Time was when steno machines would spew paper tape as the court reporter furiously pounded out the keystrokes that recorded testimony. But with the march of technology, steno machines have undergone an amazing transformation through the incorporation of microprocessors. Now, instead of paper tape, steno machines commonly have built-in screens that immediately display translated steno strokes as words, which makes for much faster reading back by the court reporter. And through what is called “realtime technology,” attorneys can even receive an instantaneous text feed on their electronic devices as the testimony unfolds.
Realtime technology consists of a steno machine connected to a computer running special translation software, also known as a CAT (Computer-Aided Translation) system. The CAT system translates the steno strokes into English and then, via cables or a Bluetooth connection, transmits it instantly to an attorney’s laptop, tablet or even smartphone. The text feed can also be sent via the Internet if participants are located elsewhere, a process known as “remote realtime” or “streaming realtime.”
Realtime is a unique, additional service, so there is generally an additional per-page fee for this. But why would you want to pay extra just to watch the testimony march across your screen? Because receiving a realtime feed allows you to:
- Minimize note-taking. Since the testimony appears right in front of your eyes and resides on your device, there’s no need to take extensive notes for depo summary purposes.
- Focus on the witness’s demeanor, since you don’t have to keep looking down to take notes.
- Pick up the pace of your questioning, since note-taking is minimized, giving the witness less time to think things over and possibly hedge on an answer.
- Quickly respond to rejections. You can glance at your screen and possibly change just one word to quickly cure an objection to form of the question. And because the realtime feed is both scrollable and searchable, you can review previous testimony to determine whether, in fact, a question was previously asked and answered or mischaracterizes prior testimony.
- Quickly regain focus on your questioning after breaks or interruptions by simply looking at the screen to see where you left off.
- Search the deposition for possible impeachment material.
- Discreetly place an electronic mark on testimony that you may want to revisit later. Then during a break, you can quickly search for these marks or run a report to make sure you have followed up on everything you intended to.
- Discreetly double-check what you thought you heard by looking at the screen, rather than drawing attention to a given answer by asking the reporter to read it back.
- Break down long, complicated answers by letting a witness speak uninterrupted, then scrolling back to the start of the answer and breaking it down via further precise questioning based on the witness’s exact words.
- Enable deaf or hearing-impaired witnesses to participate in the deposition process by reading the questions on the screen.
- Allow co-counsel to participate remotely, saving travel time, hassle and expense. Some realtime platforms even allow for secure chat between you and your remote colleagues.
- Leave the deposition with a rough draft of the day’s testimony.
While not every case may justify the added expense of realtime, clearly there are cases where the benefits outlined above are well worth the cost of this premium service.