JCR Online - May 2001

Online Transcript Repositories: How They Work

First there were ASCII disks, then e-mailed transcripts. Now the focus is transcripts on the Web. Find out how the online transcript repository market is shaping up.

With the rise of the Internet, we are also seeing a rise in Internet-based transcript repositories. In the last couple of years, litigation-management and court reporting companies have been coming up with Web-based systems for lawyers and others to store and retrieve depositions and court testimony. The development has obvious implications for the court reporting industry.

The repositories work in different ways. Some companies charge extra for the service, others offer it as a value-added. Those that charge can do so by the number of transcripts or users or by other methods. Some offer a discount for the electronic version of the transcript, others don't. Some pay freelancers for additional downloads or printouts of the deposition, others don't.

The repositories may all work a little differently but there are two basic kinds: those meant for the attorneys and others working on a current case, and those for outsiders who want to access expert testimony in the "aftermarket" of the case.

The Most Common Setup

The first is more prevalent. These repositories can usually be set up according to an individual case, law firm or even lawyer. Attorneys like them because they allow for collaboration across offices. The security level can be set so that, for example, a paralegal has access only to certain information while a senior partner can view everything.

In November 2000, Cleveland-based Trion Technologies Inc. debuted a transcript repository as part of the new version of its Judicata case management system. Also last year, San Francisco-based Summation Legal Technologies Inc. formed a new subsidiary, CaseVault Inc., to provide Internet-based litigation-support hosting services, including a transcript repository.

Earlier this year, two companies that provide deposition services over the Web - Gilbert, Ariz.-based LegalSpan and Chicago-based I-Dep - released new versions that include transcript repositories.

National court reporting company LegaLink debuted its Web Repository service in December 2000. Partnering with CaseCentral.com, which hosts the archives, LegaLink will post transcripts online for $25 a year.

"As the law practice became more mobile and the number of documents and transcripts in some of the high-profile cases increased, it became more critical to provide attorneys and law firms with this tool," says Gary Buckland, LegaLink eastern region president. "We look at ourselves as being innovators in this profession. This is going to be a service that's critical. It will help lawyers win cases."

Adds Perry Solomon, CEO of WordWave, LegaLink's parent company: "Court reporters in the new millennium are information managers. It's critical that they are able to facilitate the distribution of that information electronically."

San Francisco law firm Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP uses Web Repository and also Lextranet's case management system, which has a repository. (LegaLink is Orrick Herrington's preferred court reporter.) Chris Corey, Orrick Herrington's practice support manager, says he always gets electronic versions of depositions and uploads them into a repository if the lawyers need to share them with others. With Web Repository he e-mails the file to LegaLink, which uploads it; with Lextranet, he can upload it himself from a browser.

"It's certainly helped us move closer to our goal of nationalizing the practice," says Corey. "It centralizes our work so lawyers in one office and paralegals in another office can work on the same deposition."

Denver-based, Law.com-owned realLegal.com, creator of e-transcript, also offers DepoSuite, a repository service for court reporting firms to centralize cases either for the law firm itself or for a particular case. The online transcript is in the e-transcript format, including word index, searchable text and a digital signature. The transcript can be downloaded or viewed online.

RealLegal.com sets up and hosts the repositories, branding them to look like the court reporting firm's Web site. Marty Steinberg, president of realLegal.com, says the service can cost as little as $100 a month depending on how many cases are involved. The agencies either give it away as a value-added or charge - say, $10 extra per transcript - to be able to access the online version. They can also charge on the basis of the number of people who have access. "It's all over the board," Steinberg says. "Court reporting firms are still feeling their way."

Steinberg says some have set up repositories for specific cases, allowing other court reporting firms to deposit transcripts into them.

About a dozen court reporting firms have signed up for DepoSuite since realLegal.com began offering it last year. "Court reporting firms are finding it's a profitable way to go," says Steinberg. "They can charge for it, and it also builds a lot of loyalty to that reporting firm."

Steinberg adds: "It's what the law firms are asking for. They already have brief banks. Part of a bid from a law firm for a multidistrict case is that they want a centralized repository."

Since September 1999, Frank Wiener, president of Textnet Inc., a Madison, Wis.-based court reporting agency, has been licensing a system called Courtpages.com for court reporting agencies to store depositions. In the first 15 months of its availability, 22 firms signed up for it, according to Wiener.

Wiener uses the software for his own firm. Here's how it works: His freelance court reporters e-mail the transcripts to him. He then uploads them onto a Web site. The attorneys get an automatic e-mail, which includes a password, informing them that the transcript is posted (and available in e-transcript or ASCII).

Court reporters who use Courtpages.com can always give attorneys print versions of transcripts if they want them, but that's something Wiener adamantly refuses to do: He stopped printing transcripts two years ago. "If you give lawyers a choice, they'll make you print it out," he says.

