Tips for more productive internet research

By Suzanne I. Trimble

Research on the internet can uncover a treasure trove of information that can save you time, which is money, and make your transcripts fantastically accurate. I’ve put together a few tips, many free of charge, that may be a refresher to some and a time saver to others to make research time more productive. Nothing is more frustrating to me than doing two hours of research on a 30-page transcript and still being unable to find that one spelling I’ve been looking for.

  • Google Scholar. Google Scholar can be particularly useful if you do any in-court reporting. Use Google Scholar when looking for case law, citations, quotes from a case, spellings of judges or attorneys, etc.
    • TIP: To narrow to the proper jurisdiction on the Google Scholar home page, select “Case law” underneath the Google Scholar search bar. Then underneath that select “Select courts.” This will bring you to a page to narrow the search to the proper jurisdiction. You can select any state or federal court on this page, so you are not searching through all the cases in America for the proverbial needle in a haystack. For example, if you’re looking for a case in Florida Federal Court, 11th Circuit, Middle District, scroll down on this page, look under the “Federal courts” column for “11th Circuit,” and check the box to the left of “MD Florida,” then on the bottom of the screen or top, click “Done,” which will take you to a Google Scholar search screen for the narrow search of that jurisdiction.
    • TIP: If you know the year or a range of years of the particular item you’re searching for, once you’ve typed in what you’re searching for on the search bar and hit enter or click on the search button, in the left column on the search results page, choose any of the “Since” options, or you can create a “Custom range.” Underneath that, if you select “Sort by relevance,” it will bring up the top searches by relevance. If you select “sort by date” it will bring up the newest case by date first.
    • TIP: All the Google search tips below work in Google Scholar.
  • Google search tips to customize searches
    • Use quotation marks for exact phrases. If you search for Dog Sweaters, the search engine will search for content that contains those two words in any order. However, if you search “Dog Sweaters,” it will search for that phrase exactly as you typed it. This can help locate specific information. (I love this tip for Google Scholar!)
    • Narrow the search. If you are searching for a word with an ambiguous meaning, for example caterpillar. If you’re searching for the insect caterpillar, references to the company Caterpillar, Inc., will also be returned. Use Caterpillar -Inc to exclude references to the company.
    • Fill in the blank. If you only know certain words in the phrase, place an asterisk in place of the words you don’t know. For example, Speedy trial * tolled. Google search will search for that phrase knowing that the asterisks can be any word or words.
    • Synonyms. To search for a word and its synonyms, type ~ and your word, no space – for example, ~phone will get results with phone and other closely related words
    • Glossaries. If you type the subject and then the word glossary on the search bar, such as FAA glossary, several glossaries can pop up — depending on the subject matter, of course. These are so helpful and can put meaning and context to a search of terms in uncharted territory.
  • LinkedIn. When looking for the spelling of someone’s name and you know the company they work for, LinkedIn is an awesome research tool.
    • TIP: In the search tool bar, type in the company you are looking for, for example Microsoft, then choose “Microsoft people” on the drop-down menu to find the employees that are on LinkedIn.
    • TIP: Looking for the name of a company? Type in the employee name in the search bar and the company will be linked to the employee in the drop-down menu.
  • Online court files. Many jurisdictions now have entire court files online with no cost to peruse the documents. This is a great source to find names, case citations, etc. Many of the documents in the court file will be searchable PDFs. I use this daily to research the cases I report. My realtime looks particularly fantastic when I know what’s going to be coming at me. Simply search for the county clerk’s office of the jurisdiction you are looking for. For example, a search for “Orange County Clerk” brings up “My Orange Clerk Home”; click on that and then scroll down to the “Court Record Search” link to access the online files. Some jurisdictions do still charge a fee to look at the documents in the electronic court file so this may not always be an option if you don’t want to pay a fee.
  • Phrontistery. The Phrontistery is an online dictionary for searching for spellings of obscure, weird, and unusual words in the English language. This is a great site to check out and explore.
  • Google Sheets. Don’t do research again on the same type of case you’ve done research on before looking for the same terms and benefit from colleagues working on the same or similar type of case. How? A few years ago, the court reporters in the courthouse I work in started creating Google Sheets for terms/names in specific cases, types of cases, agents, and officers. We share these Google Sheets with each other and sometimes scopists and proofreaders. This way each of us are contributing terms/names we’ve searched for as well as benefitting from the research that others do, and Google Sheets update realtime in the cloud as each person edits. For example, it is sometimes very difficult to find the spellings of the names of agents and officers, so we’ve created a page with the verified spellings of many of these names, or for a particular case more than one reporter is working on, we share a created case Google Sheet and each contribute to it.
    • Create a Google Sheet. To create a Google Sheet from the Gmail page, in the upper right-hand corner click the icon that looks like a square bunch of dots. Scroll down to “Sheets.” Click “Blank.”
    • Add others to Google Sheet. To add others to the Google Sheet, in the upper right-hand corner click “Share.” It will prompt you to name the sheet before sharing, and then you can either add the name of someone in your contacts or add the email of the person you want to add. This will send an email to the individual inviting them to the Google Sheet you’ve created, and then they are able to join you in editing the Google Sheet.
    • Google Sheets is also available via apps on other devices such as a smartphone; just go to your app store to download. The benefit to being able to access Google Sheets on another device is if you are in a situation where internet is not accessible on your laptop, your smartphone may be able to pull it up.

