Depositions 101: What Law School Doesn’t Teach You.
Our firm recently covered a young attorney’s first ever deposition. When we asked why he chose our reporting firm over the many other options available, he informed me 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, I thought, I might not have been scheduled.
While most of you have been taking depositions for quite some time, you know as well as I do that our industry is rapidly evolving, so let’s evaluate what is important in choosing your court reporter. There are different types of reporters with different technological capabilities. As a litigator, consider the type of case you are handling, your budget, and your courtroom strategy when choosing a reporting format. Evaluate each court reporting firm’s technical abilities and its production department.
Evolution of 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. 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 back-up to proof 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 qualified realtime reporter can put the deponent’s words directly onto a laptop or tablet for your viewing during the deposition. This service is justifiably more expensive as it requires substantial training.
The Affordability 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 realtime. Multiple audio recordings are taken simultaneously and can be downloaded to secure cloud servers in realtime. The transcript is then proofed twice. Such a system is faster, is usually error-free, and 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. 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 are lower.
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.
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 each transcript reviewed by an independent proof reader?
(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) Are your DVDs compatible with new courtroom technology?
(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?