Caveat Emptor: How to protect your record – and your case – from the dangers of artificial intelligence

By Angie Starbuck

Stenographers are often referred to as “the person with that little machine.” While the technology behind “that little machine” is state-of-the-art and is continually improved upon, it’s really the human aspect of stenography that makes it the best method for capturing the spoken word and preserving the record of some of the most important cases in history.

In the past year alone, stenographers have played an important technological role with a seat at the Oscars, presidential impeachment hearings, Coachella Music Festival, presidential debates, and just about any other important venue where words are spoken that need to be preserved or instantly viewed to provide access.

Even with the modern advances of voice recognition software and automatic speech recognition, the stenographic court reporter is still the highest standard for protecting your record in litigation. Some would even argue that the stenographic court reporter is the only person permitted by law to certify deposition transcripts in some states.

Almost half of the states in our country require some sort of certification for stenographic court reporters in order for them to work in that state. Some states have their own licensing boards that regulate the court reporters’ activities. Stenographic court reporters are trained, highly skilled professionals who are impartial guardians of the record. They are there to protect your record and preserve testimony in cases that are extremely important to the parties involved.

There is an unsettling practice occurring in the deposition industry, particularly in California and Texas. There are large court reporting corporations that will accept your deposition scheduling and will, without your knowledge or permission, send a digital recorder or videographer to record the testimony rather than a stenographic court reporter. These digital audio files are then uploaded to servers for unknown laypeople to transcribe the testimony.

This practice is concerning on many levels. Let’s start with the most important issue: Your client’s right to confidentiality. With digital audio files being uploaded to unknown companies, servers, and transcribers, sometimes in other countries, there’s no guarantee of privacy or confidentiality for your client. Data mining is a major source of hacking today. Imagine the amount of information that could be mined from confidential deposition transcripts of patent cases, pharmaceutical development cases, or governmental cases, to name a few.

Digital files are also easily manipulated. Perhaps you’ve heard of the artificial intelligence company of podcaster and comedian Joe Rogan.1 The company itself states: “Clearly, the societal implications for technologies like speech synthesis are massive. And the implications will affect everyone. Poor consumers and rich consumers. Enterprises and governments.”2

These manipulated audio files (and video files) are also known as “deepfakes,” which are produced by sophisticated artificial intelligence programs.

The American Bar Association held a panel discussion on this very subject in February at the ABA Techshow 2020, addressing how the “new deepfake culture can impact our relationship to information and the tools we use to work with it.”3

Panelist Sharon Nelson, president of Sensei Enterprises, Inc., a digital forensics, cybersecurity, and information technology firm, said in an interview that deepfakes pose challenges for the legal community, and it’s going to take some time to educate judges and the legal profession. “I believe in civics, and I believe in the rule of law,” Nelson said during the panel. “And deepfakes, if nothing else, do threaten the rule of law, because people no longer know what the truth is.”4

With some legal cases valued in the millions of dollars, imagine if a digital audio file from a deposition got into the wrong hands and the audio file was manipulated in order to improve one’s legal position in a case. Imagine an audio or video file being manipulated in a custody case or a divorce case to bolster one’s position. Imagine a criminal in another country being given an audio file from a deposition to gain access to government intelligence, corporate trade secrets, or intellectual property.

In January 2020, the Federal Trade Commission held a workshop in Washington, D.C., about voice cloning technologies.5 Their stated goal for the four-hour workshop was “to learn about this technology, its implications, and what can be done to confront the danger it poses.” FTC Commissioner Rohit Chopra stated in his opening remarks: “We all know the benefits of new technologies and the immense fortunes that they can shower on us and the companies that create them. But many of us are concerned about how these technologies are misused and abused. Today technology and data are weaponized by those who wish to do our country and our society harm.”

You can’t help but wonder, if the FTC and a digital forensics legal expert are looking at the dangers of artificial intelligence, automated speech recognition, and voice cloning, isn’t this something we, as officers of the court, should be concerned about in the discovery phase of litigation?

When a stenographic court reporter takes a deposition or court proceeding, their stenographic notes are the underlying proof of accuracy of that transcript. These stenographic notes cannot be altered or changed. The stenographic court reporter can also provide a realtime feed to counsel during the proceedings so they can instantly see the accuracy of the record.

Once you take the unbiased human element out of court reporting, you could be opening up your law firm, yourself, and most importantly, your client, to disastrous consequences down the road.

So what is the solution, and how can you ensure the testimony taken in your case is held to the highest standards that your client deserves?

■   Make sure your deposition notice states that the deposition will be taken before a stenographic court reporter.

■   When scheduling the deposition with your court reporting firm, be sure to specify that you only want a stenographic court reporter to cover the deposition. Be sure to double-check that you will have a stenographic court reporter when they confirm the setting closer to the deposition date.

■   If you’re traveling to another state or city for a deposition, check with a court reporter or firm that you really trust to see if they can recommend a stenographic court reporter or firm in the location of your deposition.

■   Be sure you are familiar with the rules in the venue your case is pending. There could be rules regarding objections to the officer before whom the deposition is taken. There could be rules regarding the validity or admissibility of transcripts that are not taken or certified by a Certified Shorthand Reporter in that state.

According to the National Court Reporters Association Code of Professional Ethics, the stenographic court reporter has a duty to “preserve the confidentiality and ensure the security of information, oral or written, entrusted to the Member by any of the parties in a proceeding.” Your court reporter or court reporting firm should be as concerned about the importance of maintaining the confidentiality of your case as you are.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions of the court reporters or firms you are using across the country. Make sure you have as much information as they do about the services provided. And remember, there’s currently no technology available that can outperform a well-trained stenographer.

Angie  Starbuck,  RDR, CRR, CRC, is a captioner, freelancer, and firm owner based in Columbus, Ohio. She can be reached at angie@priohio.com.

This article is taken from the Columbus Bar Lawyers Quarterly Summer 2020 issue and reprinted with permission of the Columbus Bar Association.

1 https://youtu.be/DWK_iYBl8cA

2  Dessa.  (2019, May 15). medium.com. Retrieved from https://medium.com/dessanews/real-talk-speech-synthesis-5dd0897eef7f

3  Techshow, A. (2020). Retrieved from Techshow 2020: https://www.techshow.com/sessions/red-pill-vs-blue-pill-how-deep-fakes-are-defining- digital-reality

4  Reynolds, M. (2020, February 28). Retrieved from ABA Journal: https://www.abajournal.com/news/article/aba-techshow-experts-warn-of-deepfake-threats-to-justice-system

5  Federal Trade Commission. (2020, January 28). Federal Trade Commission. Retrieved from https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/events-calendar/you-dont-say-ftc-workshop-voice-cloning-technologies

Basic Zoom tips, tricks, and advice

With an increase in remote depositions now using the Zoom format, the members of the Technology Committee thought it would be a great time to review some Zoom basics and troubleshooting tips with you.

Zoom app vs. web browser: It is better to download the Zoom app to the laptop or desktop computer, rather than using it online only. From the app, you can easily change your name, settings, keyboard map, background, control the waiting room, and share the screen. 

Change your name: It may be necessary to change your name if you work for different firms or for home vs. work. To customize your name, if you are an account holder, simply click on “Profile,” and you can edit your user settings. If you are only an attendee, simply click on “Participants,” find your name and then click on the three dots that appear to the right. Then choose the “rename” options and you can name yourself “Court Reporter” or “Captioner” or “Shazam!” — whatever you like! It will remain that way throughout the session. 

