Digital court reporting has been invaluable throughout the pandemic, and new tech in this area continues to help court proceedings run more smoothly. Sharon Nelson and Jim Calloway chat with Tony Sirna about how AI can work hand-in-hand with digital reporters, how these tech and human elements aid in both in-person and virtual proceedings, and what has changed as a result of pandemic-era changes in the courts.
Tony Sirna is the legal strategist and customer success manager at Verbit.ai.
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Sharon D. Nelson: Before we get started, we’d like to thank our sponsors Alert Communications, The Black Letter Podcast, Scorpion, and Smokeball.
Intro: Welcome to The Digital Edge with Sharon Nelson and Jim Calloway, your hosts, both legal technologists, authors, and lecturers, invite industry professionals to discuss a new topic related to lawyers and technology. You’re listening to Legal Talk Network.
Sharon D. Nelson: Welcome to the 167th edition of the Digital Edge Lawyers and Technology. We’re glad to have you with us. I’m Sharon Nelson, President of Sensei Enterprises, an information technology, cybersecurity and digital forensics firm in Fairfax, Virginia.
Jim Calloway: And I’m Jim Calloway, Director of the Oklahoma Bar Association’s Management Assistance Program. Today, our topic is The Future of Digital Court Reporting. Our guest today is Tony Sirna, the legal strategist and customer success manager at Verbit.
Tony has over 20 years of experience in legal and the implementation of technology. He currently oversees the legal vertical at Verbit. Previously, he was director of customer services for Workshare, a legal tech company, supporting Am Law 100 clients, so thanks for joining us today, Tony.
Tony Sirna: Thank you very much. It’s a pleasure to be here with both of you today.
Sharon D. Nelson: Why don’t we start, Tony, by having you tell us a little bit about Verbit and the kind of customers you serve and what you do?
Tony Sirna: Essentially, if you think of Verbit, we are an end-to-end speech-to-text company powered by our AI engine that provides transcription, captioning and translation for a couple of different verticals. They include legal, court reporting, education, higher-ed, media, corporate and government. Verbit has been in business for five years and we are based here in the states and also our corporate headquarters is in Tel Aviv.
Jim Calloway: So Tony, how is the transcription industry that you’re part of seeking to change the legal industry?
Tony Sirna: Transcription in the legal industry, and I would say, transcription overall has been traditionally done primarily through stenographic needs means particularly in the legal industry. These are professionals trained not only in court reporting but also in stenographic reporting or shorthand reporting. It’s essentially the way we did quick transcription prior to the invention of the technology we have today.
I would say, if we had to look at speech-to-text today overall, and in particular, as it applies to the legal industry for legal transcription, it’s adding, what we call scalability and horsepower, wear a combination of speech to text recognition with different Artificial Intelligence models with humans, with people, to the industry, to basically overcome what we are saying is a supply shortage within the legal industry of trained stenographers and even voice writers at this point.
Sharon D. Nelson: So which digital court reporting technologies would you say hold the most promise for improving the flow of proceedings, are they all AI-powered?
Tony Sirna: There are a number of different technologies available today. Some of them have been around for quite a long time. You start with the capture side. How do we capture a preceding? The courts have adapted, particularly the federal courts adapted digital recording many years ago. It’s allowed through the Federal Rules of Procedure, it then comes over to — which is essentially the deposition or the insurance marketplace to be used in depositions as well. So, you have capture technology, you have a number of different providers out there who provide tools not only to do the digital recording but also to give the reporter the ability to take notes during the preceding timestamps, add tags, go on and off the record. That’s one part of it.
Post proceeding, this is, let’s say, when the deposition has ended, you now have the introduction of a speech recognition with AI. That’s where Verbit comes into play, and so you can do two or three depositions in a day, the agency can upload the file to us. We will, of course have had a very comprehensive implementation and set up for their particular proceedings and we will do the transcription off of ASR. The ASR gives you a very fast, essentially, rough draft and then our transcribers will come in to add the human element to ensure the accuracy. And after that, you obviously have the ability to — and this is with any ASR technology. The agency can take the transcript back and can then further finalize it or they can send it out to their client. So there’s a couple of different aspects to the technology and a transcription industry, one, of course, is the capture, which is very important. There’s a couple of modalities to that, you know, even the stenographic community has a number of different types of software it uses out there, digital reporting or voice reporting the transcription of it and then the ability to turn that into a final product with the production of it.
