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.

Virtual connecting both personally and professionally

Meeting and connecting virtually has skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic. The JCR Weekly checked in with a few NCRA members to see how that is affecting them personally and professionally.

We asked these members to share their current situation:

Ricky Tyler, an official reporter in Wetumpka, Ala.

Ksenija Zeltkalns, RPR, a freelancer in Topeka, Kan.

Lin Riffle, RDR, CRR, CRC, a freelancer in Columbus, Ohio

Yvette Heinze, RPR, is an official in Helena, Mont.

JCR | Did you connect to friends and family virtually before? If so, what platforms did you use?

KZ | I didn’t connect to friends and family virtually before.

RT | I have used Skype in the past, but mainly just FaceTime with our daughters at college.

LR | Rarely. We would occasionally do a FaceTime or Skype happy hour with a group of friends/family.

YH | Probably like many other reporters, I would get consumed with work and would put off keeping in touch with family and friends. It was always, “Once I get caught up, we’ll get together.”  And when I did connect with them, it was usually via phone calls and email.

JCR | How has that changed over the last couple months?

KZ | My group of friends has been connecting with weekly Zoom calls. There are seven of us. Two are still going into their physical job locations, one is working regular hours but remotely through Zoom or Webex, and the rest of us already worked from home at least half the time with some outside interaction.

LR | Now, since I can’t visit in person, I am doing more video calls with family members via Facebook, Skype, and Zoom.

YH | Since all of this happened, I’ve reconnected with friends I haven’t talked to in years, along with aunts, uncles, and cousins. We all started checking up on each other.  New platforms I’ve been using include WhatsApp, Facebook, and Houseparty. In fact, for my birthday a couple friends and I connected on Houseparty and enjoyed a nice conversation with drinks.

JCR | What about professionally?

RT | I am an official reporter in the state of Alabama, and we have been using Zoom for the last four or five weeks. The court system set it up for the judges to use, and we have been having some minor hearings every week — some criminal, some civil, and some domestic. It seems to work pretty well depending on the internet connection. 

KZ | I’m an employee of a court reporting firm that covers work in Kansas and Missouri. The firm has had video conferencing capabilities since 2001. Over the years several platforms have been utilized, but right now they’re using BlueJeans. Before COVID-19, I took maybe one or two relatively short depositions by video conference. For the past six weeks, they’ve all been by video conference.

In the past, attorneys from outside the state were using video conferencing for depositions they didn’t expect to go more than a couple hours in order to save on travel expenses. Now local attorneys are having to get comfortable with remote depositions. Most of the depositions I’ve taken during this shutdown have been expert witnesses like doctors or other experts whose schedules fill up; so attorneys have gone ahead and taken their depos in order to keep their cases on schedule as much as possible.

LR | It is taking a while for clients to catch on to remote reporting. I think we all prefer an in-person deposition, and I wonder if they are simply waiting with the thought that business will soon resume as usual. I have used Zoom for depositions and GoToWebinar for a remote hearing. For those who have decided to embrace the technology, they are taking the time to learn features such as screen sharing and are “behaving” when it comes to speaking one at a time. It has also been nice to have training sessions and virtual happy hours with colleagues in other parts of the country.

YH | Professionally, a lot has changed. I am a federal court reporter, and I’ve been working remotely since the last week of March. In mid-March, my judge asked me if there was a way I could work remotely. He basically said, “If you can do it, do it.”  One of the first things I did was get in touch with our IT staff. They had already been testing and researching different platforms for attorneys and defendants to work remotely. I asked if I could be included, and we immediately started testing and figuring out the process. I next contacted a reporter I met at a convention whom I knew had already been working remotely. (One of the benefits of networking at conventions. You never know who you will meet that will help you out later or whom you may be able to help out.) It turns out that she was using Cisco Jabber, which was the same platform our IT was currently testing. She gave me lots of good info. After that, information flooded Facebook, NCRA had a free seminar about remote reporting, and many reporters were sharing information on different court reporting sites. I kept things simple. I used computers and equipment I already had. The only thing I spent money on was an upgrade of my CaseViewNet so that I could provide realtime via the Cloud, and I bought better speakers for my computer, which I really didn’t need. So far, it’s been working well.