Tip: Rename yourself with your email address to make it easy for counsel to send you contact info, exhibits, etc.

Keyboard map (Hot keys): If you prefer using keyboard shortcuts, there are plenty available. A complete listing for Mac and Windows is available at this webpage: https://support.zoom.us/hc/en-us/articles/205683899-Hot-keys-and-keyboard-shortcuts. My personal favorite is the ability to temporarily un-mute yourself by using the spacebar. If you are writing, it’s a quick and easy way to interrupt for clarification.

Share screen: To share your screen, simply select “share screen” at the bottom menu. Then you can select the screen of any open application or your desktop.

Breakout rooms: Only the host or co-host can use this feature. However, it is a nice feature to offer to attorneys and clients while you are on break. Simply select “Breakout Rooms” on the bottom menu. Then simply respond to the prompts in the windows and assign the rooms or swap out individuals in rooms.

Computers: Decide whether using one or two computers is right for you. If you use two computers, one will be for Zoom and one for your CAT software. If you use one, you can toggle between Zoom and your CAT system. Using two monitors lets you see both without taking your hands off the steno machine.

Wi-Fi vs. hard-wired: Hardwired will always provide the more stable connection and is preferred. However, if you are using Wi-Fi, here are a few troubleshooting tips:

  • Kick other users off who are on the same Wi-Fi that are gaming, etc.
  • Use a professional headset or ear pad device.

Audio: There are several options for acquiring audio during a Zoom meeting. You can use headsets, external speakers, computer sound, and cell phones. Using cellphones outdoors is not recommended.

Some audio troubleshooting tips: 

  • If you are receiving audio feedback, for example, if the speaker sounds muffled or like he is underwater, then the speaker’s microphone is picking up background noise instead of the speaker.
  • If there are two devices in the same room connected to the same Zoom meeting, one needs to be muted.
  • All speakers should mute until speaking to avoid the microphone picking up clicking of keyboards, dogs, etc.

Recording audio: If you are recording into your CAT software, there are many options available to you. If you are recording from your computer’s audio, then you will not hear yourself. So, you need to be thoughtful when configuring your Zoom setup. Several manufacturers have specifically designed systems for the Zoom court reporter. Please check out Martel Electronics (martelelectronics.com) or Sound Professionals (soundprofessionals.com) for their Zoom reporter packages. However, if you want to keep it simple, you can use a speaker and external microphone, but the quality will not be as clear. To troubleshoot your computer’s audio, you can always go to the Control Panel and adjust and tweak the level of sound coming in.

Being seen: Even though you may be in your home office, you should still dress professionally, both top and bottom, just in case you are seen. Place the camera to see from the top of your head to waist. Body language is important. Light in front vs. behind – place light in front of you for a better picture. Small rooms work best and are better for controlling outside noise. Do not use virtual backgrounds or those that may detract attention from the proceedings. 

Alternatively, you may want to consider aiming your webcam on your face as well as your hands to show you are on the record. Jo Tomoff Fischer, RMR, CRR, in Atlanta, Ga., was recently reporting a Zoom deposition, and one attorney realized she was not receiving audio from the proceedings only because Jo had her camera pointed to her hands on the machine. When the attorney saw her writing, she realized that someone was talking and that she was not hearing it and, therefore, she interrupted and was able to correct the situation.

Being heard: Use a microphone or headset with microphone for the best coverage.

Tip: Interrupt with the same words twice in a row to make sure that you are heard by all parties as there is a small delay when you speak and when you’re heard. “Excuse me. Excuse me.”

Zoom court hearings: For Zoom in the courtroom, you have several options for Hearings:

  • In courtroom with judge and clerk with attorneys appearing by Zoom.
  • In office or location at courthouse using government computer or personal computer for Zoom. 
  • At home using government computer or personal computer for Zoom.

Tip: The clerk and courtroom deputy, etc., can inform attorneys that they will need an external microphone and no cell phones are to be used for Zoom hearings when hearings are set. (Might need to make a special request.)

There are some things government IT might be able to help with:

  • Using government computer to link to Zoom
  • Provide the judge a microphone prior to hearing
  • Set up a trial run with IT prior to first hearing to make sure all sound levels are a go
  • Help attorneys with a test run before the hearing
  • Set up cloud-based realtime on the judge’s computer if you are remotely reporting

With cloud-based realtime, you can connect to attorneys and judges from anywhere. Here are some options: Live Litigation, Bridge (Advantage Software), and CaseViewNet Cloud (Stenograph).

Additionally, you can caption directly into Zoom using the captioning feature. The clients can view as standard captioning format or they can view full transcript. No captioning software is needed. You can use a webstreaming service (1CapApp or Streamtext) to aid in formatting or you can apply your CAT system’s feature to writing in a separate window (Sticky Keys, Keyboard Macro, etc.).


Some phrases that are so common that you may want to develop briefs for your next Zoom proceeding:

Can you hear me now?

I can’t hear you 

Can’t hear you 

Off and on

Cutting in and out

Share my screen

Share your screen

Share my desktop

Share your desktop

Unmute yourself

Thanks to the members of the Technology Committee who contributed to this article.

Have a question for the NCRA Technology Committee? Please send it to jcrfeedback@ncra.org.

More on this topic:

Five tips for looking great in remote depositions

How to optimize internet connections for remote depositions

Handling of exhibits for remote depositions

What states allow remote and/or online notarization?

Conducting meetings and depositions by remote means

Office setups and remote preparation part of downtime

Ask the Techie: Do you need a new chair?

COVID-19: Looking back through the lens

Backup for court reporters

By Lynette Mueller

backup: a copy of computer data (as a file or the contents of a hard drive); also : the act or an instance of making a backup 

In today’s technologically savvy environment, there is no excuse not to have a great backup plan for transcripts and important data.  After all, those transcripts are our bread and butter; right? Court reporters should have a firm solution in place for the storage and protection of their data in order to retrieve it, if needed, at a moment’s notice and from wherever you may be located. Clients and litigants rely on us, as the guardians of the record, to preserve that important testimony.

Other reasons to ensure a great backup plan are:

  1. Simple recovery. We are all human and make mistakes at times. Transcript files can be deleted accidentally or mistakenly. There’s no reason to fear this possibility if one has a multi-level backup plan in place — simply recover the file from a time before it was deleted.
  2. Archival. Not all depositions or trials are transcribed immediately after the job. Sometimes requests for a transcript could be years down the road. Depending on the amount of time that has elapsed, you could easily assume you can go to your computer or laptop and retrieve a particular file. As with everything in life, events do not always stay the same. Perhaps a new laptop was purchased in the intervening time and is no longer a viable option for retrieval.
  3. Downtime. Relying solely on your computer and/or laptop as your backup source could be a detriment to your business and livelihood. By simply having a multi-tier approach to the backup, you can be up and running within minutes rather than hours or days.
  4. Doing work twice. One of the most important rules to doing work right is to do it correctly the first time. If one were to suffer a minor failure and lose a file without a backup, you may be able to recover some things and possibly not the entire file. Who wants to rewrite that job again?

