Demystifying the Myths of Digital Court Reporting: Embracing Advancements in the Industry

Have you ever been out somewhere and seen two adolescents arguing? We all have, right? Maybe siblings arguing over who can complete a task better. What's the first thing the average person thinks when they see this? Questions like, where are the parents? Why are these two being allowed to argue like this in public? Who wants to see this? Usually followed by the eyeroll, the sigh, and sometimes a backhanded comment about kids today as people walk away in an effort to escape the annoyance.

We expect some level of this from children, even teenagers. I mean, they're kids, right? Before adolescence, children are still learning what's socially acceptable and what isn't. By adolescence, some kids feel the need to act out publicly to gain attention, and negative attention is better than no attention.

But what about when this happens between adults? How do you properly respond when the people attacking are people working in the same industry you do? How does this look to the rest of the community? Well, I would say it doesn't look good at all. And at some point, the damage done to the industry becomes irreparable.

Stenography is an artform that dates back as far as the mid-4th century BC and has been used worldwide for hundreds of years. What started as squiggly lines progressed to the first steno machine in 1877. Operating a steno machine was difficult to learn, but those that did found life as a stenographer significantly improved. This was so much better than having to write everything out by hand.

Enter the world of computers. This made things yet easier for the stenographer. They could now use a disk in their steno machines and record both on the disk and on paper. They could then transfer the disk to a computer and transcribe even faster and easier.

Enter voice writers. Voice writing was introduced by Horace Webb in the mid-1940s, but voice writers weren't welcomed into the industry of court reporting. Despite being widely used, this method of capturing a verbatim record is still met with skepticism and bias. There are many misconceptions voice writers are consistently trying to dispel. With claims that they're not accurate, they're unreliable using things like ASR, or that it's noisy and less effective. These things are simply untrue. Voice writers master a skill, much like any other trade. The margin of human error is no different than that of a stenographer who may mishear what someone said, and therefore, stenographically recorded incorrectly. Their transcripts are recorded instantly from their voice using software like CAT and DNS, rendering more dependable transcripts than ever.

Now we come to the latest advancement in court reporting, the digital world. Digital reporting is now on the radar of the legal industry and is taking quite a beating, with even more myths than voice writers.

MYTH 1: Digital reporters are not trained.

TRUTH: Digital reporters are absolutely trained. Digital reporters are just trained differently than stenographers, and the training is faster because they don't need to learn the steno machine. However, digital reporters are trained, tested, and held to ethical standards.

MYTH 2: Digital reporters just push record.

TRUTH: There is far more to digital reporting than just pushing record. Digital reporters have to track and monitor all audio equipment. Digital reporters annotate every proceeding, as well. While digital reporters don't generally type out every spoken word verbatim, in real time, they are required to note, in real time, speaker changes, moving from Q&A to colloquy, and at minimum, to paraphrase everything said. Digital reporters are also tasked, as any court reporter, to ask a party to repeat themselves if something wasn't clearly heard. Instead of reading back what someone has said, the digital reporter is trained to play back the question or answer when requested.

MYTH 3: Digital audio is poor quality, full of background noise, and causes inaccuracies.

TRUTH: Digital reporters are trained in the use of audio equipment, both remotely and in person. Background noise, as in many recorded settings, is controlled with the use of professional-grade microphones and other audio equipment that blocks wind, paper shuffling, and other ambient noise. This is a heavy focus during training.

MYTH 4: Digital reporters can't produce transcripts, so they outsource transcription overseas, causing transcripts to be inaccurate and not certifiable.

TRUTH: This couldn't be further from the truth. In fact, many digital reporters are quite capable of producing their own transcripts, and frequently do. In cases where they don't, transcribers can be hired to produce the transcript from the audio. These transcribers are certified through individual states and through the AAERT. They are native English speakers, and in most cases, must be U.S. natives to produce a legal transcript. In fact, digitally produced transcripts are held to a high standard of accuracy. With each attorney, judge, and witness using separate microphones, each has their own audio channel, allowing the channels to be isolated to capture what each individual is saying, even during crosstalk, increasing the accuracy of the transcript.

MYTH 5: Digital reporters are not certified and have no governing body to oversee the practice.

TRUTH: Digital reporters go through testing every two years to receive certification and are governed by the AAERT. Digital reporters are also required to complete Continuing Education to maintain their certification between testing cycles.

MYTH 6: Digital Reporters are not allowed to work as reporters in the court and telling you they can is illegal.

TRUTH: Digital reporters are allowed, and even preferred in many jurisdictions, including federal courts.

MYTH 7: Digital reporters are just as costly as stenographers.

TRUTH: Digital reporters are actually far more cost effective. Transcription rates for digital is markedly lower than stenographers. Depending on the region, average original transcripts range in rates of $3.65 per page to as much as $7.25 per page. Digitally produced transcripts are generally lower, in the same regions, averaging from $3.00 per page to $5.50 per page. Appearance rates for Stenographers, again depending on region, can average from $300 to $500 per hour, whereas digital reporters average from $50 to $100 per hour.

Technology advances rapidly and keeping up with advancements is crucial in every industry. And as much as some would like to stop that advancement, technology will continue to move forward. It's crucial to recognize that each sect in the industry has their place, and to acknowledge the pros and cons to each, rather than tear down what's new or fear mongering that new is bad because some just don't understand how that sect works. The world of court reporting will benefit far more lifting each other up than tearing each other down or working to discredit something new or unfamiliar.