At first, I started remote reporting in magistrate court, where their normal practice is to use a recording system. I started with initial appearances and revocations. Then I started taking longer hearings like detention hearings. After each session, we’d discuss what went well and what could be better. There are only three federal reporters in all of Montana, and I’m fortunate that the other two are amazing reporters. They gave me ideas — and support — and we worked together to figure out rules and procedures, along with IT. I then moved on to motion hearings, changes of pleas, and sentencings. By mid-April, my judge was feeling pretty confident, and we had a few civil hearings with multiple attorneys wanting to appear. One had four attorneys appearing via video, and that went pretty well. Another one had seven attorneys all appearing via phone, and that sucked. But we did it. Then we had one where 14 attorneys made an appearance, and seven attorneys wanted to speak. Our goal was to have all attorneys speaking appear via video, but Cisco Jabber could not handle that. Instead, we used CMS. We tested it, and it seemed fine. However, the hearing was more than three hours long, and all the video links really put a strain on the bandwidth. Two attorneys did not have very good internet connections, and they ended up having to disconnect and call in. In addition to the 14 attorneys making an appearance, another 147 people from the public connected. Our IT set up an AT&T conference connection, and the public was able to hear the proceeding while at the same time we were able to mute all of them. In addition to all of that, I had a fellow reporter Real Team with me which was great because they wanted an expedited transcript.

Since then, we have obtained a Zoom gov license. We’ve been testing that in different ways. We’ve done a few hearings where no one was present in the courtroom. So it’s nice to know we can do it if necessary.  We’ve even had a few hearings with an interpreter. I think the only thing we haven’t attempted are trials. They’ve all been postponed at the moment. The more hearings we have, the more comfortable people are getting with the new normal. Even the attorneys are learning to wait their turn. I love that they cannot jump in and talk over another attorney because no one can hear them, and now they all can hear/see that. It also takes them a split second to unmute their microphones, so that’s really helpful too. All of a sudden, making a record is in everyone’s face. We’re not invisible anymore. Everyone has to wait their turn and speak as clear as they can. I am very fortunate to have a judge who has been flexible and patient with this whole process. Before each hearing, he reminds everyone I am present and making a record, and he reads a list of rules for everyone to follow. I also have support from my fellow reporters, IT, and admin. I believe that has made all the difference.

JCR | Whenever things get back to normal, do you think you will continue to connect virtually, personally or professionally?

RT | I am sure that we will probably use it even after the courts open back up for in-person live hearings.  My judge likes technology, and he thinks it is great because we cover three counties and we can do hearings in all three counties and never leave the house. Some of the parties have objected to the virtual hearings, but most go along with it. As far as personally, I can see where Zoom might be useful in the future.

KZ | On a personal level I know my friends and I will be connecting in person. Professionally I think it will be a mix of in-person and remote depositions when things get back to whatever the new normal is. I am hoping some witnesses that had usually testified in person will continue to be remote, like the doctors who testify in Kansas workers’ compensation cases. I am not missing the road time.

This shutdown has forced attorneys to use some technology that’s new to them, and that’s a plus. It can be hard to get them to use something that’s new, but I feel like the firm I work for was ready for something like this. There are positives and negatives to video depositions. On the plus side, everyone is even more well-behaved than usual since there is an audio delay on a video conference. On the negative side, if a participant doesn’t have a great internet connection, that can cause some connection issues, and they’re left with a negative impression of the video conferencing platform.

LR | In the future, I think there will be more remote reporting opportunities simply because of the convenience, time savings, and economics. Personally, I am now more comfortable with video chatting with family and friends and believe I will use these platforms regularly in the future.

YH | As far as professionally, I do think I will continue connecting virtually, especially if I need to fill in for another reporter. I’m really hoping attorneys will get used to this. In a state like Montana, where we have to travel a lot for depositions and the roads are often bad, this could be a game changer. It could save time and money for all parties, plus help with the reporter shortage.  

Personally, I probably will continue to use different platforms to keep in touch. This whole pandemic does make you stop and remember what’s important in life.  And if these platforms make it easier to keep in touch with those we love, I’m sure I’ll keep using them.

Five tips for looking great in remote depositions

By Lynette Mueller

Over the past several weeks, I’ve been refining my Zoom setup for remote depositions. Last week I shared how to optimize internet connections. This week let’s talk about video optimization!

