Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A Recent Experience on Trial

This article is written by Marty Zinkel, one of TTI's talented Trial Consultants. 

As a trial tech in the hot seat, I recently had the opportunity to work on a trial in Philadelphia’s City Hall where I couldn't win or lose. How is that possible? Every trial has its own quirks and stipulations, and in this case, I was retained by both plaintiff and defense counsel to present documents and videos to the jury. 

This scenario presented an interesting challenge. My mental and physical endurance were stretched to the limit by doing twice the work of a typical trial. One particularly effective technique I observed was an attorney’s use of a day-in-the-life video. Rather than relying on professional narration, the surviving spouse took the witness stand and explained various aspects of the video to the jury. When the lights went up, there wasn't a dry eye in the jury box. 

The Legal Intelligencer wrote a synopsis of the trial, which is below. If you have any questions for me, feel free to email me at Martin@HighTechTrial.com.

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Monday, December 31, 2012

Court Reporting Firms Need Leaders

Anyone who has lived through it knows that 2009 brought the most significant and dramatic changes to what had been, to that point, the very stable profession of freelance court reporting.

In any sizable community there were enough plaintiffs and defense firms with reporting needs to support healthy competition among the local reporting firms.  There was abundant work, and managing a court reporting office, as does managing any firm, requires significant management skills.  The firm owner who wanted to grow a business had to keep a staff of reporters busy - but not too busy; hire administrative staff; develop employee policies and procedures that were fair, within the bounds of the law, but remained affordable; enter into leasing agreements for office space and equipment; as well as innumerable other day-to-day management issues to handle.  With all that was needed to run and grow a successful firm, there were ample opportunities to make a mistake.  To have your firm thrive, it was important to keep the mistakes to a minimum.  Many firm owners throughout the country were up to the task and did thrive in this environment. 

Then came the Great Recession of 2009.  In 41 years of reporting, 2009 brought the first significant effects of a recession on the reporting industry.  The recession was added to the growing effects of gift giving and the increasing competition from national firms, along with pressures from carriers and clients for lower and lower rates.  The recession seemed to open the floodgates for client demands for lower rates.  These combined circumstances have led to struggles for many reporting firms.  No doubt, the good old days are gone. 

Since 2009 it seems we've entered the realm of constant uncertainty.  Accepting that reality and developing a plan for stability is critical.  The pre-2009 days of good management skills simply won't be sufficient any longer.  Leadership is the quality that is indispensable today.  A leader will embrace the challenges and find innovative solutions to new threats; he will set goals and achieve them, innovate to save precious resources and innovate to expand business.  One thing a leader will not do is bemoan his fate and pine for the "Good old days."  Staff and reporters pick up on any negativity in the leader's approach, or to the leader's feeling overwhelmed by circumstances.  Stay positive.  If you think you’re in a no-win situation, you are.  Don’t let the negativity seep into your thoughts.

A leader will accept the changed environment and work his way out of it.  Administrative staff and reporters need to know there is a plan to deal with the slowdown in business and the lower rates demanded by clients or offered by competitors.  Develop a plan and share the generalities of the plan.  Everyone understands it's a changed world.  Presented with a well thought-out plan to develop new business, a staff that respects the leadership will be willing to help make it happen.  It’s a new world.  We need to accept it, adapt and move on.

To every problem there is a solution.  

I’d like to hear how you’ve handled the post-recession pressures.  Send a comment or e-mail me at Jim@jdreporting.com

Friday, November 30, 2012

Video Conferencing Through a Video Technician’s Point of View

Recently, I had the privilege to work with a client who wanted to conduct a video conference deposition.

The far side was located in Canada, in a city north of Montreal, which would have been quite a distance to travel for our client located in Philadelphia.

My client explained to me that she wanted to display hard (non-electronic) documents and x-rays through our video conference system so that the far side could examine them. Through our Polycom HDX system, this was not only possible, but also allowed me to carry out my client’s wishes with ease.

I connected an ELMO -- a document presenter -- to the Polycom system and stood our x-ray light box on a table to the left of the client.  This allowed me control all three things at once.  I could very easily display the documents to the Canadian side, switch back to the camera focused on my client, or frame the light box in its own shot on the screen.

