When it comes to litigation, presenting audio evidence along with transcripts is an extremely useful tool. Lawyers look to a legal transcription service providers to prepare well-formatted documents from video and/or audio recordings of legal conferences and meetings, hearings, depositions, interrogations, witness interviews and so on. These transcripts are used in court cases to present evidence in an effective manner and can positively impact the outcome of the case.
Once the authenticity of a transcript is established and evidence has been provided regarding its accuracy, the transcript is admissible opinion evidence about what is said on the recording. Using transcripts for court cases provide many benefits:
- Clarity: Legal transcripts are a text version of the speech and non-speech audio information and provide a way of understanding the content. When presenting evidence, transcripts provide more clarity to the audio/video recordings.A skilled lawyer can use a verbatim transcript to improve all aspects of the case. With accurate documentation of legal events and testimonies, lawyers handling complex cases can get an overall record of the evidence. This will help them be better prepared to handle their case, especially in situations when there are several witnesses or contradictory police reports. In fact, evidentiary recordings without transcripts can pose many concerns. FindLaw provides two examples of situations where transcripts would provide more clarity: when foreign languages are spoken in the recordings and when speech recordings contain slang and/or regionally accented speech. Having a transcript will make it easy for jurors who are unfamiliar with the language or accents to follow what was said. If background noise and other disturbances are present in the audio recordings, it can be difficult for the jury to discern who said what. Transcripts help when it comes to deciphering multiple voices in the audio recording.
- Allows highlighting of key information: Lawyers can highlight key information and important details and quotes from a transcript. This is extremely useful when the lawyers as it can help them develop questions or keep a track of the most important aspects of a case. It is easier to find the information as and when needed in transcripts. Interactive transcripts with timestamps allow users to search for specific information within a video. They simply have to type a search term into the search bar to see every location where the keyword is spoken within the transcript. With interactive timestamps, lawyers can go to the more pertinent parts of the record instead of watching the whole video.
- Makes material easy to organize and searchable: Transcripts are easier to organize than video/audio content. Lawyers need to monitor and study every minor detail of the case to ensure that the court proceedings go smoothly. Sorting through dozens of hours of audio and video material can be a major challenge for lawyers. With a proper folder system, transcripts can be neatly organized. With advanced technology, well-organized transcripts can be searched using words, acronyms, or phrases – all of which help legal professionals present the case more effectively.
- Easy to share: With accurate, timely transcripts in a user-friendly and printable format, lawyers can easily share information and collaborate effectively with their client and their legal team.
- End-to-end support: From developing trial plans to the appeals process, clear and accurate transcripts provide lawyers with comprehensive support by providing a better understanding of the facts of the case, without any room for misinterpretation. Lawyers can also use the transcript for questioning the other party and also pull witness statements from it to make their point if witnesses are not present for some reason. With accurate transcripts of various events, lawyers can study the material and prepare how to handle the case. They can use the transcript to prepare questions, reiterate what was said in the deposition, and also ask for clarifications on specific statements. With an accurate written record of testimonies that can be used as evidence in a trial, lawyers can revisit the material to formulate an appeal if the need arises.
When drafting adversarial and objective documents, lawyers must identify the purpose clearly for effective results. Whether they are writing or summarizing a deposition transcript or updating a client on the progress of the case, they need to be clear about the purpose before they start drafting. Legal transcription outsourcing to an experienced service provider can ensure clear documentation of all types of video/audio content that accurately conveys the information. By providing precise insights into the case’s strengths and weaknesses, such support can make the difference between winning and losing.
Depositions are conducted to gather facts and clarify details before the trial and can extract valuable information that would otherwise remain unknown or disputed. Deposition transcription provides courts, attorneys and their clients with a record of the event and helps the attorney prepare for further legal proceedings. Presenting an accurate and exact account of events is crucial to discover all the facts and information known to the witnesses and promote a fair trial.
