is usually error-free and is less expensive.
Digital reporters never need to instruct speakers to slow down their speech due to accent, or because complex medical or technical terminology is being used. The recording process captures the words exactly as spoken. Language and accent problems can be resolved after the deposition. Because each speaker has a separate microphone, a digital reporter does not need to interrupt the proceeding when more than one person speaks at the same time. Because less training is required for digital reporters, their per page rates tend to be lower.
Digital court reporters do not read back testimony or questions. Instead, they can literally play back what was said. You have all be in a deposition where two attorneys or an attorney and a witness begin to argue about what has already been said. This argument inevitably ends with the attorneys staring at the court reporters and insisting that they read back what was actually said. The stenographer then has to review their notes and read back the testimony. A digital reporter faces less pressure because they can simply play back exactly what was said and remove any possible subjectivity from the process.
Secure Storage and Synchronization
Both a stenographer and digital reporter should download their notes to a secure server as the deposition proceeds. Earlier this year a man convicted of murder was given a new trial because the stenographic reporter had accidentally deleted her copy of the trial transcript prior to appeal. This is the danger that comes with any reporter who only saves their work to a desktop. Downloading to a cloud-based server ensures an accurate record is preserved.
Court reporters can synchronize the audio and video from a deposition to their transcribed text. These services allow attorneys to play back the video of the deponent at trial and have the deponent’s testimony appear in writing across the bottom of the screen. Even if video is not taken, the jury can still hear the deponent’s testimony from the reporter’s recording. Jurors are then able to hear the speaker’s tone of voice which often reveals more than the actual words spoken. Make sure your reporter offers this service.
Educate yourself about reporting options and choose a firm or reporter who can supply you with the tools needed to be successful at trial.
Tablets and Smartphones
We are rapidly moving toward a paperless society. We see fewer case files at depositions and more tablets. Attorneys are organizing their pleadings, correspondence and other important documents on their electronic devices. Likewise, our court reporting agency has advanced so that it is able to deliver all transcripts in a format that can be viewed on you smart phone or tablet. Moreover, we can actually provide you with an electronic file which synchronizes the deposition video to the transcript. This will allow you to search your deposition video by keyword and edit the video into clips right from your iPad.
Ten questions that every lawyer should ask their court reporting firm (and get a “yes”):
(1) Do you offer both digital and stenographic reporting?
(2) Is every transcript reviewed by an independent proofreader?
(3) Do you store shorthand notes and audio on a secure server and a secure cloud server?
(4) Do you provide DVDs with the audio/video synchronized to the text?
(5) Can you provide synchronized transcripts which can be viewed and edited on a tablet?
(6) Do you travel within the state for no charge?
(7) Is scheduling available 24 hours per day?
(8) Do you have a production department which can assist with courtroom technology issues?
(9) Can you produce a transcript within a week for no extra charge?
(10) Do you offer realtime reporting services?
If your court reporters cannot answer yes to all of the above questions then you are not able to access all of the technological benefits available. Do not sell yourself and your clients short. For the latest in court reporting technology, rely on Milestone Reporting Company.
Call 855-MY-DEPOS or Schedule a Deposition Now