Jim Calloway: Tony, you’ve cited research stating that 50% of depositions will continue to occur virtually or remotely even once all pandemic-related restrictions are lifted. Can you speak to this a bit more and why you think that may be the case?
Tony Sirna: That’s a great question. The 50% number comes from a survey. I don’t have the specific data offhand but marketing can provide that to you. In addition to anecdotally what we’re seeing within our own customer base and what we’re hearing from the industry. If you think of the pandemic, the pandemic isn’t necessarily the root cause of why people are using digital because the technology has been there for a long time but what the pandemic did is forced the industry participants and that includes the practitioners, the attorneys, the courts, the court reporting agencies to rapidly adapt overnight to an unknown situation. And from what I’ve seen and what we’ve all seen in this industry, this proved two facts; number one, extreme resiliency of the industry. Courts have to adapt overnight, attorneys have to figure out different ways of getting deposition done and the court reporting agencies were suddenly faced with “How do I do this remote?”
The technology was already there, Zoom for example, was one way, Webex is another way of doing it. The audio recording was there. What really had to be figured out was how do we do this procedurally? How do we share exhibits? How do we prep witnesses or how do we ask the appropriate questions when the attorneys are not in-person. I have several attorneys in the family and I do know that the preference is to be in-person, it’s part of the strategy during a deposition, but that all changed and it changed in a very uncertain situation, no one knew if this would be a two-month pandemic, a two-year pandemic or a three-year pandemic. We’re going into year two and we have another variant, but what we don’t have is uncertainty.
So the 50% is the survey that we have, which is all of a sudden the legal industry said, okay, we have the Zoom technology, we have the ability to take transcriptions differently, we have ways to handle the legal strategy online. We don’t necessarily need to go back to in-person for all case types and all proceedings. And, of course, that’s highly dependent upon two specific criteria, one, what is the civil rule of procedure in the state or for the particular trial and what is the preference of the practicing attorney and the type of case? So, what we’re seeing is that it went from being not ideal but workable to practical and preferred for certain types of work and I’ll give you an example of that.
A large percentage of the deposition taken in this country are insurance-related. They’re driven by the large insurance companies or the carriers. Traditionally, they were flying attorneys around to take depositions. They’ve learned now to do those remote, and because it came down to do we really need to expend this cost and do travel for a 20-30-minute, even an hour-and-a-half deposition when it can be done remote and it’s a different type of case.
There are also other types of proceedings and I know this through my accounts where you do need that in-person examination or proceedings, court proceedings, jury trials. So we think it’s going to stay at a 50% level simply because it uncovered the fact that for certain proceedings and certain type of situations, you don’t always need to be in-person. Now that said, as I said before, it’s going to be highly dependent upon what the attorney’s personal preference practice is, the type of case, is it a complex arbitration, certainly jury trials are something that weren’t addressed very well during COVID remote. It’s just not practical. So that’s why we feel it’s here to stay. The technology was always there. The situation allowed the technology to be exposed and adapted into the attorney’s practice.
Jim Calloway: Before we move on to our next segment, let’s take a quick commercial break.
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Sharon D. Nelson: Welcome back to The Digital Edge on the Legal Talk Network. Today, our subject is The Future of Digital Court Reporting. Our guest is Tony Sirna, the legal strategist and customer success manager at Verbit.
Tony has over 20 years of experience in legal and the implementation of technology and currently oversees the legal vertical at Verbit. Previously, he was director of customer success for work share, a legal tech company supporting Am Law 100 clients.
Jim Calloway: Tony, given your past experience working for the legal industry, you know that the legal profession is slow to change and resistant to anything that changes what we have to do, but I want to ask you about the objections I hear about security with remote depositions and such. There was a recent story in the ABA Journal where an individual was suspended for texting information to his client during an audio-only deposition. The most interesting part of that story was how he got caught the other attorney sending him a text message and said, are you texting to your client? He wrote back, no, no, my spouse or my family or something, and then he continued texting the instructions to the opposing counsel. Don’t answer that, say you don’t remember and whatever. So do you guys ever get questioned about security tools?
