Digital Court Reporting Careers and Job Description

Digital court reporting is a relative newcomer to the field of court reporting. This subspecialty of court reporting did not come on the scene without its share of scrutiny, however, with traditional stenographers arguing that accuracy and quality is compromised when digital reporting takes place. Nevertheless, this type of court reporting is gaining popularity in courtrooms across America.

Digital court reporting, also referred to as electronic court reporting, has made its way into a number of courtrooms across the United States, thanks to advancements in digital recording. Digital reporting involves the use of high-quality digital recording equipment. The digital recording equipment, which includes a number of strategically placed microphones and video recorders throughout the courtroom, is generally hardwired; therefore, the initial investment is rather significant.

Beyond the initial investment, digital court reporting equipment may need to be maintained and updated, and a dedicated professional – a digital court reporter – must always oversee the recording process.

Unlike traditional stenographers, who enter the proceedings using shorthand and into a stenotype machine, digital court reporters usually have a much different set of qualifications and skills. In fact, digital court reporters have no need to learn shorthand and the stenotype machine. Instead, they are responsible for taking down notes during the proceedings and creating a log note of speaker identification and keywords, which serve as a general outline of the digital recording.

What digital court reporters must possess, however, is an understanding of the digital recording system and its maintenance, upkeep, and operation.  They must have knowledge and training in digital court recording software, and they must also be capable of providing litigation support, when needed.

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Benefits of Digital Court Reporting

Proponents of digital court reporting enjoy the high-quality audio that it captures, and most digital recording systems have a number of audio backups to ensure that the transcript is complete.

Digital court reporting also has the ability to provided multi-track recording, which can prove to be very useful for understanding everyone’s statements, particularly when people are talking over one another.

Digitally recorded proceedings can also be easily delivered via the Internet, thereby saving the court money on shopping costs and hassles as a result of shopping delays.

Many attorneys appreciate working videos, as they often help them examine both verbal and non-verbal reactions of witnesses and defendants, including gestures, body language, facial expressions, and eye contact, and many judges and attorneys see digital recording as a way to decrease the risk of inaccurate transcriptions.

Many jurisdictions also see digital recording systems as a cost-saver, due to the elimination of costly stenographer salaries.

In terms of education and training, learning the skills associated with digital court reporting is often much less laborious than traditional stenographer training, which requires the completion of a court reporting program, which usually takes about two years, as well as state licensure and/or professional certification. Many digital court reporting programs take about six months and involve learning how to take accurate notes and how to operate the sound and/or video equipment.

The Digital Court Reporting Debate

One of the biggest arguments for digital recording systems is the reduction in costly stenographer salaries. However, digital recording systems may be far pricier than just the initial investment, as there are expenses for maintaining, repairing, and replacing the equipment. Further, if hard transcripts are required, jurisdictions must still pay for the cost of producing paper transcripts.

And, although traditional stenographers may not be needed in a court that has a digital recording system, a digital court reporter is still required to operate the equipment and provide notes. Therefore, the savings are not always as great as first anticipated.

In the case of proceedings that may involve appeals and those that cannot risk inaccuracy from the failure of a recording device (even the most advanced recording equipment can’t capture a mumbling person), digital recording systems are often passed over in lieu of written transcripts via a traditional stenographer court reporter.

Finally, because digital court reporters are not skilled in transcription, the court must use a stenographer or dedicated transcriptionist to provide a hard transcript of the proceedings. However, because the stenographer transcribing the proceedings was not present at the time of the recording, inaccuracy in the transcript may occur.

A Compromise?

Many jurisdictions now recognize the value of both the traditional stenographer and the digital court reporter in the courtroom setting. Digital court reporting may be quite useful for meetings, hearings and simple litigation situations, while conventional litigation situations require the expertise of a stenographer.

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