Everyone wants to look their professional best when handling depositions for their clients. Even though we are the “silent person” in the legal proceedings, we should take care to ensure that we look the part of being our attorney client’s colleague and partner too. Dressing for success has so many benefits for us as professionals.

  • First impressions count. Because we live in such a visual-centric world today, it is even more important to dress the part. The first judgment by our peers should be a favorable one, and we should command the respect we deserve in the legal setting.
  • Promotes self-confidence. The way you perceive yourself when dressed professionally translates to others as well. The confidence you radiate will have a lasting impression on your clients and potential clients.
  • Stay productive. In these past several weeks of quarantine, I’ve allowed myself a pajama day here and there. The days when I’ve gotten up, showered, dressed, and applied makeup have been the most productive days, by far.
  • Detail-oriented. When taking care with your appearance, it shows that you take pride in yourself. That one simple thing can demonstrate you stand behind your work in the same manner, which gives the client that extra confidence in your abilities.

So with that said, here are my tips to optimize your video setup for remote depositions:

Tip #1

If you’re utilizing the Zoom platform, be sure to take advantage of the Touch Up My Appearance feature. Per Zoom’s Help Center: “The Touch Up My Appearance option retouches your video display with a soft focus. This can help smooth out the skin tone on your face, to present a more polished-looking appearance when you display your video to others.”

For either a Mac or Windows machine, here are the instructions to enable that feature:

  1. Access the Settings in your Zoom application. There are two ways you can get here:
  • In your Zoom client, login, then click Settings , then click Video
  • Alternatively, you can start or join a meeting, then click the arrow next to the video icon and choose Video Settings .

2. In the Video Settings dialog, click Touch up my appearance

3. Check this option to display your video with the touch up.

Zoom remembers your preference and uses it the next time you start or join a meeting on this computer.

Tip #2

When working from a home office, it can be a bit tricky to always have a neat and tidy workspace for remote depositions. If there is a blank wall in your home office, that is the best option. Like in a videotaped deposition, a backdrop is an effective means to clean up your space quickly.

Try to refrain, if possible, from using the virtual background in Zoom, as it does not create a great image of the participants. To really make the virtual background work, be sure to limit any movement. If you move quite a bit, your image will pixelate and/or disappear briefly. If there is no other alternative, find a professional backdrop image to upload and use when you’re on the record and be sure that your space is well-lit. A higher-quality webcam can also be a great addition when using the virtual background feature. Remember to wear a different color for your clothing selection when using the virtual background as well.

From Zoom’s Help Center, here are the instructions for enabling the virtual background:

To enable the Virtual Background feature for your own use:

  1. Sign in to the Zoom web portal.
  2. Click My Meeting Settings if you are an account administrator, or Meeting Settings if you are an account member.
  3. Navigate to the Virtual Background option on the Meeting tab and verify that the setting is enabled. 
    Notes:
    • If the setting is disabled, click the Status toggle to enable it. If a verification dialog displays, choose Turn On to verify the change.
    • If the option is grayed out, it has been locked at either the Group or Account level, and you will need to contact your Zoom administrator.

Tip #3

The best camera angle for a remote deposition or web conference is head-on and eye level. You want the other participants in the proceedings to be able to look at you straight on and not to look either down on you or up your nose. Some built-in laptop cameras may give you a wide angle, which can be unflattering and create a distortion of your image. An easy, no-cost solution to lift the laptop to eye level is to gather up some books and set the laptop on top of them. Get creative!

Tip #4

As mentioned at the start of this article, dressing for success is of utmost importance. While that plaid blazer may be an awesome staple in your professional wardrobe, on camera it could be a distraction for the attorneys and witness. My husband is a photographer, and he recommends to opt for clothing that is plain and a solid color and one that brings out the best you. He says to stay away from stark white or pale colors because they could blend your face into your clothes. Remember, you want to stand out and look your best! Find that perfect shirt, tie, or blouse that you feel awesome in and it will reflect your confidence and personality.

Tip #5

Last but not least is lighting! My setup includes a 3’x4’ soft box. It’s just something I have hanging around the house. Ha! I know not everyone is lucky enough to have a photographer spouse like me. I have the soft box sitting directly in front of my computer for the best light and image during my web conferences.