A deposition allows attorneys to find out what the witness knows and preserve this testimony. The session also allows the attorney to gauge the behaviour of the witness while testifying. Accurate, verbatim legal transcription of witness testimonies can support attorneys presenting video or audio recordings as evidence in court and improve their chances of a positive outcome. Let’s take a look at what attorneys can do to produce accurate deposition transcripts.
- Pay attention to the equipment: Today, remote depositions have become the rule due to the pandemic driven social distancing requirements. This is a major challenge for most litigators. JD Supra’s survey of national court reporters who are responsible for creating accurate records that successful record of every spoken word, threw light on the “behaviour of litigators who were able to successfully conduct depositions during the past year”.The court reporters noted that the litigators used equipment that could ensure top-quality audio. Optimizing room acoustics is essential not only to maintain flow and clarity but also for accurate transcription. Before setting up the microphones, attorneys need to consider factors such as the number of speakers in the room as well as those joining online or by phone. Here are some tips to enhance audio:
- Place microphones in all strategic locations
- Use headphones that have a built-in microphone
- Test the microphone and recording device
- Make sure the microphone is placed close to the speaker’s mouth
- Minimize background distractions and sounds
- Optimize volume, use an audio limiter
- Use a sound editor
Though experienced legal transcription service providers can transcribe audio recordings in any file format, recording in MP4, MP3 or WAV.
- Advise participants on how to speak: Speakers should identify themselves before speaking and be advised not to speak over each other. If there are multiple voices, it can be difficult to make out who is speaking. The JD Supra survey reported that effective control over crosstalk during the deposition was the most frequently cited factor in creating an accurate deposition transcript. If cross-talk happens, the attorney should ask the speaker their name. To maintain a clear record in the transcript, the witness must also wait for counsel to complete a question before answering it. This will ensure a correct response to the question asked, and give the defence counsel the opportunity to object to an improper question (goldbergsegalla.com).
Prior to the deposition, deponents should be told about the importance of clear communication, including avoiding verbal utterances such as Uh Uh, Huh, an Oh Oh, Yes, No and I Don’t Understand. This is necessary to avoid miscommunication and misinterpretation, and to also speed up the deposition process by eliminating the time spent on asking for clarifications.
- Spell out unfamiliar words: While court reporters and deposition transcription service providers are well-versed in legal terminology, it’s important to spell out unfamiliar words to ensure accurate transcripts. In fact, the court reporters who participated in the JD Supra survey included this practice in their list of successful attorney behaviours. Attorneys must also take care not to speak too fast.
- Provide the court reporter with the necessary information in advance: To help court reporters with accurate transcription, attorneys should provide detailed information about the case ahead of time, including spelling of participants’ names, place names, and technical terms. Where possible, digital exhibits should be pre-marked and uploaded in advance. The court reporter should also have access to documents referenced during the deposition. One Attorney can also help court reporters by going over the exhibits and unusual spelling after the deposition is over. In fact, this was cited as an example of successful attorney behaviour by a respondent during the JD Supra survey.
- Leverage advanced technology: Proper technology to conduct depositions includes internet, camera, lighting, and sound. Using AI-based automatic speech-to-text recognition (ASR) can speed up the deposition transcription process. Advanced tools also provide a precise timeline of events as they took place in the deposition and also allow attorneys to access and search digital transcripts and share them securely. To ensure accuracy, it’s important to have the machine-generated documents checked by an experienced legal transcription service It would be ideal if the attorney can manage the technology used to conduct the deposition. If not, they can have an associate or a paralegal to assist with technology, screen share exhibits, and annotate and introduce them in the right order.
Preparing well is important to conduct a successful and efficient deposition. Appropriate technology and avoiding distraction in the surrounding remote environment is also crucial to ensure accuracy and clarity in deposition transcription.
Converting recordings of depositions, court proceedings, interrogations, pleadings and voicemails and other multimedia into text is a time-consuming task. Today, most law firms rely on outsourced legal transcription services to get perfectly formatted documents from audio/video files. Real-time transcription is one of the major advancements in the field of speech-to-text conversion. The process involves converting the audio stream to text immediately into a feed that can be read, broadcast, searched, chronicled, and stored.
