With the multitude of formats available for transcripts and exhibits, ensuring your order with the court reporter is accurate can save you hours of hunting for the right file. This article will provide information on the different transcript and exhibit formats, as well as tips on best practices for requesting and organizing them.
Reprinted with permission of Mike Murray, Director of Client Solutions, and International Legal Technology Association. This article was originally published online in January 2023.
The raw file coming from the court reporter’s software is in a standard format called ASCII, which is a plain text format. When opened in a text editor such as Notepad, this file is not very useful as it lacks formatting such as page breaks. However, this raw text can be imported into legal-specific software such as Case Notebook, CaseMap or Trial Director. Otherwise, this format is mostly used by the reporting agency to create more advanced types of transcripts.
Rough transcripts, which are a draft of the final transcript, are usually delivered in the ASCII format as well, as they come directly from the reporter’s machine prior to any processing. As mentioned above, these files can be imported into legal-specific applications or reviewed in a text editor such as Notepad.
The PDF version of the transcript is the most universal form and can usually be opened by everyone, including witnesses. Since the PDF is created from the ASCII file, it is fully text searchable. PDF applications are plentiful for desktop and mobile devices, making this format easy to read, search and highlight.
Linked PDF Transcript
This format is similar to the PDF transcript, but also includes the linked exhibits (in PDF form as well). Each time an exhibit is referenced in the transcript, it is linked to the actual full exhibit file embedded in the same PDF. Once click and the exhibit opens. This enables you to review the transcripts and exhibits all from one file.
The Lexis Nexis application TextMap (part of the CaseMap family) has a specific format called TextMap Exhibit Package (*.xmef). This file includes the transcript in a searchable format and can optionally include the linked exhibits. Moreover, the file may even include the synchronized deposition video. This means one file truly has all the deliverables from the proceeding and can be imported with ease. For non-TextMap users, there is a free TextMap Viewer. This tool enables anyone to take advantage of this file type.
Case Notebook Transcript
The Thomson Reuters application Case Notebook has a specific format called PTZ. This searchable transcript format is very similar to XMEF. It too can include linked exhibits and synchronized video. This is an ideal file for Case Notebook users as it means they have all the deliverables in one place. Unfortunately, there is no free viewer for this file type; it must be used in a licensed version of Case Notebook.
Synchronized Video Transcript
One of the biggest time-saving tools for the legal field is synchronized video. This process aligns the transcript text to the video, making it easier and faster to create video clips. This process can usually be done by the reporting agency and can be viewed in a free application such as YesLaw or DepoView. These applications enable searching, highlighting, clip creation and even a direct export to PowerPoint. The actual synchronized data consists of a video file and an MDB file containing the time code for each line of transcript. These files can be imported into trial presentation software such as Trial Director. Applications like TextMap and Case Notebook can also display the synchronized video, allowing any highlights you made to be turned into video clips with a click.
With the plethora of transcript types, fortunately exhibits only have two main formats: paper or PDF. We’ll skip over paper. (As noted, the exhibit-linked transcript formats mentioned above embed the exhibits as PDFs.)
PDF exhibits are usually created by scanning paper exhibits and converting them to PDF. The OCR process – which stands for “optical character recognition” – makes them text searchable. This process takes a scan, which is essentially a picture of the document, and makes it text searchable. There are many applications that can do this, such as Adobe Acrobat Pro and ABBYY, but it is best to have it done for you as it can be a lengthy process. Ensuring that your reporting agency uses OCR is an important step, since it enables you to keyword search the exhibit.
Best Practices for Requesting Transcripts and Exhibits
When requesting transcripts and exhibits, it is important to specify the desired format to avoid any confusion or delays. Creating a standing order with your reporting agency explicitly laying out the formats you need for your specific applications can ensure you get the same delivery every time and don’t have to worry about making special requests for each proceeding.
Some formats, such as ASCII and rough transcripts, are primarily employed for internal purposes and may not be suitable for witnesses or parties outside of your organization. PDF transcripts and exhibits are the most universal for sharing as they can be opened by anyone.
Organizing and storing transcripts and exhibits can also be a challenge, especially if you are working on multiple cases. Consider using a cloud storage service or document management system to keep everything organized and easily accessible. It is also a good idea to keep backups of all your transcripts and exhibits in case of any issues with the original files.
If you encounter any problems with your transcripts or exhibits, such as missing pages or formatting errors, it is important to address them as soon as possible to avoid delays in your case. Your reporting agency should be able to assist you in troubleshooting these issues.
By following these considerations and best practices, you can ensure that you have the necessary transcripts and exhibits for your case and can easily access and use them when needed.