Overall, the client, who was concerned at first with the use of the technology, was dully impressed by the ease and clarity of the exhibits displayed throughout the deposition, and scheduled another video conference for the following week. She also mentioned how happy she was that she didn't have to travel to Canada!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Thank You, Thank You, and Thank You

This article is written by Hanna Kim, administrative assistant at James DeCrescenzo Reporting, LLC. Hanna has prior experience working at law offices but in 2011 switched to working in legal services with JDR. Hanna's article below describes the knowledge she's gained over the past year.

I’ve been thinking lately about why I love my job so much. Why James DeCrescenzo Reporting is an overall pleasant place to work at.  I realized that our office -- no matter how rough it gets, how busy it gets -- we never seem to forget to say thank you.  Two words, so short, yet so meaningful, strong and supportive.  It’s a pretty simple and basic way of showing respect to one another.  When we get really busy around the office, multitasking and bumping into each other, we might get frustrated and irritated but we somehow make time to stop for a second just to say thank you.

Working in the court reporting business, honestly, not everyone is easy to get along with or impress for that matter. A lot of our clients are in law firms working long hours dealing with clients, scheduling depositions, reviewing transcripts, submitting paperwork to other counsel and to courts and also preparing for trials. I know this because I used to work in a law firm.

Mainly my duty here is to take phone calls and schedule depositions, so I’m on the frontlines for my firm.  Usually, I’m on the phone with the legal assistants or paralegals and sometimes they do sound exhausted and a bit frustrated.  I would be lying if I said everyone on the phone was pleasant. What’s important here is that although the conversations may start out like that, just using the word thank you along the way changes their tone of voice.

Growing up, we are told by parents, teachers, other adults all the time to make sure we say thank you, but as adults we tend to forget the little things in life that make a significant impact on our lives as well as other people’s lives.

You may not remember every time but why don’t you give it a try today or even tomorrow: Say thank you to someone who opens the door for you, gets you coffee, scans documents for you -- ANYTHING -- and see how the atmosphere changes around you. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

You are...where?

As a trial tech, I am sometimes required to travel to places that I would otherwise never think of visiting, let alone for weeks at a time. So while it’s always good to win a trial, it is especially sweet if I have been away from home, doing little more than going back and forth from the hotel to the courtroom, and feeling a little like Bill Murray’s character in the movie Groundhog Day.

After recently going through this experience, maybe I should not have been surprised that it seemed more satisfying than a normal win. However, upon reflection, I also feel that I helped to bring the legal profession into the 21st century.

Not only did we present documents in our standard laptop and projector courtroom setup, complete with interactive monitor for the witness, but this time we added a microscope into the mix for a few days. Using the microscope, our pathologist expert was able to show actual pathology slides to the jury, and explain with visual detail why he thought there was a breakdown in the diagnosis procedure. Using the pen on the interactive monitor, he would circle the area of the cell he was discussing to direct the jury’s attention. I would then capture an image of the slide with pen markings and save it for later use. Pretty cool, right?

Well, I thought so. The court, however, was struck by the speed and simplicity of presenting documents to everyone in the courtroom at once, and who could blame them? It’s such a simple yet effective concept. When I saw this for the first time, I could not believe document presentation was not being done this way everywhere. As it turns out, we trial techs are riding this wave of technology into the courtroom. Perhaps it’s just that we are the wave! Now before you start imagining my head inflating like a balloon, consider the following statements, copied here exactly from the court transcripts on a day that I was asked by our client not to be present in court.


When I returned to court the next day, the court reporter said that my name came up quite a bit during proceedings the previous day. I smiled and thought – “this is a joke, right?” Usually if the court notices me, it’s only to ask how long the video will be or to ask me to move a piece of equipment, so I was caught off guard – I mean, a large part of my job is to be invisible. Yet the court clerks, reporters, my clients, the opposing counsel and company continued to tell me how during the previous day, the court mentioned me and how great a job I was doing. Of course, certain members of the opposing counsel were quite sarcastic, as one would expect.

Taking all this with a grain of salt, I couldn’t help but notice the difference we made in the courtroom procedure. Compared to other courtrooms using paper only, this courtroom’s procedure was very efficient. However, I did feel sorry for the clerk who had to go through many bankers’ boxes to find a page of a file in question as I put it up for the court instantly. The judge eventually decided that it was better to show the page as soon as I could instead of wait for the clerk.

As the trial drew to a close, the judge actually called me aside after court had concluded one day. He wanted to personally express his gratitude for the way I was able to quickly present documents digitally, and generally help move things along while keeping the jury engaged. Now if only all courtrooms (and attorneys) were as appreciative as this one… Anyway, that’s the dream, and this is what led me to obtain a copy of the transcript above.