Digital transcription agencies create transcripts from video or audio files sent to them by their clients. Real-time transcription or live transcription is a method of record capture that allows skilled transcriptionists to type and deliver a transcript almost instantly after the words are spoken. The work of court stenographers is a perfect example of real-time transcription.
What Real-time Legal Transcription involves
Court reporters use steno or machine shorthand to create notes. They type out court discussions as they happen using a stenotype machine designed for shorthand writing. Traditional stenotype machines provide a printed paper transcript from the shorthand produced by the court reporter. Modern stenotype machines are usually connected to a laptop. When shorthand key combinations are typed on the machine, a specialized computer program instantly converts the key codes into the correct text format and displays it on the screen in real-time.
There are 22 keys in a steno machine and each key has a letter of the English alphabet, except for the key in the center of the machine, which contains an asterisk. The machine can key out coded numbers, phrases, words, and even sounds. Groups of keys are pressed down to create a punctuation mark. Numbers are written by pressing down certain alphabet keys along with the number bar on the top of the machine. Syllables, words and phrases can be created phonetically by pressing down groups of individual keys simultaneously. The letters that a steno machine does not have are created by pressing more than one key at the same time.
Court reporters need to be extremely skilled in stenography to provide a legible and searchable record of court proceedings through an almost instantaneous feed through the computer translation system. The advantages of this real-time legal transcription service include:
- Proven way for attorneys and judges to get immediate voice-to-text translation of the proceedings and immediate access to the transcript
- Can be used by attorneys to prepare for trial during depositions, especially when parties are in different locations, thereby avoiding travel and associated costs
- Allows people who are deaf and hard-of-hearing to participate in the judicial process
- Provides better quality remote/videotaped depositions
- With instant trial transcripts, cases move forward more quickly
- Allows for instant annotations, advanced search capabilities, and facilitates quoting directly from the record, which helps reduce challenges or objections
With real-time transcription, attorneys can view proceedings in real-time, see and evaluate questions and answers at a deposition, and get transcripts quickly. Some software allows access to instant messaging features, which can be very useful for legal teams in multiple locations to view the deposition remotely and offer their suggestions on strategies and line of questioning. According to www.courtreporteredu.org, court reporters who type up to 300 words per minute (wpm) can accurately record even the most intense or fast-moving conversations.
Best Practices to deliver better Real-time Transcripts
Following best practices can help attorneys get most out of this real-time translation of court proceedings. An article published by Law Technology Today offers the following tips for attorneys participating in a deposition with a court reporter providing real-time transcription of the testimony:
- Learn to use the real-time software: Before the deposition, the attorney should ask the court reporter how to use the software. The iPad or laptop used by court reporters come with search capabilities. The real-time scroll can be stopped to enable reading a portion of the text and returning to the scroll. The testimony can be quickly marked by the attorney by touching the screen or hitting the space bar, which enables quick reference of the marked testimony.
- Point out any errors seen in the real-time notes: If court reporters come across an unfamiliar word or phrase, they will usually type out what they hear phonetically and edit it in the final transcript or ask for clarifications later. If the attorney thinks that the reporter may hear a word or phrase wrong, this can be brought to the notice of the court reporter during the session or a break.
- Speak clearly when reading any document: If there is any reading from a document, it should be done with clarity and at a normal speed. Court reporters will ask for the document before finalizing the transcript to make sure it is error free.
- State preferences: If the attorney marks the transcript during the real-time documentation, the court reporter can email a PTF (portable transcript file). The notes and marks will be transferred to a rough draft and later to the final transcript. The real-time court reporter usually sends a cleaned-up rough draft after the deposition is over. If a rough draft is not needed and only a real-time transcript is needed, the court reporter should be informed about this at the end of the deposition.
- Choose the right court reporter: As real-time transcription is a very specialized skill, attorneys need to choose the right individual for the job. If the transcript is necessary in fast turnaround time, the court reporting firm should be requested about this so that they can assign a reporter who can deliver the transcript quickly.
