RE: Remote Judicial Reporting, WUNCRA

WUNCRA recently put out an article labeled NCRA/NCRF For Sale. I don’t reblog many of Frank’s articles for a few reasons, but I do feel that there are some things that need to be said. First of all, WUNCRA has apparently enabled comments. In months past, the option to comment was available but blocked. I, for one, will applaud WUNCRA for enabling comments, and urge that forum to continue to embrace transparency and honest discussions on the issues presented. May this be a sign of a paradigm shift towards discourse and solutions.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, Frank touches on two very important issues, but I feel doesn’t explain it as well as it can be explained, so I will take a shot at it. The issue centers around the JCR’s May 2019 edition which, in addition to Dave Wenhold’s fantastic article about change, features an article from NCRF and its chair, Tami Keenan. The article touches briefly on NCRF’s work to educate lawyers on how to make a better record, and then dives into the meat of the article and this post, RJR.

What is RJR? It’s remote judicial reporting. It’s the idea of having a stenographer attend proceedings remotely. I happened to have had the privilege of talking with Esquire’s General Counsel about their efforts to bring remote reporting to the freelance field in March, and I was overall impressed with its potential applications and the amount of work they’ve done in figuring out where it’s legal.

So on its face this sounds like a great opportunity. Decrease the amount of time reporters have to commute and increase the amount of work they can take. It’s simple math. Here is the flip side of the coin and why Frank is cautioning people about this: If you open up these remote proceedings and make them more commonplace, we will become more distant and faceless, and therefore easier to replace in the market. Today, a lot of markets demand a stenographer. That may not be so if we get a good ten years of reporting over the phone and no face time with what are essentially our customers. Remote reporting is a great idea, but it needs to promote stenography.

The second issue that Frank puts out is this idea of the national notary. The national notary idea would effectively create a national notary that could swear in people over state lines or swear people remotely, something forbidden in some states and allowed in others. This too is an idea that could be both beneficial and harmful to stenographic reporters. On the one hand, allowing people to travel seamlessly and without restriction to cover work would be a boon to many. On the other hand, there is a very real concern that stenographers in locations with a lower cost of living could undercut stenographers in markets with high cost of entry and cost of living.

All that said, Frank’s ostensible paranoia with the idea may be unnecessary. National notary does not seem to be a big topic from all I’ve been able to gather. In an exchange with a boot camp attendee that spoke on the condition of anonymity, when asked if the national notary was on the agenda, the attendee stated, “I do not remember that at all. It may have come up, but if it did, I was completely entrenched in our legislative task, so it went in one ear and out the other. I certainly do not remember that being the focus of any discussion. Or my focus, I should say.” A second attendee, writing to me under the same conditions, stated, “I don’t even remember the term ‘national notary’ coming up at all…” In my view, if two people who were there and care deeply about this field can hardly remember that coming up, it’s probably not going to be a major initiative unless and until we’ve worked out the problems I have described. As I have been told, the focus of boot camp, NCRA’s 2019 legislative boot camp, was the inclusion of court reporting schools in the Higher Education Act.

NCRA is in a tough position when it comes to these WUNCRA posts. On the one hand, if it comes out with a counter to each and every one, it ends up giving airtime to someone who just hasn’t been all that friendly towards the organization. I too worry about that. But I worry more about the cost of ignorance. If we do not take the time to introduce these ideas with some pros and cons laid out for brain food, we risk students and reporters stumbling across these ideas with no other reference or perspective. I’m happy to let my blog serve as one of many in the long run. And my personal conclusion? NCRA for sale? Not likely!

Indeed, if we are not somewhat careful in how we approach the issues, we may find ourselves in a hard position. Taking the time out to educate each other on the issues is always worthwhile, and it is important for all of us to weigh the pros and cons, and come up with ways we might influence the market, keep our skills sharp, and our customers happy. If I can pull a little bit off of Wenhold’s article, I’d say change is coming, not all of it bad. But I’d say this: We can all, in our markets and profession, be agents of change, and work to ensure change is for the better.

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