Suzanne I. Trimble, RPR, CRR, is an official court reporter based in Sanford, Fla., and a member of NCRA’s Technology Committee. If you have a question for the Tech Committee, please send it to jcrfeedback@ncra.org.

Ask the Techie: Can webcams be hacked?

By Teresa Russ

If you were around in 1984, you probably remember a song entitled, Somebody’s Watching You by Rockwell featuring Michael Jackson. Back then I felt that song to be a little creepy even though it was fun to dance to.

The answer is yes, according to Norton, the antivirus software company, and an article published by USA Today, Feb. 15, 2020. In Nine Simple Webcam Security Tips to Deter Hackers, written by Kyle Chivers, a NortonLifeLock employee, Norton offered the following suggestions:

  1. Keep your software up to date. I know that it might seem like a nuisance, but it’s important because this helps patch vulnerabilities in your software.
  2. Use a firewall to lock down your network.
  3. Secure your WiFi, and do not use easy passwords. It’s a good idea to enable WiFi Protected Access 2 (WPA2) as an added layer of protection.
  4. Avoid all suspicious links.
  5. Don’t chat with strangers online. Remember when you were little and your mother told you not to talk to strangers? That applies to online activities as well.
  6. Cover or unplug your webcam. If your indicator light is on and you did not turn it on, there is a chance your webcam has been hacked. Hackers can sometimes disable the light, still allowing them to spy on you. Webcam covers can be purchased on Amazon from $2 to $9, depending on the type you choose. You can decide which is best for you by going to https://spy.com/articles/gadgets/video-media/best-webcam-covers-238966/.

Cimkiz covers

BLOCKED (A total of 57 reusable webcam stickers)

Dcreate

Animal Camera Dots

SpiShutter Slim

Funsylab Pacman

Bungajungle Wood

C-Slide (Pack of 6)

Eye Webcam Cover Slider

Anti-Spy

Imluckies

12. Get a virtual private network (VPN)

13. Use trusted tech support

14. Install and run security software on your devices

If the camera covers are too much, you can always go low-tech and, on your next trip to the Dollar Tree or 99 Cents Only Store, pick up some tape. Yes, that same USA Today article noted that both former FBI Director James Comey and Facebook cofounder Mark Zuckerberg use tape to cover their webcams.

 Teresa Russ, CRI, is a freelance CART captioner and court reporter based in Bellflower, Calif., and a member of NCRA’s Technology Committee.

If you have a question for the Technology Committee, please send it to jcrfeedback@ncra.org.

(As an Amazon Associate, NCRA earns from qualifying purchases.)

Zoom depositions and court reporters: Seven lessons we’ve learned since March

By Lynette Mueller

Your NCRA Board of Directors and Technology Committee were hard at work at the beginning of this 2020 COVID-19 pandemic by creating and presenting webinars and content for our members regarding remote depositions and best practices. Speaking as a member of the Tech Committee, we felt strongly that information, resources, and tools needed to be dispensed quickly to the membership to get court reporters up to speed with our changing environment and our “new normal.”

Here’s a list of some of the articles written about remote depositions that are still relevant today:

Streamtext and Zoom

Basic Zoom Tips, Tricks and Advice

Five tips for looking great in remote depositions

How to optimize internet connections for remote depositions

Handling of exhibits for remote depositions

What states allow remote and/or online notarization?

