General Practice, Solo & Small Firm DivisionMagazine

 
Volume 17, Number 4
June 2000

Realtime Depositions

BY Daryl Teshima

Want real-world speech recognition? Forget impressive but impractical products like Dragon Dictate and IBM ViaVoice. Realtime reporting combines the time-tested transcription accuracy of court reporters with the cutting-edge ability to see speech as soon as you hear it. And this technology doesn't require the latest computer hardware or extensive training. All that's required to use realtime at your next deposition is a qualified court reporter.

In a typical setup, the court reporter's stenographic keyboard is connected to the reporter's notebook computer, which runs a realtime software program that translates the stenographic symbols into words. Lawyers and judges can connect to this computer (either with a serial cable or via the Internet) and receive a rolling transcript that keeps pace with the actual testimony, provided they are using the same realtime software program as the court reporter.

The results are similar to closed-caption text on television, except that the realtime transcripts are interactive. Not only can lawyers view the testimony seconds after it is given, but also they can mark and annotate key sections for later use.

Real Life Pros and Cons

Realtime gives litigators several advantages. Since the word-for-word testimony is displayed on a computer screen, lawyers can concentrate more on substantive testimony and less on capturing what was just said. These programs also have the ability to incorporate attorney notes within the transcript. For example, to flag testimony, a press of the space bar inserts a "quick mark" for later reference. This action can be taken by the lawyer unobtrusively and without breaking his or her train of thought. The transcripts can also be annotated or coded on the fly, but this is difficult to do while questioning a witness.

Examining attorneys can also instantly review witness responses to verify that the desired testimony has been elicited. Likewise, defending attorneys can closely monitor questions for potential objections and mark key testimony for later cross-examination. And at the end of the day, lawyers walk away with a "rough" draft of the transcript that helps prepare them for tomorrow's deposition or court session. Although not the "official" transcript, this draft is usable and eliminates the need for expedited transcript preparation fees.

Realtime also lets those unable to attend the examination to participate meaningfully. Because a realtime transcription feed can be sent securely over the Internet, many lawyers have their experts (and clients) monitor the testimony while it is happening. This allows these individuals to offer their comments and suggestions while the deposition or trial is taking place.

There are some disadvantages. Not every court reporter is qualified or equipped to provide a realtime feed. Nor does every judge allow it in his or her court. Anecdotally, it seems to be available 50 percent of the time. Realtime usage requires prior planning, which probably includes notice to the opposition and negotiating with the court.

More important, the quality of the feed depends entirely on the skills of the court reporter. Realtime requires a skilled court reporter who can instantly turn the cacophony of voices into coherent, mistake-free text. There is no opportunity for the reporter to review a tape of the proceedings or clean up the rough transcript. If the court reporter isn't up to speed, the ensuing transcript will probably be useless. (For an example of realtime output from both an experienced and inexperienced reporter, see www.hutchings.com/lrnrrd.html.)

Given the higher skill level required, realtime transcription costs naturally run higher. The actual amounts and computation methods vary widely from court reporter to court reporter. For example, some charge an extra amount per page; others increase their hourly rates.

Limited Software Choices

Another expense is the software required to accept the realtime feed from the court reporter. Currently, the two most popular programs that support realtime feeds are LiveNote (www. livenote.com) and Summation (www. summation.com). Although these programs provide lawyers with three different features sets and price points, both of these applications can capably handle realtime feeds and transcripts.

For lawyers who want to use only realtime, LiveNote offers a basic, stand-alone version with a single license price of $295. (Note: LiveNote sells its products primarily through court reporters, not directly to lawyers. Accordingly, the best price for LiveNote is usually through a court reporter who has purchased the program at a substantial discount.) LiveNote RT (realtime) has the ability to receive realtime text, but can search only one transcript at a time and has no network capability. The most glaring omission, however, is the program's inability to print transcripts directly from LiveNote RT. Although users can work around this deficiency by cutting-and-pasting the transcript into a word processor, this limitation needlessly handicaps the program's usefulness.

All of these omissions thankfully vanish in LiveNote FT (full text), which adds new transcript management features along with a higher single license price of $595. Not only can this version print transcripts, but also it gives users the option to print with (or without) annotations and in a compressed format that fits four pages on a single sheet of paper. In addition, LiveNote FT lets users conduct full-text searches across multiple transcripts. The wide variety of search methods (e.g., wildcard, Boolean, proximity, fuzzy) and the speed of the search engine make this one of FT's more powerful features.

Networking capabilities are also added, although FT only allows multiple users to view and annotate transcripts simultaneously. There are no automatic synchronization or replication features that allow lawyers to use the program offline or across a wide area network. This limits FT's use with individuals outside your local area network, such as co-counsel, clients, and consultants. Nonetheless, LiveNote FT excels at managing transcripts and handles realtime testimony with ease.

While LiveNote focuses solely on transcripts, the scope of the other realtime transcription program-Summation Blaze-is considerably broader. Using a file cabinet metaphor, Summation can organize every transcript, document, and scrap of information generated in a litigation. Tying it all together is the Blaze search engine, which indexes everything from the full text of a deposition to basic field codes assigned to an image. This approach helps litigators find both the realtime testimony they flagged and all other information related to that particular testimony.

Summation comes in many different flavors. Users can purchase versions that are bare-bones (single user price of $995) or contain every conceivable litigation bell and whistle imaginable (single user price of $2,495). Each version of Summation also includes the ability to accept and interact with realtime feeds. Even so, for those lawyers primarily concerned with transcript management, Summation is probably overkill. It certainly boasts more features than LiveNote, but Summation's price-as well as the time investment required to organize cases-may be too high.

Time for Realtime?

Despite the growing popularity and numerous advantages, realtime reporting is not for everybody. Some lawyers find the constant flow of testimony distracting. Others find that the additional costs outweigh the benefits. However, the growing number of realtime users indicates that this view may soon be in the minority. And with good reason. Realtime reporting works because it represents the best of two worlds: the skill and experience of a court reporter combined with the speed and power of computers.

Daryl Teshima is a practice systems attorney with Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. He can be reached aat dteshima@netcom.com.

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