From Louis Brandeis to Sonia Sotomayor, The Steno Machine is a Technological Marvel

From Louis Brandeis to Sonia Sotomayor, The Steno Machine is a Technological Marvel

The steno machine has stood the test of time through evolving technology.

By Kenneth A. Zais, President, O’Brien & Levine Court Reporting

The court reporter’s shorthand steno machine may look much the same as it did 100 years ago when the format debuted, and when Louis Brandeis, then a litigator in Boston, might have taken a deposition. But the resemblance stops there. Under the keys, there are ongoing technological advances that Sonia Sotomayor could have tapped into 20 years ago, as litigators can continue to do so today. And let’s not forget video.

This being the 21st Century, chances are you’ve streamed live news broadcasts to your TV, computer, tablet or smart phone. Similarly, Internet connectivity provided by Boston court reporters allows the legal team to attend a deposition remotely, across geographies and time zones. Through realtime streaming, they can follow the live text of a deponent’s testimony from the steno machine, along with live video streamed right from the videographer’s camera.

Let’s say you are pursuing a patent infringement lawsuit on behalf of a Massachusetts company against a competitor located in California. Discovery in this multi-jurisdictional case includes depositions around the country. A key witness, the software engineer at the defendant company, is based in San Francisco. Your primary expert is in New York City. Your law firm is in Boston.

Virtual Attendance

You head to California to depose the software engineer. While you want your team present, it is also important to manage costs. With realtime streaming, your expert, as well as your associate and paralegal who are familiar with the intricacies of the case can participate through their computers. No special software is required. Since travel time can easily exceed the duration of a deposition, there is no need for them to be away from the office for several days, collecting receipts to submit with expense reports.

Still, through the instant messaging feature available with realtime, you are able to confer as if they were there, garnering insights for your line of questioning. For example, your associate may flag inconsistent testimony or your expert may question the validity of a claim. As the witness testifies, text can be highlighted, annotated and coded by issue, and preserved for reference as the case proceeds.

For multi-day depositions, a rough draft of the transcript is available at the conclusion of the day’s questioning for review and preparation for the next day.

On Camera

Again, let’s not forget that the camera was rolling. The video of the deposition can be produced with synchronized text, the same way it appeared live over the Internet during the deposition. When playing the video file, each line of testimony scrolls as the witness speaks—capturing demeanor, body language and tone of voice.

The real value, though, is searchability. Instead of rewinding and fast-forwarding to pinpoint the testimony that corresponds to the transcript, run text-based searches to zero-in on crucial statements, then easily create video clips to import into trial presentation software.

Mark (and Link) Exhibits

These days, you are no doubt accustomed to receiving final transcripts electronically, in the format you prefer, such as searchable full and mini PDF documents, a standard ASCII text file or a .ptx file.

Then there are exhibits. A stack of exhibits in a tower of banker’s boxes. They are marked and stickered. Copied and bound. As you review the transcript, you search through the stack to put your hand on the one that corresponds to Exhibit 35.

Keep in mind that like transcripts, court reporters can provide exhibits electronically by simply scanning and creating PDF documents. Then they’ll take it one step further and hyperlink exhibits to the electronic transcript. Click on the link for Exhibit 35 and there it is.

However, even before instructing the court reporter to retain exhibits for transcript production, new software enables a complete electronic process for handling exhibits via the iPad – before, during, and after the deposition. A secure, cloud-based server allows counsel to mark and simultaneously introduce exhibits to the witness, co-counsel, opposing counsel and other participants, whether they are in the deposition room or attending remotely.

It’s the electronic equivalent of sliding a page across the table for the witness to review, and circulating copies around the room (or faxing/emailing to those attending remotely). Plus, the parties retain their personal, annotated copies of all exhibits on their iPads, while marinating the integrity of  the official versions.

The advantage? Eliminate the cumbersome, time-consuming process of printing, shipping and lugging boxes of exhibits.

Fast Forward

If you see a depiction of a deposition that went forward in 1913, the stenographer’s keypad will look remarkably familiar. But everything else has changed.

In 2013, the court reporter/videographer team greets you wherever you designate, be it Boston, San Francisco, New York, Chicago, London, Paris or Tel Aviv. They make the connections and go on the record, keeping legal team members around the world on track.  Following the proceeding, whether it’s a deposition, arbitration, trial or hearing, your transcripts and exhibits are always readily accessible on any computer or tablet.  And of course, your phone.

Kenneth A. Zais is president of O’Brien & Levine Court Reporting (, based in Boston and offering worldwide coverage. He is a long-time member of and is active in leadership roles with the National Network of Reporting Companies (NNRC), an organization of innovative agencies providing worldwide services for court reporting, videography and more. In addition, he has served on the board of the Society for the Technological Advancement of Reporting (STAR) and maintains an active membership.

Other professional affiliations include the National Court Reporters Association (NCRA), the Massachusetts Court Reporters Association (MCRA) and the United States Court Reporters Association (USCR.)