Methods one can utilize for the backup of data:

  • Printing
  • USB flash drive
  • External hard drive
  • CD or DVD
  • Network-attached storage: file-level computer data storage server connected to a computer network providing data access to a heterogeneous group of clients.
  • RAID: device used to manage hard disk drives in a storage array
  • Cloud storage: a service model in which data is transmitted and stored on remote storage systems where it is maintained, managed, backed up, and made available to users over a network (typically the internet).

There are several perceived advantages and disadvantages to using a particular method of backup. Each court reporter must determine the particular backup approach and option that best fits and meets their specific needs.

Benefits of Cloud Storage:

  1. Save costs. Moving to the cloud can reduce the need to purchase other external devices, the enclosures that contain them, the electricity that powers them, and the warranty services that protect them. There are many reputable cloud-based services that are free for limited storage plans.
  2. Simplicity. Setup with the cloud is a breeze and only takes a few minutes to do.
  3. Security. The larger cloud vendors have the know-how and resources to be able to protect data from threats.
  4. Convenience. When utilizing the cloud, files from all devices can be configured to back up and you may access the information from any other device wherever you are located. Working remotely to get those transcripts out the door can be a breeze. Delivering your final transcripts to your important client is a snap when you’re away from the office.
  5. Sharing and collaboration. It’s super easy to share your files when stored in the cloud with your proofreader and/or scopist. The transcript is backed up once, and then you can give access to your trusted colleagues.
  6. Easy integration. Services like Box, Dropbox, and Google Drive connect with thousands of apps, allowing you to easily import or link to your files without actually clicking out of whatever you’re working on.

Drawbacks of Cloud Storage:

  1. Backups may be slower. Internet bandwidth speeds may limit the time it takes for a full backup of large files.
  2. Connectivity and higher internet usage. Depending on when you are choosing to run your backups, your internet activity performance may suffer. You don’t want to saturate your internet connection during times when access is needed for other critical business activity. Just like any other technology, cloud-based storage solutions are not perfect and can be affected by technical issues. Remember, accessing your data is contingent on having a reliable internet connection.

Benefits of External Devices:

  1. Portability and speed. The physical portability of external devices is a given. You can plug in the device from one computer to another very easily and negates the effort to copy voluminous amounts of data over a network or the internet.
  2. Easy replacement. Remember to have a great backup for your external drive as well.
  3. Affordable. External devices are quite affordable and involve a one-time upfront cost.
  4. Security. The only way the data on your drive can be tampered with is through physical access.

Drawbacks of External Devices:

  1. Durability. External hard drives can break without warning. Remember to keep your drives backed up as well.
  2. Loss. Because flash drives and other external devices are so portable, they also pose a risk of loss, theft, or accidental destruction.

Cloud-based storage has been around for many years and is certainly a reliable method to back up your important data. That being said, the best backup strategy is a multi-level approach. A “multi-level approach” means that one should use a combination of both the cloud and some kind of external hard drive or similar device.

I utilize multiple backup methods in my business:  my laptops, external hard drive, Drobo, Synology, Min-u-script, and CrashPlan.  My career has spanned 30 years, and I’ve purchased several new laptops during that time, so my backup storage plan has evolved.

Today my CAT software has automatic cloud backup for all of my files. It’s great because I know I have that extra layer of backup for when I am on vacation, for example, and get a call for a transcript that a client has either misplaced or forgot to order. My clients definitely come first, and I need to ensure I have access at all times — whether I’m on vacation or visiting family. My particular software has a great feature where the color of the checkmark near my folder file is green, giving me the satisfaction of knowing that that particular file is backed up to the cloud.

So I mentioned I also use CrashPlan as one of my backup layers. Recently that service restructured their pricing, and I then had to decide what to do about the increased pay structure. I felt it was pretty steep, and the service was going to limit how many devices could be backed up with an affordable plan. I loved the fact that all my computers were backed up there and didn’t want to go through the research of finding a different solution.

In doing my research, I found that I could use a handy little app called GoodSync. It’s a game-changer! I installed GoodSync on my CAT software app, which then backs up directly to my Synology. GoodSync is a backup and file synchronization program. It is used for synchronizing files between two directories, either on one computer or between a computer and another storage device or between a computer and a remote computer or server. Jobs can be automatically run according to any desired schedule. Synology is a server that is a networked device on your home network and it uses a technology called RAID, which writes data across multiple drives at the same time to ensure that, if and when a drive fails, one can remove that one failed drive, replace the failed drive with a new one with no loss of data. In other words, a networked file server. My Synology system is the device that is being backed up to CrashPlan; thus, avoiding the high fees of multiple computers on my CrashPlan fees.

Late this afternoon I received a request for a 2011 transcript that was not transcribed at the end of the job. My initial panicked reaction, upon reading the email, was: “Oh, my gosh! What computer is that file on?” Of course, that’s always every reporter’s worst nightmare — right? — not being able to locate an old file!

Once I took a breath, I knew I wouldn’t have a problem, because I had all my files backed up going back to 2003.  With confidence, I hit the Reply button to my client and advised him, “Why, yes, I can have that transcript to you.  When do you need it?”

While I may go a “bit” overboard with my backup options, I would recommend that every court reporter start by devising specific backup options that will work for you and be confident you will always locate those old files at a moment’s notice.

Your clients will thank you for it!

Lynette Mueller, FAPR, RDR, CRR, is a freelance court reporter based in Memphis, Tenn., and a member of NCRA’s Technology Committee. She can be reached at lynette@omegareporting.com.

Behind the tech of captioning for Coachella and Stagecoach

By Jackie Hippolyte

NCRA member and captioner Stanley Sakai, CRC, helped us delve into the technical aspects of his collaboration with captioner Isaiah Roberts, RPR, on the Coachella and Stagecoach captioning projects.

Stan’s friendship with Isaiah began on Facebook and later blossomed when they met at an NCRA Convention & Expo. The Coachella and Stagecoach projects in early 2019 were their first work-related collaboration.

Stan’s background

Much of Stan’s background is self-taught. In 2011 when Plover was in its infancy stage, he purchased a Gemini machine of eBay and took it to class. From there, he started to build his dictionary and the beginning of his captioning career.

As with captioning, Stan was also a self-starter with regards to software programming. It was actually his frustration with an experience that led him to pursue this arena, and his skills developed from there. Stan wanted a better way to live stream captioning — something that was clean and worked on the web where he could stream text on a web platform versus asking the user to download the software on an application.

In 2015, after facing some challenges with the equipment he was using while serving as a live cap- tioner in a web development course, he reached out to the course instructors and used their feedback and instructions, along with some of his own research, to teach himself how to program.

 The Coachella and Stagecoach projects … the beginning

In 2018, Isaiah had approached Coachella and in- quired about captioning services for their audience, and soon learned that no such services were current- ly being offered. Coachella admitted that previous captioning requests went unfulfilled as they were not familiar with the service and had not known where to begin.

In learning this, Isaiah offered his services and mentioned that he knew of someone with the techni- cal expertise (Stan), who could fulfill their captioning requirements. In a short amount of time, Stan had developed some code to match Coachella’s website branding (incorporating the use of his app “Meow”) and pitched a demo to Coachella’s team who were soon sold on the idea.

This solution basically paved the way for Coachel-la to provide captioning services to their audience via their app. The solution was perfect as it provided universal access to all, whether attendees needed captioning services or not as all attendees were re- quired to download the Coachella app.

For the full background story, read the first article on TheJCR.com titled Bringing captions to Coachella.