Even if you don’t have a soft box laying around the house like I do, you can still have great lighting for your remote deposition and use what you have right at home. If there is a window in your room, situate the laptop facing the window, if possible, for a very pleasing effect. Lighting is definitely my friend, and I want it to be yours too! Natural light is often the best and provides a soft glow to your skin. If the light source is to your back, your image will be dark, and the other participants will not be able to see you much at all, as you will appear in silhouette.

What to do if your room has no windows or the window is not situated in an ideal location? Play around with other lamps you have in your home. Remember to consider the light bulb hue as well. There are so many options out there. The color temperature of the light bulb can certainly affect your appearance. Play around and see what works best for you.

Here are some pics showing different lighting setups so that you can understand the difference lighting can make to your photo.


No ambient lighting, except computer screen

For an affordable lighting option, my husband recommends either a Neewer Dimmable bi-color 660 LED video light or the Neewer Ring Light Kit if you want to be camera ready for your next remote deposition.

Desk lamp lighting with soft white light bulb

Soft box lighting

There you have it — my five tips for looking great for your next remote deposition. Happy Zooming, colleagues!

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

How to optimize internet connections for remote depositions

By Lynette Mueller

Heading into week four of the coronavirus quarantine and hoping my court reporter colleagues and legal professionals are up and running with remote depositions!

I’m a cord-cutter, which is defined as a person who cancels or forgoes a cable television subscription or landline phone connection in favor of an alternative internet-based or wireless service.

In these days of remote everything, reliable cell service and/or internet connection speed is of utmost importance in keeping our livelihoods healthy and booking some jobs. That being said, my AT&T service is not great in my neighborhood at all. I’m lucky if I get two bars on my cellphone. That poor cell service isn’t stopping me though, from being able to provide great court reporting services to my clients.

When you elect to call in to your remote depositions using your cellphone (because the audio quality may be better than your laptop), be sure you go into your settings and disable all incoming calls and notifications. If a Mac, iPad, or other tablet is being used, remember to disable incoming calls and notifications on those devices as well. Those pesky distractions can definitely be an annoyance for participants in the remote deposition.

For Android users, Android Central has this advice:

How to disable incoming calls

Disabling all incoming calls is easier than you might think. There’s no need to fuss with questionable third-party apps or sit on hold with your carrier to ask for manual call barring. In most cases, it’s as simple as tapping through a few menu screens.

  •             Open the Phone app
  •             Tap the menu overflow button (three dots) in the upper righthand corner
  •             Tap Settings
  •             Tap Calls
  •             Within Call Settings, tap Call Barring
  •             Tap All Incoming (which should initially say “Disabled”)
  •             Enter the call barring password. In most cases, this will be either 0000 or 1234
  •             Tap Turn On

Once you’ve entered the correct call barring password, your phone will take a moment to process before showing “Enabled” under the All Incoming option, confirming you’ve successfully blocked incoming calls. If you don’t know your call barring password, don’t worry. It’s typically a simple string of numbers like 0000, 1234, or 1111, but if none of those work, ring up your carrier’s customer service line.

For iPhone users, Apple Support has this advice:

Set do not disturb on iPhone

Ask Siri. Say something like: “Turn on Do Not Disturb,” or “Turn off Do Not Disturb.”

  1. You can also open Control Center, then tap the crescent symbol to turn on Do Not Disturb.
    When Do Not Disturb is on, the crescent symbol  appears in the status bar.
  2. To choose an ending time for Do Not Disturb, touch and hold the crescent symbol in Control Center, then choose an option, such as “For 1 hour” or “Until the end of this event.”
    You can also tap Schedule, turn on Scheduled, then set beginning and ending times.

I am a Mac user for my administrative side of the business, and I have a PC for my CAT software. If you have this same setup, CNet offers instructions on how to quickly stop incoming calls from an iPhone ringing in on your other Apple devices.

Next, let’s talk about internet connections. Check with your internet service provider (ISP) to double-check what your current status is regarding your internet speed. A  great resource to immediately check your download and upload speed is speedtest.net. My ISP is Comcast. According to speedtest.net, my download speed, at the time of writing this article, is 90.85 Mbps and my upload speed is 23.55 Mbps, which exceeds the minimum requirements for Zoom. Remember that the Zoom platform recommends the following for minimum bandwidth:

Bandwidth requirements

  • 800kbps/1.0Mbps (up/down) for high quality video.
  • For gallery view and/or 720p HD video: 1.5Mbps/1.5Mbps (up/down)
  • Receiving 1080p HD video requires 2.5mbps (up/down)
  • Sending 1080p HD video requires 3.0 Mbps (up/down)

As you know, remote web conference platforms are extremely dependent on fast internet speed. So, it is crucial that every court reporter has the best and fastest service available that their budget allows to be successful with web conferences and to provide a great customer experience for their clients. Luckily, my home office is hardwired in addition to having WiFi. The benefit of being hardwired is that it offers high performance and faster speed than the wireless connection. Not every home has the luxury of having a hardwired connection and so WiFi is the way to go.

