Effectively Managing And Coordinating The Court Reporting Relationship

Friday, April 1, 2005 - 01:00

Laurie Chamberlin and Rose Ann Alderson Sharp
Special Counsel

Corporate legal departments protect and defend the company's interests, yet are regularly asked to cut costs. Many respond not only by looking at their outside law firms, but also to their service providers. Court reporters fall into this latter category, but the challenge is how to measure, monitor, and reduce these costs when no data has previously been collected. While it can be time consuming to start the process, there is good news. Odds are, once you complete your analysis, changing your approach to court reporting services will result in savings. How you start and what methods you employ will make a big difference in the savings you can expect to see.

Getting Started

The best place to start is to learn where you are today. Ask your outside counsel to help in determining what kind of court reporting services you use and an average number of depositions taken in your cases. Looking at historical invoices and fees for these services should give you a rough estimate of how much you currently spend.

At the very least, you may need to increase your level of knowledge on what services court reporters provide, how much they cost, and whether you need them. If you think that a court reporter simply provides a transcript of the proceedings, you may believe you are being robbed when in fact, you are getting your money's worth out of additional services. Even worse, you may not be employing critical services that your opposing counsel is using against you.

Understanding your options and selecting the right reporter and company for your needs is critical. The initial job of the court reporter has not changed, but the method of producing the final product most certainly has, as has the long list of litigation support tools that these companies can provide. All of these tools increase accuracy, access to data and the effectiveness of counsel's billable hours.

Real Time Reporters

The most critical distinction in the skill set of the reporter is whether you or your outside counsel need a realtime reporter to provide you with a live, readable feed of his/her transcript in progress. When this is the case, you need a Certified Realtime Reporter (CRR). If you only need a draft transcript at the end of the deposition after giving the reporter some time to "clean it up," you need an experienced reporter who works in real time, but the CRR certification is not as critical. Some firms will charge for a real time reporter even if the attorney changes his or her mind at the deposition.

Online Access

Many companies provide their clients with the ability to schedule new depositions via the Internet. An online system should allow authorized user modifications to those schedulings, including cancellations. Both of these are fairly standard capabilities. Some of the more advanced court reporting companies also provide the following:

1) Transcript and Exhibit Repositories - The companies that have chosen to invest in technology offer a full repository of transcripts and exhibits. The repository allows every authorized user access via the Internet, reducing copying and shipping costs. In addition, many companies will keep not just case repositories, but all company case materials available so that the attorneys and paralegals have access to historical transcripts and exhibits that may help in a future case. Access to this information can be limited to the individual transcript and attached exhibits. This restrictiveness is ideal for expert witnesses who do not need access to the entire case, but may need to read their own prior testimony to help prepare.

2) Calendar - Some companies provide not only the ability to schedule online, but also an online calendar system to track where and when depositions have been scheduled and who is slated to attend. Most calendars allow the litigation team to view the schedule not only for future depositions, but also for every deposition that has already been taken. These online calendars allow quick and easy access to testimony and exhibits. In addition, the online calendar can be accessed by all parties to the case so that you have the optimum ability to coordinate multiple depositions and multiple schedules.

3) Security - The more technologically advanced the court reporting company, the better the security. There should be an IT department that can offer you the specific authorizations and securities you require for the sensitive nature of your materials. These can include password protections, firewalls, and encryption to name a few. In addition, an IT department at the reporting company ensures that there is a "help desk" for those in need of a little more assistance.

Transcript/Exhibit/Video Synchronization

A technology traditionally reserved for trial presentation experts has recently been added to the list of court reporting services. Many court reporters can now provide exhibit links, which allow the reader to click the link in the text of the transcript and pull up the referenced exhibit. In addition, they may be able to link the deposition transcript with any video testimony that was taken. As the videotaped witness speaks, text from the official transcript scrolls in synch with the video itself. This service can also be implemented in tandem with the exhibit linking described above. This work used to be performed by trial consultants when trial was near. Now, it can be offered on the desktops of the attorneys and paralegals on the case for easy searching.

