Shortage Solutions 1: Remote Proceedings

One of the reasons given for stenographer shortage is that many reporters have a strict coverage area, and type or amount of work they will cover. Nothing inherently wrong with that. People have standards. Esquire put out a Georgia article about remote deposition proceedings. Photo archive. We’ll note that in the original article it says 70 percent of stenographers to retire by 2023, but the Ducker Report seems to suggest 2033. The basic idea is to increase the coverage area and reduce commute time by using video or audio to have the stenographer attend. We first came across that idea in SoCalReporters’s blog post, There Is No Evil Empire and mirrored it in There Is No Rebel Alliance.

Though we haven’t jumped into every state’s laws, we did spend quite a good amount of energy and time on learning our own state’s laws, and we think it would be feasible in New York. Remote swearing is allowed under the circumstances described in the CPLR. If you have a choice between agencies using digitals or patching us in remotely to these things, we hope you’re smart enough to choose being patched in. We hope agencies are smart enough to keep choosing stenographers first and coming up with creative solutions for complex problems. We hope that stenographers continue to recognize when they’re not being chosen first and go out to build bigger, better business.

We reached out to Esquire about this initiative and article, and for a brief interview with Avi Stadler, Esquire’s General Counsel, about the program.

Might be worth talking with your own agencies about these ideas. If you have or are building your own company or book of business, the investment in remote capability might be something to look at. They want stenographers. We want them to use stenographers. And the consumer pressure in many cases is for there to be a stenographer. All that’s left is for stenographers to get themselves in the mix and make sure we adapt to the market if this is how steno sells. Some important tips from an ex-freelancer:

  • Get immediate contact information from other attendees in case you’re cut off or lose contact. You need to be able to call the others and let them know you’re no longer there taking the record.
  • Learn how to hotspot your cellphone in the event of a site service disruption OR have some kind of backup plan or call service for technology failure. Adaptability can seize the day.
  • Unexpected things will happen. Let’s say an entire unrelated party gets linked into yours by mistake? Take charge. Be a leader. Explain to the other conference that they should call into the agency. Try to communicate with the agency that there’s an issue. Have emergency numbers or contacts saved directly into your phone so that internet errors don’t stop you from communicating vital information to clients and agencies.

We are thankful that there are so many entities and independents brainstorming and coming up with ideas for the field. We encourage working reporters to join the discussion. Make your concerns known. Have your ideas be heard. We understand that this isn’t the newest idea out there, and that various companies have promoted virtual depositions, even as far back as 2017. Archive. But the best we can do is acknowledge that work and ask for more promotion of stenographic services coast to coast. Hopefully in a year or two we’re eating our words on previous articles that told stenographers certain agencies were not their friends and watching the steno renaissance continue full swing.

For now, consider this one potential shortage solution in what may end up a series of many dependent upon reader feedback.

Interview with Esquire GC

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After reviewing the Esquire Deposition Solutions, LLC’s article about their remote court reporting solution to the the ongoing court reporting shortage, I reached out to Esquire and got a prompt response from Avi Stadler, former litigation attorney and current General Counsel at Esquire.

Across social media, reporters have been wondering about this initiative and what it might mean for them personally and the field as a whole. We’ve gotten a good first look at what the program is and how it might develop, and we encourage all readers to keep on reading about it below. Note that the following is not a verbatim transcript but a recitation of what was said.

We asked:

  1. When did the remote deposition initiative start? We’ve found articles dating back to at least 2017 for Esquire being a leader in promoting remote depositions.

A. Actually, the program started very recently. Where there might be some confusion is we first promoted remote depositions, which are the attorneys appearing remotely and the court reporter with the witness. Now we’re rolling out remote court reporting, which is the court reporter appearing remotely in jurisdictions where that is permitted by law.

2. Did the Ducker Report and forecasted shortage play a role in the development of the remote deposition technology and program?

A. The shortage isn’t forecasted, it’s here. We are having issues every day with covering work. That said, we are looking at remote reporting as our flagship approach to the shortage that will allow reporters to cover more jobs and stack depos without wasting travel time, gas, and money. If a reporter has to commute two hours there and two hours back, that’s four hours lost. This can give reporters back that time.

