Today’s digital court reporters are not just hitting record and leaning back while legal proceedings occur; there is a lot involved. Court reporters are responsible for administering the oath and acting as neutral third party.
They’re managing proceedings to get a clear record and preserve the security of it. They’re charged with collecting and delivering the record to the agency or court system for transcription. At the end of the day though, all that attorneys, agencies or judges truly care about is obtaining high-quality, accurate and timely transcripts.
In partnership with BlueLedge, we’ve recruited Lisa Dees of Justice AV Solutions (JAVS) to provide practical tips on achieving strong audio to generate the best possible transcript from in-person and remote legal proceedings. The full guide can be accessed here, but highlights are below.
Your proceedings tool kit
There are basics every digital court reporter should have in their recording kit.
- Know that you’re purchasing the right microphone for the right environment. A condenser being an electric-charged microphone and a dynamic is a microphone that does not require phantom power.
- Know your pickup patterns. The two basic ones are omnidirectional and cardioid. Omni picks up all the way around the microphone, which is not always the best when we’re looking for channel separation. Cardioid is more of a defined pick up with cancellation where you don’t want to pick up sound.
- There are many styles of microphones. You have gooseneck microphones that are going to protrude up from the desk and face the speaker. You have boundary-type microphones that are going to sit flat on a table top, handheld microphones and lavalier microphones.
- Choose quality cables include XLR or Ethernet cables, which can handle being tossed around in a kit.
- Don’t cheap out on your microphones, it becomes evident in the record.
The multi-channel interface is the device used in between the microphones and the computer, which multiple mics are plugged into. It will deliver it in a format that the computer can take and then record into a multi-channel recording.
- Look for an interface that’s a minimum of four mic inputs. Five to six mics really seems to be the most common used in the field, but four is minimum.
- Find something durable and lightweight.
- Find one that is software-driven rather than a hard-dial driven, you’ll get a better result in the field.Check how many of the channels or how it passes the audio to the computer system. Often, there are only two channels on the interface, or sometimes they cannot record and interface at the same time.
- AAERT best practices says you need redundant recorders, meaning two independent recording systems.
- Look for a device that has sufficient storage. Some of them can have limitations to the size of the cards that can be put in them. You want to make sure that you’re not going to run out of recording space in the middle of a hearing.
- Start with fresh batteries, but many recorders come with an alternative power source, such as off the laptop’s USB cable.
- For larger rooms, consider having multiple devices. Set one up on the judge’s bench; set one down on a podium so that you’re adequately recording your backup. This is independent from the primary recording.
- It needs to be a multi-channel recording software.
- It needs to be able to interface with as many recording channels as your interface device is going to deliver to the computer.
- Look for integrated, time-stamped note-taking. It’s your job as a reporter to give the transcriber as much information as possible. Designate your speakers, what they’re saying. Be prepared to do a playback. The more detailed the notes, the faster you can find a playback point.
- Confidence monitoring is critical to the quality of this recording that’s handed to transcribers. Confidence monitoring allows you to listen to the recorded audio a couple of seconds after it’s been written to disk so that you know the quality of the audio is good or if you have to ask somebody to speak up.
- Hotkeys: Make sure you’re using tools like hotkeys or Quick Notes that Notewise has at JAVS for keyboard shortcuts. You can put in an entire paragraph with one stroke.
- You may not get to choose your software. Sometimes your agency or your courthouse is going to already have software. They’re going to have a contract. Read the manual and watch the videos available to you.
- You need a good quality set of headphones for confidence monitoring. Noise-canceling headphones are not the best choice because as the reporter, you’re monitoring the live room and confidence monitoring at the same time. Isolation headphones can work well. The quality of the headphones can definitely have a direct correlation to the quality of your recording. Quality doesn’t mean pricey; they can be a $30 set of Skullcandy.
- Mobile reporters can be asked to do playback and shouldn’t rely on laptop speakers due to poor amplification. Consider a nice USB attached speaker so that you can project your playback through the room.
Don’t overlook the power management system
“Part of our job as a reporter is to not become an intrusion to that room. So we need to look for trip hazards. We’re laying out mic cables. The last thing we want to do is have half a dozen power cords plugged into an outlet behind us, creating not just a trip hazard, but a trip wall,” Dees said.
- Bring a power strip with you and look for one that’s a surge protector.
- Bring an extension cord with you and secure it with gaffer tape, not duct tape.
- Make sure the button is lit up to know it’s working and look for one with a USB port. Don’t buy a cheap convenience-store power adapter.
Specific considerations for remote proceedings
Most proceedings are happening using video-conferencing technology. There’s a minimum set of requirements for the hardware.
- Make sure your microphone has a mute button.
- Know your laptop ports for microphone connection, and make sure your connection type is going to match.
- For backup recordings, use a handheld recorder and hold it up to a speaker. You can also do a phone-based recording. There are many phone soft applications that will allow you to call in on a video-conference platform rather than just connecting. Most video-conferencing platforms record themselves, so let them. The recording can be used during the transcription process as a great referral. If you are connecting via the Internet, dial in from your phone or use your cellular Internet. If your power goes out, the attorneys on the other side aren’t going to know that both of your connections are lost.
- Recording software: JAVS has Notewise which helps for direct connection to the video-conferencing platform to take in the audio, and it’s also mixing in the mutable microphone, and getting that added security that comes with a multi-channel recording platform. Direct connect to the video conferencing with your audio, as that is a part of the record too.
- Control your environment when remote: Don’t do it publicly or with children and animals around. Make the environment as professional as possible to mitigate any issues.
The digital reporter is there for proceeding management and chain of custody, and they are that secure conduit to transcription. Their responsibility is to make sure that that audio record gets transcribed with quality and accuracy and that it gets to the agency or client and in the format the client wants it.
Verbit specializes in legal transcription to help court reporters generate transcripts when holding proceedings and doing recordings of them in digital and remote environments. While our technology is mature enough to guarantee accurate transcripts, securing strong audio with the right equipment will ease and speed up the entire process. Court reporters are true professionals and should buy professional equipment built for their needs, not those of consumers, to ensure strong audio is captured. Read the full guide here.