The Digital Answer to the Court Reporting Shortage

Can you envision a time when court reporters are in short supply? When you call an agency to arrange a procedure, and they inform you that the next available date is six months away? Or when a judge’s schedule is determined by the availability of a court reporter instead of the number of pending cases? When your trial is postponed four or five times owing to a lack of court reporters and not at the request of your attorney?

In certain parts of the country, these situations are already occurring. Court proceedings must be delayed because a court reporter is absent due to illness. Due to a lack of reporters, agencies are declining assignments. Consequently, the expense of employing a court reporter is rising.

Court Reporting Past and Present

Court reporting in the United States dates back to the middle of the 19th century when court events were recorded in shorthand by writers using quills and inkwells. This progressed during the subsequent fifty years, resulting in the introduction of the stenography machine. In the 1940s, court reporters gained access to stenography, and by the mid-1990s, stenographers were computerized, connecting to a laptop using specialized software to convert phonetic shorthand into a legible transcript. Since then, technology has rapidly evolved to include real-time transcription feeds, integrated audio backups, and links to closed captioning systems. Digital court reporting, which has been used in court systems for more than 25 years and in depositions, EUOs, and other out-of-court processes over the past decade, is becoming increasingly prevalent as time passes.

Between 1970 and 2000, there were more than 60,000 court reporters employed in the stenographic field, the highest number ever. In 2018, it was predicted that less than 30,000 people would be employed in the field, and this number has decreased daily since then. According to the Speech to Text Institute, 1,120 stenographers retire annually, while just 200 enter the sector. This means that by 2023, just 23,100 stenographic court reporters will remain. This leaves an expected shortage of approximately 12,000 reporters available to cover court sessions. With litigation on the rise and a shortage of court reporters of at least 35 percent, something must be done.

The Next Generation of Court Reporters

Using creativity and technology, the upcoming generation of court reporters is beginning to fill the void. Digital court reporting, also known as electronic court reporting, is now the technique of testimony capturing with the highest growth rate. Similar to the twentieth century, when shorthand writers and stenographic machine writers coexisted, the market is seeing a mix of court reporting methods, including stenographic, digital, and voice. This new hybrid workforce will allow the U.S. litigation process to continue to function and flourish to the advantage of the legal community.

As we have observed in other nations, it is usual for many capture techniques to coexist. According to Martin Block, former president of the National Court Reporters Association, in his article “The Realities of Court Reporting in the 21st Century,” “In the right hands, each methodology will achieve its intended purpose: providing an accurate and timely transcript taken by a professional officiant.”

Standards and Best Practices

Digital court reporting has been utilized throughout the United States for more than 25 years, despite the widespread misconception that it is a recent development. Over the years, the process of recording high-quality audio recordings, taking notes, and then transcribing them into a legal transcript has been thoroughly tested and developed. Through its Best Practices Guide, the American Association of Electronic Reporters and Transcribers (AAERT) establishes standards for this kind of court reporting, and national accreditation enforces these standards. As is the case with all previous methods of court reporting, digital court reporters learn from their predecessors. In addition to formal training in schools or learning centers, they receive on-the-job training and best practices mentoring.

What You Can Anticipate

A digital court reporter is a notary or court official who acts as an impartial third party to safeguard the record. The digital court reporter employs secure software. It synchronizes the audio and text and adds metadata with precise information that would reveal if the file had been altered. In addition, several software platforms encrypt the files with proprietary code and/or file wrappers that are inaccessible to other applications.

Although the equipment utilized by a digital court reporter may differ from that of a stenographic court reporter, the attorney’s experience should be essentially identical. The most significant difference is that a digital reporter will utilize a microphone to record testimony (which may be on the table, a stand, or clipped onto participants). A legal transcriptionist later transcribes the audio file. The service’s precision, timeliness, and cost will be comparable to existing capture methods such as stenography and mask reporting. Reputable organizations and courts employ professional legal transcribers who have been trained to ensure that the transcript will be accepted in court.

The Prospects for Court Reporting

The lack of court reporters is true, and digital court reporting is the next step in the profession’s continual evolution. This indicates that the use of a digital court reporter in your hearing is imminent. Therefore, if the agency you know and trust assigns a digital court reporter to your legal action, you can rest certain that you are in the hands of competent legal specialists who are there to safeguard the record.

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