The court reporting profession is quickly approaching a tipping point. Virtually all court proceedings require the presence of a court reporter; however, the industry is seeing its numbers decrease and average age increase. Even so, the demand for court reporting services has exploded over the last several years.
According to the National Court Reporting Association (NCRA), the average age of a court reporter is 54 years old (NCRA, 2022). Additionally, the NCRA is predicting a shortfall of over 5,000 reporters per year. The demand for court reporters in the public and private sectors is estimated to increase 9 percent by 2029, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, leaving a huge gap in the workforce (Greenville News, 2020).
Enter the rise of digital court reporting. Digital court reporters or RapidWriter have begun to fill the void left by stenographers. Digital reporters can create transcripts accurately and in a timely and efficient manner, leading to faster turnaround times (Kentuckiana Reporters, 2018). The only difference between voice writers and digital court reporters is that voice writers use their voice for notes, while digital reporters type their notes into the computer.
Court reporter Angela Berry has worked with the South Carolina Judicial Department for 29 years and learned both stenography and digital court reporting to "keep up with the times" as the courts adopt the new technology (Greenville News, 2020). "Where we are now, we need more trained, digital court reporters because I think we're (stenographers) just the end of that once we retire," Berry said. "I think it's going to be turning all-digital, but that's just my personal opinion because there aren't any schools here offering it (stenography) anymore” (Greenville News, 2020). No stenography schools exist in South Carolina or North Carolina today, and there are very few online options.
What is digital court reporting?
A digital court reporter uses high-tech, multi-channel audio equipment to document depositions and court proceedings. The reporter uses redundant recording systems with state-of-the-art microphones as well as specialized software to take extensive notes to indicate who is speaking. These notes are known as digital annotations. The digital annotations are time-linked to the corresponding audio, allowing for quick and easy access for “readbacks” by the reporter. Digital reporters can create a written and audio record in real-time.
Digital court reporters (or rapid writers) have certifications that rival the NCRA and NVRA. The American Association of Electronic Reporters and Transcribers (AAERT) was established in 1993 and provides education and certification for professionals engaged in digital reporting, transcribing, and associated roles (AAERT, 2023). “The AAERT adheres to court reporting’s strict ethical standards, offers networking opportunities for its members, and promotes public awareness about the value of digital reporting” (AAERT, 2023).
Benefits unique to digital court reporters and RapidWriter include but are no limited to:
Unimpeded Deposition Flow: The audio system captures all words exactly as spoken, eliminating the need for speakers to slow down their speech, repeat testimony, or decipher complex medical/technical terms. The audio recording can be replayed to verify accuracy.
Instant Recall of Testimony: When an attorney, judge, or witness requests part of the testimony to be read back, the digital court reporter can play back any portion of the proceeding with audio by simply clicking on a written note or hotkey.
Multiple Languages: Digital court reporters or rapid writers maintain all languages spoken during testimony. This allows the reporter to confirm the accuracy of translations.
Audio Linked Notes: Judges and attorneys can take simultaneous audio-linked notes, which offer instant and independent access to critical points in the record.
Efficient Storage: All audio, notes, and transcripts are saved as computer files, eliminating the need for physical storage of paper, USBs, or other storage devices.
Rapid Keyword Searches: “Digital recording will be the basis for further developments in the areas of speech-to-text, rapid word/phrase audio searches (sometimes called "audio-mining"), transcript links to exhibits or other file documents, and related enhancements” (AAERT, 2023).
Did you know?
Difference between Digital/Electronic Court Reporting and Court Monitors? – Court monitors are doing exactly what their name insinuates: they monitor equipment. They do not have to be certified, transcribe, or record any testimony. Court Monitors simply ensure that the equipment is functioning correctly.
Stenographers bring backup audio recorders with them. In addition, most steno machines include built-in audio recording systems. In other words, stenographers and voice writers are embracing the audio technology that digital reporters use (Kentuckiana Reporters, 2018).
South Carolina has over 30 courtrooms outfitted with digital court reporting equipment and plan to expand on that number (Greenville News, 2020).
"Today, with a significant number of our court reporters being able to capture the record using more than one method, we are able to ensure that all scheduled terms of court may proceed and that the record of those proceedings is captured," according to Ginny Jones, South Carolina Court Administration (Greenville News, 2020).
States using Digital Court Reporting/RapidWriting: United States Supreme Court, South Carolina, Florida, Texas, Georgia, California, Kentucky, Tennessee, Michigan, Wisconsin, Washington D.C. and many more.
Digital Court Reporter or RapidWriter are certified and undertake all the functions that stenographers and voice writers carry out, including swearing in witnesses, recording, and transcribing testimony.
NCRA, https://www.ncra.org/, 2023
AAERT, https://www.aaert.org/page/OverviewDigital, 2023
Kentuckiana Reporters, LLC 730 West Main Street, Suite 101, Louisville, KY 40202, October 2018, https://kentuckianareporters.com/2018/10/digital-court-reporting-is-the-future-of-court-reporting/
There's a shortage of court reporters. Here's how SC is responding to it., Greenville News, December 2, 2020, Haley Walters, https://www.greenvilleonline.com/story/news/2020/12/02/adapting-and-expanding-how-sc-filling-demand-court-reporters/6234141002/