Computer Counselor - March 2000
Realtime Transcription Offers Real-World Advantages
Attorneys thinking of using realtime for their next deposition can weigh their choices
By Daryl Teshima
Daryl Teshima is a practice systems attorney for Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Products such as Dragon Dictate and IBM ViaVoice, impressive as they are, have yet to cope reliably and flawlessly with the incredible complexities of human speech. Realtime reporting combines the time-tested transcription accuracy of human court reporters with cutting-edge technology to enable legal professionals to see speech as soon as they hear it. This technology does not require the latest computer hardware or extensive training. A qualified court reporter is all that is needed to use realtime technology at a deposition.
In a typical realtime setup, the court reporter's stenographic keyboard is connected to the reporter's notebook computer, which is running a realtime software program that translates the stenographic symbols into words. Attorneys and the court can connect to this computer (either with a serial cable or via the Internet) to receive a transcript that keeps pace with the testimony. For the setup to work, the users must have the same or compatible realtime software as the reporter.
The results are similar to closed-caption text on television, except that the realtime transcripts are interactive. Attorneys are able not only to view the testimony seconds after it is given but also to mark and annotate key sections for later use.
Realtime gives litigators several advantages. Since the testimony is displayed on a computer screen, attorneys can concentrate more on substantive issues and less on capturing what was just said. These programs also have the ability to incorporate notes within the transcript. For example, a press of the space bar inserts a mark for later reference. An attorney can take this action unobtrusively, without breaking his or her train of thought. The transcripts also can be annotated or coded on the fly, but this is difficult to do during questioning.
Examining attorneys can also review witness responses instantly to verify that the desired testimony has been elicited. Likewise, defending attorneys can monitor questions closely for potential objections and mark key testimony for cross-examination later. At the end of the day, attorneys walk away with a rough draft of the transcript that helps prepare them for the next day's deposition or court session. Although not the official transcript, the realtime draft is usable and eliminates the need for expedited transcript preparation fees.
Realtime also lets those unable to attend the examination to participate. Since a realtime transcription can be sent securely over the Internet, many attorneys have their experts and clients monitor the testimony while it is happening. This allows these people to offer their comments and suggestions while the deposition or trial is taking place.
There are some disadvantages. Not every court reporter is equipped to provide a realtime feed. Nor does every judge allow it in court. Realtime usage requires planning, which probably includes notice to the opposition and negotiation with the court. More important, the quality of the feed depends on the skills of the court reporter. Realtime requires a court reporter who can instantly turn a 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 is not up to speed, the ensuing transcript will probably be useless. (To see examples of realtime output from an experienced and an inexperienced reporter, visit www.hutchings .com/LRN-RRD.HTML.)
Given the higher skill level required, realtime transcription costs naturally run higher. The actual amount and computation method varies from court reporter to court reporter. 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 can support realtime feeds are LiveNote (www.livenote.com) and Summation (www.summation.com). Both applications capably handle realtime feeds and transcripts, and both companies offer attorneys different features sets and prices.
For attorneys who only want to use realtime, LiveNote offers a basic, standalone version with a single license price of $295. LiveNote primarily sells its products through court reporters, not directly to attorneys. Accordingly, the best price for LiveNote is usually obtained through employment of a court reporter who has purchased the program at a substantial discount. LiveNote RT ("RT" stands for realtime) has the ability to receive realtime text, but it can only search 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.
These omissions vanish in LiveNote FT (full text), which adds new transcript management features along with a higher single license price of $595. This version not only prints transcripts, it also 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 it only allows multiple users to view and annotate transcripts simultaneously. There are no automatic synchronization or replication features that allow attorneys to use the program offline or across a wide area network. This limits FT's use with individuals outside the local area network (such as cocounsel, clients, and consultants). Nonetheless, LiveNote FT excels at managing transcripts and handles realtime testimony with ease. While LiveNote focuses solely on transcripts, the other realtime transcription program, Summation Blaze, has a considerably broader scope. 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 the realtime testimony they flagged as well as all other information related to that testimony. Users can purchase versions of Summation Blaze that are bare-bones (single-user price, $995) or that contain every conceivable litigation bell and whistle (single-user price, $2,495). Each version of Summation also includes the ability to accept and interact with realtime feeds. Even so, for those attorneys primarily concerned with transcript management, Summation is probably overkill. It certainly boasts more features than LiveNote, but Summation's price difference, as well as the time investment required to organize cases, may be too high.
A Third Way
In the coming months, attorneys may have another realtime transcript choice besides LiveNote and Summation. RealLegal.com (www.reallegal.com-formerly Pubnetics) has announced that it will offer realtime services and transcript management over the Internet. Instead of requiring attorneys to purchase the transcript software, users will run these applications from realLegal's Web site. In addition to allowing users to view and annotate realtime testimony locally and via the Internet, realLegal will store transcripts on secure, redundant servers on the realLegal Web site for searching, printing, and downloading.
This e-business model has several advantages. Maintenance, installation, system stability, backups, and remote access are the responsibility of the vendor, not the law firm, and all that is needed to use the application is a computer that can connect to the Internet. Cost is slated to be based on subscription or pay-as-you-go. For firms that do not have the overhead to support new technologies, this approach has some obvious advantages. West Group and Microsoft, for example, are exploring variations of this subscription-based model. The weak link, however, is the Internet. A firm's ability to access and run the programs would depend on the stability and speed of its Internet connection. With the advent of DSL and cable modems, Internet bandwidth is becoming cheaper and faster. The question, however, is: how many law firms will feel comfortable having their office's technology backbone residing on a phone line or cable Internet connection?
Despite the growing popularity and numerous advantages of realtime reporting, it is not for everybody. Some attorneys find the constant flow of testimony distracting. Others find the additional cost outweighs the benefit. However, the growing number of realtime users indicates that this view may soon be a minority one. 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.