Stan explained a little more about some of the technology behind the projects.

The Skills

Soft skills

Although the success of the projects was obviously in part due to the combination of technological and live captioning skills, Stan admitted that soft skills also played an essential role in the project’s success.

Stan notes that although there are definitely other stenographers out there with the right skills to caption live concerts, it requires a certain personality and level of flexibility to perform captioning services in such an unpredictable and less than “calm” environment, and he was grateful that both he and Isaiah had prior experience with music festivals.

Teamwork

Stan also credits teamwork as being a key reason for the success of this project and says that Isaiah was definitely the mastermind behind the strategy and planning of the projects, while he, Stan, fulfilled the role as the technical guru, which made for a perfect tag team.

Technology:

Start of Coachella project

The initial calls with Coachella began in late 2018, and the official work phase began in January 2019. It took Stan and Isaiah approximately four months to complete the apps for Coachella and Stagecoach.

Stan did not have access to the back-end code of Coachella’s site to mimic their website branding, but he was easily able to develop the code from scratch within his app, Meow. With regards to Stagecoach, the app User Interface was different and required additional customization to match their website branding.

Steno/typing and editing software

Stan used Plover, an open source User Interface (UI) controller — from the Open Steno project — where a user can type into any window, using a keyboard as a steno machine. For web editing, he utilized Upwordly, a web interface editor which displayed directly in the clients app, like the ones for Coachella or Stagecoach.

Servers

The expected traffic for the Coachella app was approximately 130,000 attendees, which used a total of five servers — two in New York, two in Los Angeles, and one in San Francisco. Having multiple servers running the same app simultaneously ensured there was back up in place at all times, in the event one of the servers were to fail. The servers served over 1000 connections per minute (per server). A load test using utility called Artillery JS was conducted to simulate 10,000 users on the app at the same time.

The load on Coachella’s platform was approximately 700 connections per day and approximately 1,200 per day for Stagecoach.

Live streaming the lyrics

Stan and Isaiah were normally given the scripts to the songs twenty minutes beforehand, but in the usual fashion, they found a way to streamline the process to make it easier and more efficient. They created a large text file of all the songs beforehand (when possible). In typical tag team fashion, one would write the lyrics as they heard it to figure out what the song was playing, and when that was determined, the other would search for the lyrics online and would then copy and paste into the text file for upload to the app. If an artist ad-libbed, however, they would then caption the song live.

Some may be wondering how they handled lyrics in a foreign language? Well, there just so happened to be an artist who sang in Spanish  — J. Balvin — and fortunately Stan happens to speak fluent Spanish and had a Spanish dictionary.

Summary of technology used

■   Meow: JavaScript-based app created by Stan that displays live captioning. It buffers events from a local port that CAT software communicates on, and then translates them to object-based instructions that are rendered as text on website.

■   App plugin: Stan built a custom plugin to allow a connection between the app and Eclipse,

and the app and Catalyst. (See YouTube.com/ watch?v=PtlriHufTBA&t=2s for more informa- tion.)

■   Plover: Part of the Open Steno project, which is an open source stenography engine written in Python that allows users to use their keyboard as a steno machine.

■   Upwordly: A realtime transcription delivery tool and a content management system (CMS) for realtime stenographers.

■   Angular and React: Front-end development framework that allows the creation of dynamic web pages.

■   Web sockets connection: Communication pro- tocol that transmits the live text to the server to be sent out to the web page, without refreshing or pinging the server.

■   Artillery JS: A utility used to conduct load test- ing on the servers, simulating a specific amount of traffic/users.

■   Servers: Five servers managed using Docker swarm.

■   JavaScript: A programming language mostly known as the scripting language for web pages. It also works in some non-browser environ- ments, like Apache CouchDB and Adobe Acrobat.

■   Python: Another programming language often used to develop web pages and apps, Python is particularly helpful when building prototypes.

Finding his “sweet spot” and giving back

We asked Stan if he ever considered pursuing a career field as a software developer full time, and his response was that he has found the perfect “sweet spot” where he can use his assets both as a live captioner and program/software engineer to not only fulfill his career aspirations but also promote caption- ing through the use of technology.

In addition to finding that “sweet spot,” Stan says it was gratifying to be able to give back and showcase what is possible with captioning and technology.

Project Takeaways

Stan and Isaiah have created their own niche for captioning and hope to get others excited about the profession and its possibilities. This project with Coachella and Stagecoach was not only a rewarding and fun experience but has opened the door and created a variety of inquiries about the Open Steno Project, Plover, and ways to secure captioning jobs like Coachella.

Stan hopes that projects like Coachella and Stagecoach can put a modern take on the captioning profession and showcase it in a space beyond just depositions, by demonstrating both the collaborative and technical aspects of bringing a project together. Since this project launched, the duo team have been asked via social media if they planned to cover more stages in the future, which Stan says is definitely a possibility.

Stan’s thoughts and takeaways on how other professionals can find and seize opportunities:

• The key is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Always ask how the captioning community can assist with a venture.

 • Insight: Only a fraction of the hard of hearing community uses sign language, and captioning is not something many think about, so making others aware is vital.

• Partner with someone who has skills that you may not have. Be strategic and harness the strengths of the people around you. Stan said: “You cannot do everything on your own.”

• Think beyond your comfort zone — and take action beyond that vision.

Summary

We asked Stan about opportunities for future music festivals and he noted that since the main legwork is already developed, it would be easy enough to reproduce what he needs by just creating the front interface coding and formatting to match the branding of any client’s website.

With regards to his day-to-day, Stan admits he always looks for an easier way to do things and has created other shortcuts and plugins to streamline his daily work routine — such as emailing  files/transcripts, and more.

 Partners and Thanks to…

•   Ten Fifty was quite instrumental in this project and helped Stan and Isaiah connect with Coachella and also arrange all of their housing and other logistics.

•   Stan and Isaiah were fortunate enough to work with the digital production manger of Golden Voice, which produces Coachella.

•   Mirabai  Knight, RDR, CRR, CRC, is Stan’s mentor and the person who taught him steno.

Jackie Hippolyte is NCRA’s Web Communications Manager. She can be reached at jhippolyte@ncra.org.

Listen to a steno podcast … or create one of your own

Podcasts aren’t just for true crime anymore. They can be a creative teaching tool in the stenography classroom. Both instructors and students can create their own podcasts to aid in practice, concentration, and readback. Professional podcasts, too, offer a unique resource for students as they offer insight into the working lives of seasoned court reporters and captioners. Carol Adams, RPR, MCRI, distance education director at Huntington Junior College in W.V., breaks it all down for Up-to-Speed.

Podcasts are extremely popular today. According to PodcastInsights.com, as of 2020 there are more than 900,000podcasts and more than 30 million episodes. Here are additional statistics from PodcastInsights.com:

In the United States:

  • 51 percent (144 million) of the population has listened to a podcast
  • 32 percent (90 million) listen to podcasts at least every month
  • 22 percent (62 million) listen to podcasts weekly
  • 16 million people in the United States are “avid podcast fans”
  • 56 percent of podcast listeners are male

Age of listeners:

  • 12-24: 40 percent
  • 25-54: 39 percent
  • 55+: 17 percent

So, what is a podcast? A podcast is an audio program usually focused on a particular subject. The most popular podcasts are comedy, followed by education and news. There are numerous podcasts on science, parenting, politics, history, and true crime. There are series about cats, cults, sneakers, and Harry Potter! Whatever your interests, there are podcasts out there for you, and if your hobbies or concerns aren’t represented, maybe it’s time you started a podcast!

