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.

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.

Top tips for a Zoom remote deposition

On March 25, JD Supra posted a blog that offers tips for conducting a remote deposition using the online Zoom platform.

Read more.

Tips for captioners about working through coronavirus

Captioners have been reporting both cancellations of on-site jobs and an increase in remote jobs as the coronavirus pandemic has led to the closures of colleges, conferences, and even courtrooms. We reached out to a number of captioners to see what they could share to help everyone work through this fast-changing situation.

Just how fast things have changed can be seen in a story from CART captioner Laura Melby, RPR, CRR, CRC, of Rootstown, Ohio, who works with Kent State University, the University of Akron, and Stark State College, where she provides both on-site and remote CART.  She explained that she was on the scene on Monday, March 9, as Kent State held their Faculty Senate meeting and explored what-if scenarios regarding the coronavirus. Melby said, “Administrators were thinking in two-week chunks of time at that point and were looking ahead at what professors would need to do if ever the university would need to close and hold classes online. Monday evening after that Faculty Senate meeting, I emailed supervisors, professors, and students that I work with at all three institutions and let them know that I have experience in remote CART and that, yes, we can continue working together in the event any universities would close in the future.

“Much to my surprise, less than 24 hours later we were informed that classes would be held online at each university, because all were closing,” Melby continued. “Throughout the week changes have been made on what felt like an hourly basis as administrations had a chance to think through more fully the details of the situation.”

Norma Miller, RPR, CRR, CRC, a captioner and agency owner in St. Albans, Vt., explained that the coronavirus shook up her weekend: “I have spent the entire weekend (very long hours) helping to set up a new client for a big event that has been last-minute transitioned to virtual, and coordinating for one of our captioners (who is local to the event) to be able to caption for them.” At the same time, like many of us, she was also trying to prepare for her family and get ready to shelter in place.

Karen Yates, FAPR, RPR, CRR, CRC, a captioner in Minden, Nev., and a past president of NCRA, shared: “Over 60 hours of remote meetings and conferences cancelled for the month of March alone, both U.S. and international. For those already working remotely, hang on. The demand will increase when people realize the benefits of abandoning in-person for online events.”

Patricia K. Graves, FAPR, RDR, CRR, CRC, an agency owner and CART captioner based in Monument, Colo., shared: “While I am feeling an effect for conferences and international meetings, the rest of my work is continuing on steadily. I am lucky!”

Two important qualities for weathering this challenge are to be prepared and remain calm. Carol Studenmund, FAPR, RDR, CRR, CRC, chair of NCRA’s Captioner Subcommittee on Captioning Inclusivity, an agency owner and captioner based in Portland, Ore., said: “We never know when something out of the ordinary is going to happen. It could be a weather event or a family issue. And now we can add a pandemic to our life’s experiences. Be prepared both financially and with regards to your health.”

“It’s always a good idea to keep a positive attitude, even if only to get yourself through some tough days and weeks,” continued Studenmund. “I am looking at this situation as an opportunity to show our clients and potential clients how up to the task we are. Our clients need some assurances that we have things under control, and we will provide solutions to their needs, not make their problems bigger.”

“Try to keep things in perspective. Things could be much worse. Adjust your expectations and try to enjoy the slowdown,” said Miller.

Go remote – and stay home

Those already set up to work remotely are seeing the advantages of past training now. “Working remotely has turned out to be a real win for me,” said Yates. “Captioning from my home, I am able to socially distance myself as the crisis builds, thus protecting my health and the health of my family. I’m also able to keep working. Despite the cancellations, work keeps pouring in. Many of the latest jobs on my books are from classes and meetings that were originally in-person meetings that have gone online in order for those schools and organizations to keep doing business while this virus circulates among our population.”

“We have been showing some old and new clients how easy it can be to switch their onsite events to remote events, and still make them accessible with quality captioning. A few new clients have already come around, because so many have been forced to shift to online, and they want to make their events accessible,” Miller said. “YouTube has recently changed their tools and documentation for setting up for live captioning. But the key words to use when explaining to a client how to set up their livestream for captioning are ‘captioning ingestion URL’ — and tell them to turn OFF (or UNCHECK) autocaptions. The captioning ingestion URL is what you put into your captioning software (or StreamText or 1CapApp) to caption directly to a YouTube live event.” 

