Internet Newsletter for Lawyers
May/June 2004, by Delia Venables

WordWave - To the Courtroom and Beyond
by Sarah Andrews

Established in the UK as Smith Bernal in 1983, WordWave initially specialised in real-time reporting and high-end legal services for high court cases and public inquiries. It won the contracts for the Courts of Appeal and the Old Bailey in 1996 and pioneered the use of remote, and real-time technology, where parties, both in and outside of the courtroom, can see what’s being said, as it’s being said in private litigation. Since then, we have covered hundreds of cases, hearings, tribunals, depositions and inquiries from the Heathrow Terminal Five Inquiry to the BCCI appeal.

In 1998, Smith Bernal joined 24 court reporting companies around the world to form the international arm of US corporation LegaLink (www.legalink.com). Based in London, Hong Kong, Sydney, Melbourne and Christchurch as well as in 24 states across the US, LegaLink now covers around 1,000 hearings a week. In 2000 it expanded again, with the addition of US subtitling giant VITAC (www.vitac.com) which provides more than 1,200 hours of live subtitling every week to clients that include CNN and the Discovery Channel. Since 2002, our UK and international division has operated under the WordWave banner (www.wordwave.co.uk).

During its 21 years of operation the business has grown, diversified and adapted its services, client base and geographical location, to meet the changing needs of the legal marketplace and the increasingly global nature of law firms and their clients.

Real-time for all

WordWave’s trademark has long been its provision of real-time reporting, with writers capable of creating a verbatim record at speeds of 220+ words a minute at 98 per cent or higher levels of accuracy. Initially retained for the highest profile cases, it has become more common, with more and more clients feeling the benefits of reduced hearing times and increased accuracy and timeliness of transcripts. Software lets users code and annotate transcripts during proceedings; internet connectivity, messaging and document linking allow “on the fly” communication; and easy exchange of information in the courtroom and from remote locations opens up access.

WordWave is continuing to invest in its stenography school, training between 12 and 20 new writers each year. With a new school planned in Australia for 2005, we aim to make real-time the “norm” for any case lasting a week or more, bringing its benefits to even more clients.

As the use of real-time advances, so do new applications for traditional court reporting skills. Along with subtitling services for deaf and hard of hearing people, WordWave is now providing speech to text services for deaf witnesses in Crown Court cases, following a request from the Crown Prosecution Service in Newcastle.

A new kind of official record

While new technology is changing the way official records are created at the high end of the market, similar changes are happening across the board, with courts in England and around the world looking to it for new, more efficient ways to capture proceedings. Digital recording, archiving and transcription (known as DAR) is now common in Canada, Hong Kong and Australia, with electronic sound files routinely archived as the initial official record. Transcripts are created on demand, after the event. Pattern-matching software lets clients search archived material, identifying relevant files and passages and obviating the need for routine transcription, saving time and money. Having an audio record also adds value: the way in which something is said can sometimes change its whole interpretation.

In England, there are digital recording pilot sites running in a number of Crown Courts, including the Old Bailey, and the forthcoming round of courts tenders should signal a significant increase in the availability of DAR around the country. Indeed the DCA’s aim is to have all Crown Courts DAR-enabled by the middle of 2006.

All judgments – direct to your desk

We launched Casetrack (www.casetrack.com) in 1998, providing access to all judgments from the Courts of Appeal. Since then, we have expanded Casetrack to include cases from a range of other courts and added Case Review, with analysis of recent cases, the abstract- based Case Alerter (www.casealerter.com) and Case Detective.

Our in-house team can identify cases, alert clients when a new judgment is available or track and monitor the progress of a case. With daily updates from reporters and unrivalled access to court staff and clerks, we can also provide anecdotal and hot-off-the-press information – what judgments have been reserved, what’s going to be handed down and what’s been listed – as well as preview the new cases about to come to trial in the High Court.

Alongside this, WordWave continues to support the DCA’s work to extend free access to judgments. Until last year, we offered a free, open access archive service called Casebase, but now we provide all this material to BAILLI. In addition, judges, academic institutions, not for profit organisations and charities can all access Casetrack for free. An agreement with Citizens’ Advice ensures that members of the public can also access judgments.

WordWave has recently consolidated its position as a primary law publisher by creating links with other online data. You can now access Context (www.context.co.uk) material via links within Casetrack judgments, moving seamlessly from one source of information to another. Soon, a new venture with EMIS Professional Publishing Ltd (www.emislegal.com) will link civil procedure, property and employment information from both services.

Beyond the courtroom

While our work in the courts continues to be our core business, WordWave continues to develop services in other sectors. We are currently piloting digital recording and transcription of suspect interviews with the Metropolitan Police and several other regional forces. After just a few months, officers are already convinced that this will significantly speed up case preparation and are seeking to outsource all aspects of the process. So, as fewer officers have to type up their interviews from analogue recordings, digital files are provided to WordWave within a secure network, getting officers out from behind their desks and back onto the beat. It seems likely that collating data in electronic format at the start of the criminal justice process can help information flow more easily into the prosecution and trial phases, increasing efficiency overall.

As well as our criminal justice work we have set up a new joint venture to provide subtitling services, expanding our services for deaf and hard of hearing people, both in and outside the courts.

Sarah Andrews is the Managing Director of WordWave International, www.wordwave.co.uk.

E-mail: sarah.andrews@wordwave.co.uk.

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