Personal interactions like I had on this last trial remind me to be more impressed with what I’m doing as I see it through the perspective of someone experiencing technology in the courtroom for the first time. Someday, hopefully for the legal system and for Trial Technologies, Inc., this “new technology” that we bring to courtrooms will be just another common courtroom procedure; albeit one that saves time and money. Wouldn’t THAT be cool?!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Changes in Depositions – Looking Beyond the Subject Matter

Being a court reporter in Philadelphia, New York, New Jersey and Delaware for more than 40 years, I’ve seen a lot of changes in how depositions are conducted.  Since the rules that govern depositions haven’t changed much, the bulk of the changes have taken place with the people who attend depositions and how technology is used.

Early on in my career it was not uncommon for a blue cloud of cigar smoke to linger six feet in the air of a conference room, and it was easy to find an ashtray.  Today such a thing would never happen and for the younger attorneys, they can’t even imagine such a setting.  A change like this that comes with time is an improvement, and number one on my list.

Also an improvement: technology that has allowed each reporter to be far more productive.  For example, as a young reporter typing my notes after a deposition, the best I could consistently produce was 12 to 15 pages an hour.  Fast forward a few decades and computer technology and an improved stenotype machine allow me to produce 300 page rough ASCIIs a few hours after the deposition ends.  The technology has allowed court reporters to be far more productive.

It used to be that men wore suits and ladies wore dresses or suits to the office.  The change in the dress code is obvious.   My estimate is that today half of the professionals attending depositions are dressed more casually, with open-collar shirts and slacks.  The casual attire is certainly comfortable, but out of respect for the process I still prefer to wear a suit to a deposition.  Being an older male wearing a suit, I’m often mistaken as being one of the attorneys.  I can chuckle at it; but it really gets under some people’s skin. 

One of the most annoying changes I’ve seen at the deposition is the attorneys’ undying allegiance to their mobile device.  Yes, it happens everywhere.  I can’t remember the last time I rode an elevator with three other people when at least one of them wasn’t consumed with their phone. 

In a great majority of the depositions at least one person is regularly checking his or her mobile device.  And the cacophony of ringtones and alerts of incoming messages can be distracting.  Picture an intense, fast-paced examination of an important witness.  All of a sudden everyone is treated to five seconds of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture.  Great tune, but not in an appropriate setting.

And like the person on the train sharing his half of the phone conversation with everyone in the car, the BlackBerry that rests on the conference room table and vibrates every minute or so is a distraction to everyone.   I can only assume that the message is important to the recipient.  But really, does the announcement of its arrival have to be shared with everyone?

I take the view that I should conduct myself in a deposition the same way I would in a courtroom.  I know, my age is really beginning to show.  If you have an opinion or comment, I’d love to hear another perspective.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Three Tips on Website Homepage Strategy

Studies have shown that your website homepage will either attract or repel a visitor in as little as 10 seconds. I redesigned the JDReporting.com website recently and learned a significant amount about the theory behind a quality, attention-grabbing small business website.  Below are three questions I kept in mind during my project and why.

  1. Is there a call to action? The ultimate goal of a business website is to turn a visitor into a customer.  The most effective way to do this is to tell the customer the best way she can contact you.  Examples of a call to action are a phone number, email address, or scheduling form.  Calls to action lead to conversion, which is the transformation of a website visitor to a paying customer, and is an example of inbound marketing.
  2. How does the homepage match up with search terms?  If a Nebraska-based client is looking for a reporter in your city, she may type something like “Philadelphia Court Reporter” into a search engine.  Since your homepage is one of many that the potential client may click on, it is important that she feel like she should choose you.  If you have an office in Philadelphia, is the address displayed on your header or footer?  The same goes for services.  If you’re looking for more clients who want realtime depositions, make sure your homepage clearly directs the visitor to learn more about your realtime services and how you should be contacted if they choose to schedule.
  3. Has “Why Us?” been answered? The court reporting industry is competitive and your website has only a few seconds to make a good first impression.  Make sure your client knows why you should be the one they call.  Do this by making your message clear.  Why are you the best?  Whether it is due to your professional and talented reporters, timely transcript delivery, or variety of services, make this obvious on your homepage.   You want to attract the right clients.  The right clients turn into longtime clients.

These three questions will help you build a solid foundation for a business website.  If you keep your customers in mind and listen to their feedback --and always challenge yourself to improve -- your website will be a stellar online representation of your firm.