Tony Sirna: We do get questions about security. For us, it’s a different situation there. You have bad behavior essentially in terms of what was done. I’m not familiar with the specific article.Many of the organizations and legal IT and most of the IT industries are held to a pretty high standard and that means that we have to comply with certain international organizations or associations, such as the Surface Organization, which is SOC 2, HIPAA Compliance, GDPR. All of these are either international schemes or government-driven security organizations that regulate, for instance, if data is breached. When do you have to notify individuals by date it was breached? You have to get audited on a yearly basis.
And if you look at the underlying technology, for instance, that we use or other technologies company, use or even more firms, you know, they’ll be on Amazon or AWS, which has a very high level of security compliance, also does DOD work. So there’s the platform security which is the technology security and then there’s the behavioral security, which is somebody texting somebody or somebody giving information away that they shouldn’t.
Sharon D. Nelson: Yeah, that was an interesting story, all right. But let me go on to something else. I know a lot of people think that some of these digital shifts have been solely attributed to COVID, but are there other factors that you think are playing a role here?
Tony Sirna: I think you’ve got a couple of things going on. If you take a look at the court reporting industry, for example, you have a limited supply of current professionals who can service a demand out there. What happens is technology as with other industries comes in to try to make up the gap to that. I think you also have to look at the workforce and the maturity of the workforce and also workforce development, whether it’s new returnees coming into law firms or new people coming into court reporting. These are folks who are very digitally capable, right? So they’re demanding different types of technology out there. The courts themselves, which has been looking more at digital technologies in various ways. They started with digital recording and then became, okay, at the federal level, with the federal rules adapting it and more firms themselves. Everything from email security, the Metadata, Scrubbing to E-Discovery, which I’m very fascinated. And it’s amazing what’s going on on that side of the house with Artificial Intelligence to help expedite the discovery process. So the law firms themselves, particularly, the large ones have tremendous IT operations. And so again, digitals, not new, it’s how the applications have changed.
Jim Calloway: Do you have a sense of how legal professionals including the judiciary are reacting to the concept of remote proceedings from the beginning of the pandemic up until the present and what do you think the future maybe?
Tony Sirna: Great question. I still think it’s mixed. I think you have the sub-segment that when 100% into doing remote proceedings where they could. There’s a number of proceedings where it just doesn’t work, not being an attorney but understanding that in person jury trials, hearings, complex arbitrations are very different than a one-to-one deposition. The courts, I think have adapted it more because they’ve done telephonic hearings. They’ve done different telephonic proceedings already and they adapted to it.
So I think it’s still mixed and I would say, again, what I said earlier, one from being workable but not ideal to being preferred in certain practices.
Sharon D. Nelson: Well, how do you think the court reporting workforce is likely to evolve over the next 10 years?
Tony Sirna: Great question. That’s a long timeframe I think for me at least. Whether it’s 5 years or 10 years, like any other industry, it’s going to take time. People will often say legal is slow to adapt, and while the legal industry is slow to adapt to technology, there’s a reason for it because there’s a lot at stake. So it’s not something that’s just going to go happen overnight. And in court reporting itself, the big change, I think is going to be in workforce development. There’s just not enough people going into the traditional means of court reporting which is stenographic or voice writing. This is not unknown fact, it’s something that exists today.
How do you feel that? Do we get more people into stenography? This is not to say stenography won’t be around, but I have children in college and I can tell you the idea of going into stenography — I mean, doing that type of work is very analog to them. They don’t understand why you just can’t record it and do some transcription from there. So where’s the workforce coming from the industryand I think the growth is going to come from the digital side of the house to digital reporting. That said, three modalities are reporting essentially, which is our stenographic reporting, voice-writing and transcription post proceeding or digital reporting, and the growth is going to come from digital reporting less buried entry because you’re separating being a professional court reporter from having to do the stenography, your analog type of typing. And it opens it up to focusing on to digital recording and I think that’s where you’re going to get the growth from.
The other aspect in 10 years is what is the lifecycle of a particular agency today, okay. We know the industry is a stayed industry, it tends to be mature. Our agency owners looking at selling their agencies. So they are looking at retiring and therefore, making a big move to digital doesn’t make sense at this time as the agency being sold off or going in a different direction and able to adapt digital and hire and train individuals.