- Provide the court reporter with available information in advance: Based on availability, list of witnesses, expert witnesses and/or a word glossary should be provided to the court reporter in advance. This will allow the reporter to feed this information into the stenographic dictionary to provide a more accurate real-time feed and rough draft. Real-time court reporters can often stream the transcript text off-site to a remote location(s). Some allow deposition participants, both local and remote, to not only watch the video of the witness but also read the real-time text on the same screen.
Many court reporters rely on companies providing court proceedings transcription to prepare official transcripts of legal proceedings in addition to the realtime feed. When litigants want to exercise their right to appeal, the official transcript will allow them to provide an accurate record of what transpired during their case.
Virtual meetings and conferences are widely used by business organizations and other entities and with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, they emerged as a critical tool for team communication. Recording meetings and converting the speech into text with the help of audio transcription services preserves the details and allows for sharing of the information. But are there any legal considerations when recording virtual conferences?
Cloud-based video conferencing services like Zoom and Microsoft Teams allow you to meet with large groups and conduct one-on-one chat sessions via video or audio-only or both. You can record your meetings on these platforms and save the recordings on the cloud or your PC or Mac. It is legal to capture audio/video meetings and save the recordings, but there are specific rules that apply to this. There are federal and state wiretapping laws that may restrict your ability to record video meetings that capture sound.
Meeting hosts need to go by the rules to avoid legal problems. Here are some important points to note about recording online meetings:
- Obtain Participants’ Consent: Meeting hosts should obtain attendees’ permission to capture their video and save sessions. Federal wiretapping laws in states many permit recording if one party (including you) to the phone call or conversation consents. Thirty-eight states and the District of Columbia have adopted the “one-party consent” rule. Other states require consent by all parties to the communication. The ‘two-party consent states are California, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Washington. When remote participants are located in different states or countries, it should be assumed that the two-party or all-party rule will apply.
- Inform Participants in Advance that the Meeting will be Recorded: Before the meeting, inform participants that you will be recording the meeting. Before the meeting starts, Zoom automatically notifies each participant that it will be recorded. The meeting host should also verbally notify all parties that the meeting will be recorded. The participant can opt to stay in the session or to leave.
- Notify Participants how you Intend to Record, use, and Share Video: As the meeting host, you may have to explain why the conversation will be recorded and ask for their consent to record it for that purpose. Attendees should be informed about and how the video will be shared and used. They can be given the option to participate without video or audio, which means no recording will be made. If they object to the recording of their image or voice, they can be offered the option to mute their audio and video and allowed to post questions only in the text chat window. If they want to discuss topics or ask questions without being recorded, you can opt to stop the Zoom recording and include “unrecorded” time throughout the session (www.berkeley.edu).
- Key Takeaway: Following best practices for video conferencing and getting participants’ consent for recording the calls can help meeting hosts avoid civil / criminal liability. Zoom and other platforms have a consent button that participants need to click before the recording cam begin. While using this feature can reduce ambiguity on participants’ consent, the best way to obtain consent is by announcing before the meeting begins that it will be recorded. By continuing in the meeting, participants can be considered to have consented.
Benefits of Recording and Transcribing Virtual Meetings
- Allows Team Members who Cannot be Present to Stay on the Page: Absent team members can review the recording and transcripts and provide insights and comments.
- Flexibility to Set Timings to Suit the Majority: By recording meetings, you can avoid the need to reschedule them. You can fix a schedule that suits most people.
- Captures Team Interactions: Recording and transcribing meetings allows companies to capture team interactions and other sessions. Team members can revisit the material to understand it better.
- Preserves Training Sessions: Busy employees may not be able to devote their full attention to virtual training sessions. They can review the session later at their convenience if it is recorded and transcribed. Likewise, training session recordings and transcripts can be reused to train new employees.
- Preserves Important Information for Future Use: Remote workers collect important information during client meetings. By recording these interactions, such information is preserved, allowing them to revisit it and confirm details. Audio transcription services can be used to document what was discussed for future use.