So now that we’ve established that podcasts are a popular form of digital media, let’s talk about the benefits of using podcasts in education. There are three ways podcasting can be utilized in reporting education:

1.            Instructor podcasts

2.            Student podcasts

3.            Professional podcasts

Let’s start with instructor podcasts. Whether you are teaching online or campus classes, podcasts can be an excellent way to enhance readings for the week. As an instructor you can create a podcast emphasizing the important take-aways from the textbook or review for a quiz. A podcast enables your busy students to listen while driving in the car, exercising at the gym, or while performing other activities, whereas a video or textbook requires the students’ full, undivided attention. Students who are not great readers or who don’t comprehend what they read can benefit from audio learning. A podcast doesn’t have to be a lecture; it can be reminders or encouraging words from you. This type of learning is on demand and on-the-go. Most students have a smart phone, so podcasts are easily accessible.

A great learning activity is to have your students generate podcasts. Podcast creation employs critical thinking, organizational, and speaking skills that will be so crucial during readbacks. When students author and explain a subject, they are educating peers and increasing their knowledge on that topic. Students can divide up legal terms for the week and produce recordings with the term, the definition, and a short illustration of how the term is used in context. Students can use this podcast to learn the definitions, plus incorporate it into practice dictation. Those in speedbuilding can make podcasts on practice tips for new students looking for guidance. Interning students can create podcasts about their experiences for those who will soon follow in their footsteps. Any writing assignment can be transformed into a podcast assignment.

Finally, invite professionals in the field into your class through podcasts. There are podcasts on professional dress, law, grammar tips, and interviews with reporters and captioners discussing aspects of the field that may not be adequately covered in textbooks. Here are a few examples for you to check out:

  • Stenographers World: This podcast features interviews with superstar reporters and captioners such as Mark Kislingbury and Marty Block.
  • Modern Court Reporter: The Modern Court Reporter focuses on issues important to judicial reporters. For example, the latest podcast with Jean Hammond emphasizes the role of a professional proofreader.
  • Confessions of a Stenographer: Topics related to reporting and captioning in this podcast include maintaining a work/life balance and the exciting career of a reporter on Capitol Hill.

Creating a podcast is quite simple. Audacity is a free, easy to use tool. I’ve created a short video to demonstrate the process.

I challenge you to change your teaching strategy up a bit and incorporate some new technology. Your students will appreciate convenient study tools at their disposal, the opportunity to produce learning material for fellow students, and the knowledge acquired by turning in to the real world of court reporting and captioning.

Last chance for early access savings for NCRA Connect 2020!

Last chance to catch the early access savings on full and half registration package fees for the NCRA Connect Virtual 2020 conference happening Aug. 7-9. These savings end tonight at midnight.

Full registration to the NCRA Connect Virtual 2020 includes access to all three days of activities, including all non-CEU activities and 16 CEU sessions of the registrant’s choice for a total of 1.6 CEU credits. The early access member cost for full registration is $300. The regular price is $325 for regular registration. A half registration package is also available that includes access to all three days for all non-CEU activities and seven CEU sessions of the registrant’s choice. The member cost for half registration is $180 for early access and $200 for regular registration. The special rates for students are $60 for members and $75 for nonmembers.

“In a field where we are constantly learning, continuing education is essential. Whether I’m presenting the seminar or attending the seminar, my hope is always that every attendant will take away at least one relevant concept when the seminar is finished,” said Allison Hall, RMR, CRR, an official court reporter from Tulsa, Okla., who is presenting a session called “Work Smarter, Not Harder,” at the NCRA Connect event.

“Continuing education isn’t about a requirement; it’s about learning and molding yourself into the professional you want to be, one seminar at a time,” Hall added. Her session will offer attendees ways to up their efficiency, increase their profitability, and reduce the amount of stress they often experience in this high-stress field.

Over the course of three days, attendees will have the opportunity to choose from sessions that address being audited by the Internal Revenue Service, teach best practices for marking exhibits electronically during remote proceedings, and more. In addition, there are sessions geared toward students, such as the one on understanding the profession after they graduate. There are even two yoga sessions being held on Saturday and Sunday to help attendees get their day off to a great start.

Attendees also will have the opportunity to participate in a number of fun networking parties, including specialty ones geared toward officials, freelancers, captioners, firm owners, new professionals, and students and teachers.

“Networking is essential in our profession. Attending an NCRA convention will put you in the right place at the right time to meet the right people that can help you advance in your career,” said Teresa Russ, CRI, a captioner and freelance court reporter from Bellflower, Calif.

“Oftentimes you never know what to expect when you accept a job, whether it’s captioning or covering a depo. The seminars are designed to meet the needs of the challenges court reporters, CART and broadcast captioners, and students will possibly encounter,”  she added.

Other learning session highlights include a presentation by Matthew Moss, RPR, an official court reporter from Denver, Colo., who will present “Motivation, Beating Obstacles, Achieving Goals, and Growth Mindset,” and “What Every Court Reporter Should Know About Punctuation to Transcribe Correctly,” being led by the renowned Dr. Santo “Joe” Aurelio, FAPR, RDR, (Ret.) from Arlington, Mass.

NCRA member Karen Peckham, RMR, CRR, an official court reporter from Westminster, Calif., said she is looking forward to NCRA Connect Virtual 2020 because the last time she was able to attend an NCRA Conference was when it was held in San Francisco, Calif., in 2014. She signed up for the virtual event, she said, because she wants to earn her CEUs.

See the complete schedule of sessions, including networking opportunities, exhibitor showcases, and the virtual vendor hall, at NCRA.org. For more information about registration and nonmember registration pricing, visit the NCRA website. Remember, sessions will be available to view through midnight, Aug. 25, after the event, so you won’t have to worry about missing a minute of this virtual experience.

Register now.

How Tennessee saved their 2020 convention

Kristin Burke during TCRA’s virtual convention

When the Tennessee Court Reporters Association decided to cancel their in-person convention, they quickly decided to move the event online. In an interview between Lynette L. Mueller, RDR, CRR, a freelancer reporter in Germantown, Tenn., and TCRA Convention Chairperson and President-elect Kristin Burke, a freelance reporter in Seymour, Tenn., we learn more about why they made the decision, the benefits of a virtual conference, and how they made it all work.

LM | When did you first realize that the convention you had been planning for wouldn’t be able to go forward because of the COVID-19 pandemic?

KB | We knew mid-March that any kind of in-person event was not going to take place. We had a previous convention and formed a good working relationship with our host hotel. In addition, our hotel contract included a force majeure clause, which allowed our [Tennessee] association to back out without financial penalty. An emergency meeting was called for our Convention Committee. The consensus of our Convention Committee members was that we should keep our convention alive by providing it on a webinar platform. We then sought our board’s approval to start a new plan immediately, and it was granted!

So back to work for the Convention Committee! We decided on our normal two-day format with the ability for our attendees to enjoy either one or two days. Each day would run consecutively, with short breaks in between each seminar, rather than breaking the day up and offering each seminar separately. We did record our non-NCRA seminars so that we can provide future CEU opportunities uploaded to our website for Tennessee licensed court reporters. Our Tennessee licensing board does allow for our association to offer these types of CEU opportunities.