Remember I mentioned I don’t have great AT&T service, and I’m a cord-cutter? This is where my WiFi comes into play. When great cell service is not available, you may turn on WiFi calling. Be sure your internet service has a strong signal. Once you have enabled the WiFi calling and connected to your home network, the next step is to enable Airplane Mode. Trust me, this works! You’ll get a much better experience with these settings.

So even though I use WiFi calling on my iPhone, I still wasn’t getting the best connection with phone calls. Of course, I had to look for a better solution! There were dead zones within my home. If I were to head upstairs, my WiFi signal was much improved. The problem with that is that my home office is downstairs. My husband and I tried the WiFi range extender without success. The answer to my dilemma? A mesh router. According to an article from Tom’s Guide in 2018:

Mesh routers are the latest technology upgrade for home Wi-Fi networks. Mesh networks have been used for years in large places where a secure network is critical, like military bases and businesses. (In such cases, the network is often isolated and not connected to the internet.) Now, residential wireless-internet users can optimize their home WiFi with a form of mesh networking, too. If you have a large home — at least 3,000 square feet — or one with an unusual layout, more than two stories or interior brick walls, you probably regularly encounter WiFi dead zones, and your setup could be a good candidate for a mesh-router system.

One of my favorite tech resources is PCMag.com. They have this to say about mesh routers and range extenders:

Wireless mesh system vs. range extenders: Which is a better solution for whole-home WiFi?

WiFi systems range in price from around $130 for a single-node system to as high as $500 for a three-piece system like one of our Editors’ Choice picks, the Linksys Velop, which, in the 3-Pack iteration we tested, covers 6,000 square feet. In most cases, they’ll cost you more than you’d pay for a similarly powered router and range extender solution. But remember: WiFi systems are all about ease of use. They’re a snap to set up and manage, offer whole-house coverage via a series of attractive nodes, and they provide seamless room-to-room roaming over a single network. If you want total control over your network and require the best possible throughput performance and connectivity options, stick with a traditional router solution. If you don’t want to deal with things like assigning radio bands and logging in to different networks as you move throughout your home, however, a WiFi system makes sense.

The Linksys Velop is the mesh router that I use today — and it’s awesome! Basically, by using the best mesh WiFi routers, you’re able to cover a large space without compromising the connection or requiring multiple networks. In addition, setting up a mesh WiFi router is usually easy enough that you can do it without expert IT help. My husband set up ours in short order!

If you want more ideas, PC Mag has an article with their top picks for mesh routers.

Tom’s Guide also has a list of their top picks.

Of course, PC World offers its  top picks.

And CNet’s has its own list of top picks

With all this talk about hardwired, mesh routers, and range extenders, what if you just want to try to boost your current WiFi situation? There are some things you can do right now to speed up your WiFi internet connection.

  1. Consider data caps. Check with your ISP and/or your invoice to see if this is a limitation.
  2. Reset your router every month or so to refresh your internet connection.
  3. Try repositioning your router, if possible. (I didn’t have that option, which is the reason for my upgrade to the mesh router.)
  4. Update your router’s firmware.
  5. Try to close tabs on your browser that are essential only. All the open media can slow down your connection.
  6. Clear your cache on your browser. As you visit websites and enter information, browsers collect information about you in the form of cookies. To get rid of the cookies and trackers, clear the cache on your browser.
  7. Check with your ISP and see if a higher speed plan is available, if it works with your budget.
  8. Check with other ISPs in town to see if they offer a better plan at an affordable price.

Court reporters know that we need to encourage our clients to book more remote depositions so that we can earn a living and so that the clients can keep their cases moving forward. Slow internet speeds can be physically painful to deal with every day. Hopefully, these tips will get you up to “speed” and get more remote deposition bookings on your calendar!