So in 10 years, I just think you’ll see more digital reporting. I do still think you’ll have stenographers and you’ll have voice writers out there. And in particular, I think you’re going to see significant improvements and change to AI models and speech recognition where today you can get 87 to 90% in ideal conditions you’ll be at a point sooner than 10 years much sooner while you’ve been at much higher levels of first passed accuracy being able to do very highly accurate speaker identification once somebody is speaking.
Jim Calloway: Before we move on to our next segment, let’s take a quick commercial break.
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Sharon D. Nelson: Welcome back to The Digital Edge on the Legal Talk Network. Today, our subject is The Future of Digital Court Reporting and our guest is Tony Sirna, the legal strategist and customer success manager at Verbit.
Tony, what the agencies need to keep in mind in order not to fall behind?
Tony Sirna: I think I mentioned this before and I keep using the word “lifecycle” because I see this a lot in the industry. Where are they in the maturity of their lifecycle? Okay, because using more digital technologies does require a bit of a change and I’m going to re-emphasize this again. I think the key is still going to be workforce development. How do you hire, train and sustain people to do digital reporting to service your customer base? What are the technology sets that they need?
For example, you may have a reporter who is very good at in-person, but less technically proficient, but somebody trained as a reporter who does much better technology-wise dealing with remote reporting and that includes being able to share exhibits digitally. There are now technologies out there that do secure exhibit sharing and secure breakout rooms. So one size doesn’t necessarily fit all, but how do you train your report is to have these new and different roles.
And what you practice is very important too. What your access to a workforce that has the training for this? What schools are available? How do you pay them? How do you socialize them into your lawfirm clients who may not necessarily have had experience with non-stenographic reporting? And fundamentally, they have to be trained reporters. They have to understand civil procedure, they have to understand how to manage the proceeding, how to do the swearing, et cetera. So that is what I’m hearing is key. What doesn’t necessarily prevent a smaller agency, for example, for moving forward is the technology, you can always buy technology.
It’s the right people trained to do the right job and that’s across the board. So I think workforce development is key in addition to your local marketplace, in addition to socializing that within the market, you hire. The other aspect is with remote proceedings, with new technology, such as exhibit sharing, digital real-time depositions, which is starting to emerge in the marketplace is you don’t have to practice where you live necessarily. And so, you can open your services when you can, again, I’m always going to go back to referencing what the Civil Rules of Procedure are, for a state jurisdiction, etcetera. But you can expand your services now beyond where you live, and that’s I think very new while I still believe most of the reporting industry is a local business in the sense that you have to establish relationships with the firms and the litigators. You also have the ability to work with other agencies and also take on work that you may not have been able to do because you were restricted to time location, place and limited resources.
Jim Calloway: Well, Tony, for one final question, we will ask you to appear in your crystal ball and say how large you think the transcription market can potentially be in the future?
Tony Sirna: Very interesting question, and I think it varies. I think if you talk about transcription outside the legal and you talk about it globally, it’s huge. I’ll throw the word “billions” out there. I don’t have any particular data on the sizing itself. I’ve read statistics that the legal industry itself is up to two billion in total revenue just looking at all the players out there, but if you think a transcription outside of just court reporting transcription but other services, so for instance, providing captioning services and court services for courts to work with people who have hearing impairments. Opening it up to transcribing and providing captioning for video testimony. It’s a much bigger market and then you multiply that the technology. Now, there’s voice-to-text with AI, but the applications vary, education, media, ESPN, doing captioning on that, corporate, earnings calls, corporate meetings, phone calls, it’s huge. That’s all I can say right now on that.
Sharon D. Nelson: Well, you said a great deal today, very illuminating, and I know that I didn’t know a great deal about digital court reporting since I’m not normally in the courtroom or at least remotely in the courtroom, so it was great to have all of this background and backdrop and the predictions for the future. So thank you very much, Tony, for taking the time to be with us as our guest today.
Tony Sirna: Thank you very much. It’s been my pleasure.
Sharon D. Nelson: That does it for this edition of The Digital Edge Lawyers and Technology, and remember, you can subscribe to all of the editions of this podcast at legaltalknetwok.com or on Apple Podcast, and if you enjoyed our podcast, please rate us at Apple Podcast.
Jim Calloway: Thanks for joining us, good bye, Ms. Sharon.
Sharon D. Nelson: Happy trails, cowboy.
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Podcast transcription by Tech-Synergy.com