The innovation of AI applied to legal transcription will result in an updated version of the invaluable profession of court reporting.
Court reporters are the quiet force driving court system efficiency, from the local level all the way up to federal level.
Their unrivaled typing speed meets courts’ needs for transcripts on all proceedings. After all, the average court reporter types 225 words a minute—three times as fast as a regular typist and five times the speed of an average user.
Finding those capable of reaching the needed skill level has always been difficult, but due to a variety of factors, the court system is now facing a shortage of court reporters—and courts are forced to slow down as a result. A National Court Reporter Association (NCRA) report estimated that we’ve reached a shortage of 5,000 court reporters in the United States. The industry is used to running with 32,000 court reporters sharing the burden, meaning 16% of the workforce has been wiped out without being replaced.
But machine learning and artificial intelligence can step in to fill the gap. AI and voice recognition are improving to the point that they can transcribe dialogue in real time. AI transcription has the potential to rescue court systems from their chronic backlogs by filling in the gaps where there aren’t enough court reporters present.
Why the Shortage?
The court reporter shortage will have a significant negative impact on the productivity of the court system. So what causes are behind the shortage?
- Aging Stenographers. The average stenographer is 51, and the average age of retirement in the U.S. is 62, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Given the age of those in the role, an estimated 70% will retire over the next couple of decades. But the next generation isn’t waiting in the wings to fill the vacancies. The career’s high barrier to entry thanks to a challenging certification process leads up-and-coming professionals away from the field.
- Difficult Certification Program. Stenotype has been the predominant method for court reporting over the years. Getting certified in stenotype is challenging, and comparable to learning a foreign language, then teaching yourself to type it at 225 words per minute while hitting 96% accuracy. Because of the difficulty of the skill, certification programs have high dropout rates. Some programs graduate only 4% of those who start.
- Closing Court Reporter Schools. With a waning number of prospective court reporters obtaining certification thanks to a lack of interest from younger generations and low graduation rates, many trade schools have failed to meet Department of Education requirements. Their ratios for placement to graduation rates result in lost funding or accreditation, and they’re forced to close permanently.
The effects of the shortage create issues in civil, criminal and family courts across the country. Without proper transcription, proceedings cannot move forward in a timely manner, and even simple cases end up drawn out.
A smaller pool of trained stenographers means qualified reporters are able to demand higher salaries thanks to the scarcity of their skills. This increases both courts’ costs and time spent on negotiations. The complications extend existing delays further, and transcript delivery can fall behind by up to four weeks.
AI’s Potential in Court
AI-driven technology has the potential to transform the court system’s court reporter struggles, and some states have already gotten started. Alaska, Indiana, New Hampshire, Oregon, Utah and Vermont use audio digital recording in all or most of their general jurisdiction court sessions, while many other states are not far behind. Here’s how it will affect several different elements of what courts currently struggle with amid the court reporter shortage.
- Costs. Automation allows for cost savings due to reduced training time and manual labor. As a result, courts can allocate resources more judiciously and avoid the problems that come with understaffing. Courts that leverage AI technology for transcription can reduce strain on resources and solve the understaffing issue, while still maintaining the high level of transcription precision required by the courts.
- Accuracy. Many legal system administrators are concerned that AI capabilities won’t match the precision of a professional court reporter. However, machine learning algorithms enable continuous improvement to increase accuracy. AI allows for better efficiency and scalability so that courts can ensure that a high volume of recordings are transcribed accurately and delivered on time. AI technology also enables formatting and template creation, a helpful element in order to meet the stringent industry requirements of court documents.
- Efficiency. The legal system is known for its delays and slow-moving cases, but automation can speed up the sluggish process. AI-powered speech recognition technologies create workable transcripts in real time, notably shrinking turnaround times. AI transcription technology offers a noticeable improvement from the current weeks-long standard of turning around accurate transcriptions, as well as some impressive new features. For example, it offers sophisticated voice biometrics capable of identifying separate speakers based on their unique voice characteristics, along with multichannel speaker authentication and audio search capabilities.
While these benefits are exciting, it’s important to note that skilled professionals are indispensable as monitors of that technology. Just as court reporters once moved from handwritten transcription to stenotype machines, they now must learn to adapt to AI-enabled transcription and voice recognition software. These technologies promote simplicity and ease-of-use, making smooth transition and quick adoption possible.
The surge of advanced technology is driving a transition from court reporter to court technologist. Thus far, human judgment is impossible to replicate, so a skilled individual who is an expert at managing a wide array of court technologies and ensuring that they function properly is sure to be in high demand going forward. The innovation of AI applied to legal transcription will result in an updated version of the invaluable profession of court reporting.
The adoption of emerging technology disproves the idea that courts are conservative when it comes to tech. It also speaks to the positive trend of emerging tech adoption across the board. While human court reporters will remain an integral part of the process, by teaming up with technology, they can offer long-lasting benefits for the whole court system. Being open to transcription technology is a natural next step courts can take to improve their operations.
Tom Livne is the co-founder and CEO of Verbit. Geoffrey Hunt is president of AAERT (the American Association of Electronic Reporters & Transcribers).