Court Reporter Equipment Options: From Typewriters to AI Software

By: Danielle Chazen
legal transcription equipment

The legal industry and the way it operates, continue to evolve due to digital transformation and the development of new technologies. There are a plethora of equipment options available to today’s court reporters as a result. When considering the trained professionals available to capture legal proceedings and provide stenographic services, it’s more critical than ever to take the necessary steps to stay competitive. It’s therefore important to stay on top of the industry’s technical developments, including the advanced equipment available to court reporters.

Court Reporter Equipment Options

Every equipment option has its pros and cons, but the end goal remains the same. Effective and accurate capture and transcription of legal proceedings is vital to ensure a fair and just system for all participants.

Stenography machine and court reporter typewriters

So how exactly does a stenographer typewriter work? The stenograph, or the court reporter typewriter, works like a portable word processor. It has a modified keyboard with 22 buttons instead of a standard keyboard. The left keys are for spelling the beginning letter of a syllable, and the right-hand keys are for the last letter. The stenographer presses all relevant keys at the same time. The stenographic machine will then come up with a meaning that is unintelligible for individuals who aren’t trained to read machine shorthand.

In the past, the text a stenographer typed would be printed to a narrow roll of paper tape. Then, the stenographer translated these notes back into English, and if requested, another stenographer, a ‘scopist’, would check the translation. Today, the translation is computerized and modern-day stenographic machines provide translations simultaneously. Modern machines come with an LCD display that shows the words in understandable English.
A significant pro of a stenography machine is customization. Court reporters often save their individual spelling and abbreviation systems in personal dictionaries on their home computers. Their personal dictionaries are then transferred to the stenographic machine they’re using via USB ports.

Court reporters can customize their machines even to the level of each individual key’s sensitivity and the stenographer’s finger strength. Most stenographers utilize machines that are customized specifically to them and for different tasks they are performing.

There are therefore a large selection of professional stenography machines to choose from, with some companies like StenoWorks claiming to have “a court reporter machine for every professional stenography writer.” The con is that these machines tend to be expensive, ranging from $1,100 to $5,000, and individuals must receive extensive training to use them properly.

Voice recordings & microphones

Court reporters can also utilize technology that enables voice recording with devices that feature high-quality microphones, which are less expensive. A court reporter microphone is a sound capturing device that incorporates an element diaphragm for capturing voice and has a hearing aid circuit inside of the microphone.

Having high-quality microphones and placing them effectively in the room is key. Poor audio can hurt the ability to produce a transcript later on. It’s therefore difficult if you’re working with someone who does not understand proper placement for effective audio capture. Here’s a detailed guide on how to obtain high-quality legal audio recordings and an article with the top 12 tips to optimize your audio.

‘Stenomask’ technology is one voice recording capture method being utilized more by court reporters since it is less expensive. It’s essentially a court dictation machine which involves ‘verbatim’ reporters who hold a microphone close to their mouths as they repeat every word they hear in the proceeding. They wear a mask which silences their voice.

Sometimes referred to as voice writers, this equipment records everything that is said by judges, witnesses, attorneys and other parties, including gestures and emotional reactions.

Court Reporting Computer programs

After a court reporter employs a voice recording method, he or she typically utilizes a voice recognition computer program to provide a real-time feed or prepare transcripts after. These computer programs can also translate shorthand from stenographs and generate transcripts.

Computer programs greatly aid in the production of a transcript. The computer program translates the information inputted or audio inputted into text and uses predefined rules and a dictionary of known words to produce the transcript of a proceeding.

Utilizing a computer program which is trained to recognize shorthand or audio can help with the customization capabilities mentioned. Yet with computers, there is always room for error if the dictionary wasn’t implemented properly, and it’s always best to have a human fact check the computer’s work.

AI software (speech to text software)

The most advanced method of legal transcription employed by court reporters and legal agencies is AI software, or speech to text software. This software utilizes artificial intelligence and machine learning to produce a transcript, often in real time.

AI-based real time court reporting software allows for an efficient, affordable and accurate transcription process. The machines often self-learn to ‘get smarter’ and recognize more terms to provide more accuracy with each use. Additionally, automating the process with AI-based transcription software often results in significantly reduced operating costs.

In legal, customization is also key. Many providers, including Verbit, specialize in legal and understand the needs of real-time transcription services as they pertain to legal proceedings. Clients are provided with opportunities to fully customize the process with templates and collaboration and editor tools. Users are also given the ability to upload information before the machine is used so the machine immediately recognizes complex legal terminology or names of relevant speakers.

Some AI technology transcription providers, fact check the work of their automatic speech recognition machines with human editors. Verbit utilizes two human editors per project to obtain 99% accuracy, produce transcripts that are top-notch and ensure legal parties involved are provided with technology that promotes a fair legal system.

An evolving process

Legal professionals who are attempting to tackle significant workloads despite the growing shortage of stenographers available, can greatly benefit from the implementation of technology in the process. Technology enables them to scale their businesses and cut costs.

Many professionals are also benefiting from separating the audio capture of legal proceedings from the production of the transcripts. This unbundling of the workflow and new reliance on AI technology speeds up the process. The array of court reporter equipment and technology available on the market not only gives the legal industry options, but effectively combats the issue of legal and court delays.