Reporters Retrain To Retain Deposition Work
By Jan Ballman – FAPR, RPR, CMRS – Principal, Minneapolis
By Jan Ballman – FAPR, RPR, CMRS – Principal, Minneapolis
Example: When facing competition, whoever has the better game plan, is most prepared, and executes at the highest level generally comes out on top. In sports, and in business.
As a point guard in high school, my job was to take the basketball down the court, pivot around any obstacles or barriers thrown at me by my opponent (full-court presses, man-to-man coverage, screens) and either pass the ball to a teammate or drive to the basket myself, hopefully scoring. As a point guard, I practiced pivoting a lot, knowing that if I couldn’t quickly react to obstacles in my path, change direction, and outmaneuver my opponents, my competition would likely win. Again, the same holds true in business.
A few short months ago, the court reporting industry, along with the rest of the world, found itself staring down one of the most formidable opponents any of us had ever faced in COVID-19. It became eminently clear that to have any chance of coming out ahead of this fierce opponent, it was going to require the ability to pivot quickly, rewrite the playbook, retrain the team, and get back in the game. This might be an appropriate place to insert a standing ovation for Team Veritext, from the “coaches” to the “trainers” to the support staff on down to “the players on the field”—you!
The “coaches” on Team Veritext started immediately working around the clock to put a new game plan in place. The first pivot was to transition its entire (quite large) national staff of employees to their new remote workspace. After we were all safely Sheltered in Place, Veritext quickly pivoted again and began training its court reporters, videographers, and clients on how to navigate the remote deposition platform safely, effectively, and efficiently.
It didn’t take long for everyone to realize it was going to be a while before we would be back in conference rooms and therefore any depositions going forward were going to have to occur “virtually.” Court reporters and videographers wasted little time signing up for webinars, ordering headsets, web cameras, an extra laptop—whatever it took to ready themselves to execute the new game plan.
Like most athletes facing a really big game or a really tough opponent, many Veritext teammates found themselves feeling “game-day jitters” as they prepared to take their first remote depo. And as oftentimes happens when conquering those nerves and achieving success, there was a relief and even exhilaration for having seen the obstacle, pivoting around it, and, as we say in sports, “killing it”!
“I know some reporters and attorneys are afraid of working remotely. It’s really not scary at all once you’ve done it a few times. My remote depos have been pretty flawless. The attorneys have been quite understanding. Usually, the technical issues are on their end. I kind of feel bad for them. This is all so new. I imagine it’s harder on the more veteran attorneys. I’m sure the younger ones don’t have an issue with the technology at all. I have offered to do trial runs with attorneys before their first depo if they want to practice. There have been a few laughs. I think we can all appreciate a little humor. Attorneys welcome a little laughter, believe it or not.”
“I reported my first remote depo on April 30th after not having written for over six weeks! I was really nervous about it, as all my colleagues who helped me practice and answered my questions can attest to! It was also my client’s first time using virtual technology. She and I go back over 20 years. I had taken her very first depo, so I definitely wanted to be there for her first remote deposition. With a little prep beforehand, all went perfectly. It felt sooooo great to have that first one under my belt and for it to have gone off without a hitch. I knew it would be important for it to go well because she was the first partner in her law firm to try remote technology. Because it was successful, I’m sure she will share the experience with her colleagues, and that will result in more remote depos being scheduled until we can go back into office settings again.”
All I Wanna Do is Zoom-a-Zoom-Zoom!
That ‘90s song still hits me every time I see “Zoom” deposition on the calendar. (It’s a really fun dance song if you need a pick-me-up! And these days, who couldn’t use a pick-me-up?) When the world shut down in March and I watched everything on the calendar cancel, things were tense, as I’m sure you can relate. So I was very excited to see that I had a job on the books via Zoom remote. I had done these in the office multiple times, with a full staff close by in the event there were any issues. But doing a deposition from home was going to present some challenges. First of all, tight pants! #Quarantine15 Second, I’ve got six people and a dog living in this house right now. And third, and most scary, no full staff close by! But fortunately, I’m one of many who took advantage of all the “How To” webinars offered by Veritext and NCRA. I felt ready to put my newly acquired skills to work.
