Count U.S. Legal Support’s President and CSO Pete Giammanco among those who walked into January oblivious to the fact that a pandemic was about to turn his firm upside-down. But an industry that typically has been slow to adapt to technology has done a remarkable job of quickly embracing it, according to Giammanco, who says that venturing into the impossible is the only way to discover your limits.
What’s something you know today about how clients engage with your services or consume your products that you didn’t know in January?
Giammanco: I think the question is, “what hasn’t changed since January?” With the onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic, like nearly every business, our operations have shifted to virtual formats in response to state and local government-mandated office closures, social distancing guidelines and in many cases, a personal choice to limit travel and contact. In years prior, we typically facilitated about 10,000 remote events annually. Since March of this year alone, we’ve already scheduled over 44,000 remote events including remote depositions, hearings, and arbitrations on our RemoteDepo™ platform. Courts across the country are continuing to rapidly adjust to accommodate virtual proceedings.
According to a report from the Michigan Supreme Court, Michigan courts have logged more than 500,000 hours of online hearings and proceedings since late March. And this summer, our trial services division, DecisionQuest successfully supported the first virtual bench trial via Zoom. With the sudden shift to remote work, there was an initial learning curve for our clients who had never facilitated or participated in a remote deposition. As the months have gone on, we’ve seen the learning curve drop off and the familiarity and ease of remote depositions continue to take hold. If you asked me in January if I thought the legal industry would have not only adopted, but accepted, virtual forms of delivering legal services, I would have been a bit skeptical as traditionally the industry has been slow to adopt new technology. As many litigators have expressed, remote formats have brought efficiency gains and cost savings to both firms and clients, allowing for more flexible methods to serve clients.
On a scale of 1 to 10 – where 10 is “totally resilient” – how flexible has the traditional business model of court reporting agencies proven to be in adapting to the realities of the pandemic? What systems have adapted well and what haven’t?
Giammanco: I think the court reporting industry has been preparing for technological advancement for years. While stenography is the gold standard for reporting, we’re all acutely aware of the national court reporter (stenographer) shortage. With the introduction of new technologies, including remote depositions and digital reporting, we’ve been able to continue to serve our clients during changing circumstances. With regard to the pandemic, I would say the industry has done a fantastic job of quickly adjusting to the new normal of remote proceedings.
What are challenges to remote reporting that you’ve been able to iron out over the past several months? And what remains a challenge?
Giammanco: Just as our clients experienced a learning curve with the technology and process, reporters have experienced the same. Through a variety of educational content and resources, we’ve been with them every step of the way to ensure they are comfortable and prepared to use the technology. The willingness to learn, adjust and adapt has been amazing to witness and be a part of. We’re constantly working with reporting professionals on ways to refine the remote deposition process to make it easier on them and our mutual clients. As an example, we’ve recently rolled out a new exhibit marking team and set of tools within our RemoteDepo™ platform to make this process more efficient for reporters. Some of the challenges that remain are out of our control and out of the control of the court reporter. For instance, the audio quality and Internet speed from a witness or an attorney is something that we cannot adjust or control. Working together with our clients and reporters, we’ve developed deposition readiness checklists and other tools to help ensure everyone is properly setup for success.
If the effects of the pandemic are to extend to this time next year, what do you think will be some specific effects on the court reporting industry?
Giammanco: Talking with reporters, there is a widespread acceptance of remote formats for depositions and other hearings. Many reporters have expressed how reduced or even eliminated commutes have given them the ability to take on jobs they would have otherwise had to turn down due to location. I think we’ll continue to see the adoption of remote depositions, the introduction of additional technology to facilitate service, and a general willingness to move outside of our comfort zone and learn new skills and ways of working.
When the dust settles, what do you predict will be the biggest long-term effects of COVID-19 on the court reporting industry?
Giammanco: Overall, I think the widespread acceptance and adoption of new technologies and ways of conducting proceedings will have the biggest long-term effect on the court reporting industry. While change can initially be uncomfortable, this is where we typically find the biggest rewards. As Arthur C. Clarke said, “The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.” I believe the court reporting industry will continue to innovate and find new ways to serve our mutual clients. At U.S. Legal Support, we’re excited to be part of this journey and are committed to advancing the profession for everyone.