3. Is there any special training required or is it an intuitive program?

A. We do train reporters rigorously, but the technology is not very complex. We’re starting this program in our offices so there are always dedicated Esquire staff there to help. If the program is very popular, we may actually expand it to other locations after proper testing and quality assurance.

5. What states is Esquire looking for remote stenographers in?

A. Several. We are not giving out legal advice, but we do have a document which cited some of the laws in various states that I’d be happy to give you. Notably, Texas and Florida do not allow remote swearing of witnesses so we do not offer remote reporter in those states. Federal depositions may be remotely reported, and we are exploring that as well.

6. Is it true that 70 percent of reporters are retiring by 2023? The Ducker Report seems to suggest 2033.

A. I’m not entirely sure. There may be a typo in our article — but I’ll say this: demand is outpacing supply. At the time the Ducker Report was written in 2013, the average age of reporters was about 51 and now it is 57. At that time, there were 1500 new entrants expected and 5100 set to retire, so we all have some work to do together to close that gap and meet the demands of our clients and the industry. Anecdotally, it has become increasingly difficult to cover jobs. We’ve even asked for coverage from other agencies at times and still been unable to cover.

7. Any specific areas pop out as being difficult to cover?

A. California has been very challenging. We’ve even talked to the California Deposition Reporters Association about it, and they’ve said the same. Other than that, non-metro areas. For example, border towns in Texas can be hard to cover. Unfortunately, again, Texas does not permit remote swearing of witnesses. Rural areas are difficult to cover.

8. Has the forecasted shortage increased opportunities for reporters in terms of work or pay?

A. More work is definitely available for stenographers. I wish more people would pass the tests. It’s a great career. Our mission is to ensure the sanctity of the record is preserved, very much like all of you. So there’s a ton of opportunity and more people should get into it.

9. Has the forecasted shortage increased court reporting costs?

A. Costs have definitely gone up. Court reporters are charging more. Some companies are paying hundreds of dollars in bounties to get jobs paid. It’s a difficult situation, and that’s not sustainable.

10. With the remote court reporting program, who is responsible for ensuring compliance with local laws?

A. Well, we are not giving legal advice to our clients. But, again, I have a document I’ll share with you that cites the laws in various states and that we are confident in. Ultimately, our clients have to be comfortable with remote court reporting and whether or not it’s allowed in their jurisdiction.

11. Is Esquire running any stenographer training programs?

A. We do offer a mentorship in all of our offices where a new reporter can be paired with a more experienced reporter. We also engage with state court reporting associations and have occasional programs related to court reporting, continuing education, and business. For example, last year we had a program “Like A Boss.” That program was designed to help with the challenges of being an independent contractor and offered tax tips. Finally, we work very closely with the schools. Here in Atlanta we offer to have reporting students tour the office, see what we do, and get a feel for what it’s all about. We also have an internship program that allows students to sit out with Esquire reporters to gain deposition experience.  We’ve had over 30 interns across the country participate over the last 3 quarters.  Additionally, we offer two scholarship opportunities each quarter to our interns.

12. Any other initiatives or ideas you’d like to tell stenographers or clients? Anything you’d like to tell us at all?

A. My boss — the CEO of this company — loves this industry. Her son is currently completing service in the army and plans to enter court reporting school after that. We are all committed to the industry. Personally, I see it as Esquire freeing court reporters to do what they do best, making the record, while Esquire takes care of the sales, marketing, production, collection and pay.

And there you have it. Often on this blog we encourage readers to think critically and always be informed. Today’s no different. Be informed, be inspired, and be ready to realize that there are a lot of opportunities out there for the working reporter and aspiring entrepreneur. There’s a big demand for reporting, and stenographers have the capability to fill it. There’s a big demand for solutions to problems. For example, perhaps many of our readers feel the stenographer should have a physical presence so that the stenographer remains a fixture at proceedings. That’s good! It’s another perspective which can lead to more and better solutions.

So whether you come away from the blog thinking you want to work with Esquire or thinking you’ve got way better ideas, I’ve got to encourage you to get out there and do it. Say it. Be a part of the conversation and lead your peers to be more marketable, professional, and ready for the future.