Conducting meetings and depositions by remote means

Office setups and remote preparation part of downtime

Ask the Techie: Do you need a new chair?

COVID-19: Looking back through the lens

Learning is knowledge, and knowledge is power! To that end, I use several different tools to keep abreast of changes in technology so that I may know how to troubleshoot different scenarios I’m faced with as I report each new Zoom proceeding.

  1. Set up Google Alerts: This is such an easy thing to do! Google Alerts is a content change detection and notification service. The service sends emails to the user when it finds new results that match the user’s search term. Start your first Google Alert now. (Find instructions here.)
  2. Follow industry leader blogs: There’s so much great content put out by some great court reporters! Do a Google search to find the reporting blogs of your choice and sign up to receive new content sent directly to your inbox. In the alternative, you can use a handy app I recommend called Feedly to have all the information in one central location. It compiles news feeds from a variety of online sources for the user to customize and share with others. There’s an iOS, Android, and web-based application. Learn more about Feedly now.
  3. Sign up for Facebook and Twitter: Yes, social media, believe it or not, is a great resource to gain valuable information and knowledge to keep up on best practices for Zoom proceedings. As for Twitter, again, follow the industry leaders to gain their insights. With Facebook, some people may have a love/hate relationship. If you choose to use it for business and court reporting knowledge, some of the Facebook groups can be so helpful! My top Facebook groups that are welcoming, positive, and supportive are: Court Reporter Helpline, Court Reporters and Zoom learn and share, and Court Reporter Technology (NCRA). When you see a Facebook post that may be useful and you wish to read it later, use the save function. To save a post: Click in the top right of the post. Select Save Post, Save Event, Save Link, or Save Video. You may create your own category/folder of your choice. My folder is named Zooming! This is an easy way to go back later if you encounter a similar issue as a fellow colleague.
  4. Finally, become a member of NCRA and take advantage of all the technology articles posted on TheJCR.com by the Tech Committee! You may add TheJCR.com to the Feedly app as well to find everything at a glance and at your fingertips. Remember that the JCR is a premier resource as well. I’ve been a continuous member of NCRA for many years and can’t imagine not having the support and resources the Association provides daily.

Next, let’s talk about seven lessons we’ve learned and/or tips for your next Zoom proceeding. While I haven’t personally experienced each of the following issues in Zoom, these questions and the answers are quite timely and may assist you with perfecting your remote deposition setup.

Scenario #1:

Q. When using a cellphone as primary output for Zoom because the laptop connection is not solid and the court reporter has external speakers, what should the court reporter do when reporting a long proceeding and the cellphone needs to be charging?

A. Use your cellphone cable and plug into your laptop or use a wireless charger.

Scenario #2:

Q. How does one mute a microphone using keyboard shortcuts?

A. Try following these instructions from bouncegeek.

Scenario #3:

Q. Does Zoom have a noise-cancellation feature?

A. Yes! This link through Zoom will provide information to get started.

Scenario #4:

Q. What can a court reporter do to prevent a situation when the power goes off and Zoom kicks you off the deposition?

A. Purchase a Battery Backup & Surge Protector for your router and your laptop. There are lots of great options available at an affordable price. Lifewire has a list of their nine best picks for 2020.

Scenario #5:

Q. What can a court reporter do to add an extra layer of security to prevent Zoom bombing?

A. When you are the host and all participants are admitted, announce that you are locking the Zoom meeting to prevent anyone else entering the meeting. Remember to lock the meeting! In the event a participant gets kicked out of the meeting, stop the proceedings, alert the attorneys, and unlock the meeting so that that person may be readmitted by you. Once that errant participant is readmitted to the meeting, lock it down again.

Here’s additional information from the Zoom Help Center: “The Security icon in the meeting controls allows the host or co-host of a meeting to enable or disable options during a meeting to secure the meeting and minimize disruption during the meeting. Most of the settings can be controlled from Account, Group, and User settings prior to the meeting. If applied at the Account, Group, or User level, these settings will be applied in meeting by default. The Security icon combines them all in one place for easy access during the meeting.”

When you’re in the meeting, click Participants at the bottom of your Zoom window. In the participants pop-up box, you will see a button that says Lock Meeting. Click on Lock Meeting, and you’re ready to go!

