Many human jobs are now becoming automated. In the litigation support industry, especially court reporting – emerging technologies pose challenges for court reporter jobs. Digital recordings and voice recognition tools increasingly being installed in courtrooms are changing the job of court reporters, and in some cases, even replacing them. Instead of replacement, with the support of advanced tools and legal transcription services, reporters can get error-free transcripts for different types of court proceedings.
In electronic court reporting, court proceedings are captured in audio and video formats and transcribed to produce the record. According to Connor Reporting, courts that choose to adopt this technology could save between $30,000 -$40,000 annually. With this cost-effective technology, courtrooms can become immune to the stress caused by court reporter shortage and avoid the issues from understaffing. We had discussed the role of court reporters amid increasing automation in our earlier blog.
Even with the latest, highly sophisticated technology, can court reporters be entirely replaced?
Why Replacing Court Reporters Is a Challenge
Cleveland Reporting Partners has discussed a court reporter’s skills in handling court proceedings.
- These reporters capture every word as it is being spoken, including punctuation and speaker identification and they are trained in machine shorthand or steno, to handle the speed of human speech and conversation.
- Court reporters are trained on keystroke combinations that correspond to sounds of spoken English, for all punctuation and speaker identification. They also memorize thousands of keystroke combinations that represent frequently used phrasing in the English language and brief keystrokes used for commonly used words and complicated medical and industry terms.
- While their left hand captures the beginning consonant sounds of a word or syllable, their right hand captures the ending consonant sounds; and the thumbs are responsible for the middle vowel sounds of any word or syllable. Unlike the keyboard that forms one word at a time, reporters type the whole word or phrase at once in a split second.
- During training, these reporters achieve speed-building and their ears communicate directly with their hands. They survey the happenings in the room and let all the words go directly from ear to hand. They maintain a balance of listening and direct ear-to-hand hearing that enables them to remain calm and collect all the information.
Do Reporters Use Any Software?
Many reporters also use sophisticated computer-aided transcription (CAT) software, which supports them in the transcription. CAT software translates into an immediate transcript format with specific spacing, line numbers, timestamping, margins, and automatic punctuation.
The process here involves the court reporter instantaneously translating spoken English into machine shorthand in the form of quick keystrokes on the court reporting machine. Then the CAT software is used to translate those complicated keystrokes of machine shorthand into written English on a screen. Both these processes happen fast and are incredibly accurate. Such software also helps send out feeds of the real-time transcript to other devices remotely.
However, this software is also expensive and requires separate training for a court reporter to be comfortable with and proficient in all its functions and capabilities.
Here’s a list of certain things human reporters can do, but technology cannot –
- identifying multiple speakers and them
- Stop the court proceeding for any clarification in accent
- Create a quick draft transcript
- Create transcripts based on requirement – same day or next
- Swear witnesses
The major flaw with voice recognition technology is that it relies on digital recording and microphones and any difficulties in digital recording such as extraneous noises or multiple speakers at once will result in unreadable transcript. Even though sophisticated, such technology can identify speakers, only if they state who they are before they speak. The point is that voice recognition presently is mostly for single-users and personal applications and it cannot produce a transcript with the same level of accuracy, expediency and formatting that human court reporters can.
Court reporters have a key role to play in the justice system and what really works is that reporters can keep pace with technology and use advanced tools to improve their task. Even in electronic court reporting, success depends on regular maintenance of the equipment, performance of all necessary functions, and following protocols for storing, archiving and retrieving records. Also, courts have to consider following certain best practices for the success of digital court reporting. Legal transcription companies can help courts and reporters in getting timely and accurate transcripts of court proceedings, which will ease their task.
Digitization has changed the world, enabling businesses to move online, streamline workflow, increase productivity, and save time and space. Today, social distancing measures to fight the coronavirus pandemic are speeding up digitization across many industries, including the legal field. Supported by advanced technologies and digital transcription service providers, courts in the U.S. are moving to remote proceedings to stay accessible to the public during this crisis.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act allows for the use of videoconferencing in certain judicial matters. In New York State, all 58 counties have shifted to essential and emergency legal proceedings to phone and video conference, according to a Brooklyn Daily Eagle report. Orders have moved many other court functions, including criminal court arraignments and Family Court matters, to telephone or video conferencing where practicable.
The Michigan Supreme Court also issued emergency orders restricting courtroom access and allowing for remote court proceedings (mlive.com). The Virtual Courtroom Task Force assisted the court in preparing these standards, guidelines, and best practices to conduct proceedings remotely. Here are the guidelines for virtual hearings, attorney/client communication, and public/press access, creating a record, and logging standards:
- Virtual hearings
- According to the standard procedure, at the start of each hearing, the court must verify with each participant that they can proceed and that they are aware of the procedure for participation, including the time and method of participating. For virtual hearings, the court should address, on the record, that the parties are waiving any right they may have to be present in the courtroom for the proceeding. If there is a victim, the court must ensure that the victim’s rights are addressed on the record.
