22 Jul 2020 Danielle Chazen
6min read

How Digital Court Reporting Innovation Offers Choice

It’s 2020 and nearly every industry has seen significant disruption. Professionals who want to stay competitive regardless of industry are embracing innovations to stay competitive; they aren’t fearing them. The same should be, and is, true of digital court reporting.

This reality was at the root of Verbit’s inaugural legal summit, The Future of Digital Court Reporting on July 13th, which gathered more than 100 professionals live. The event gathered leaders from the Speech to Text Institute, Planet Depos, BlueLedge, SpeedType, Kentuckiana Court Reporters and more for multiple sessions on the future of the legal industry and court reporting processes as we know them.

A large focus of the event was the impact of COVID-19, which has expedited the need and use for many of the remote and digital tools that the market’s innovators have been pushing forward for years.

Court Reporting: Why is the industry still debating digital?

The only possible resistance to the word “digital” in 2020 comes from a place of fear. We have heard about the “dark side” of digital reporting, as though it’s robotic surgery: too risky and too much at stake. The truth is, robotic assisted surgery works. According to one publication, the use of robotic assisted surgery “increased from “1.4% to 15.1% from 2012 to 2018.” The question is therefore, if highly skilled and trained professionals such as surgeons can use different modalities to treat patients, including robotics, why is the court reporting industry apoplectic about digital recording and speech to text tools. It’s not surgery.

The resistance is simple – its innovation and competition, and that’s what scares some professionals. Robotic surgery has not replaced surgeons; it’s equipped them with additional tools to treat patients. Likewise, digital court reporting, with much lower risk, is simply another tool for the industry.

Multiple modalities of court reporting just mean more options for the end client, more available resources and greater flexibility.  What’s wrong with that? The answer is absolutely nothing if you are the agency owner or leader or the end client.

Court Reporting: Multiple modalities

Stenography is a proven modality of court reporting. It’s also the way the legal professional has secured authenticity of the proceeding.  When states passed laws, or civil rules of procedure, they noted stenographic means, as that was the method and technology of the day. Similarly, Xerox evolved as the common word for making photo copies due to the relevance at the time.

Rule 80 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure Amended in 1946, states “If stenographically reported testimony at a hearing or trial is admissible in evidence at a later trial, the testimony may be proved by a transcript certified by the person who reported it.”

In due course, as technology changed, Rule 30 (3)(b) was put into place allowing other means of taking a deposition rather than only stenographic, as well as remote work under section (4). Courts have increasingly continued to allow for alternative means of capturing a proceeding, and stipulations.

As a long-term fixture in the legal system, stenographic recording became the Xerox of its industry. Similarly, court reporter also became synonymous with stenographer. Well, 74 years after Rule 80, we find ourselves in an exceptional period, driven more by a pandemic than by tradition.

The underlying technology needed to meet the challenges of cases and legal process moving are already being widely adopted across different industries, from online conferencing technology for collaboration to digital capture to widely available dispersed resources which are not necessarily bound by geography.

The real reason for the resistance to furthering digital court reporting as a modality is simply comfort level, as well as an unwillingness to embrace change. Neither of these reasons are rational. If there is one aspect we have seen demonstrated over the past few months due to COVID’s “current normal,” courts and attorneys themselves are asking simply, “why haven’t we done this before?”

During our virtual summit, several quotes were provided by our speakers from articles covering the courts’ quick adoption of remote proceedings, with many using Zoom.

“A former California state and federal trial judge told Congress…that COVID-19 has opened the judiciary to new technology, and he doesn’t expect that “we’re ever going back to where we were before.” (Source: Judges in 3 states testify in favor of continued use of remote proceedings post-COVID-19, Amanda Robert, ABA Journal, 6/26/20)

A parallel to daily life

An analogy that’s easily relatable to our daily lives is the rise of ride sharing. Uber was initially feared and was blocked from penetrating the New York City market. Yellow cabs and private car companies went to the city government and threatened them. Initially, the mayor tried to protect yellow cabs, but he lost.

Now, you see both Uber and yellow cabs serving the NYC market in harmony (mostly), albeit with different models and meeting diverse consumer needs, such as curbside pickups versus train stations. Uber provides an on-demand, door-to-door service, while yellow cabs can also be booked through various apps or meet different needs. In essence, competition means more buying power for the customer and innovation.

Providing necessary value & meeting consumer demand

Digital means, including AI-based speech to text tools, simply provide a viable model for the market and options to agencies. More options mean business owners can start taking back control of their businesses. It’s also easier to meet consumer needs and demands, such as those of agencies. Digital tools and technologies don’t aim to replace traditional methods, simply provide more options and opportunities to get work done. Verbit is releasing a new real-time and rough draft tool for legal professionals to utilize and conducted a demo on how this technology works within current processes during the event. 

Disruption is not the exception, it’s expected

Lawyers are now expecting change with technology. Particularly young lawyers emerging from law schools are used to implementing technologies and efficient processes into their workflows. They’re actively seeking out tools to remove manual tasks and create more time to focus on their clients and more important matters. These individuals want technology tools to help them so they can take on more clients and complete more work without backlog.

Key takeaways

Some key learnings from the summit itself and in hearing from the 10+ expert thought leaders include: 

  • Stenographic modality of court reporting is not going away. Digital court reporting is increasing to handle a decreasing supply of stenographers and attrition. Transcripts produced by these means are admissible. 
  • While remote proceedings are not ideal for attorneys perhaps in certain situations, they are proving to work well and be reliable.
  • Not all stenographers are trained on how to handle remote depositions. The digital court reporter’s role has changed with COVID-19, from in-person to remote. It’s therefore crucial to include training and coaching for all participants in the process. It’s often this lack of training or understanding which fuels the unwarranted fear of new technology.