LM | What was the deciding factor to go forward with your convention on a platform you had never used before?

NCRA President-elect Christine Phipps, RPR

KB | We had already been brainstorming and thinking about streaming a portion of our convention to a few select people to test the waters, so to speak, on whether we could successfully pull off remote seminars in the future. That idea instantly became our new plan of action. Membership renewals and conventions are the backbone of our fiscal stability. The thought of not being able to keep our association financially sound definitely outweighed any fear or trepidation about utilizing a webinar platform for the first time.

Most court reporters were already somewhat familiar with Zoom in the work environment. It was a matter of taking advantage of the tutorial webinars offered by Zoom to gain the knowledge we needed to make this event a reality. We participated in webinars that explained the different registration options, including how to link payment options that our association already utilizes. These webinars also specifically addressed the differences in each role – host, co-host, panelist, and attendee – and the formulation of polls you can offer for each seminar. Our TCRA administrator made herself familiar with the many reports that can be obtained and how to use those reports for the purpose of tracking attendance for CEU credit purposes.

LM | Did you have to change your planned agenda in any way when moving from a live event to a webinar?

KB | Luckily, every one of our speakers slated for our convention had NCRA approval and was ready to take this leap forward with us! Unfortunately, our Annual Business Meeting always held during convention was not able to go forward. Our current bylaws do not allow for any voting to take place electronically. It was almost comical that a proposed bylaw amendment we had published to membership to be discussed and voted on at our ABM pertained to that exact situation. Our nomination slate for 2020-2021 could also not be voted on.  The good news? Our association does have a bylaw mechanism in place that allows the remaining board members – president, past president, and directors – to approve a new slate, should a vote by the membership not take place.

Every year we provide a Town Hall that gives attendees the opportunity to discuss a variety of issues, but this year we couldn’t make it happen because of our virtual event. In a webinar setting, there are many controls available as the host.  One of the controls is the ability to unmute an attendee or make them a panelist for the purpose of hearing and/or seeing them. The attendee would have to raise their virtual hand and you would have to take that step of unmuting and muting again for every attendee who wished to be heard. We felt monitoring the Q&A function and chat function for that type of discussion also had the possibility of interfering with someone being fully understood or being fully heard. Our intention was to keep the experience as inclusive and positive as possible without any possible time delays or confusing procedures.

We did engage in a panel discussion in our last seminar on Day 2. It was a five-person panel with some questions pre-submitted and some on the spot. One of our panelists acted as a moderator and kept their eye on the chat and Q&A functions. For the most part, it went smoothly, but there were instances where the question needed clarification. Court reporters are great typists, so we were able to overcome that obstacle with follow-up questions by the questioner. Of course, that then meant a reduction in time for further questions to be addressed.

LM | What were the procedures you implemented to make sure your event looked professional and ran efficiently?

KB | First, practice, practice, practice! We held practice sessions with every speaker. We addressed screen sharing for their presentations if needed. We discussed when they would take questions and how they wanted those questions presented to them. It was important to know what internet connection they were relying on and how they would look and sound on camera.

Our webinar host used two computers. One computer was utilized as the host computer. The other computer reflected a view as if the host was an attendee. That way, the host could see and monitor exactly what the attendees were seeing. That was a vital and important element to implement to ensure the speaker was pinned or that the Zoom software was in speaker view and not gallery view. Each speaker was designated as a panelist.  In addition, certain committee members were also designated as panelists so that an introduction of speakers could be announced before each seminar. So long as the host enables the mute function of every panelist who does not need to speak and engages the speaker view option, the attendees can only view the current seminar speaker.

Lynette Mueller’s convention companion Ruby Rey

To give our webinar a more personal feel, the Convention Committee tasked Lynette Mueller to create a member video that was played between seminars. She was someone we had consulted with when discussing the move to a webinar platform. Lynette pulled pictures from past conventions, NCRA’s A to Z® Intro to Steno Machine Shorthand program classes, legislative successes, and career day events that highlighted our many beloved members! While we knew we couldn’t be physically present and together this year, the video afforded us the opportunity to enjoy reminiscing about our learning, networking, and personal friendships.

Every year our break sponsors assist by contributing funds to our association, thereby reducing catering costs. Because we had a virtual convention this year, ad sponsors were the solution to reducing our costs.  A PowerPoint was created to include our ad sponsors. The PowerPoint was played during the breaks, along with other announcements.

LM | Now that your convention is behind you, what did you gain from this experience and would you do it again?

KB | Yes! We will definitely do this again. Our convention webinar was just as profitable as our live events and with none of the heavy lifting to worry about. Our attendees enjoyed the savings of no travel, hotel, or food expenses. It was great knowing our association could offer an affordable event and still benefit everyone at this most trying time when it was truly needed. Tennessee is a mandatory licensure state. Our renewal date is June 30, 2020. The fact that we were able to offer CEUs in time for that renewal date was extremely important to us.

We are amazed and thrilled that our inexperience was overcome by great speaker content and a professional-looking webinar. It didn’t happen by accident. With proper preparation and research, anyone can do what we did and be successful. One of the best features for our speakers and our webinar host was to be able to get feedback on their presentation in realtime. We had many, many attendees in the chat and Q&A functions of the Zoom platform write/state their appreciation and positive comments. It was invaluable information to have at our fingertips so that our speakers could reap that positivity immediately.

Thanks to the rest of our Convention Committee: Misty Brigham; Sarah Motley; Dana Webb; Sheila Wilson; April Lassiter-Benson; Jerri Porter, RPR, CRR; our TCRA Administrator, Lynn Terrell; and our consultant, Lynette Mueller.

LM | We hit a huge milestone and made history within our organization — our first ever webinar convention. Our convention theme this year was Passing the Torch. It was meant to celebrate and acknowledge our mentors, teachers, and accomplished colleagues in our profession, how their efforts and guidance have impacted us, collectively and individually, and how we keep those ideals moving forward. It falls in line with the Olympic motto “Citius – Altius – Fortius,” which means “Faster – Higher – Stronger.” Always moving forward, reaching further, and doing it together, that’s the goal. Tennessee did just that for this year’s convention!


For those states that are considering going online with your state convention, Tennessee urges you to take that plunge, take your learning event online, and go for it. They are happy to answer questions you may have if you’re on the fence about your decision to cancel your event or to go online. Send questions via email to administrator@tncra.com.

Ask the Techie: Do you need a new chair?

Dear Techie:

With the pandemic crisis and all the change that we have been experiencing these past few months, including trying to get up to speed with new ways of doing business and doing remote depositions via Zoom from home, I’m finding that my office chair is not working for me anymore! I feel like I don’t have the support I require, and I’m feeling the aches and pains into my upper back and shoulders. Do any of the Tech Committee members have personal experience and insights into what I should be looking for when shopping for a new office chair? Ergonomics, price, aesthetics, and features are important factors. I just need a little extra advice and guidance.

Screaming for a massage!

———————————————————————-

Dear Screaming,

We’ve got your back!

The Tech Committee did some research for you and found several websites that have recommendations for the best office chairs of 2020.