National Reach

The majority of court reporters are local to a specific city, state, or region. However, there are a few reporting companies that are national. Not all handle work the same way. Some are franchises while others are centralized with networks of reporters nationwide. Truly national companies should be able to provide transcripts on time while adhering to quality control standards no matter where they are completed. Determine whether the quality control is done at the reporter, local and/or national level. It makes a big difference in the final product you receive.

Streamlining

Once you know what you spend and what your options are, you have probably realized you need to streamline how many companies you work with. By selecting one provider, you will see savings. These savings can be captured in tangible ways such as discounts based on volume and prompt payments, as well as intangible ways including streamlining costs by pre-approving certain services and requiring approval for others, saving your litigation teams' time, and reducing trial preparation fees.

Research

Determining your basic needs will help you ask the right companies to be involved in the bidding process. What is important to you besides cost? Streamlined invoices, on-time delivery, flexibility, national scope, centralized quality control, periodic performance reports, customized billing, and unusual payment terms are just a few things you should think about.

What does your outside counsel want from a court reporter? They are most familiar with the services and which ones, if eliminated, would handicap their ability to represent you. They also have existing relationships that may be impacted by your choosing to work with just one provider and will want to be part of the decision.

Approach court reporting companies in a "pre-bid" process. Research who the players are, their services, and their reputation. Asking court reporters to operate as consultants helps you to gather information and ultimately, ask the right companies to participate.

RFPs versus Reverse Auctions

Preparing and issuing a Request for Proposal (RFP) with the assistance of the corporate purchasing office is one of the most effective ways to approach the process. RFPs allow each bidder to submit a customized approach to your business while reverse auctions may restrict creative saving solutions. In preparing your RFP, share as much as you are comfortable with potential bidders about your needs. The more that they know, the better they can cater their response.

Receiving the Responses

Each company will have something unique to offer. First, look at the prices. Avoid surprises about added charges by asking appropriate questions in the RFP. Look at the answers to those questions. One national flat rate may be great, but it may be made up in surcharges. When evaluating the rest of the proposal, the name of your company should appear throughout the text, specifically addressing your needs and concerns. Recommendations should be made on what you need and what you can do without. If you do not see this customization, they may not think your business is any different than their other clients.

After a careful review, the best proposals should stand out. Select the three best proposals for the final stage.

Asking for a Presentation

Invite the three contenders to your office. Even if one proposal clearly stands out, your due diligence is not complete until you ask some questions face to face. There may be claims that you are excited about but when an explanation is asked for, you learn that it is a service in development rather than one that is operational.

Equally important to invite to these meetings is your outside counsel. Your negotiated rates will not mean anything if your outside counsel is not happy and asks permission (or not) to go around the system. This is not a blatant attempt to sabotage your efforts at saving money; it is the reality that people do not like being told what to do and they like doing what they know. By allowing your outside counsel a voice, not just in the beginning, but also in the selection, you are more likely to have their participation.

Implementation

Selection should be easy if you have followed the steps. In addition to your preferred provider, consider selecting your second choice as a "back up."

Once you have made your selection, you need to be vigilant in making sure you get what you expect. Start by sharing the key reasons they were selected. Work together to develop an implementation plan so that your outside counsel is aware of the arrangement. Assign a key contact for the court reporter's account manager and keep each other updated on what is happening and what is coming up. Insist on quarterly progress reports. Have an annual evaluation to ensure top performance.

Conclusion

Keeping costs to a minimum is fundamental to the overall growth strategy of your company, but should not be done at the expense of services that will help you defend or protect your position. Many new and valuable services will financially benefit you and your company and your account manager at your reporting company should help you navigate what you need and when you need it. If you expect more from your reporting company than simply a verbatim transcript, you can save time and money in your company's litigation and in your business.

Laurie Chamberlin is Vice President of National Resource Solutions for Special Counsel and can be reached at laurie.chamberlin@specialcounsel. com. Rose Ann Alderson Sharp is President of Alderson Reporting Company and can be reached at roseann@aldersonreporting.com.