- When using videoconferencing technology or telephonic equipment, best practice is for the system to feed directly into the court’s recording system. If Zoom videoconferencing is used, the courtroom’s recording system will record the proceeding and the software’s audio transcript can be used to create a log for future digital transcription. A digital recording application such as Notewise also allows users to record computer-based conference calls and make time-stamped notes, either manually or through quick keys.
- When using Zoom, best practice is to change a participant’s phone number to their name after they sign in and are in the waiting room.
- For hearings, the court should facilitate activate the “Waiting Room” function in Zoom in order to control who is present at the hearing and prevent participation by those who are not litigants in that case. This allows the courtroom to be kept secure while still allowing the public to view proceedings via YouTube.
- Courts should post their daily dockets (on the court’s website, if available), indicate the docket on which virtual hearings are being held and provide instructions on how to access virtual hearings. The daily docket/court calendar should be displayed on the court’s website with live streams its hearings.
- Attorney/client communication
Zoom enables courts to allow attorneys to use a “breakout room” to meet with their clients. Meetings in breakout rooms will not be audio or video recorded under certain circumstances. After the meeting, participants in the “breakout room” can rejoin the hearing.
- Public/press access
Proceedings can be streamed using YouTube. YouTube automatically records and stores content that is streamed on a channel per its licensing agreements. Courts should review YouTube’s Terms of Service, especially the possible uses of content recorded to YouTube, to decide whether recordings should be maintained on this platform.
- Create a clear record of the proceeding
Judges and court staff must be vigilant and create a verbatim record of each court proceeding. This will allow their legal transcription service provider to prepare an accurate transcript. Telephone or video conferencing often involves a few seconds time delay which can lead to overlapping conversation. By acting as Zoom host, courts can control meetings in many ways such as: allow or limit chat functionality, remove disruptive participants, put a person on hold, configure settings to notify when a person enters or leaves a proceeding, troubleshoot audio echo in meetings. Downloading the Zoom recording into the court’s own digital recorder can help produce a verbatim record of the proceedings.
Security issues are a major problem in remote court hearings, especially private hearings. But these can be averted by following good conference management techniques. In addition to proper management of participants to avoid unknown attendees, courts should password protect meetings, ensure a secure connection, be mindful of shared meeting content and of being overheard.
- Meet logging standards
This is essential to facilitate accurate transcript preparation. Zoom’s private chat messaging can be used to create the log. Courts should take adhere to the following verbal practices:
- Stating case number and title
- Stating start and end time of the hearing
- Having each participant state and spell their name
- Instructing all participants to speak slowly, clearly, and one at a time.
Zoom’s chat file provides a time-stamped log of the chat messages, and identifies the sender and the time the message was sent.
The task of producing accurate transcripts from digital recordings of court proceedings is best handled by legal transcription companies. Teams in these companies have extensive experience in providing video transcription services for legal entities. They can capture everything said and make it part of the record – just as in a physical courtroom.
The current public health emergency is driving courts and judges to leverage remote court hearings and overcome the perceived difficulties with such hearings. With its cost and time saving benefits, industry experts say that remote court proceedings will continue to prevail even after this pandemic passes.
According to a recent WSIL news report, court reporters are in high demand across the U.S. Court reporters keep records of court proceedings. The key players in a case typically include the judge, attorneys, the plaintiff, the defendant, the bailiff, witnesses, court interpreters, and jurors. Court reporters keep track of what’s said in court and produce transcripts of everything said in a case. Many court reporters rely on digital transcription agencies to ensure accurate and timely audio/video-to-text solutions for legal teams and their clients. As they produce document court proceedings and depositions, court reporters need to comply with codes of ethics to maintain the integrity of the record. Let’s take a look at what professional ethics means for court reporters.
- Maintain impartiality: Remaining impartial and neutral is one of the most important things for a court reporter. This means that their actions must be in conformance with the NCRA’s Code of Professional Ethics (COPE). The manner in which they report courtroom proceedings can impact the outcome of the case. For instance, if the attorney asks the court reporter for their opinion of the witness, the court reporter must remain neutral by not expressing personal opinions about any aspect of a case. Court reporters should provide same level of service to all parties involved – the lawyers, witnesses and others. The NCRA’s code states: “Be fair and impartial toward each participant in all aspects of reported proceedings, and always offer to provide comparable services to all parties in a proceeding”.