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

More on this topic:

Helpful how-to’s for remote depositions

Tools for web conferencing

Handling of exhibits for remote depositions

Tips for taking depositions by videoconference in the age of COVID-19

The National Law Review post an article on April 6 that offered a number of tips for taking depositions by videoconference during the current pandemic.

Read more.

How to conduct depositions remotely

An article posted by Law360 on March 30 offers tips for conducting depositions remotely including setup, presentation of exhibits, and accessing realtime.

Read more.

Handling of exhibits for remote depositions

By Lynette L. Mueller

As we are now entering week three of self-quarantining due to COVID-19, I know our members are gearing up and learning how to handle remote depositions. Thanks to NCRA Immediate Past President Sue Terry, FAPR, RPR, CRR, CRC; Vice President Debbie Dibble, RDR, CRR, CRC; and Director Keith Lemons, FAPR, RPR, CRR; for stepping up and presenting an awesome webinar for our members at a moment’s notice! For those of you who missed the webinar, it will be available as an e-seminar coming soon. Check your inbox and social media for announcements for more upcoming webinars!

In addition, our Technology Committee has written a few articles about reasons to use web conferences, best practices, gadgets to help the conference run smoothly, and the pros and cons of their platforms of choice.

Tools for web conferencing

Helpful how-tos for remote depositions

In this particular article, let’s talk about exhibit handling. There’s always advanced planning required when exhibits are introduced remotely.

Challenges faced with exhibits in remote depositions:

  1. Passing of documents
  2. Annotating of documents
  3. Pointing the witness to a specific passage on a long document
  4. Managing voluminous documents

One of the easiest methods that most of my clients have used up to this point is either sending me the physical exhibits or sending me a secure link where I can access them to be printed for the witness at the deposition. Some attorneys do ask that I not share the exhibits with either the witness or opposing counsel because they wish to preserve their legal and tactical strategies. I’ve adopted this policy on all of my remote depositions at this point.

If you do proceed with a deposition with physical exhibits in hand, the client who is attending remotely may ask the witness to share the document by holding it up with a steady hand and placing it in front of the webcam and/or the videographer’s camera.

While dealing with exhibits physically is one methodology for a web conference, there are several paid applications in the marketplace that can handle exhibit marking and sharing, all online and in the cloud. A few come to mind: LiveLitigation, Agile, eDepoze, and TrialPad by Lit Software. Agile, eDepoze, and TrialPad are geared and marketed to attorneys for introduction of exhibits, managing the exhibits, and collaborating on the files. It’s good to be familiar with these products, as a potential new client may wish to use it during one of your scheduled depositions. All of these platforms offer robust solutions for remote depositions, many helpful video tutorials, as well as desktop and mobile apps. Some of them offer a free trial and live demonstrations if requested.

https://livelitigation.com

agilelaw.com

eDepoze

https://www.litsoftware.com/trialpad

How does the court reporter get a copy of the exhibits when attorneys use the above applications? Simply ask the attorney to either email the exhibits or send them via a secure link.

Per eDepoze’s FAQs: “Anyone else can log in on their laptop or iPad as a guest for free, and they will receive unstamped courtesy copies of each exhibit just as they do now.”

Per Agile’s FAQs: “All participants in the deposition receive an email with a link after the deposition is concluded that allows them to download PDFs of each exhibit. The download is secured by a PIN that is only shown to the approved deposition participants.”

Per LiveLitigation’s FAQs: “Files uploaded are shared with other members of your group. Group members can Preview and Exhibit and can also Download or Save to ‘My Files’ from the MyCal portal.”

Remote depositions with all parties appearing in different locations

Next, let’s talk about PDF-only unmarked exhibits that may be shared in Zoom or any other web conference application. Experienced attorneys are great at making their record when it comes to exhibits, especially in a scenario when attendance is remote. Their descriptions of the exhibits make it easy for the court reporter to go back in the transcript during edit to find each document to place an exhibit label on it. I utilize my Dymo and love it for in-person depositions and when I am with the witness.

When we find ourselves in a totally remote deposition where all parties are in different locations and we are working with PDFs only, court reporters really don’t want to take the time to sticker the exhibits and then have to scan them. Why duplicate effort? Adobe Acrobat has a solution to this conundrum! E-Stickers. You can add a digital exhibit sticker directly to the PDFs with a click of a button. With the paid version of E-Stickers “All-In-One,” each sticker is customizable with a choice of ten colors, custom title, prefix, and the ability to set a starting number or letter. If you don’t wish to purchase the custom program, there is a free version offered as well. The free version offers a white digital Exhibit E-sticker with the manual entry feature and is fully functional.