Recording meetings improves efficiency, but companies have to be aware of the legal and ethical perspectives involved. Companies can consider developing guidelines and procedures about remote work and virtual meetings and educate their employees about the best practices for holding and recording video conferences and meetings. Taking advantage of business transcription services will ensure that the information generated in online discussions are preserved for review and future use.
Law firms are continuing to assist clients even if their operations have been significantly impacted by COVID-19. Risk of data breach is a major concern for professionals working from remotely or from home, more so for lawyers. Keeping confidential information secure is a basic part of a law firm’s service, but this has become very challenging as working from home increases cyber security risks. Lawyers can rely on digital transcription service providers to convert various types of audio content into text, but all their transcripts and other documents they handle, share and store need to be shielded from hacking.
“The most important goal for a law firm is protecting their data, whether working in the office or remotely,” said Jill Rhodes, vice president and chief information officer for Option Care Health, in an article published by the American Bar Association (ABA).
Working from home poses specific cyber security risks. Home set-ups may not have hardware firewalls and password best practices are often not followed. Also, as legal teams are physically distanced, they can become victims of social engineering – a technique cyber criminals use to trick people into giving away confidential information. Another concern is that as public and open WiFi networks are susceptible to hacking, logging into the office DMS from your home computer can be risky.
Here are the steps that lawyers need to take keep sensitive client data safe when working from home:
- Educate yourself about on proper use of computers, internet connectivity and email account.
- Don’t use your personal email accounts for official purposes like transferring confidential data. Setting up a cloud solution is ideal way to share files securely with colleagues and external third parties.
- Follow the same security standards and data security practices as when working in the office. The best policy for the law offices would be to provide employees with computers and other hardware and determine how their network will be secured. There must be a clear policy for those who work on their own devices.
- Set a strong password on your home WiFi router, computer, and other devices and protect access to files with passwords and user access settings. Two-factor password authentication is recommended. A password and other information can be required for two-factor identification. Change passwords frequently.
- Have a dedicated workspace. Even so, if you leave your machine, lock it. Set an auto lock after a maximum of five minutes for your computer.
- Watch out for phishing emails, messages and videos. Know how to recognize a phishing email. Red flags of a risky email as listed in a 2020 Birmingham Bar Association (BBA) webinar report are:
- Purports to be from the IRS, a court, or other government entity
- Purports to be from a financial institution or healthcare provider
- Purports to be from any other intimidating authority or name
- Makes an urgent request with a short deadline like 24 hours
- Insists that transfer of money be kept secret
- Has a suspicious or misspelled sender email address or domain
- Has a generic, unusual or incorrect name in greeting
- Requests changes in vendor payment instructions
- Requests personal information like account numbers
- Requests clicking on unfamiliar or suspicious URL links
- Offers rewards if click on link or open attachment and reply
- Requests to download a file, especially an .exe file
- Asks for login and password
- Be aware of malware risks. Malware or malicious software includes computer viruses, worms, trojan horses, ransomware, spyware, and other malicious programs. Things to strictly avoid when working remotely:
- Don’t open risky emails or email attachments
- Don’t click on risky links in emails or websites
- Don’t download games or non-work apps
- Don’t open risky thumb drives or discs
- Don’t visit unsafe, suspicious or fake websites
- Don’t trust telephone caller ID
- Block unsafe, suspicious or fake websites
- Install up-to-date antivirus and security software to ensure it is patched against known cyber vulnerabilities. Make sure that anti-virus applications are arranged to scan your device, attachments and downloads. Consider upgrading the software to one with a cloud portal so that control and alerts are sustained centrally. If your software cannot be updated, replace it.
- Backup important files in a remote, independent facility. Partnering with a cloud vendor can provide more security However, the BBA report recommends that when choosing a cloud vendor, a lawyer should consider “whether the data will be secure and backed-up and whether he or she will have any problems if his or her relationship with the vendor might end”.
Lawyers’ ethical rules require them to be proficient and to safeguard all the confidential information they handle. This means having the necessary systems and procedures in place, using good judgement, and importantly, being technologically competent place to avoid technology-related scams. Law firms that rely on legal transcription service providers should choose a firm that can ensure the confidentiality of their clients’ sensitive information.
