Well after the recession of 2008 to 2010 began to relent, some court reporting firms noticed that cost-containment functions at law firms that had emerged out of necessity during the downturn had remained in place. Something similar occurred within state and federal courts where severe cost scrutiny continued long after the grip of the recession had loosened.
This all made sense. Why not continue looking for opportunities to reduce costs and/or to increase profitability?
As they say, history doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes. That is, even after “Coronavirus” mercifully disappears from our daily vocabulary, the changes that are taking place within law firms and in courtrooms will leave a permanent mark on the speech-to-text industry.
These changes already are taking place out of necessity. Like all other businesses and institutions, law firms and courts are compelled to embrace remote depositions, trials, and hearings as a means to accommodate the social-distancing laws and guidelines that define our current and indefinite reality. But there’s something else to consider. Once attorneys and judges become acquainted with remote legal proceedings—maybe even comfortable with them—the changes that now are labeled as “temporary” are likely to become permanent among a subset of the marketplace. The more that parties begin to see the benefits of virtual legal proceedings—reduced travel costs, granting employees the lifestyle option of telecommuting—the more likely the legal community as a whole will be to bend its rigid processes and make way for technological efficiencies that largely had seemed out of reach in the past.
Will it eliminate in-person legal proceedings? Of course not. But even if it is just ten or 20 percent of proceedings that migrate permanently to remote delivery, that will have a significant impact.
It’s not hard to see the changes developing right before our eyes. Take a look at Pennsylvania, just as one example, where legal proceedings now are authorized to “be held via phone conference, videoconference, or web deposition if a court reporter could participate remotely,” according to the Pennsylvania Court Reporters Association. “The Governor approved the request to suspend the physical presence of notaries who are court reporters or stenographers participating in criminal, civil and administrative proceedings.” While PCRA goes on to report that the “suspension is temporary and will only last for the duration of the declared disaster emergency,” what happens when the marketplace gets a taste of virtual proceedings?
Keep in mind that this is an industry where firms and courts already were looking for ways to better leverage a shrinking population of stenographers while digital reporting and automated speech recognition step up to larger roles. The business disruption and isolation resulting from COVID-19 no doubt will accelerate these changes and result in permanent alteration to an industry already going through profound change. Businesses of all varieties now are moving meetings and conferences of all sizes to online platforms. So, your clients as well as their clients will be asking about remote depositions even if they never have in the past.
Take a look around the speech-to-text industry and you see firms, suppliers, and schools scrambling to adapt their business models to the new marketplace reality, and for good reason.
Beyond law firms and courtrooms, court reporters also will begin to see the benefits of remote depositions – reduction of travel costs, elimination of commutes, and overall quality-of-life enhancements. Such benefits have been available for years to burgeoning telecommuting workforces across most industries, but somehow felt mostly out of reach for court reporters. That is changing.
That’s because we are heading to a world that will have witnessed institutions of all sizes yield to new types of market forces and that will no longer tolerate tradition and protocol as acceptable rationale for failing to adopt new technologies. It will be a world that has watched automobile assembly lines convert to produce ventilators for hospitals. It will be a world that has watched doctors, television anchors, and university professors deliver their services from their homes via Skype or Zoom, something that would have seemed unfathomable just a few months earlier. And it will be a world that has watched everything around us – from restaurants to grocery stores to the entertainment industry – adapt their business models to accommodate the emergency needs of the marketplace.
The legal community will not be immune to the changes. So, it likewise will be a world where attorneys of all ages, who previously may never have even heard of Zoom or Skype, now will question why they must get on airplanes for depositions rather than doing so from the comfort of their living rooms. It will be a world where the long-held vision of a remote reporter can work one deposition taking place in New York in the morning before working a second afternoon deposition taking place in California will become commonplace. And it will be a world where a last-minute cancellation doesn’t automatically render a reporter “done for the day.”
If necessity is the mother of invention, the months ahead promise to bring invention in correlation with the magnitude of that necessity. As this industry adapts to the necessity created by COVID-19, don’t be surprised when this necessity, for better or worse, leaves a permanent impact.