Court reporting agencies are going hybrid. Hybrid model CRAs are using digital technology to support their human transcriptionists. As the world embarks on a new normal, members of the legal profession are learning about the benefits of remote work, virtual meetings, and the integration of advanced technology into their field. The successful innovations are paving the way for a future that relies less on face-to-face encounters.

Although millions of Americans have already rolled up their sleeves for the Covid-19 vaccine, new variants are creating novel threats, and reopening remains a challenge. Digital tools are allowing many businesses to continue to function and even flourish throughout the uncertainty. However, some professionals express reluctance when it comes to implementing technological solutions into their business models.

In 1906, the legal world welcomed the invention of the commercial stenotype machine. Court reporters saw value in the machine and its ability to improve their efficiency. That early innovation changed the industry forever. Yet now, after 115 years, some individuals in the industry lack in their openness to innovation. However, new technology offers an opportunity for court reporters. The professionals who embrace these innovations will achieve a competitive edge in their field.

The issue

There’s a critical shortage of stenographic court reporters in the US. A 2014 report sponsored by the National Court Reporters Association (NCRA) pointed out the decreasing supply of stenographic court reporters. According to one estimate, by 2018, the industry would experience a shortage of nearly 5,500 reporters. In 2021, the problem is even more drastic.

While the legal world grapples with the shortage of qualified court reporters, some resistance to digital solutions is exacerbating the issue. With the added pressure of the coronavirus outbreak in 2020, the NCRA alleged that a lack of certification and the possibility for poor audio could make digital court reporting “dangerous.” The organization did not support its assertion with facts, and many thought leaders in the industry pushed back against the unfounded concerns.

“They have no basis to say that digital reporting with an actual digital reporter monitoring the system that ensures accuracy can deliver anything a stenographer can’t do,” said Jim Cudahy, executive director of Speech-to-Text Institute and the former executive director of NCRA.

Embracing the reality

Many court reporting agencies are now acknowledging that there is no way to handle the backlog of proceedings that COVID-19 restrictions caused throughout the country. That backlog, paired with a growing number of stenographers retiring, is creating a dire need for technological assistance and increased efficiency. Also, the average age of a working stenographic court reporter is 54 years old, meaning that more professionals will likely retire in the years to come. Court reporting agencies that fail to adapt will, unfortunately, be left without the tools they need to serve law firms and scale their businesses.

Many CRAs are, therefore, looking for innovative and creative solutions to solve this problem.

“With the introduction of new technologies, including remote depositions and digital reporting, we’ve been able to continue to serve our clients during changing circumstances,” Peter Giammanco, President of US Legal, said at the end of 2020. “Regarding the pandemic, I would say the industry has done a fantastic job of quickly adjusting to the new normal of remote proceedings.”

Addressing misconceptions with court reporting technology

One roadblock to digital transformation is the common misconception that non-stenographic recordings could lead to faulty and inaccurate deposition transcripts. However, modern digital tools offer sophisticated recordings, and the hybrid model still uses trained human court reporters to reach accurate deposition transcripts. Digital court reporting remains an interactive process that incorporates the benefits of human oversight and digital efficiency.

In a face-to-face environment, a digital court reporter uses sophisticated multi-channel audio recording equipment (with backup systems) to capture and annotate the audio from the deposition. The digital reporter is actively taking non-phonetic shorthand notes and can read back testimony upon request. Digital reporters create a written and audio record in real-time.

Until recently, three elements were missing for adapting digital reporting methods:
– Access to a real-time feed
– Immediate rough drafts following a proceeding
– Turnaround times that are faster than traditional stenographers and older digital technology

Today’s digital technology offers advanced options compared to the former technologies and traditional reporting, eliminating many past concerns in the industry.  With the help of AI-assisted transcription tools, court reporting agencies can take on more work and improve their service, turnaround times and deliverables.

AI-assisted real-time transcripts offer several benefits to transcriptionists and their clients. Some useful features include:

– Readbacks with timestamps
– Interactive audio search capabilities
– An offline interactive player
– Legal annotation
– Speaker differentiation and recognition
– The ability to add private comments
– Customizable templates and formatting settings

These features illustrate the usefulness of technology and its ability to improve work-product for transcriptionists and attorneys alike. Transcriptionists who embrace this technology can set themselves apart in their field and grow their businesses.

The takeaway

Stenographers’ services remain in high demand. Technology will not erase the need for these skilled professionals. However, the individuals who learn to incorporate AI-transcription technology into their businesses can improve their efficiency and competitiveness in the market. As the legal market searches for high-demand transcription services, those who understand technological solutions will increase their ability to accept more jobs and clients.

However, traditional firms must prepare for how to handle additional work as it comes in with the evident personnel shortages in mind. AI is not meant to replace the human element in the process, only to augment it.

Going hybrid is also inevitable for some court reporting agencies. They must implement and incorporate more digital tools to create efficient processes that allow them to take on work, not turn work away. To stay competitive, CRAs and others should embrace digital court reporting.

This post was contributed by Leor Eliashiv, a Sales Executive on Verbit’s legal vertical. Eliashiv is working with court reporting agencies and businesses to implement digital solutions.