- Avoid conflicts of interest: Court reporter need to be vigilant about avoiding a conflict or a potential conflict of interest. Examples of conflict of interest include a direct interest with the outcome of the case or having a personal connection with a litigant or witness. If aware of a conflict or potential conflict, the court reporter has a duty to report or disclose it. The NCRA states: “Be alert to situations that are conflicts of interest or that may give the appearance of a conflict of interest. If a conflict or a potential conflict arises, the Member shall disclose that conflict or potential conflict.”
- Preserve confidentiality of information: As in the medical profession, confidentiality is an important aspect in the legal profession. The court reporter should refrain from disclosing what happened in the courtroom or deposition room to anyone. This also includes safeguarding the deposition transcript and exhibits, both hard copy and online. That’s why it’s critical to outsource deposition transcription to a reliable legal transcription company. Transcripts should not be disclosed or sold unless the record is made public. If several parties request a transcript or other deposition material, the court reporter should provide the information to all parties at the same time. According to NCRA guidelines, court reporters must “preserve the confidentiality and ensure the security of information, oral or written, entrusted to the Member by any of the parties in a proceeding.”
- Respect off-the-record statements: Court reporters should not put comments in the official transcript that were announced as off the record. When either party wants to be on the record, a court reporter must record the proceedings. JD Supra explains this rule as follows: “If something is said after the deposition’s conclusion, it can’t be added to the record, even if the attorney asks the court reporter to include it. To bring off-the-record comments into consideration in court, an attorney would be required to subpoena the reporter to testify about anything they may have heard”.
- Don’t accept incentives: Incentive gifting implies giving a direct reward for scheduling a future deposition. Hiring a court reporter should be based on qualifications and professionalism and not gifting. Incentive gifting is strictly prohibited by the NCRA. If court reporters or their firms accept a gift or perk for their services, it can amount to favoritism and impropriety. The NCRA’s code of ethics states: “Refrain from giving, directly or indirectly, any gift or anything of value to attorneys or their staff, other clients or their staff, or any other persons or entities associated with any litigation, which exceeds $150 in the aggregate per recipient each year. Nothing offered in exchange for future work is permissible, regardless of its value. Pro bono services as defined by the NCRA Guidelines for Professional Practice or by applicable state and local laws, rules and regulations are permissible in any amount.”
Professional court reporters will abide by all of these rules, and make the deposition process easier and less stressful for attorneys and their clients. Experienced audio transcription service providers can help court reporters ensure the accuracy and integrity of their records.
Effective trial preparation is the key to winning a case and legal transcription outsourcing helps attorneys obtain accurate and timely records of depositions, administrative hearings, and various types of court proceedings. The transcripts of the audio and video recordings become the official documentation and are important tools in trial preparation as well as in the trial itself.
Advancements in technology have taken court reporting to a new level. Here are some of the changes that are helping attorneys prepare cases more professionally, deliver more powerful presentations, and serve their clients better.
- Synchronized video software: This tool helps lawyers present their case more effectively. The videotaped deposition is synchronized with the court proceedings transcription. The user can easily search for a word or phrase in the video clip and immediately see, hear, and read the pertinent section on the monitor. This can make a big difference during a heated debate in the court. Synchronized video can be shown to the jury as well as be used by the attorney to review hours of testimony. Synchronized video software leaves no doubt about what was said.
- Mobile apps: Today, most use mobile apps in the office, at conferences and in the courtroom. There are high-tech apps that allow lawyers to store client information and other files safely and provide access to federal libraries, the constitution, and millions of federal and state court dockets and documents, and more. With these apps, lawyers can monitor activity in existing cases from anywhere and easily attend local and web-based litigation events from any mobile device.
- Sophisticated tablets: A high tech tablet is a useful tool for a small law practice. An article published in Above the Law describes how a solo practitioner who handles civil litigation and transactional work uses his tablet in the office as well as in to create visual presentations for depositions, trial presentations, and negotiations.
- Mobile video conferencing: By setting up a conference using video, audio and real-time text streams, a lawyer can take a deposition from a person in a remote location. Users can present an exhibit from anywhere or send messages among various types of portable devices as well as standard videoconferencing equipment.
- Document management software: Cloud-based legal practice management tools have transformed the legal practice. Advanced robust and easy-to-use software allows law firms to upload and keep all their documents securely in one place, and view, print, or share them from anywhere, at any time. Travelling becomes easy as they don’t have to carry their files along with them.
When it comes to high volume transcription of various types of legal proceedings, the ideal option for busy law practices is to rely on an experienced digital transcription service provider. Experts can deliver transcripts of recordings in any format – MP3, DSS, MP4, WAV, and AIFF, and video formats such as MPEG-2, .dat, .mov, .swf, .avi, .wmv, and MPEG-4. Established legal transcription service providers also have advanced measures in place to ensure secure file transfer and HIPAA compliance. This includes browser-based drop box and secure FTP portals. This ensures the confidentiality of client data. With the right provider, lawyers are assured of secure, accurate and timely legal transcription services.