According to the New York Times Wirecutter: “Many cheap office chairs make you feel like you’ve been crammed into a torturous economy seat on a cross-country flight, but quality office chairs upgrade you to first class — they’re designed to support your body comfortably for the long haul. We’ve researched dozens of office chairs, interviewed four ergonomics experts, and had test panelists with a variety of body types sit in deliberation for over 175 collective hours. And since 2015, we’ve found that the Steelcase Gesture is the best office chair for most people.”

Click here for their top picks.

BuzzFeed curated their list of office chairs, too — 26 Of The Best Desk Chairs You Can Get Online. The prices for chairs in their list range from approximately $65 to $400. There are lots of “fashionable” and colorful options in their list.

The committee loves Gear Patrol’s intro to their article on their best office chair picks!

“Long has the doom of sitting been forecasted. Published papers aplenty have argued that a stationary life is shorter and trouble-ridden, and the primary workarounds are many — standing desks, frequent breaks, stretching, taking walks, and so on. But none address the simple fact that, sometimes, to get shit done, we simply need to plant ourselves in a chair and get after it.

Luckily, a number of companies are working to beat each other at building the best office chairs, even though they all know it’s not possible. Not one chair is the best for everyone, so take our guide with lots of salt. If you can, go to stores and showrooms in your area and sit down, lean back, lean forward, pull levers and ask questions about everything. Your back, muscles, various joints and brain will thank you.”

ZDNet.com writes about the Best office chairs in 2020: Herman Miller, Secretlab, La-Z-Boy, Steelcase, and others.

And, finally, our last link to share is from Tom’s Guide; and the article offers up the best office chairs for getting work done in your home workspace.

Lynette Mueller, FAPR, CRR, RDR, Chair of the Tech Committee, advises that she invested in her health and trying to stave off upper back and shoulder pain by purchasing the Herman Miller Embody chair. Here’s her testimonial about the Embody:

“For years I used a Hon office chair — basically, a secretarial chair. When I was younger, it didn’t really bother me. As the years passed, I found that I was experiencing more fatigue and upper back and shoulder pain for those rush transcript days. I finally took the plunge and did my research to find the perfect office chair! It took weeks of searching online reviews, heading to the office stores and sitting in different models. If you can, it’s very important to test the chair out before purchase. Every body is different. One that works for me may not work for the rest of my court reporter colleagues.

“During my quest, I landed on the Herman Miller Embody chair. Lucky for me, the store that carried this particular model had a policy where I could try it out for two weeks. If I didn’t like it, I could return it — no questions asked. I was hooked! The chair was delivered to my home, and I’ve never looked back. It’s amazing!”

Mueller points to the Herman Miller website, which says: “More than 20 physicians and PhDs in the fields of biomechanics, vision, physical therapy, and ergonomics contributed their expertise to help guide the development of this chair. As a result, Embody has set a new benchmark for pressure distribution, natural alignment, and support for healthy movement in ergonomic seating.

Thanks to a dynamic matrix of pixels, Embody’s seat and back surfaces automatically conform to your body’s micro-movements, distributing your weight evenly as you sit. This reduces pressure and encourages movement, both of which are key to maintaining healthy circulation and focus.”

Mueller continues with her own review of the chair: “They’re not wrong! Since my Zoom depositions have started to pick up a bit, I’m rediscovering all over why I love this chair. You know those office chairs in other conference rooms that have the arms so close you feel claustrophobic and feel like you’re suffocating and can’t move? With this Embody chair, I can simply slide the arms away from me to have more movement and I’m ready to write. It’s important to be comfortable in your chair to try to overcome the Zoom fatigue many people encounter at the end of the day.”

Sandra M. Mierop, FAPR, CRR, CCP, CBC, a member of the Tech Committee, has lots of great things to say about her office chair she purchased many years ago — the Herman Miller Aeron. Coincidentally, this chair is listed as a top pick on a few of the links we’ve shared above. Mierop shares her experience:

“The sign of a good work chair is one that you don’t even think about. You sit in it every day for hours. And at the end of each day, you get up and go about your life with no pains or knots in your body, so there’s no reason to even think about the chair. But I do think about my Aeron chair when I take an all-day deposition in a chair that’s not my Aeron!

“I’ve had mine for about 18 years now. It still really looks brand-new. It was spendy then and it’s spendy now, but it’s not as spendy as nine months’ worth of physical therapy resulting from beating up my body using terrible equipment; right?

“My Herman Miller Aeron chair is like a hammock for my body. A hammock with support in all of the right places. Mine is set up so that when I take my eyes off my computer or if I get a phone call, it bounces back a little bit, like a recliner with a little bit of rocking. When I get back to working, it goes right back to supporting me in all the right places again. The chair has an adjustable lumbar support that looks like one of those fanny packs that you wear around your waist when you go hiking. I’m pretty sure that I had to pay extra for the lumbar support when I first purchased the chair. It was worth it!

“The chair comes in three different sizes: A, B, and C. Mine is an A. After I initially set my chair up for my body, I haven’t needed to change it. It’s always done what I needed it to do, so there’s no need to think about it.

“I’ve even had my Aeron chair delivered to courthouses, hotels, and convention centers when I have an extended assignment.

“I also have a couple of Herman Miller Laptop Scooters that I use that can adjust up and down, with a tabletop that can be placed in various angles; and my Aeron chair can scoot as close as I need it to be without jamming up the wheels on the chair.

“The Aeron chair circulates the air in the room around it so that you don’t get hot and sweaty from marinating in your work chair all day. My only beef with the chair is that I need to keep a sweater or wrap handy when my workspace gets drafty.”

There are many more good chairs available now than there were 18 years ago when I bought mine. Shop around, test them, ask your reporter friends what works for them — and find a chair that you don’t even need to think about.

Good luck and happy shopping!

Reopening the legal world after the COVID-19 quarantine

By Early Langley

The learning curve that courts face

I recently shared with the Presiding Asbestos Calendar Judge of Alameda County, Calif., a few of my thoughts on what reopening courtrooms for jury trials would be like. My email to her was prompted by confusion in everyone’s minds about where and how to start the reopening. Based on reporting remote informal discovery/scheduling conferences in her department, I knew that the courts were struggling with how the jury voir dire process would work. She was happy that I started the conversation and thought that my ideas were informative – so much so that she forwarded them to the court CEO and the presiding judge.

I wanted to share them with you as well and suggest that you consider what your situation might be like as courts and the legal world reopen after the COVID-19 quarantine.

The key comes from virtual Zoom depositions of a high-risk plaintiff

The set of virtual Zoom depositions that prompted the suggestions to her involved my reporting the depositions of a high-risk plaintiff. Based on the square footage of the deposition room, the high-risk plaintiff and his attorney, one designated defense attorney agreed to by all defense, and one videographer were present. All were protected by plastic shields. The size of the room limited my ability to be present. No masks were used by the questioning attorney and the witness so that everyone remotely via Zoom could see and hear. A Zoom PC was placed in front of the witness, and another was placed in front of the attorney. The witness could see any defense attorney on the Zoom feed. Five attorneys viewed the proceedings remotely and took turns asking questions. I was the “host” and had control over who entered the virtual Zoom “room.” With the help of Alameda County Designated Defense Counsel, I obtained appearances before the depo started. Until I admitted them to the “deposition room,” they remained in a “waiting room,” sort of like a breakout room but virtual. I was able to interrupt for a clear record. Every participant used a landline to avoid audio echoing and feedback – a significant problem. The “computer audio” option worked poorly because internet speeds vary. High-speed internet was a critical component for everyone attending.