If you don’t know how, learn it now

If you haven’t taken the time before, said Studenmund: “Learn it now. Don’t put off learning new skills and tools until this kind of challenge faces you. Pull out some ideas for new software skills you want to learn and learn them now if you have the time available.” If your work schedule is suddenly light, now is a great time to do some training on the many remote products available to report remotely, earn CEUs, or even earn a certification. Attending to any of these tasks during the enforced slowdown could gain you dividends with future jobs.

To get back to learning more:

“Remote CART has two elements,” said Graves. “One is to receive the audio. It can be via a phone line or a Skype connection or a Zoom connection or Blue Jeans. The other connection is a way to see the text so they can click on the URL to see the text. At its most basic level, we have to hear it and they have to receive and see the text.”

“Take advantage of online training programs in your newly found downtime to learn more about working with platforms you may be unfamiliar with, such as Zoom, Adobe Connect, Blackboard Collaborate Ultra, StreamText and 1CapApp,” said Melby. “No one knows how long the coronavirus pandemic will affect our jobs. We might as well plan for the worst and hope for the best. Having knowledge of several platforms cannot hurt a resume, either, right?”

“Fellow CART providers, this is our time to shine!” said Melby. “My suggestion is to look for ways you can help consumers and then put yourself out there.”

Helpful how-tos for remote depositions

By Lynette Mueller

I was supposed to be at the Arkansas Court Reporters Association convention the first weekend in April delivering a seminar on gadgets and apps. Instead of preparing my PowerPoint for the presentation, I’m settling into a writing session by my fireplace. Of course, that is a result of the coronavirus cancellations. This pandemic is very real, and we all need to be vigilant for our own health and the health of our colleagues and loved ones.

See NCRA President Max Curry’s message here regarding coronavirus.

First and foremost, I am personally trying to keep everything in perspective. The days ahead are uncharted waters and will be challenging. We court reporters are forces to be reckoned with. Some adjectives that come to mind about my reporter friends and colleagues: optimistic, curious, resourceful and, most importantly, resilient! This pandemic isn’t the first challenge we’ve faced, and it certainly won’t be our last.

Over the next few weeks, we all will be experiencing our “new normal.” We cannot control the cancellations of depositions and hearings; all we can do is respond to it.

The number one question colleagues have asked me: “What alternative solutions can I offer to my clients?” Others may wonder: “How can we leverage the additional time to improve my skills and my work life?”

As Chair of the NCRA Tech Committee, I tasked our members last fall to publish an article about their tools of choice for web conferencing, a.k.a. remote depositions.

In addition to all the points enumerated in the web conferencing tools article, I will mention some additional options/tools to consider for remote depositions.

  1. Know your notary laws in your specific state regarding witness oaths before you accept a remote assignment.

2. Consider using an external speaker for telephonic or web conference proceedings. I purchased a Beats Pill portable speaker several years ago, and it works beautifully! There are many products available. Be sure to read reviews online and get recommendations from fellow court reporters before making your final purchase.

3. Dana Hayden, CCR, RMR, CRR, CRC, recommends using a great set of headphones/earbuds for your telephonic depositions. My headphones of choice? Bose noise-cancelling over-the-ear headphones. In addition, Dana advises using a splitter. A speaker and headphone splitter allow you to connect two headsets or speakers to one jack. Here are some specific products she recommends.

Here’s an example of a splitter.

Then, you plug an auxiliary cable from one of the jacks into your computer microphone jack.

If you don’t have a microphone jack on your computer, use another setup such as this USB microphone that has a headphone and a microphone jack.

Last, plug the auxiliary cable from your cell to the microphone jack of the USB sound card and plug in your headphones to the headphone jack of the USB sound card. 

4. So many people around the country, including court reporters and captioners, have cut the cord. But you can still be successful offering your services for remote depositions and proceedings if you don’t have a landline. You may use your cellphone as a viable option, if you have great cell service.

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. Also remember to disable incoming text messages and incoming calls. You don’t want those pesky distractions during important testimony.

5. Handling of exhibits remotely can go smoothly if you educate your clients. By far, the most common method when I work with my remote clients is that they will email or send a secure link to exhibits requesting that I print and have them available for the witness. Easy; right? There are other tools and apps available to counsel for handling of exhibits, but that’s a topic for another article or upcoming webinar coming soon.