Law firms need the best audio transcription service to produce professional, easy to read, accurate documentation of various recordings – from witness statements, depositions and court proceedings to jury instruction, conference calls, and meetings for team collaboration and marketing campaigns. Transcripts ease the task of analyzing and presenting evidence. There are many audio and video transcription service providers, and law firms must make the right choice.
Let’s take a look at the key points to consider when choosing an audio transcription service.
- Hire a Specialized Legal Transcription Service: The goal should be to partner with a company that specializes in legal transcription. Such companies have professional transcriptionists who are well versed in legal terminology, jargon, and court processes and proceedings. They would be knowledgeable about the recommended transcript format guidelines and will make sure to adhere to the laws governing transcript format by jurisdiction. Professional legal transcriptionists would also have excellent typing and listening skills, and a solid understanding of the language in which they are transcribing. With their training and experience, these experts can produce accurate, legible, certified transcripts.
An experienced legal transcription company would accept audio as well as video recordings in all formats – MP3, MP4, WMV, MOV, AVI, AMR, WMA, and WAV. JD Supra points out that you can also request your files in the required format, including ASCII, PDF, E-tran (.PTX), LiveNote (.LEF), TextMap (.XMEF), CaseNotebook (.PTZ), Summation (.SBF), and trial software such as Sanction (.MDB) and Trial Director (.CMS).
- Turnaround Time: In addition to accuracy, turnaround time is a key factor to consider when hiring a legal transcription service. According to the American Association of Electronic Reporters and Transcribers (AAERT), the time required for an experienced transcriber to type an hour of recorded audio is about three hours. Professional firms have qualified transcribers and proofreaders who work as a team to provide highly accurate and timely transcripts. If a short turnaround time is not required, short depositions or court hearings can be easily handled by a single transcriptionist. However, trial transcripts and other longer recordings, or transcripts that need to be delivered quickly are usually assigned to a team. Such strategies allow transcription firms to handle high volume jobs efficiently and meet even stringent time requirements.
When outsourcing your audio transcription work, it is important that you understand the different factors that can impact the quality of the output, the cost, and the time taken to complete it. With clear audio, experts can ensure a high accuracy rate of 99%. Poor quality audio files, file format, speaker coherence and clarity, verbatim and time stamp requirements, and complex subjects may take longer to document. Costs would also vary based on turnaround time of the project.
- Manual vs Automated Transcription: Video and audio recordings of legal proceedings can stretch to several hours. While manual transcription involves a human transcriptionist listening to the recording and converting it into text format, automated transcription involves the use of speech recognition technology to generate text from audio. The goal of both manual and automated transcription is to provide error-free documentation of these recordings. When it comes to turnaround time, automatic transcription has the edge, and you can get volume work done quickly. But speech recognition technology cannot correctly recognize and transcribe the jargon, link names of speakers to their voices, or accurately transcribe heavy accents, low-volume speakers, and inarticulate speakers. On the other hand, accuracy is the biggest advantage of manual transcription. To be trustworthy and admissible in court, legal transcripts have to be accurate. Errors can pose serious legal risks. Choosing automatic or manual transcription hinges on your priorities. The good news is that human transcriptionists can edit and improve the quality of automated transcripts.
- Security and Confidentiality: In the legal arena, security and confidentiality of information is most important thing. Professional legal transcription service providers would sign a nondisclosure agreement (NDA) or a confidentiality agreement which outlines the confidentiality of information they handle for their client. All transcription is done in a highly secure environment. Features to consider when it comes to secure transcription include: HTTPS encryption & encrypted log-in portals/storage, secure FTP or browser-based drop box, password and firewall protected software systems, workforce is trained and monitored on privacy, security, and confidentiality, 24/7 security services for premises, and so on.
With a professional video and audio transcription service provider, you would be assured of stringent manual review processes to ensure accurate and timely documentation. These services usually come with options such as captions, subtitles, and translations. Even with artificial intelligence and other advanced technologies that are available today, legal transcription by experts is crucial to make sense of complex conversations.