The Way We Work
March 12, 2013 by Julia Camenisch

Trying this particular criminal case should have been a straightforward matter for the assistant district attorney (DA). However, it wasn’t working out that way. At the last minute, the judge informed her that she needed more evidence—and she had just two days to get it.

The judge insisted that expert testimony from the victim's doctor was essential for proving the facts of the case. The doctor was willing to testify, but he was in Pittsburgh, PA; the hearing was in Georgia, hundreds of miles away.

What would have been a major headache several years ago has become a relatively simple matter thanks to online conferencing technology and an innovative court reporting company, NextGen Reporting. Because of NextGen’s investment in customized video conferencing technology that uses military-grade security, they were able to create a secure video link between the doctor and the courtroom using the conferencing equipment already installed there.

The NextGen blog reports that the setup worked amazingly well. The judge and attorneys were all able to talk to the doctor while the jury looked on. The assistant DA had the testimony needed to prove her case.

For NextGen’s David Noteware and Jason Primuth, enabling these types of cross-country legal proceedings is all in a day’s work. The company routinely helps attorneys set up remote connections whenever and wherever needed. From their vantage point, remote solutions make legal processes faster and more efficient.

Court is in session (and out of the room)

As Bob Dylan once famously observed: “The times, they are a-changing.” Even Lady Justice can’t escape untouched by the Work 3.0 revolution. While justice for all is still the order of the day, the nuts and bolts of how proceedings take place are slowly being freed from traditional constraints.

One such change is how and where people give sworn evidence—also called a legal deposition. These out-of-court testimonies are key to building a courtroom-worthy case and are heavily relied upon by all attorneys involved in a matter.

In bygone days, if an attorney needed to hold a deposition, a whole bevy of people were required: The witness, legal counsel for both sides, court reporters, secretaries—they all had to be on hand. These days? The attorneys can recline in their respective office chairs, the witness can testify from his home or office, and the court reporter can transcribe the proceedings from her digs clear across the country.

As the CEO of NextGen Reporting, Noteware has seen requests for remote court reporting skyrocket in recent years. He stated: “We do about 60% on-site reporting and 40% remote. More and more of our clients are choosing to give it a try.”

One big reason for this demand is the increased efficiency it offers. Primuth, the company’s executive vice president, explained that “conducting remote depositions expands the reach of the attorney and enables them to cut down on the wasted time and effort required to travel.”

He noted that, since attorneys generally bill by the hour, cutting out extra travel time also saves money for the client.

Noteware pointed out that remote depositions offer another benefit for the client. “The attorneys and their clients can either participate in the event in real time or view the recorded video stream later, kind of like a DVR...they review the witness’ credibility and [can thus] make better decisions about how to manage the case.”

For court reporters, the rise of remote depositions is opening up new employment opportunities. They’re no longer limited by driving distance. By using cloud-based video conferencing solutions, reporters can be involved in depositions on the other side of the country—or simply on the other side of town—without incurring increased travel costs.

However, court reporters should still log hours in the courtroom before jumping into the world of remote reporting. In an interview with the Journal of Court Reporting, court reporter Toni Christy advised new reporters to make sure they have plenty of on-site experience first. “There’s a myth out there among students that they can just jump into remote work...But you need some years of experience behind you and all that writing where you’re really comfortable being on your own and being able to troubleshoot your own equipment.”

Justice that's more accessible to everyone

Online work tools are impacting other areas of the legal system as well. In Florida’s 9th District Court, for example, the cost of providing on-site translation services to defendants was increasing exponentially. In response, the District’s Internet Technology department implemented a virtual interpretation service.

As explained in public sector IT journal GCN, “using live video captured through courtroom security cameras and an audio platform, interpreters at...remote locations are able to securely interact with the court through Web browsers.”

Thanks to these remote interpreters, the court has seen significant cost savings, as well as the ability to service a greater range of languages effectively. Other judicial districts are taking notice and implementing similar programs.

From court reporting to criminal arraignments (where a defendant is called before a court and formally advised of the charges against him or her), more and more legal proceedings are taking place outside of the hallowed halls of the courthouse. While the justice system is often much slower than other industries to adopt change, virtual conferencing and cloud-based technologies are already making their impact in courtrooms and legal proceedings around the world. Thanks to the rise of online work tools, the cause of justice is marching on.

Julia Camenisch

Contributing Author

Julia Camenisch is a freelance technology and business journalist. She also works as an editor and copywriter for a wide range of clients, including national magazines, small businesses and nonprofit organizations. Julia brings to oDesk a passion for empowering small businesses through the innovative use of technology.