By Laureen Christonikos
March 12, 2020 was my last time taking depositions in person before the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown happened. I was in River Edge, N.J. I was alone with the witness in the conference room before the deposition started, and he asked me if he really had to be there — his kids’ school had been closed, and they were all homesick. All counsel agreed to go forward with the deposition, seven of us sitting around a table. At the end of the deposition, one of the attorneys said that he had been receiving texts from a friend of his who was a surgeon in the area and that Hackensack and Holy Name hospitals were shutting their doors to new patients. So if any of us needed to get to a hospital, it was better to head west in the state. I drove home scared. My deposition earlier in the week included a witness who was getting over a fever and an older attorney in the room who had a terrible cough. The attorney said he’d just flown home from California and everyone on the plane was sick, including his wife who was at the doctor as that deposition was going on.
New problems we’d never faced were upon us. People were terribly ill. The grocery store shelves were empty. We used the word “rations,” something I previously associated with the Depression era or World War II, although, when it came down to it rationing was mostly about toilet paper.
Topping all of this was the looming thought: “What about work?” My paychecks would be ending soon. As a freelancer I knew that no work meant no pay.
Then we encountered Zoom depositions. Thankfully, we were soon enough able to conduct depositions in a videoconference setting from home. I had previously done audio deps — awful, of course — and videoconference depositions of experts at a Regus facility or a videoconferencing center. But now I was on my own — and I need help using a Roku. Don’t ask my son about my tech abilities; he’ll give you an eye roll.
Weeks and months of perfecting my setup were ahead. I watched webinars on Zoom depos, moved my office from upstairs to downstairs, and invested in quality equipment to do my job – the best being my noise-canceling headset. No more barking dog and loud husband and kids. (Note to self: Use them off the record too.)
Throughout the past few years we have adapted to this new era of Zoom/Teams, and we will rise to the occasion when we see whatever other meeting platforms the tech industry comes up with in the future. I am happy and thankful they’re here. I know there will be some jobs that will go back to being in person, but I for one am hoping a majority of my jobs will keep me right at my desk at home. No traffic jams, parking meters, lugging pounds of equipment up flights of stairs, or rickety elevators that I fear will get stuck. (There actually is one in Clifton, N.J., that an attorney told me to beware of.)
And what’s even better now that we’re all in those Hollywood Squares boxes? Everyone finally calls me by my name! Okay, it is a bit strange when an attorney you don’t know enters the meeting and says, “Hi, Laurie,” but I’ve gotten used to that part now and just roll with it and return the greeting. It’s sort of our new version of a handshake and business card exchange.
For decades I had worked at the same law firms, and attorneys still did not know my first name. They’d recognize me and give a warm hello — it’s hard to miss the redhead with the big 1980s hair — but I was “The Reporter,” “Miss Court Reporter,” or mostly nothing. Remember those in-person jobs where they would ask if anyone needed to eat lunch but didn’t wait for the reporter’s answer? Gone are those days; now my Keurig machine and snack-ready fridge are just a stair flight away.
Zoom gives us a chance to be seen equally — the same size square as everyone else — and our name up in lights — so I love it. I’ll answer to “Laurie,” “Laureen,” “Miss Reporter,” “Madam Reporter.” Some attorneys are ambitious and even take a stab at my last name. But now I am not invisible; my personal name is up in front of your eyes not to be missed. So thank you, Zoom. I’ve got an office that I’ve made camera ready, and a name and title spelled out for all to see, and better yet, to say.
As I click the red-bannered “End Meeting for All” tab on my essay, the voice in my head can’t stop singing the theme song from Cheers: “You want to be where everybody knows your name.” I’d say for me right now that’s in my little illuminated Zoom square at home.
Laureen Christonikos, RPR, is a freelancer based in New York, N.Y. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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