Being a court reporter in 2015 is much different than just a couple of decades ago. Back in the good ol' days, transcripts were typed on carbon paper and Computer Aided Transcription software didn't exist. Transcripts were even more painstakingly difficult to produce than they are today but the work of the court reporter has largely remained the same. What hasn't remained the same, however, are client expectations.
With the development of the personal computer, the internet, and now smartphones, information is available at the click of the mouse or a tap of the screen.
While this instant access to information has mostly positive effects on society, people have adapted to thinking of instant gratification. The purpose of this article is to explain how court reporters operate and why a verbatim transcript will never able to be completed by a computer.
Step 1: Record Capture
No matter the method of court reporting, whether we are talking about stenographers, voice writers, or digital court reporters, the process begins with capturing the record. For the sake of discussion, we'll limit our scope to depositions. A court reporter arrives, sets up, swears the witness and the proceeding commences. A high quality capture of the record is imperative to an accurate transcript. Voice writers and digital court reporters both make high quality recordings of a proceeding, while a stenographer phonetically takes down each and every utterance on his or her steno machine.
The record capture is the single most important aspect of the court reporting process since any potential errors can always be traced back to the capture, but no further. The proverbial "garbage in, garbage out" has never been a more appropriate metaphor.
Step 2: Transcription
Once the record is captured, the next step is transcribing the text. Depending on the method of court reporting, this process can vary a little bit. For example, voice writers might use voice recognition software during or after the proceeding. It's not as easy as it sounds though, because voice writers can't just use the raw audio. The software is trained to their voice and their voice alone, so every word needs to be re-spoken by the reporter.
Digital court reporters might transcribe the audio the hard way, on a QWERTY keyboard, or they might outsource the transcription to a stenographer.
Stenographers use Computer Aided Transcription software that automatically translates most of their stenographic notes directly to text. While CAT software has vastly improved the speed and efficiency of stenographers, transcribing proceedings can easily take 2 to 3 times the length of the proceeding to transcribe into a certifiable verbatim transcript.
Step 3: Production
The transcript production is the final step in the process. While solopreneurs might handle this themselves, most larger court reporting agencies have production teams that take the burden from the reporters. Transcript production involves taking a court reporter's final product and processing it in a way that is more user friendly for attorneys. This might include converting it to PDF, indexing it so that it's searchable, and adding additional features like hyperlinked exhibits, condensed copies, and word indices.
The Future of Court Reporting
As court reporters, we certify our transcripts to a level of accuracy that is acceptable to determine outcomes of litigation. In other words, entire cases can hinge on the product that we produce and the services we provide. Errors are simply unacceptable in our business. That said, many people ask us, "What about voice recognition," implying that it would be so much simpler to rely on the technology to complete the task rather than a human.
The answer to that is simple, we're just not there. Voice recognition is great at hearing and understanding one voice at a time, but as soon as you add a second speaker, the wheels fall off. If, one day, the technology does get to a point where software can identify the speakers, and generate a high quality transcript from audio alone, a person would almost certainly still be required to go over it for certification.
Appreciate Your Reporter
When you add up all of the time it takes from capturing the record to transcription and production, one can appreciate just how well oiled of a machine it takes to produce those next day and same day expedites. As court reporters, we work day and night to make sure that your transcripts are delivered on time and to a level of quality that our clients rarely understand and much less appreciate.
A Clackamas immigration lawyer once joked with me, "Do you know why a divorce is so expensive? Because it's worth it!" The same is certainly true for a verbatim transcript.