Court reporters attend trials, administrative hearings, and depositions, record the legal proceedings, and produce verbatim documentation of the proceedings. The transcripts of court proceedings must be error-free as they form the basis of appeals in criminal cases. This explains why proofreading is a critical skill for court proceedings transcription.
Court Proceedings That Need To Be Recorded and Transcribed
According to the U.S. Courts Federal Court Reporting Program, the following legal proceedings need to be recorded and transcribed:
- All proceedings in criminal cases held in open court
- All proceedings in other cases held in open court unless the parties with the approval of the judge shall agree specifically to the contrary
- Other proceedings as a judge of the court may direct or as may be required by rule or order of court as may be requested by any party to the proceeding
It is the duty of the court reporter to produce a written transcript of court proceedings based on the order of the court or request of a party. The written transcripts must be prepared according to the court’s prescribed guidelines and delivered within the specified time schedules. The task of documenting federal court proceedings is assigned to private legal transcription services.
Proofreading Ensures Error-Free Legal Transcripts
Court reporters can rely on a legal transcription company to provide them with error-free verbatim documentation of criminal, civil and other court proceedings. One of greatest advantages of partnering with a professional service provider is that court reporters can rest assured that the transcripts will undergo a stringent quality check by editors, proofreaders and legal professional experts before they are delivered. This is crucial as most of the recordings of court proceedings will have background noise, including attorneys talking over each other. Moreover, these documents are bound to have errors if they were typed at high speed by the court reporter.
In a legal transcription company, the transcripts of court proceedings will be checked for errors and inconsistencies including:
- Grammatical and spelling errors
- Typographical mistakes which usually occur due to mispronounced/misheard words
- Missed words and phrases
- Formatting issues
ABA Journal reported on an incident in which a California employment defense lawyer was unsuccessful in using the deposition to impeach the plaintiff’s testimony at trial as the word ‘not’ had been inadvertently dropped in the transcript. The result: the testimony was the opposite of what was intended! A reliable court proceedings transcription service provider can produce transcripts that faithfully reproduce the spoken word to ensure that such mistrials do not occur.
With nearly 100,000 wrongful deaths each year in the US due to medical negligence and over one million personal injury lawsuit claims, the demand for legal transcription services is soaring. To present medical malpractice and medical negligence cases effectively, lawyers may need to prepare and review several types of cumbersome legal documents and testimony of witnesses. And professional legal transcription companies provide invaluable support by helping legal professionals to document the court proceedings.
It was recently reported that an autistic woman won a $9 million settlement with the city in a Brooklyn hospital medical malpractice case. She had been sent home from ER despite her severe spinal injury and is still paralyzed. Medical malpractice cases such as this can continue for years, and involve extensive paperwork.
The lawsuit would begin with the filing of pleadings in the court. Documents that would need to be transcribed during the trial of a medical malpractice case would include:
- Complaint or petition – This would identify the parties involved and contain an outline the plaintiff’s case against the defendant.
- Summons and service of process – This is meant to notify the defendant that he or she has been sued. It refers to the complaint or petition and informs the defendant of time limit within which an answer must be filed.
- Answer – The answer is the defendant’s response. It may also set forth various legal reasons why the defendant should not be held liable for the plaintiff’s damages.
- Counterclaim – The counterclaim is written in a manner similar to the complaint. The defendant own claim against the plaintiff is raised in the counterclaim.
- Reply to counterclaim – This is the plaintiff’s reply to the counterclaim of the defendant.
Besides the above-mentioned papers, other documents involved in malpractice trials could include cross-claim, answer to cross-claim, third-party complaint and answer to third party complaint. All of these would have to be accurately transcribed for the successful completion of the trial.
Converting the recordings of legal proceedings and court reports into text documents can be a difficult and time-consuming process for busy lawyers, especially with medical malpractice cases on the rise. That’s why many of these professionals are now opting to outsource their documentation tasks to a reliable legal transcription company.
Established service providers have dedicated teams of legal transcriptionists with extensive expertise in providing accurate and timely transcripts of various types of legal documents such as case hearings, depositions, court reports, and more. In fact, with their in-depth knowledge about legal discourse, terminology, and jargon, these professionals will be able to provide quality transcripts that would give lawyers a clear understanding of the different aspects of the case. These documents would then turn into valuable records. Of course, choosing the right legal transcription company is crucial for timely and accurate transcripts. Partnering with a reliable company would enable the law firm’s in-house team to devote their valuable time to helping lawyers manage their caseload.