As COVID-19 infections surge in Bexar County, the judge again suspended jury service in early August, despite a backlog of 2020 cases.
One San Antonio startup is looking to modernize the technology used in court hearings, capabilities that have changed little since Charles Dickens worked as a court stenographer in London in the early 19th century.
BEINCOURT is an end-to-end software and technology platform that supports simultaneous interpretation in the courtroom. Founder and president Sean Nelson, with a long history of working on technology infrastructure, recognized even before the pandemic how courts needed more robust virtual capabilities for those who cannot attend a hearing.
“We understood back in 2017 that there is a way to bring remote interpretation into the live courtroom environment to save on travel and costs,” Nelson said. “Fast forward to today, and we can see how this is now a need — courtrooms are seeking pristine audio and video capabilities to handle the move to virtual.”
Philip Kiser, CEO of the Austin-based Telespace, which provides cloud services for business collaboration, has known Nelson for 15 years and advises the startup.
“One of the challenges in the courtroom today is the difficulty to hear everyone due to the plexiglass dividers in the courtroom protecting people from infection,” Kiser said. “We saw the need for interpreters to have the ability to perform simultaneous interpretation remotely without having to manage multiple devices.”
The startup launched during the summer of 2020 as 460 Tech, LLC, with BEINCOURT as its first technology service.
Once hearings went virtual in 2020, court administrators were looking for ways to ensure the record could still be captured regardless of how the hearing was taking place. The legal requirement to record hearings on video conferencing platforms meant new technical problems cropped up, such as the audio quality of participants calling in to attend courtroom proceedings.
“What we want courts to realize is you will still have audio issues, and not enough quality microphones, plus juvenile courts need a specific setup,” Nelson said. “We provide the audio and video solutions, with cameras that face the counsel and witness stand as well as the judge.”
Ken Bjork, who joined BEINCOURT as its vice president of courtroom technologies, said the startup developed its technology to be compatible with all video teleconferencing platforms. Their goal is to enable remote interpretation with audio and video capabilities during interpretation for the courtroom.
“Our proprietary speakers and microphones eliminate echoing and popping noises,” Bjork said. “Our mic and camera packages also mitigate the spread of COVID-19, as people don’t need to get close or yell to be heard.”
The pandemic-induced backlog of court hearings and lack of a single all-in-one solution for virtual and hybrid court proceedings could inject much-needed innovation into overloaded court systems.
“Some companies do some parts of this, such as audio-visual companies capturing document presentation proceedings or supporting remote interpretation, but no one except our solution has all the AV and software functionality needed for the full range of courtroom needs,” Nelson said.
Bjork was the deputy chief information officer for Los Angeles County Superior Court for over 30 years. During his time there, Bjork struggled to find technology solutions for less than $50,000 per courtroom, finding estimates were coming in at over $100,000 for a single courtroom.
Now as BEINCOURT’s vice president, Bjork is instrumental in building out the company’s software platform and technology package with the correct number of microphones and speakers.
“Our solution starts at $36,000 per courtroom for an essential package that can support high-traffic courtrooms,” Bjork said.
The legal tech company is headquartered in North Central San Antonio and has Summit County in Akron, Ohio, Washington, D.C. Courts, and the Superior Court in Yuma County, AZ among its first customers.
Even after the pandemic recedes, there is still a need for BEINCOURT’s technology in the courtroom.
Nelson said their simultaneous interpretation solution speeds up court proceedings by about 50%, making it a faster process than using a live interpreter. An interpreter can remotely speak to the person with limited English proficiency behind the scenes without interrupting the court proceedings. When simultaneous interpretation takes place in person, the court stops everything.
“Right now, courts are getting federal funding from emergency sources like the CARES Act, so I’d tell courts to take advantage of it and update your courtroom tech setup,” Nelson said.
The startup’s goal is to get BEINCOURT to market quickly as they continue to develop more products and services for courtrooms. They are about to deploy a cloud-based SaaS or software as a service package that the company can host for courtrooms or the courtroom can run it on their own, according to Nelson.
“Our solution is purpose-built for the courtroom,” Nelson said. “What we offer is a ‘courtroom in a box.'”
The featured image is an image of a courtroom gavel, photo by Bill Oxford on Unsplash.