Court reporters have always been a crucial part of the judicial system, taking their place in courtrooms since the days of Julius Caesar. The way in which they take notes has evolved quite dramatically from the early days of simply writing on paper. The invention of the stenograph machine in the 1920s was a game changer and for decades, the sight of a court reporter taking their shorthand notes on one was familiar to all involved in the proceedings. However, the use of stenograph machines meant shorthand then had to make its way to a transcriber, whose job was to transform the notes into full, coherent sentences. The process was tedious and time consuming, but important for accuracy.
Technology has radically changed the way court reporters do their job these days. The use of computers and court reporting software such as CAT (computer-assisted translation) now allows for the translation of text in real time, which is quite helpful for those hard of hearing (and possibly could eliminate the need for an interpreter). This also saves time and money by forgoing the step of having a transcriber involved. Additionally, it makes it easier for lawyers to refer to a statement or review testimony instantly during the proceedings. This could result in a shorter trial, if attorneys can point to a witness impeaching themselves on the stand, rather than hours later.
It’s not just court reporters’ jobs that are changing thanks to technology, however. The proceedings themselves have evolved over the last decade or so due to technological advances such as remote depositions using video conferencing, synchronized video depositions, and audio/video recordings.
Software that synchronizes video testimony with a written transcription is helpful in several ways. There’s no denying that transcribed depositions are important and beneficial for allowing juries and attorneys to be able to refer to specific statements easily. Video depositions are even better, because juries are able to hear a witness’s tone of voice while answering a question, as well as see their accompanying body language. Combining the two is an effective and powerful tool because jurors are likely to pay more attention to determine if the written words match with the behavior of the spoken word. Also, if an expert witness is discussing subjects that the jurors may be unfamiliar with, such as medical terminology, being able to see the terms written as well as hear them may help them comprehend better.
Additionally, attorneys can reference synchronized testimonies by searching for key words or phrases, without having to slog through hours of video or read pages and pages of transcription.
Litigation software is another advancement in the world of court reporting. Video conferencing and real time streaming are possible thanks to an Internet connection and a webcam. Video conferencing has made it easier for people living around the world to partake in cases when they might not have been able to otherwise, due to expense or security concerns. Attorneys can set up a videoconference with a witness to take a video deposition that can then be played in court. By allowing participants to stay where they are needed, expenses are lowered without losing a sense of personal connection to all those involved.
Real time streaming is also becoming a valuable tool in the courtroom, as it can provide a live feed of the proceeding to people who are not able to attend, such as remote counsel. Once real time text translation of court reporter notes became possible, the door was opened for real time streaming, making proceedings more time- and cost-efficient.
While technology has certainly been beneficial to making court reporting more efficient over the years, it’s important not to count out the human touch. Anyone who has ever used Siri knows that tech devices don’t always get it right – poor recordings or misunderstood phrases could lead to confusion, so it’s unlikely a machine is going to replace human court reporters any time soon.