Wiener has had some complaints from attorneys about having to pay for a password, rather than a transcript to hold in their hands, but they overrule their own objections once they use the system, he says. Mostly, they're happy about the convenience. One lawyer told Wiener that he searched his office in vain for a transcript and then realized all he had to do was log online and print out another copy.

In the case of Dallas-based MillerParker Inc., which has been using Courtpages.com for over a year, the online repository is available as an adjunct to the paper transcripts. "I'm not as bold as Frank, who just refuses to do a paper transcript," says company president Reesa Parker.

Other court reporting agencies using Courtpages.com include Dunn, King and Associates LLC, Montgomery, Ala.; Benedia Certified Reporting Services, Chicago; Computer Reporting Service, San Jose, Calif.; and Daily Copy Depositions, San Francisco.

Some firms with repositories offer a discount for the electronic transcript, others don't. For example, Wiener says he used to charge a higher page rate for paper transcripts but now, with Courtpages.com, he charges slightly less (he still pays his freelancers the same page rate as before).

Parker doesn't offer a discount for the online transcript, but says she may do so in the future. As she points out, although an electronic transcript saves money in paper costs, there are administrative burdens in uploading the transcript and overseeing passwords.

Court reporting firms who use online repositories say that it helps in marketing their business. "Once the lawyers have seen it, they're going to leave their court reporters and use us," says Wiener. "It really does create business. You lose one customer but you gain two. We've gotten old customers back."

Parker says Courtpages.com's activity log allows her to see which other lawyers, with permission from her client, have viewed the transcript. She can then call those outside attorneys, asking if they like the system and offering her services.

Eric Johnson, owner of Depobook Reporting Services, in Modesto, Calif., says that the transcript repository system he created himself and offers free to clients has brought in new business from San Francisco, Sacramento and elsewhere - places from which he usually doesn't get work. He says that one law firm in Los Angeles used his services on a case because his client (also involved in the case) mentioned that Johnson could post the transcripts online. "Typically they would have used a local agency," Johnson says. "We have picked up cases because of it."

Says Ben Hyatt, president of Ben Hyatt Certified Deposition Reporters, Los Angeles, who uses realLegal's DepoSuite: "I think I've maintained business that may have been otherwise vulnerable. And you're offering to prospective clients a service that's very attractive to them."

Aftermarket Transcripts

And then there is the aftermarket for expert depositions. For example, Juritas.com posts expert depositions and other court documents (taken from the courts themselves) in a searchable repository. As part of its service of helping defense lawyers research the backgrounds of opposing expert witnesses, including offering articles the expert has written, Idex of Overland Park, Kan., can make available trial or deposition transcripts of that witness. The member network of defense lawyers, insurance companies and other defense-side companies maintains a database of trial and deposition transcripts from experts. CEO Robert White says the advantage the database offers is that lawyers have a central place to find out what transcripts are available, by the experts' names. Some are available only on paper, others electronically. "We have some that are 30 years old," White says.

A spokeswoman for what could be seen as Idex's counterpart, the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, says that the group's online database of case documents, ATLA Exchange, does not include transcripts.

The Effect on Copy Sales

It's unclear at this point whether online transcript repositories will lead to more copy sales. LegaLink says it has done so in its case. "It's so accessible that we've seen an increase in copies made," Buckland says.

The other question, of course, is whether court reporters will be paid for those sales. With LegaLink's Web Repository, the freelancer gets paid for the original transcript, any copies made from that and any copies generated from the online version (though not for the electronic version itself).

White says Idex has tried over the years to work with court reporters in terms of negotiating fees but always runs into the roadblock that they want $1 a page or more when the company charges under 25 cents a page, depending on the size of the transcript.

RealLegal's Steinberg admits that the development is a further signal of the court reporting business moving away from the copy sales model to a repository charge.

In opposition to that idea is NetCourt, run by Charlotte, N.C.-based Spherion Deposition Services. NetCourt posts names of trial and expert witnesses and takes orders from those who want copies of the transcript. It gets the price from the court reporter, marks it up 25 to 35 percent and mails the court reporter a check. The court reporter sends out the transcript. NetCourt famously offered this service to journalists during the O.J. Simpson trial.

"It's a battle against people who archive people's transcripts and don't pay the court reporter," says Scott Huseby, CEO and president of NetCourt. "If you want a certified transcript from a court reporter you get it from NetCourt."

Web Sites of Companies Mentioned in This Article

Courtpages.com, www.courtpages.com

Depobook Reporting Services, www.depobook.com

I-Dep LLC, www.i-dep.com

Idex, www.idex.com

Juritas.com, www.juritas.com

LegaLink, www.legalink.com

LegalSpan, www.legalspan.com

Lextranet, www.lextranet.com

NetCourt, www.netcourt.com

realLegal.com, www.reallegal.com

Summation Legal Technologies Inc., www.casevault.com

Trion Technologies Inc., www.judicata.com

About the Author

Thom Weidlich is a freelance journalist from New York, N.Y.

2001 National Court Reporters Association, All Rights Reserved