Scenario #6:

Q. May I use a dual-monitor setup during a Zoom deposition, so that the participants are on one screen and the exhibits are on the other screen?

A. Yes. The dual-monitor display feature allows the video layout and screen share content to be placed on two separate monitors/screens. Gallery or speaker view can be displayed on one monitor while the other monitor displays a content share. Click this link for specific instructions on dual-monitor setup for a Mac and a PC.

Scenario #7:

Q. How does one set up a “hybrid” deposition when a remote attorney client asks the court reporter (as the host) to ensure all counsel, the witness, and the court reporter have a device in the conference room and on camera so as not to encounter audio feedback and/or echoing?

A. This is my personal setup for the above “hybrid” deposition scenario.

* Create and email the Zoom invitation to all participants

* Arrive 45 minutes early to the deposition location to allow enough time to effectuate all steps to ensure no audio feedback during the proceedings.

* Set up Zoom laptop for the witness and log in as the host.

* Rename the Zoom box reflecting the witness name and add the word “witness” behind the proper name.

* Mute the witness’s Zoom laptop. Additionally, click the audio tab at the bottom of the Zoom window and select leave computer audio.

* Set up an iPad, iPhone, or other tablet device as the court reporter Zoom screen.

* Click on the Zoom link to join the meeting on the court reporter Zoom screen.

* Mute the court reporter device. Additionally, click the audio tab and select leave computer audio.

* Rename your court reporter window to reflect your name and then the word “Court Reporter” or “Stenographer” behind your name.

* Use a Polycom or speakerphone and dial in using one of the telephone  numbers provided in the Zoom invitation.

* Then, go to the witness zoom laptop where you initiated the meeting. Go to the participant box for the telephone number and rename it to something like Conference Room Audio. That way, all counsel know who is in the meeting.

* When other counsel arrive, instruct them to log into the Zoom meeting,  mute their device, click the audio tab, and select leave computer audio.

So, there you have seven lessons we’ve learned about Zoom depositions since the pandemic hit early this spring. Attorneys look to us sometimes to be their personal resource for these remote depositions — and that’s okay. This is our opportunity to shine and show the extra value we provide to them with our technological savviness! As the guardians of the record, we court reporters provide an extremely valuable service to the legal community not only with our stenographic skills but also by paving the way for our clients so that they can keep on fighting and working for their clients. The wheels of justice can keep turning because of how resilient court reporters are, rising to each challenge the legal community has faced, and searching and finding truly great solutions these past several months.

Look for another series of lessons learned coming soon. The Tech Committee is working hard and has so much more to share with you!

Lynette L. Mueller, FAPR, RDR, CRR, is a freelance court reporter based in Memphis, Tenn., and a member of NCRA’s Technology Committee.

If you have a question for the Technology Committee, please send it to jcrfeedback@ncra.org.

Basic Zoom tips, tricks, and advice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some audio troubleshooting tips: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Can you hear me now?

I can’t hear you 

Can’t hear you 

Off and on

Cutting in and out

Share my screen

Share your screen

Share my desktop

Share your desktop

Unmute yourself

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

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

More on this topic:

Five tips for looking great in remote depositions

How to optimize internet connections for remote depositions

Handling of exhibits for remote depositions

What states allow remote and/or online notarization?

Conducting meetings and depositions by remote means

Office setups and remote preparation part of downtime

Ask the Techie: Do you need a new chair?

COVID-19: Looking back through the lens

Backup for court reporters

By Lynette Mueller

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

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

Other reasons to ensure a great backup plan are:

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

Methods one can utilize for the backup of data:

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

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

Benefits of Cloud Storage:

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

Drawbacks of Cloud Storage:

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

Benefits of External Devices:

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

Drawbacks of External Devices:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your clients will thank you for it!

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

Behind the tech of captioning for Coachella and Stagecoach

By Jackie Hippolyte

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

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

Stan’s background

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

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

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

 The Coachella and Stagecoach projects … the beginning

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

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

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

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

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

The Skills

Soft skills

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

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

Teamwork

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

Technology:

Start of Coachella project

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

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

Steno/typing and editing software

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

Servers

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

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

Live streaming the lyrics

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

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

Summary of technology used

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

■   Servers: Five servers managed using Docker swarm.

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

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

Finding his “sweet spot” and giving back

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

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

Project Takeaways

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summary

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

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

 Partners and Thanks to…

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.”