By H. Dennis Beaver, Attorney at Law
Anyone who has been involved in a lawsuit–either as a plaintiff or defendant–knows, the time and expense involved in taking depositions of witnesses. Typically, in a lawyer’s office, the parties and witnesses in a case are asked, under oath, to tell what they know or have seen and their testimony is transcribed by a certified shorthand reporter, put in booklet form for later use in court.
Some “depos” are videotaped, which adds considerable expense to the process, not to mention the anxiety of another stranger in the room with a large video camera aimed at the deponent.
Depositions are an important fact-finding element of litigation and help cases to settle. But they can be a real hassle, having to drive long distances, fighting traffic, and running up attorney fees even before the depo begins. And then there are the certified shorthand reporter’s charges which typically run from $1,000 – $2,000 per depo.
So, wouldn’t it be nice if there were an easier way of attending a deposition? It would be even nicer if there was a way for a lawyer to file a lawsuit, and take deposition with the understanding that if the case were lost, nothing would be owed to the agency that provided the shorthand reporter, that person being paid by the agency itself.
Well, in large part because of the Covid-19 pandemic, all of that now exists with Los Angeles based Steno.
One of the benefits that have come out of Covid-driven lockdowns is a new way of taking a deposition where the parties, witnesses, and lawyers don’t have to go anywhere. With Steno, a deposition can be taken right from your home.
I sat down with attorney Dylan Ruga, one of the co-founders of Steno, and from what I have seen, they might have changed the way depositions will be taken long after the pandemic is all but a bad memory.
Non-Recourse Deferred Payment and Remote-Ready
“From my own contingency-based law firm, I realized the huge expense of advancing the costs of litigation, in particular, writing a lot of checks to court reporting agencies. So, even with a good case, I had to weigh the cost of that depo against the benefits of the case – if we won, or if we lost.”
“I looked around for a court reporting agency that would defer payment until the case settled, and on a non-recourse basis. If I lost, I would not have to pay the agency that sent the stenographer; the agency would absorb the loss. But I would pay a higher rate to compensate them for the risk of my loss.”
“Such an agency did not exist. That became the original concept of Steno which we launched in January of 2019. We grew until March of 2020 when Covid came along and it was clear that remote depositions would become tremendously important. As Skype or Zoom was not suitable for depositions, we developed the remote functionality that lawyers need when depositions are played at arbitration or a court hearing.”
How It Works
Steno client, attorney Owili Eison, explained how Steno works:
“An attorney contacts the Steno concierge and provides the date, time, location, and parties who will be deposed. Steno’s concierge sends an email notice to all interested parties, asking if they need any technology, such as a 4G iPad, microphone, an interpreter, etc. Exhibits are provided to the concierge who then makes visually available during the depo”
Another interesting feature of Steno is the stenographer: “Remote depos have been around for a long time, but the stenographer had to be in the room with the witnesses.”
In March of 2020, emergency legislation was enacted to allow fully-remote depositions so that court reporters no longer needed to be in the same room as the witness: “Steno developed this platform where everyone was remote, including the stenographer, saving a great deal of time and money.”
Of course, it could be a little scary being told to set up your computer and webcam for a depo without a little hand-holding. Steno has that covered as well, as Eison explained:
“Steno will send people out to help set it up and if they are embarrassed by the background, we will put up a nicely colored backdrop. Need a Wi-Fi hot spot? They will provide it.”
“We have a dry run, setting up the internet connection, showing the attorneys how to display exhibits on the screen, and testing the audio and video quality with a moderator who is present during the depo. This minimizes technical difficulties.”
Steno’s deferred payment method known as DisbursePay offers a financial safety net for cash-strapped attorneys struggling to cover the cost of litigation. Ruga says he has received notes of gratitude from clients who suffered painful court losses but Steno’s non-recourse financing, cushioned the blow.
Today Steno is working with over 200 law firms in California and is in the process of rolling out their service nationally. Covid-19 paralyzed the legal profession, and it seems clear this startup is a major, positive disruptor of the way things have been done forever.
Their website is Steno.com.
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Dennis Beaver Practices law in Bakersfield and welcomes comments and questions from readers, which may be faxed to (661) 323-7993, or e-mailed to Lagombeaver1@gmail.com. And be sure to visit dennisbeaver.com.