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Realtime writing in Canada

December 15, 2011

by Kim Neeson, RPR, CRR, CBC, CCP

Neeson & Associates recently completed court reporting services on Canada's longest-running class action trial, styled Andersen et al v. St. Jude Medical Inc.   In 1997, St. Jude Medical began to coat the sewing rings of mechanical heart valves and annuloplasty rings with a product called Silzone®.  This product was intended to reduce the risk of bacterial infection.  However, by January 2000, a worldwide recall was announced by St. Jude, and by August 2000, the class action Neeson performed services for was launched by the plaintiffs.  It was subsequently certified, and we found ourselves in Superior Court, designated as the official court reporter, by February 2010.  Neeson was asked to become involved for a number of reasons, including the fact we had completed all the discoveries (the Canadian equivalent to depositions), and we had a unique skillset to bring to the table - that  of realtime reporting and Internet streaming.

In order to prepare for the trial, we were first made aware of certain restrictions placed on the Internet streaming by the court.  While court trials are open to the public (as this one was), there was an exclusion of witnesses since they weren’t allowed to hear anyone else testify, so any type of "open" streaming could not be tolerated.  Neeson looked at two vendors to provide services, and ultimately, after a few test days, we engaged Courtroom Connect to be our third-party secure Internet streaming partner.  Together with Jeff Gibbs at Courtroom Connect, we conducted tests with various lawyers, paralegals, and IT support personnel prior to the commencement of the trial.  Special arrangements were made with the court so that we could get a hard wired Internet connection – we  definitely didn't want to rely on a wireless connection in this type of environment.  You'd think having Internet in the courtroom would be a given – not  so.  Counsel who were receiving the Internet streaming onsite had to provide their own wireless systems in order to log on.

A list of participants was given to us by the parties.  Certain participants would be dropped from the list if they were not "approved" to read a certain part of the testimony.  Neeson was responsible for keeping track of who logged in on a daily basis, and these logs were provided to the client on a weekly basis.  We also set up a chat area for the respective parties, so that they could "talk" in realtime with their co-counsel (who were located throughout North America), their experts (who were worldwide), the clients, and the in-court attorneys.  Imagine the tactical advantages of being able to quickly get feedback from your team.

Our system was such that we provided realtime in the courtroom, and we also streamed to the Internet as well.  We provide netbooks for this purpose, which the clients seem to really like.  For this trial, we provided an updated rough draft only later in the evening, as well as the realtime transcript during the day.  Should this matter ever be appealed, we will then be tasked with preparing the certified transcripts for that purpose.

Setting up realtime can be a challenge unto itself.  Adding the additional layer of streaming certainly brings with it another set of issues and challenges.  In order to prepare for a streaming job, it is important to:

  • Understand the technology and how it works.
  • Test with your third-party service provider well in advance of the job, and if you're new, trying it a couple of times isn't a bad idea.
  • Ensure that you have your third-party service provider's support person available to you on the first day of the job so that if there are problems, you have someone to call immediately.
  • A hard wired Internet connection is much preferred over wireless (there were some days in the courtroom where I had my wireless device running on another laptop and could not get service – there is no apparent rhyme or reason to this).
  • Some vendors may suggest using a virtual port.  I would highly recommend streaming to a secondary laptop that has the streaming software for court reporters placed on it; there still seem to be too many issues with using virtual ports alongside your regular ports for outputting to your writer and realtime devices.
  • When something doesn't work, DON'T PANIC.  Well in advance of your job, write down all the steps you need in order to set up your realtime with your court reporting software, your streaming software and list all the step-by-step connections you need to make in order to stream.  There were a few times, for example, when our Internet cable was unplugged – very  simple to fix but if you're panicking, you don't think straight!
  • Have your third-party Internet streaming provider's phone number stored on your cell phone, as well as your court reporting software provider's – in a moment of stress, this is one less thing you have to go hunting for.
  • Make sure you have a good working knowledge of the technology – knowing it half-way will not cut it in a crisis.
  • Also understand what the client can do with the streaming software – they will look to you for the basic answers.

Kimberley A. Neeson, RPR, CRR, CSR, CCP, CBC, is  President of Neeson & Associates Court Reporting and Captioning, Inc., in Toronto.