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 this needed skill level has always been difficult, but the challenge is creating a shortage.
Driven by a steady trend of increased court workloads, the demand for qualified court reporters has now far surpassed the supply. In fact, it’s estimated the shortage will reach 5,000 in the United States this year. Since all court proceedings—including hearings, trials and depositions—must have a reporter present, the most notable effect of the shortage is the delaying of legal processes.
But the rise of automation has the potential to tackle this shortage. Artificial intelligence 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.
The Root Cause and Effects of the Shortage
The justice system moves slowly at the best of times. Its bureaucratic inefficiency is compounded by a shortage of court reporters, bogging down the system and preventing legal proceedings from moving forward in a timely manner.
Part of this shortage is due to the fact that the average age of court reporters is 55, according to the National Court Reporter Association. With such a high average age, an estimated 70 percent will retire over the next couple decades. The issue clearly isn’t going to fix itself.
The shortage is noticeable across civil, criminal and family courts alike. Because of the high demand and short supply, qualified reporters are in a position to demand a better salary, resulting in higher costs for the courts. In addition to increased overhead, efficiency takes an additional hit because of the time spent seeking out the right reporter and negotiating on price.
Automation Will Fill the Gaps
AI-driven technology is transforming the world at large, the legal system included. The adoption of digital recording technology has become common in courts across the country. 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 are some of the benefits they can count on.
Decreased costs: Automation enables significant savings when compared with traditional transcription methods by reducing training time and manual labor. Courts that leverage AI technology for transcription reduce strain on resources and solve the issue of being understaffed. Courts that leverage AI technology for transcription can reduce strain on resources and solve the understaffing issue, while still maintaining the level of transcription precision that the industry requires.
High accuracy: One of the biggest concerns of legal systems when implementing AI capabilities is the belief it’s unable to match the precision of a professional court reporter. However, machine learning algorithms enable continuous improvement to increase accuracy. AI technology enables greater efficiency and increased scalability, as courts can ensure that a high volume of files gets returned on time and with high accuracy. AI technology also allows for customized formatting and templates, to meet the stringent industry requirements of court documents.
Greater efficiency: Since AI transcription technologies can be deployed in real time, the turnaround times of court transcriptions will decrease dramatically. With AI-driven transcription, courts can receive a workable transcript on the spot, a vast improvement over the lengthening industry standard, given the resource shortage.
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 traded in quills and inkwells for stenotype machines, they now must learn to adapt to AI-enabled transcription and voice recognition software. These technologies are designed with simplicity and ease-of-use in mind to ensure a smooth transition and quick adoption.
The surge of advanced technology is driving a transition from court reporter to court technologist. Human judgement is difficult to replace, so a skilled individual who is an expert at overseeing the many different court technologies and ensuring that they function for optimal results is sure to be in high demand going forward. The innovation of AI applied to legal transcription may result in an updated version of the invaluable profession of court reporting.
The adoption of emerging technology disproves the idea that courts are tech-resistant, and speaks to the positive trend of tech adoption across the board. While human court reporters will remain an integral part of the process, their teaming up with technology brings benefits for the whole court system. Being open to transcription technology is a natural next step courts can take to improve their operations.