6. Should you clean your smartphone and iPads? Everyone knows the smartphone is jam-packed with germs. If you choose to clean your device, check out this article from the Wall Street Journal. The author included the following in the article:

“My phone is the least of my concerns,” says Alex Berezow, a microbiologist and vice president at the American Council on Science and Health. “Worry about touching door handles that thousands of other people touch.”

7. Here’s a great blog post from Cindi Lynch of Stenograph about tools for working during COVID-19.

Finally, just a few words about how to take advantage of this time of social distancing.

  1. Ensure you have a well-organized and dedicated workspace at home, if you don’t already have one. Productivity is paramount here. Those transcript backlogs won’t take care of themselves.
  2. Continue to maintain your working hours routine. Sure, the cancellations have already begun; but there may be a pop-up call that comes your way. You don’t want to miss out on any potential work.
  3. Consider dressing for work. Yes, pajamas and bunny slippers seem like a logical and comfy choice; but, again, it’s important to maintain your routine.
  4. Another option for our forced downtime is to take advantage of online CEU opportunities. NCRA has a plethora of webinars and e-seminars — earn those CEUs in the comfort of your home! This is a great time to take care of those learning obligations. This way, when the pandemic normalizes, you will be ready to go full-throttle work mode when the bookings return.
  5. Dictionary maintenance and speedbuilding should be top of mind and useful endeavors to embark upon. Hone those skills and stay high-speed ready!
  6. Last, but not least, join an NCRA committee. Volunteering your expertise can impact and improve our profession, and so much of it is done via calls or email, you can participate from your home. We need you!

Remember, court reporters: We should keep in mind that in order to be effective and stay relevant, we must keep abreast of technology, embrace it, and never be skeptical of the newest innovations.

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.

Tools for web conferencing

By Lynette Mueller

In the legal environment that court reporters work in, many clients wish to attend depositions remotely for various reasons. With the high costs of airline travel and the expenses associated with it comes the need to find affordable solutions to take depositions critical to a litigator’s case.

Of course, there’s always the telephonic deposition, which is a good option but not always what an attorney is needing. The traditional videoconferencing hardware can be quite expensive for the small- to medium-sized court reporting firm to purchase and not a great option for those times when the need arises to conduct a deposition remotely. “Web conferencing” is an online service by which you can hold live meetings, conferencing, presentations, and trainings via the internet particularly on TCP/IP connections. You can connect to the conference either by telephone or by using your computer’s speakers and microphone through a VOIP connection.

Luckily, many great options provide video attendance for the legal professionals who wish to attend remotely when conducting depositions and/or hearings. The tools available for web conferences range from simple, free tools to more affordable choices that include several other features designed to streamline the web conference experience. Many different apps and/or software are available to hold a web conference. Court reporters must do research to find the tool and the provider that best fits each individual need before committing to their tool of choice. The benefits of using web conferencing tools rather than the traditional videoconference and/or telephone deposition are many.

1. Some tools are free, with the option of purchasing an upgraded account at an affordable price.

2. Eliminates long-distance telephone charges one would incur in a traditional telephone deposition.

3. Eliminates costly airline travel and extra expenses associated with air travel.

4. Cost-effective method to use when your client may be budget conscious.

5. Viable option when you cannot conveniently meet in person.

6. Allows legal professionals more time on deposition preparation and the discovery process.

7. Gives legal professionals a face-to-face experience with potential witnesses.

8. Web conferencing gives one the ability to gauge reactions and facial expressions of the witnesses.

9. Share exhibits and documents easily utilizing web conferencing tools.

10. The voice, video, file transfers, and instant messages in most of the web conference options are encrypted. This protects you from potential eavesdropping by malicious users.

A few of the NCRA Tech Committee members have some great options for colleagues based on their personal experience.


Teresa Russ, CRI, a CART captioner and freelance court reporter from Bellflower, Calif., has this guidance to offer when using the Skype platform: Anyone using technology today is more than likely familiar with Skyping. After downloading the app, all you need is for your client to sign up and email or text their Skype username. It’s super simple to use. After you have connected with them, you can decide whether to use audio or video.

As a CART captioner, I opt for audio and utilize the screen sharing window in the program. You and your client can make comments by using the comment box. In my experience, if I’m CART captioning a technical class and I write an unfamiliar term phonetically, my client can type the correct spelling in the comment box. I have captioned lab classes and sometimes the student may be working on a project. The student can use the comment box to keep me informed on what’s happening during the class. The inconvenience I have experienced with Skype is losing connection and poor audio reception.

