By Connie Psaros, RPR, BS
In Massachusetts we were ordered to shut down due to Covid-19 on March 24, 2020. We worked remotely and have just recently come back into the office on a daily basis after July 4th. I’m speaking of support staff, not reporters.
Our reporters took advantage of the shutdown by learning Zoom. They knew there was a lot of uncertainty ahead, so they wanted to make themselves as marketable as possible to help our clients and minimize any loss of income. We offered training sessions almost daily, and the reporters practiced amongst themselves and shared tips and helpful information, often in minute detail. There was never a shortage of issues or problems to discuss. We had a few assignments sprinkled here and there during the shutdown, all via Zoom; but now that we are back open, the vast majority of our work has been done remotely. It seems that many are still leery about meeting face to face.
The reason I mention this is because I hear that there are many reporters, veterans and newbies alike, who are not reporting remotely. They are waiting for things to fully open up so that business may resume as it once did. They are not interested in learning Zoom or other platforms. I can understand why. Hosting a Zoom meeting carries with it more responsibility on many different levels. Invitations need to be sent, then testing. There are times when the connection isn’t quite right and the reporter needs to do some troubleshooting. Further, it seems that with each assignment the reporter is faced with a new issue. How do you make annotations on a 450-page document? What is the difference between sharing documents and using the Chat feature? The videographer wants to appear remotely as well; can that be done? We tackle each question as it comes before us and find an answer.
Sure, there are complications with any remote platform, but there are rewards as well. Our reporters are in high demand because they got up to speed on this technology. They will always have work, especially since the virus does not seem to be going away soon and safeguards will have to remain in place for the duration, probably until a vaccine is approved, whenever that will be. They are to be commended for stepping out of their comfort zone. They are hosting hearings with dozens of participants, writing hundreds of pages a day. Two reporters will soon tackle a six-day daily copy via Zoom using RealTeam. One reporter offered to turn a public meeting into a webinar to include as many as 1,000 people. If that’s not courageous, I don’t know what is.
This has been a constant learning process. It is important to remember that not only are we learning, but the attorneys are too; and as usual, they are looking to us to help make their remote meeting run as smoothly as possible. Many attorneys are not happy about conducting or attending depositions remotely, but it is not a clear-cut matter of choice anymore. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts SJC, in Item No. 3 of their Order Regarding Remote Depositions, mandates: “The desire of counsel, a party, or a deponent to appear in person shall not alone be sufficient grounds to quash a notice for a remote deposition or to refuse to make a witness available for a remote deposition.”
With the current shortage of certified stenographic court reporters, we need to do all we can to ensure that attorneys don’t turn to alternative methods of making the record. We need to be their go-to resource and do our best to be of service. If you are not up to speed yourself, it is never too late to up your game. There are webinars and videos online. See what your state association, NCRA, and STAR are offering. Learn with a group of your peers. Start small with a one-on-one Zoom test and slowly expand your group, tackle the nitty gritty issues, and gain your confidence. As more and more people choose to work from home, eliminating travel headaches and associated expenses, and as more and more people become comfortable with Zoom, it will continue to be a safe, viable, and popular option.