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A view of COVID-19 from across the pond

By Leah Willersdorf

March 23 is the date when the United Kingdom officially went into lockdown; however, the week before, the cancellations started rolling in. First it was depositions in Portugal and Brussels for the week of March 23 going off calendar; then the arbitrations in Paris and Vienna not long after that; and finally, the big events which I co-caption each year cancelled for May and June.

And so it is that the majority of us are still effectively locked down here in London, with some restrictions having been slightly lifted in certain areas of life. Now I am in Week 10 of no work – nearing the end of May — but I do have a smile on my face. I have been receiving a few requests for remote captioning, but because it is not my bread and butter, I don’t feel comfortable taking the work from full-time captioners. I have had a number of deposition requests, too; but, unfortunately, they have fallen through for one reason or another.

On the plus side, however, the international arbitration arena is beginning to pick up as parties realize that they need to figure out ways around the current situation and ensure that their cases are moving ahead. So far, I have taken part in a realtime demo to law firms in the Middle East, as well as demonstrating remote platforms and realtime to law firms in Paris, London, and Switzerland. I think clients need to be reassured of how simple it is to set up, though I do not believe remote will become the norm here in Europe once life gets back to some kind of normalcy, certainly for our arbitrations. There is nothing quite like the in-person greetings of an international arbitration here to perk you up, though I fear the daily morning handshaking with everyone has come to an abrupt end and, instead, a deliberate head nod with eye contact will suffice!

With most of the hospitality industry in London being told they will not be able to open before July 4 at the earliest, it will no doubt be a long time before American attorneys are able to travel to Europe for depositions, which were 98 percent of my workload. So we Euro stenographers might just be appearing with the witness and videographer in person, and I’m AOK with that, actually. But I do long for the old days of travelling for work. My last abroad assignment was a second tranche of depositions in Tuscany, Italy (at that time there were only two reported cases in Italy). With the depositions being held in a 12th century wine cellar in a tiny hilltop village, if I had known that was to be my last assignment on mainland Europe, I would have drunk a little more champagne and nibbled some more perfectly aged cheese in the wine shop.

As I stare Week 11 in the face, I should mention that I have been practicing every day on my machine, and that began with taking down the daily briefings we get from the government on TV. After a few weeks, I remembered that it was registration month for the NCRA Online Skills Test, and so I’m taking all three legs of my RPR this month. I usually spend a lot of time in my study and so I decided to set up my machine at the dining table, just for a change. I’m also filling my days with reading, doing online courses, Zoom chats with family back home in Australia, and friends and colleagues. It’s been hard at times, as it has been for all of us, but we will get through this eventually. We just have to continue to be patient because once work starts up again, it will be all hands on deck – that is, all hands on steno machines!

Leah Willersdorf is a freelance court reporter and captioner based in London. She can be reached at