The Skype audio can be used for CART captioning by using other screen-sharing programs. Overall, Skype is my go-to platform because most of my clients have been familiar with Skyping. As long as one has access to the internet, there are no charges. For example, one of my clients, who is deaf, contacted me to caption her morning worship service at church. We had the convenience of just logging into the program without hassling over a cost. The Skype app can be used on a PC, tablet, or smartphone.


Kim Greiner, RDR, CRR, CRC, an official based in Lenexa, Kan., has these suggestions to offer for ezTalks Meetings, her web conference tool of choice: ezTalks Meetings offers a free plan in addition to a monthly or yearly plan. The lowest fees for meetings, which would accommodate a deposition, is $10 monthly if you pay annually. The prices vary, mainly depending on how many participants and how many recordings you need. Sign up is simple: Just use an existing Google account or Facebook account. Participants aren’t limited to a laptop. ezTalks supports Apple and Android devices, allowing busy attorneys and deponents on the go the ability to participate in any location. As with any program using the Internet or cell service for transmission, things will vary depending on the strength of your signal. Cellular users need to be sure they have an unlimited data plan or connect to an existing WiFi service. Some key features of ezTalks Meetings:

1. Record the deposition.

2. Use a whiteboard.

3. Rotate camera on phones to view document witness is looking at.

4. Use invites to allow the participants to simply launch from an email using a meeting code.

5. View the screen of other participants.

6. View the other participants at the same time.

7. Allows attorneys to share their screen so a deponent can view a document.


Robin Nodland, FAPR, RDR, CRR, a freelance court reporter and agency owner based in Portland, Ore., reviews the popular web conferencing tool, Zoom: Zoom is a simple solution for web conferencing. The first time I saw this service in action was at a law firm. It was impressive for its ease of use.

Zoom is a big player in the web conference industry. Other brand names you may be familiar with use Zoom as their platform and simply resell the service under their name. Whether it is run on a smartphone, tablet, laptop, or desktop with large-screen monitors in your conference room, Zoom is a solid application; but it still relies on a robust internet connection. Each user connection should be tested and qualified prior to “game day.”

Zoom has several account options. There is a free plan for one-to-one meetings or limited time for multiple participants. That will get you started. For reporting firms, you will want a plan that allows you to:

1. Add multiple parties for unlimited time.

2. Have H.323/SIP Room Connector capability so you can connect with non-Zoom users and for those clients utilizing a traditional Polycom system. This is an add-on feature you may purchase.

3. Record the session in the cloud for those inevitable instances when the client thought having a videoconference meant there would be a videographer present, even though you explained the difference in advance.

With these plans, one of these multiple “participants” could be considered a laptop/tablet with the exhibits preloaded. Zoom has a wonderful website: zoom.us. They even make equipment recommendations. Also, they have periodic webinars for their customers. I have found their support to be stellar.

Zoom offers end-to-end encryption for all meetings, role-based user security, and password protection. Zoom also offers useful features, such as calendaring with Outlook, Gmail, iCal, and other collaboration tools. Zoom Meetings connects with apps like Slack, Trello, Google Calendar, Microsoft Teams, YouTube for Zoom, etc. Zoom has recently launched Zoom Phone, a cloud-based solution for telephone service. This is a company to watch for future innovative products that could be very useful for our industry.


I want to follow up on Robin’s comments regarding the Zoom platform. I started using Skype about ten years ago for out-of-state clients attending remotely. As the technology has evolved, Zoom is now my first choice for a web conferencing tool. The beauty of using Zoom is that you pay for the tool as you need it. 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. As Robin mentioned above, Zoom is feature-packed. Other features offered for the free account are unlimited one-to-one meetings, 40-minute limit on group meetings, unlimited number of meetings, and online support. The free account would only be viable for very few depositions, as most of the time the length of the proceedings would more often than not exceed one hour of testimony.