First, the setup. I took a TV dinner tray and put a box on top and then my laptop for Zoom (higher is better, no double chins). I got a nice bright light and organized my desk in the corner of my bedroom, aka my office. I used a JBL Flip 3 as a Bluetooth speaker for my iPhone audio. And I had screens everywhere. I used my desktop computer for Exhibit Share, my iPad to double check my realtime stream, a laptop for my CAT software, and a laptop for Zoom. I’m ready!
Day of the deposition, I reminded myself how to administer an oath (it had been a while!), taped a “Working” sign on my bedroom door, set my phone on Do Not Disturb, and we were off and running. The deponent was a doctor, and everything went smoothly. My dog slept on my bed the whole time. My kids were doing schoolwork (Minecraft is schoolwork, right?). It was an easy day!
Now, since then, there have been some challenging moments. My college senior set off our fire alarm today during a remote deposition. It went off for a solid two minutes. I was muted, and my face never gave it away. Thankfully, it literally was a false alarm. I’ve seen toddlers, cats, and dogs wander into backgrounds. Witnesses join from their cars, from their kitchens, and from their closets. We just keep rolling.
There are many positives that I see with remote depositions. It’s nice to grab a snack at my house when we take five minutes. I enjoy not wearing shoes! Counsel have said they plan to continue to use remote depositions in the future when it makes sense for their case. I feel so fortunate that we have so many resources to help us navigate this new territory. We are living in exciting times. I’m just trying to soak up as much information as I can and constantly remind myself: We are all in this together!
“I have been working in the court reporting industry as a videographer since 1998 and I was on staff as an employee with Veritext up until February of 2020 when I decided to start my own video company and work as an Independent Contractor. I got technical training as an employee in Veritext’s video department so I was prepared and able to jump right into shooting remote depos. At first I was kind of nervous that the timing of leaving to start my own business was terrible. Also, I thought attorneys might want to save money and think they could just hit the “record” button in Zoom instead of hiring a professional videographer. But I have actually stayed pretty busy, and I really don’t mind not having to drag my equipment to jobs and set it up and tear it down every day.”
So, Veritext Reporters & Vids, hats off to you. Take a bow. In the words of the Invincible Babe Ruth, “It’s hard to beat a person who never gives up.” So put your hands up and let’s High-10 (better than a High-5. Go big or go home!) for successfully pivoting during a pivotal moment in history and never giving up!
Jan began her career as a court reporter in 1981. In 1990, she was elected President of the state court reporters association. This experience afforded the opportunity to meet many outstanding court reporters and industry leaders. In 1993, Jan collaborated with two highly regarded colleagues–Jayne Seward and Lisa Richardson–to form Ballman, Richardson & Seward. Five years later, Jan led the merger of BR&S with two well-known and highly respected firms–Schultz & Sorenson; and Oliver, Mitchell & Maves—and launched Paradigm Reporting & Captioning on January 1, 1998.
After a 20-year career as a court reporter, Jan retired her steno machine in 2002 in favor of taking the helm of Paradigm on a full-time basis.
A recognized leader at both the state and national level, Jan was bestowed Minnesota’s highest honor, the Distinguished Service Award, by the Minnesota Association of Verbatim Reporters and Captioners in 2004. In 2010, Jan was elected to serve on the Board of Trustees of the National Court Reporters Foundation and was honored to accept the appointment as Chair of the Board from 2014 to 2016. In August of 2017, Jan was inducted into as a Fellow into the Academy of Professional Reporters. Currently, Jan Ballman is the only court reporter in Minnesota to have attained the professional distinction of FAPR.
Outside of her chosen profession, Jan enjoys working with local nonprofits, mentoring tomorrow’s leaders, and exploring the world of wine. Since 2011, Jan has been delighted to chair “Legal Wine Lovers,” an official affinity group of Minnesota Women Lawyers.