By Sandra Cooper Kaderly
I cannot tell you the number of times I was asked, “Aren’t you afraid that tape recording will eliminate the need for the court reporting profession?” This was back in 1987, and I had just started court reporting school at Brown Mackie College in Overland Park, Kansas. Not a question you want to be asked about your career choice. I didn’t worry, completed school, and went on to start The Cooper Group. Over the years, the question has remained the same. Only the substitution for a court reporter has changed.
Today, court reporters are asked if they’re concerned about being replaced by digital court reporting, a relative newcomer to our field. Digital court reporting, also known as electronic court reporting, is considered a subspecialty of court reporting. Like its predecessors, it came with scrutiny. Traditional (human) stenographers argue that digital reporting compromises accuracy and quality. Nevertheless, digital court reporting is gaining popularity in American courtrooms thanks in part to technology advancements and the shortage of stenographers.
Digital court reporting requires high-quality digital recording equipment, including a number of strategically placed microphones and video recorders throughout the courtroom. The equipment is generally hardwired, which calls for a rather significant initial investment.
Beyond budgeting for equipment, there are other expenses incurred. Digital reporting equipment are devices that must be maintained and updated on a regular basis. And since devices are known to malfunction at the worst possible moment, a digital court reporter must always be onsite to oversee the recording process.
Digital court reporters usually have a much different set of qualifications and skills than traditional stenographers who enter the proceedings into a stenotype machine using machine shorthand. In fact, digital court reporters have no need to learn shorthand and how to use a stenotype machine. Instead, they are responsible for keeping notes during the proceedings and creating a log of speaker identification and keywords that serve as a general outline of the digital recording. Can you imagine you are in trial and relying on a notetaker because the digital recording couldn’t hear or understand the response?
Digital court reporters must also understand how to maintain, keep up and operate the digital recording system; have knowledge and training in digital court recording software and provide litigation support when needed. It’s a tall order for an essentially IT-related position.
There Is Job Security in Court Reporting
Technology, however accurate, can never replace a human being asking a witness or attorney to repeat their words. Technology can’t ask people to refrain from talking over one another. Technology can’t ask a witness to speak louder.
While digital recordings can capture proceedings, and perhaps with less background noise than in the past, they can’t replace what makes a court proceeding or deposition run in a way that allows the reporter to accurately capture what is being said for an official transcript – a human court reporter. There is job security in that.
The Traditional Way Is the Best Way
There are advantages to having a court reporter on hand who transcribes legal proceedings. A court reporter not only ensures accuracy throughout meetings or interviews, but also allows for mistakes or malfunctions in equipment to be corrected in real-time, eliminating the risk for lost information or lapses in recordings.
Traditional court reporters capture what digital court reporting cannot, such as the spoken word, voice inflection or tone and any visual cues, which are recorded as they occur and placed in the record, instantaneously. This results in the most accurate and complete record.
Never Underestimate the Human Touch
Law is a professional field, like medicine. Advanced medical technology has not replaced doctors, nurses and office or hospital staff, digital reporting will not replace traditional court reporting services. Doctors use lasers and robotics in operating rooms, court reporters will continue using technology as a tool to help us better perform our important role in the justice system.
I wasn’t afraid of tape recording in 1987 as a new court reporting student. I’m less afraid of digital reporting today. Court reporters are needed because the human touch cannot be underestimated.