The reopening of courtrooms using the same metric

It hit me, after my experience doing this set of high-risk plaintiff depositions, that using the same metric in the courtrooms could work. I envisioned a virtual Zoom voir dire process like this: Jurors are summoned to the VD process in groups not to exceed a 6-foot distance from one another in as large a room(s) as possible. They are assembled in multiple rooms. All wear masks. Through virtual Zoom screens placed in every room, they remotely view one prospective juror being questioned at a time in the presence of the judge, clerk, reporter, court attendant, and designated plaintiff and defense counsel. Shields are set up to protect the staff and attorneys. No mask would be worn by the attorney asking questions and no mask would be worn by the individual prospective juror being questioned. I realize that raises eyebrows, but it is almost impossible to decipher what a person is saying through a mask. Accents and quiet, soft-spoken people make it impossible for the court reporter, placed 6 feet away, to hear. The placement of microphones on lapels, a practice only employed by videographers heretofore, would be the new normal.

After the jury is sworn and impaneled, each juror is placed 6 feet apart within the courtroom with masks on. They sit far enough away from attorneys so that they cannot see their computer screens or hear any private conversations. That may limit the number of spectators allowed in the courtroom. It may limit future use of subscriber-only televised trials. Deliberations would need to be held in larger rooms.

Conclusions for the legal world

After doing virtual Zoom depos, I concluded the following, using the same metric for courts, law firms, deposition agencies, and arbitration venues: a room’s square footage dictates the number of people that can be in a room; protective shields should be placed directly in front of the speakers; lapel mics and an excellent audio system are a must; Zoom technology on screens satisfies the requirement that attorneys, judges, jurors, and court reporters see and hear everyone at the same time; meticulous sanitization, masks, gloves and temperature checks become the standard.

It can work. It takes a lot of planning ahead of time, investment in large screens for Zoom, excellent audio equipment, sanitation practices. With everyone’s help and everyone’s patience, we can brave the new world.

Early Langley, RMR, B.A., is a freelance court reporter based in Danville, Calif. She can be reached at early.langley@icloud.com.

Conducting meetings and depositions by remote means

By David Herrera and Jason Meadors

This article was developed by looking at the Colorado rules and regulations. Others in different localities may use this as a blueprint to figure out best practices for their state or other situation.

In this moment of social distancing and outright isolation, conducting meetings and depositions by remote means may be challenging, even foreign, to any number of practitioners. Here are a few guidelines and helpful hints for practicing under conditions that are suddenly the new normal.

The platform, i.e., the means to do so

For meetings, it will be helpful to have your own hosting capability. Any number of platforms are out there: Zoom, WebEx, GoToMeeting, among others. There are free versions, but free likely comes with restrictions (e.g., limited time, advertising, or decreased bandwidth). It behooves a law office to have a dedicated and dependable videoconferencing account.

As of this writing, and despite some disaffecting headlines, Zoom is the popular platform. With all platforms, use passwords to ensure security. The most basic premium services are inexpensive, at about $15/month, and usability and reliability are quite high. For ease of reference, any videoconference details mentioned in this article will refer to Zoom protocols.

For depositions, recommended practice is to engage the court reporting service as host. This provides a neutral third party for arranging access, impartiality in hosting protocols, and controlling on/off times.

Setup

The videoconference host, whether it is you, another party, or the court reporter, will need email addresses of all attendees to send out invites to participate. If you want your remote client to be able to attend, they will need an invitation to be able to join in.

A good backdrop is nice, but lighting is more important. Test your microphone and speakers during the setup phase.

An invitation will consist of a URL to click on or a phone number, meeting number, and perhaps a password in order to join.

The host should begin the meeting prior to the appointed time. The attendees can join once the host has begun the meeting. For security, it is recommended to keep the attendees in the “waiting room” and have the host admit them to the meeting.

If you are not familiar with the videoconference platform, take five minutes to take a virtual tour.

Conducting proceedings appropriately

Just like in a “normal” conversation, participants like to interact face-to-face. Please enable your video feed. A party may phone in absent the availability of a video feed, but this is unusual. Cameras have been embedded on cellphones for years now. Please use the video function. It doesn’t cost extra.

Talking one at a time, that de rigueur instruction for depositions, becomes ever more important in this context. When more than one person speaks at the same time, one can be heard and the other(s) will be occluded. You will not know if your important words are actually being heard by anyone. Speak one a time; and if you find yourself talking at the same time as another, play it safe and repeat your statement when you have a chance to be heard solo. Pro tip: To avoid embarrassment, mute your microphone whenever appropriate. And … wear pants.

In meetings, the host can either serve as the moderator or the group may appoint a moderator to ensure full participation and, if necessary, control or regain control of the meeting. In larger group meetings, it helps to identify yourself before speaking. Remember, courtesy matters.

In depositions, due to the vagaries of remote access, if the court reporter asks for a repeat, be patient. This will occur more often in an environment where speech clarity is much more tenuous. In the instructions phase of the deposition, it may be appropriate to ask for the deponent to pause a beat between the question and the answer to allow remote counsel to state an objection before the answer is given.

Documents may be shared in advance. For a deposition, send a .pdf to the court reporter at least 24 hours before the deposition with your exhibits pre-marked. You may share documents with opposing counsel during the deposition but trying to do so “on the fly” is awkward and likely a doomed effort. Pro tip: Send your .pdf exhibits pre-marked to opposing counsel after you give them a courtesy notification that you will send the exhibits in advance. Use your own best professional judgment about how soon in advance you wish to share your deposition exhibits.

For documents revealed during a deposition, go off the record and consult with the court reporter. There are tools available to mark and share documents electronically.

The legalities of remote depositions

As to whether remote depositions, where no participant is physically present with another, are allowable, Colorado Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 29 provides, in part, upon written stipulation: “… depositions may be taken before any person, at any time or place, upon any notice, and in any manner and when so taken may be used like other depositions.” Ed. Note: Check with your state to see the exact rules in your state for remote depositions.

In the absence of a written stipulation, recommended practice is to have attorneys stipulate on the record at the opening of the deposition as to the acceptability of conducting the deposition and administering the oath remotely.

As to the legal authority for the officer (court reporter) to administer an oath remotely, Governor Polis issued Executive Order D 2020-019 on March 27, 2020, temporarily suspending the requirement of personal appearance for notarial acts. You may wish to check for similar rules in other jurisdictions if the case is not filed in Colorado.

Reminder: A deposition by videoconference is not the same as a video deposition that requires a certified court videographer. You may not use the Zoom recording as evidence or for impeachment purposes. Ask your court reporter for details.

Overview

At the time of this writing, the above outlines the preferred means for meetings of two or more in the interests of social distancing and allowing the gears of the legal system to mesh as smoothly as possible under these circumstances. Remote conferencing is literally the new normal. Attorneys can serve your clients best by being the reliable resource for conducting meetings or, in the case of a deposition, providing the court reporter with the information necessary for a successful proceeding.

We wish you success and good health as we navigate the current and unprecedented environment.

David Herrera, Esq., is a partner with Herms & Herrera, LLC, a law firm in Fort Collins, Colo. Jason Meadors, FAPR, RPR, CRR, CRC, is a freelance court reporter and CART provider also based in Fort Collins, Colo., as well as a member of the NCRA Board of Directors. Meadors can be reached at jason@meadorsreporting.com.