Hello AI, Goodbye Court Reporting Agency?

 A New Horizon with Non-Stenographic Deposition Solutions

In today’s fast-paced legal environment, the challenges faced by attorneys and paralegals call for innovative solutions and recent advances in AI software are ushering in a new and better option for capturing legal testimony. 

For years, legal professionals and their clients have only had one viable option for taking depositions and capturing other forms of testimony:  expensive court reporting agencies. But, the times are changing fast, and the growing stenographer shortage and a substantial increase in court reporting agency fees are driving legal practitioners to seek more efficient and cost-effective alternatives. 

As the legal landscape continues to evolve, it’s crucial to understand the differences between these stenographic and non-stenographic (e.g., software) approaches, keep abreast of changing laws, and understand the rationale behind the growing interest in non-stenographic methods.

Stenographic vs. Non-Stenographic Solutions

Since the invention of the stenograph machine in 1877, stenographic transcription has been the preferred solution for capturing verbatim records during legal proceedings. Stenographers are required to undergo extensive training and work diligently to transcribe spoken words accurately and promptly. Despite its traditional significance, stenography faces common drawbacks such as lengthy transcription times, heightened costs, and reliance on specialized professionals. According to the NCRA, there is a growing shortage of stenographers as many are retiring and fewer young people are going to stenography school. This shortage and increased cost, plus the rise of AI software, have attorneys looking for a modern solution that is a better fit for the post-Covid world of Zoom depositions.

Many are turning to options that use applications and products they are already familiar with. Non-stenographic options shed the limitations of traditional stenography and provide fast, practical alternatives that meet the requirements of modern litigators and help them future-proof their litigation practice against the growing stenographer shortage. By harnessing the power of modern ASR (automated speech recognition) technology, non-stenographic tools streamline the transcription process, reduce turnaround time, and significantly cut down on resources and expenses. Plus, as an added benefit, non-stenographic tools usually capture a video record in addition to a verbatim transcript, so litigators at their teams have the benefit of a more persuasive and informative record of testimony. These improved capabilities present a strong case for legal professionals to explore non-stenographic tools as viable alternatives to stenography.

“And so when you talked earlier about access to justice, it really is a benefit to do them non-stenographic. And the pushback that I see, if at all, is typically from the stenographer community.”

-Charles Peckham, Member at Peckham Martin, PLLC

During this transition, it is fascinating to draw parallels between the old and the new. At the heart of stenography, stenographers rely on phonetics, transcribing spoken sounds into stenographic symbols in real-time, which are later converted into readable text. They undergo training to understand nuances, context, and abbreviations. On the contrary, modern non-stenographic software solutions capture spoken testimony via recording and then utilize Automated Speech Recognition (ASR) to phonetically translate these sounds into text. The magic happens when advanced algorithms step in to provide context, ensuring the transcription’s accuracy and coherence. It’s a digital mirroring of the manual process — but faster, more scalable, and less expensive. While both methods strive for accuracy, software solutions have the added advantage of speed and reduced human intervention, error or bias, making them an enticing alternative in today’s digital age.

Changing State Laws

The legal profession is in a constant state of flux, with various states in the US reassessing their laws to adapt to the ever-changing circumstances. This offers a promising outlook for individuals and firms looking to move beyond traditional stenographic methods to modern solutions.

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and most state rules, such as those in Texas, encapsulate the evolving trend of adapting to non-stenographic depositions. Notably, the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 30(B)(3) was amended in 1993 to expressly permit non-stenographic depositions. This significant step by the federal courts set a precedent and a general standard, which has since influenced many state legislatures to adopt and revise their rules accordingly. 

For example, Texas, a state that has always been at the forefront of adopting new legal practices, has its own rules, extending a platform for non-stenographic depositions Tex. R. Civ. P. 203.6(a). This progression follows a general national trend where most states, similar to the federal court, have recognized the advantages of innovative technology in the legal realm and have formalized rules that accommodate non-stenographic depositions. The willingness of jurisdictions to adapt their laws showcases the utility and acceptance of non-stenographic methods, as they continue to gain traction in the legal field. Plus, with the rise of Zoom hearings, depositions, and even trials during Covid, many jurisdictions are still in the process of modernizing their rules to facilitate more technological and cost-effective solutions which help increase access to justice and lower the overall cost of litigation. 

Along with admissibility in federal courts, a majority of state laws allow non-stenographic methods, while others accept them with stipulations.  A few states have not yet modernized their rules and do not yet permit non-stenographic depositions, but this should change as the stenographer shortage increases, labor costs continue to rise, and software solutions help significantly lower the cost of capturing testimony. Across the board, there is an increasing openness to revising state laws to accommodate and adapt to technological advancements in the legal sphere, including the adoption of remote testimony and non-stenographic solutions.

Addressing Contemporary Challenges

In recent times, conventional legal processes have struggled to keep up with the demands and expectations of legal professionals operating in an increasingly demanding and competitive market. Attorneys and paralegals face numerous challenges, including exorbitant costs, prolonged transcription wait times, growing workloads, and perpetually evolving legal frameworks. These issues have spurred a search for smarter, more agile solutions to enhance their practice. Efficiency is the name of the game.

Non-stenographic methods have emerged as a frontrunner for solving these challenges in the context of capturing legal testimony. With their ability to offer swift, accurate transcriptions at a fraction of the cost of traditional stenographic services, non-stenographic tools provide law firms and their clients with optimized workflows and reduced reliance on third-party services.

The transition from traditional stenographic methods to non-stenographic solutions is inevitable and presents a transformative moment for the legal profession. As legal practitioners continue to navigate changes in how software is impacting their profession, the adoption of non-stenographic tools signifies a new era of efficiency and competitiveness in the legal industry.

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