Their group collaboration features within Zoom are indeed robust and include the following:

• Mac, Windows, Linux, Chromebooks, iOS, and Android

• Group messaging • Screen share documents, photos, and video clips

• Simultaneous screen sharing

• iPhone/iPad screen share with iOS mirror • Annotation and co-annotation

• Keyboard and mouse control • Whiteboarding

Features for Simple Online Meetings:

• High quality desktop and application sharing

• Personal meeting ID and URL name

• Instant or scheduled meetings

• Google Chrome and Outlook plug-ins

• MP4 or M4A recording

• Virtual backgrounds

• Host controls

• Raise hand

Additional tips for ensuring a smooth web conference deposition:

1. Audio transmission problems may be a concern when using your laptop. If testing reveals problems with the audio, an easy solution is to instruct your participants to use the telephone number associated with the Zoom booking. If you choose to use the telephone for audio, remember that everyone needs to mute their speakers on their device of choice before joining by telephone.

2. Advise the participants to turn off any and all notifications on the device they are using for the deposition. You don’t want any distractions during the testimony.

3. If you’re utilizing a Mac computer like I do for your Zoom meeting, remember to disable WiFi calling so you don’t have those unexpected phone calls come in during the proceedings.

4. More often in today’s modern offices, you may not have the opportunity to plug in directly to the internet with hardwire. If you’re lucky and the location has a hardwire connection, remember to bring any adapters so that you can connect your laptop via cable to the Internet.

5. More likely than not, you will need to connect to the internet via WiFi. There are multiple ways to do this. If you choose to connect to the location’s wireless network, you can check the speed of their WiFi by going to speedtest.net. I know in one instance my hotspot on my iPhone was faster than the client’s WiFi, so I ended up connecting with my smartphone.

6. Practice a mock web conference deposition with your friends to ensure that you are comfortable with the features of the service and, also, that you’re comfortable with the proper settings for your hardware.

7. Be sure to schedule a test call with your booking attorney or legal professional. Sometimes it’s their first time for a web conference deposition and you want them to feel comfortable with the service as well. The test call will provide the time necessary to address any potential problems that may arise.

8. Advise all participants to call 15 minutes prior to the start time of the deposition to make sure everything is set up correctly.

9. Position the laptop in front of the witness and be sure the witness is facing a window, if there is one in the room. If the witness’s back is toward the window, the backlighting prevents a good image for the attorney attending remotely. Court reporters, you’re well on your way to hosting those video meetings and depositions!

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.

Robocalls and how to combat them

By Lynette Mueller

Robocall ~ an automated telephone call which delivers a recorded message, typically on behalf of a political party or telemarketing company.

The Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act, or TRACED Act, was signed into law this year.

According to an ABC News article, “Here’s what you need to know about the new law on robocalls,” service providers now bear the responsibility of blocking the calls from ever reaching us.

“With this legislation, phone companies will be required to give all consumers meaningful new protections against these calls, and Americans will finally get some relief from the ringing telephone,” Maureen Mahoney, a policy analyst with Consumer Reports, told The Associated Press.

While there are protections for consumers in place with this law, we can take further steps in order to curb some of these annoying calls coming to our personal cellphone. ABC News mentions two apps, Hiya and YouMail, that can help weed out those telemarketer calls.

I’ve been using an app called AT&T Call Protect for about a year now and have found that those telemarketer calls have been cut down dramatically! When you’re a busy professional, who needs or has the time to deal with those unwanted calls? There is an Android app and an iOS app.

Here are the features of AT&T Call Protect:

  • Automatic Fraud Blocking detects and blocks calls from likely fraudsters.
  • Spam Risk Blocking blocks or sends to voicemail calls identified as Spam Risk
  • Nuisance Call Warnings provide a heads-up on potential nuisance calls with warnings of telemarketers, account services, and more.
  • Unknown Callers sends callers not in your contact list to voicemail.
  • Personal Block List lets you block specific unwanted calls.
  • Siri Shortcuts enables blocking and reporting of unwanted calls with voice commands
  • Caller ID identifies unknown caller details.
  • Reverse Number Lookup provides details when you enter a U.S. number.
  • Custom Call Controls lets you choose call categories to accept, block, or send to voicemail.

For those times when an unwanted call does slip through the cracks, utilize the built-in features on your cellphone to block those calls from coming through in the future.

