Welcome to Court Reporting Week 2013


By:  Jan Balllman, RPR, CMRS

In May of 1981, I started my career in court reporting in St. Paul, Minnesota.  Back then, we read off of that little skinny strip of paper that spits out of the steno machine and typed up transcripts using onion-skin paper with carbon stuck in between each copy.   Our steno machines and typewriters were manually powered.   Standard turn-around time was at least two weeks.

More than 30 years have passed, and we’ve come a long way, baby.   Today, court reporters collaborate with technology in providing instantaneous “realtime” translation of voice to text, be it for the judiciary, the legal system, or to “hear” for individuals in the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing communities.   Whether it be providing a draft of proceedings immediately upon its completion; displaying testimony or text on a desktop, laptop, iPad or iPhone as it is occurring; streaming text from proceedings live out over the internet to individuals, be they one conference room over or across the globe; or providing to the Deaf/HOH community the same access to verbal communication that the hearing community enjoys, whether it’s in a classroom setting, a doctor’s office or a sports stadium, court reporters and closed-captioners have learned, embraced and leveraged new technologies in order to provide a level of service to our clientele that wasn’t even a twinkle in anyone’s eye when I began court reporting.

This week is the first-ever National Court Reporting & Captioning Week.   We court reporters realize that there are many misconceptions about what we do and why we haven’t been replaced by, say, voice recognition technologies yet.    The answer is simple:    While there have, indeed, been impressive strides in those software arenas, court reporters and captioners always have been and still remain the most reliable, the most accurate and the most efficient means of making any record.

Q:  How do you know when a transcript has been captured by means other than a live court reporter?
A:  By the number of times you’ll see the word “Inaudible” in it.

The human element that a skilled court reporter brings to the table may well prove to be the “secret sauce” that forever differentiates us from other voice-recognition technologies.    Court reporters are guardians of the record.   By that I mean we physically guard against environmental influences that can put the accuracy of the record in peril.   Example:   We filter out ambulance sirens, rustling papers, overlapping speakers, coughing, sneezing, mumbling, soft-speaking…and let’s not forget the biggest issue today–foreign dialects.    A court reporter will ask when something needs to be repeated.   A court reporter will stop the proceedings if two or more people start overlapping, interrupting or arguing and immediately regain control.   A court reporter will recognize when his or her technology is failing and immediately self-correct.   Court reporters can capture at speeds in excess of 250 words per minute.   In a nutshell, court reporters ensure the record is captured, no matter what, every time.

Siri, honey, you’re good, but you’re no court reporter.

This is National Court Reporting and Captioning Week!   Go to ncraonline.com and learn more about this ever-enduring, noble profession!