The legal market began a transition over the past few years due to the shortage of stenographers available to service proceedings. The legal system is now facing unprecedented further disruption by the need to social distance and work remotely due to the novel coronavirus. State and federal courts have changed procedural rules for flexibility during this time. Indiana’s Supreme Court, for example, suspended language that may prohibit administering oaths by video. Pennsylvania suspended requirements for in-person court reporters.
Legal professionals are committed to keeping the wheels of justice turning during this unprecedented time. Currently, they’re seeking advice, options and innovative tools to handle all business matters, such as depositions, digitally and remotely. But what happens when things return to normal? Will there be a new normal for legal processes in the near future?
While the industry is undergoing disruption due to the COVID-19 crisis, even changes in state laws, legal professionals will continue to benefit from increased knowledge of digital tools post-pandemic. The implementation of remote technology, but moreover digital technology, will only help attorneys to recognize an available, cost-efficient, new market standard to support more proceedings in the current situation, but in the aftermath.
Legal professionals should expect to encounter a significant backlog of depositions. It’s been accumulating the last few weeks, and it will continue to accumulate for at least another month, with some predictions estimating an additional two to three months. This backlog and the shortage of reporters and stenographers available to service proceedings will become even more acute in the weeks that proceed.
To understand the gravity of this issue in numbers, let’s assume that every month there are 100 depositions. Through a positive lens, perhaps traditional court reporting only experiences a shortage of 20 percent. This scenario means that the workforce can cover 80 depositions, while the other 20 are covered through alternative capturing methods. In March, 50 depositions were delayed (in estimations), by April 90 depositions were delayed, in May another 90 depositions delayed and in June let’s hope to be at 50 delays. In the best-case scenario, things may return to normal in July. This situation translates to a backlog of at least 280 depositions, which in addition to the current shortage won’t be covered by traditional means. New technologies can and will rise to the challenge, in order to prevent a two-year backlog.
“As an industry, we have all had to step out of our comfort zone into the lane of creative problem solvers and solution providers,” said Lisa Dees, Program Director, Justice AV Solutions (JAVS).
JAVS provides digital audio and video recording solutions for court reporting, as well as courtroom integration.
“These solutions are going to be the necessary, on-going tools needed moving forward as we emerge from this crisis to find a legal system that is going to be tasked with overwhelming efforts to clear a backlog of legal proceedings with an already strained pool of resources,” Lisa continued. “The many viable resources of digital solutions will be the answer.”
Anthony Sirna, Legal Strategist and Customer Success Manager, Verbit, said he was pleased to see how the courts responded with legal changes to allow more legal proceedings to occur remotely.
“I hope this will have a lasting impact for the foreseeable future in the post-crisis period,” Sirna said. “There will likely be a push to adopt digital processes more quickly based on contingency planning at least. I’m interested to see how courts and the industry will get cases moving forward again without further delay, once they reopen. Industry leaders are predicting a swell of demand as the crisis abates, but digital reporting is well situated to handle it.”
Digital solutions are being used by legal professionals to separate the capture of the recordings from proceedings with the production of the transcript. This process saves significant time and accounts for the growing shortage of reporters available to work. Verbit, for example, provides professionals with an Artificial-Intelligence platform that offers quick turnaround on admissible transcripts, with tools custom-built for the legal industry’s needs.
While the outcome of digital remote proceedings (Depositions) is gaining more awareness due to the current crisis, it still remains to be seen what adoption will look like post-crisis. There are a few schools of thought among reporting agencies. One predicts that attorneys will prefer to return to in-person depositions and abandon most remote options. Others see the crisis and broadening awareness to such a point that attorneys begin to realize the benefits, adapt and become much more comfortable with digital methods, at least for certain types of cases. Either way, it’s hard to argue that things will simply return to the way they were. No one can predict the duration and lasting impact of the novel coronavirus. Once legal professionals truly internalize the new normal, it will translate to a greater adoption of new processes and delivery of legal proceedings.
In an effort to drive more dialogue and educate professionals on legal tools and remote digital depositions, Verbit is partnering with the Speech to Text Institute for a live webinar, Adapting Court Reporting Businesses & Processes on April 29th. All are welcome to join the discussion, which will feature leaders from STTI, Verbit, Planet Depos and TheRecordXchange. Speakers will explore how legal professionals can respond to the lasting impact of COVID-19.