According to the FCC, there are some easy steps you can take to help reduce robocalls:

  • Don’t answer calls from blocked or unknown numbers.
  • Don’t answer calls from numbers you don’t recognize.
  • Just because an incoming call appears to be from a local number doesn’t mean it is. 
  • Don’t respond to any questions that can be answered with a “Yes.”
  • If someone calls you and claims to be with XYZ company, hang up and call the company yourself. Use the company’s website to find an official number.
  • If you do answer a call and hear a recording such as “Hello, can you hear me?” just hang up.
  • The same goes for a call where you’re asked to press a number before being connected to a representative.

(For more information, check out the FCC.)

“Here’s everything you can do to stop annoying robocalls,” an article on CNET, offers some additional great tips. Another article from CNET, “Justice Department targets robocalls with two major court cases,” gives information about court filings against some carriers.

Here’s hoping that this will help you get a little bit of your time back.

Lynette Mueller, FAPR, RDR, CRR, is a freelance court reporter based in Memphis, Tenn., and she chairs the NCRA Technology Committee. Questions for the Technology Committee can be forwarded to jcrfeedback@ncra.org.

Ask a Techie: Secure realtime testimony when using iPads in the courtroom

The NCRA Technology Committee is taking your questions on topics surrounding realtime and technology. Send the questions you want the Technology Committee members to tackle to jcrfeedback@ncra.org.

Dear Techie:

I am a freelance court reporter, working on a three-week trial that requires realtime and realtime streaming.

Here’s my setup:

  • Seven iPads in the courtroom for counsel and experts who are assisting counsel
  • Those who are not at sidebar for the voir dire of prospective jurors are relying on realtime and realtime streaming to assist in jury selection.
  • The judge is allowing only one attorney from plaintiff’s team and one counsel for each of the two defendants at sidebar to question the prospective jurors.

During the second day of jury voir dire, one of the prospective jurors filed a complaint that, as they were sitting in the rows behind counsel table, they could read the iPad screen with the responses to the personal questions that were being asked of the jurors. Many of these jurors were relaying personal information about their health and the health of their family members.

As a result, the attorneys/experts were asked to lay their iPads flat on the table in front of them so that nobody around them could read the information that was being translated onto their iPads.

Is there any advice you can offer?

Securing the realtime in court

Dear Securing:

That is a great question, and it seems that the judge worked out how to best handle the situation.

That said, how this situation is handled is likely to vary from state to state and jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Work with the judge to determine how to handle any similar issues, or, in cases that a judge is not present, the representatives of the parties. 

We polled members of NCRA’s Technology Committee to see if they had any thoughts on your situation.

A freelance reporter who frequently works in court shared that when proceedings are held at the bench she enables the bench mode on her software — just on the rare chance that a jury would be able to read the screen. She’s explained her reasoning to counsel, and they have agreed with the logic. She also tilts the laptop screen to make viewing difficult for anyone looking over her shoulder, and she makes sure to lock the screen when on break.

She noted that, in the situation in question, the attorneys also had the burden of knowing and ensuring that sensitive and/or confidential information was secure and not visible to others around them. They have ethical duties of securing information as much as the court reporter does. The attorneys could easily lay the iPads flat on the table.

Another realtime reporter noted that, especially since the attorneys are likely to be paying for and receiving the feed, the responsibility to protect the privacy of information should fall on their shoulders. The reporter’s job is simply to provide the service; how the attorneys handle the feed is their responsibility.

An official on the committee said that her courtroom has been arranged so that the exhibit monitors face away from the jury and the attorneys face the jury. She also noted that exhibits are not placed on the jurors’ screens until they are admitted into evidence, and she closes the lid of her computer when she moves to take down a sidebar. The official felt that all of these habits reinforce that 1) it is important that the judge(s) and courtroom staff consider these issues when they organize technology within the courtrooms; and 2) when given iPads with realtime, the attorneys should bear the burden of figuring out viewing and placement so as not to accidentally give out confidential information.

For sidebars, a few of the reporters noted that most software offers a toggle on/off feature to stop the realtime feed from streaming to certain computers during bench conferences. Embedding the toggle into a parenthetical will help the reporter to prevent anyone accidentally viewing confidential material. However, they maintain that it’s still the reporter’s responsibility to make sure that his or her personal screen is down from viewing and, likewise, the attorneys probably should be responsible for theirs.  

For extra reassurance, several reporters recommended making the judge and, if necessary, the attorneys aware of possible issues, even warning of the possibility of mistrial or that potential or actual jurors might take an unfavorable view of an attorney who is not careful with their information.