A New Decade of Digital Court Technology

By: Danielle Chazen
digital court reporter

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The growing shortage of court reporters is not news per se. A study commissioned back in 2013 by the National Court Reporters Association (NCRA) estimated that the demand for court reporters would exceed supply by 5,500 by 2018. The average stenographer salary in the United States is currently $39,981, making it a highly respected, yet not a high paying role.

No, technology is not replacing humans

To get one false notion out of the way, digital transcription technology is not stripping jobs from humans. A digital court reporter must always oversee the recording process.

Unlike traditional stenographers, who enter the proceedings using shorthand and into a stenotype machine, digital court reporters don’t need to learn shorthand or use this machine. Instead, they’re responsible for taking notes during proceedings and marking important elements, such as speaker identification and keywords. Their notes serve as a general outline of the digital recording.

Why is the digital court reporter role less at risk?

Digital court reporting is less laborious to learn when compared to traditional stenographer training. Stenographers are required to complete a two-year court reporting program, state licensure and/or professional certification.

Digital court reporting programs take about six months to complete and involve learning how to take notes accurately and how to operate the sound or video equipment. Digital recording involves strategically placing microphones and video recorders throughout a room being used for a deposition, for example. It’s therefore much easier for individuals to learn and assume a digital court reporting role.

Tat said, quality is not sacrificed in the slightest. Certification is still required. The AAERT requires 98 percent accuracy for transcribers to garner its foundational certification of Certified Electronic (digital) Transcriber (CET®).

What are the benefits of digital court reporting?

Traditional stenographers often argue against technology, claiming that accuracy and quality is compromised when digital reporting takes place. The reality is that those utilizing digital court reporting are pleased with the high-quality audio that it captures. Most digital recording systems also have a number of audio backups to ensure that completed transcripts are the norm.

Digital court reporting is also helpful for meetings, hearings and simple litigation. These are often scheduled with little notice. Technology can come to the rescue when traditional stenographers cannot attend these proceedings. Stenographers also have the ‘luxury’ to be pickier about the work they take on due to the plethora of assignments which come their way.

Moreover, digitally recorded proceedings can be easily accessed online and delivered without delay. Individuals don’t need to wait for printed documents anymore.

Many jurisdiction leaders recognize the benefits of digital and are setting aside funds to implement digital recording systems. The use of technology has proved to help as a cost-cutting measure as well by eliminating the need to pay a traditional stenographer each time.

New York and South Carolina are going digital

Examples of courts going digital can be evidenced in New York and South Carolina. More digital court reporters are being utilized to make up for the shortage of stenographers in the states.

“New York State has made a commitment to continue to seek and employ court reporters, utilizing all the great services, such as realtime, CART, and paperless technology that only a court reporter can provide. A long and wonderful career awaits the court reporter graduate in New York State,” said Eric Allen, president of the Association of Supreme Court Reporters.

In South Carolina, the new digital court reporter devices are state-funded. In the 2019 budget, the state has set aside $1MM to expand its initial pilot program.

The devices aren’t taking jobs away; the average court reporter salary in South Carolina is $52,000, but just because the technology is being implemented doesn’t mean there are no concerns.

In an interview with WPDE, the Horry County Clerks of Court, Renee Elvis, voiced concerns about the technology not being able to differentiate between voices in proceedings.

“You know, what if you and I sound alike on this equipment, how is somebody who has to transcribe it later, how is that person going to know that it was you or me talking?” she said.

AI-based technologies, like those offered by Verbit, are accounting for these concerns and also utilizing human fact checkers to verify all of the elements. The more these machines are ‘put to work’ the more they learn and can detect different voices, understand complex legal terminology and more.

For example, while stenographers need to read back testimony, digital reporters can quickly use the technology to access and replay a witness’s testimony in his or her own voice.

Machine learning technologies have the ability to learn and act quickly

At the end of the day, all parties involved are seeking an error-free, reliable transcript. They want that transcript delivered within a quick time frame and at a fair cost. With all of the technology services now available and skilled professionals who can assist, who can blame them?

When law firms hire a court reporting agency, the three factors they cite as most important are ownership of quality, accuracy and professionalism.

Stenographers often argue that they have the courtroom experience familiarity that machines do not. Trials and depositions are fast paced and stenographers are highly admired for their professionalism in handling these situations with poise.

With greater experience comes a greater ability to perform at a high level, which is why most effective digital transcription providers utilize AI-based solutions.

Providers’ utilizing this machine technology allow their users to upload a plethora of relevant content and a dictionary of terms into the tech. These machines are then able to digest all of this information quickly, at a much faster rate than a human could. 

Accounting for the world of ‘remote’ work

Technology provides further opportunities to account for the changing workforce. 26MM Americans—approximately 16% of the total workforce—now work remotely at least part of the time, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The legal industry is not exempt. Most professional transcribers work from home. Tech provides on-demand accessibility and meets the quick turnaround times required by legal professionals’ deadlines. When assigned a transcript, remote transcribers can easily download the recordings and accompanying reporter log notes to begin transcription. Technology provides them with helpful advancements to achieve the necessary accuracy required. Transcribers can isolate channels to focus on individual speakers, control the volumes for each channel and employ features designed to handle transcribing recordings with multiple speakers.

Without key technologies, experienced transcribers also can take many hours to transcribe recorded audio. Professional firms instead work with multiple qualified transcribers and proofreaders, and can often employ them to work remotely in real time. This process ensures that transcripts are delivered without delay.

Tech tools are also facilitating key collaboration when multiple professionals are involved in the transcription process. Digital reporters and proofreaders can share spellings and research, as well as chat about nuances to address.

Overall, the legal industry can only benefit when utilizing technology to account for the very real shortage of stenographers available. With the right technology in place, courts can better serve the public and legal agencies can better serve their clients, all while ensuring that accuracy is never compromised.