Another paid option for stamping PDF documents is a solution called Final Exhibits.

  • The Final Exhibits viewport displays the first page of every PDF document in your selected folder.
  • Customize your electronic sticker (or page number) and drag it onto an exhibit in the viewport.
  • Final Exhibits will place sequential stickers in the same relative position on all the loaded documents – automatically.
  • Quickly scroll through and review every labeled exhibit. Edit individual stickers.
  • Move & Rotate them directly in the viewport, if they are covering up anything important.
  • Click Save and Final Exhibits automatically applies and flattens the stamps onto all the exhibits.

Check out this video showing how easy it is to stamp multiple exhibits at the click of a button.

For those reporters who have Adobe Acrobat Reader DC only and want an unpaid option for marking exhibits, you can still stamp the documents, but it will take a little more effort. First, open the doc, then Fill & Sign, select Add Text and complete all the information you wish to have on the exhibit “stamp.” Next, grab that circle icon and drag it to your desired height and width, then drag it on top of the text. When you’re finished, click Save.

When stamping your PDF documents or if a witness annotates a document during the deposition, you need to ensure that the file is “flattened” for the final transcript. There is no need to flatten the document during the deposition, as all exhibits marked during the proceeding are working copies. Flattening the document reduces the file size and also merges all the layers in the image. Essentially, it combines all the layers into a single background layer so that the file cannot be annotated or edited anymore. Please check with your tool of choice for flattening options. Some of the tools have flattening built into the program.

My method of choice for marking of exhibits during remote depositions when all parties appear in different locations

Over a decade ago I was handling remote depositions. I started out using Skype and have evolved to doing most of the remote depositions by Zoom today. As I’ve mentioned before, Zoom has an awesome advantage in that I can pay as I need the service. No depositions coming up next month where clients need to attend remotely? No problem. Simply suspend your account until the next time you need the service! The basic free account of Zoom allows up to 100 participants.

I am recommending to my attorney clients that we share exhibits with the box.com platform. When trying to share exhibits within Zoom using Dropbox or Google Drive, there are multiple clicks that need to be made in order for the other participants to either download or screen share the exhibit. When sharing documents via box.com, it’s as simple as clicking the link and the exhibit opens immediately!

So I will request that the attorney send me ahead of time all potential documents that may be shown to the witness during the deposition. Then I will create a specific shared folder for the exhibits and send an invitation to the client. That way, he or she can access them on the fly during the proceedings. Be sure to add the client as a collaborator and enable the share link on all exhibits when creating your shared folder. The attorney should sign up a free account on box.com if their firm doesn’t use this cloud service.

Sharing a link in the Zoom Chat box is a preferable method to sending the exhibit via the File option within the platform. Some of the reasons for sharing links rather than uploading the actual document or screen sharing include:

  1. With a screen share, it may be more difficult for the attorney to direct the witness to a specific passage.
  2. If uploading the file directly, it may be that the file size is too large to receive or slow to receive. This could be time-intensive and not a good use of the client’s time.
  3. Uploading documents directly with the File option can eat up bandwidth that you should save for the video portion of Zoom.
  4. If annotations need to be made, it is a relatively easy process to do and all participants can see where the notations are being placed. The annotations may be saved in a folder on the local computer and shared later.

I’ve found that it is best to have the attorneys (not the court reporter) handle the marking of the exhibits during the proceedings. When the attorney is sharing the exhibit via the Chat, advise him ahead of time how to share the documents. Example: Exhibit 1 – (link of the exhibit). They know what exhibits they are looking for because of the file name associated with the exhibit — much easier and faster using this methodology.

Be sure to have the option selected in your Zoom account settings to automatically save the Chat. That way, it’s an easy matter to go through the Chat during transcript production and check the numbering of exhibits. Then go ahead and place your exhibit stamp with your tool of choice!

Whew! That’s a lot of information about some of the ways to handle exhibits during remote depositions. I’d love to hear more where you have landed on marking of exhibits. Remember, we are all social distancing together so that things can get better faster, and it’s important that we share our knowledge.

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