Stenographic and Digital Court Reporters vs Digital Recordings – What’s the difference?

Wondering about the difference between court reporters vs digital recordings? Digital reporting, often known as electronic reporting, uses audio recording devices to capture the proceeding. This type of court reporting has had its share of controversy, with some traditional stenographers claiming that digital reporting compromises accuracy and quality. 

The confusion, however, really lives in the difference between a digital court recorder and a digital court reporter.  

Digital Court Recorders  vs Digital Court Reporters – The Basics 

Court reporters vs digital recordings are vastly different. Digital recorders record the proceeding digitally, either in person or remotely, pushing the on and off the record button.  They then transfer the recording to a transcriptionist who prepares a final transcript. A court recorder provides minimal notes, may not observe all or any the proceeding and does not continually monitor the audio being captured. 

On the other hand, a digital court reporter captures the audio, provides detailed, non-phonetic shorthand annotations (notes), shares read backs of testimony and continually monitors the capture of audio, using multi-channel audio recording equipment. The proceeding cannot commence if they are not present, as they are the impartial keeper of the record who manages the proceeding.  

Stenographic court reporters and digital court reporters all do the same job, just using different tools to provide the same verbatim, certified transcript. Both digital and stenographic court reporters have the ability to provide real-time voice-to-text translation, allowing attorneys and judges immediate access to the transcript and allowing hard-of-hearing people and deaf people to participate in the legal process.

What is court reporting?

Court reporting is the process of recording all the words spoken during a legal proceeding. All court reporters produce precise transcripts of proceedings which serve as the official record. No matter the method of court reporting, a court reporter is tasked with protecting the solemnity and equity of the judicial process by providing a verbatim, unbiased account of the proceeding, in written form.

Short history of court reporting

So now that you’ve seen the major difference between digital court reporters and stenographic court reporters vs digital recordings, let’s dive a bit into the history of court reporting.

Court reporting has evolved over time.Innovation and technology have undoubtedly helped it evolve, but how did it begin?

In 63 B.C., a man named Marcus Tullius Tiro worked for the Roman philosopher and jurist Cicero. Tiro dictated and handled Cicero’s finances. He created a system of symbols and abbreviations to transcribe speeches. Tiro’s shorthand has nearly 4,000 signs.

John of Tilbury devised the first English shorthand technique in 1180. English speakers didn’t start using shorthand until British physician Timothie Bright established a system of 500 symbols for English shorthand.

As technology progressed, so did court reporting procedures. Miles Bartholomew, an American court reporter, invented the first stenotype machine in the late 1870s. Fast forward to the early twentieth century, when court reporters began to incorporate recording devices into their stenotype machines, making the process more efficient and accurate. 

By the 1940s, stenotype machines had redefined the term “shorthand,” allowing typed abbreviations to be included.

How do digital court recordings work?

To understand court reporters vs digital recordings, it’s helpful to understand how each work. Unlike traditional stenographers, who take notes in shorthand and type them into a stenotype machine, digital court reporters typically have a different set of qualifications and skills. 

Related: Guide to Hiring a Remote Court Reporter or Stenographer

Digital court reporters don’t need to know how to use a stenotype machine and do not have to master shorthand. Instead, they are charged with taking highly specific notes during the meeting, keeping a log of speaker names and keywords, as well as monitoring the quality of the audio being captured.  This serves as a general structure for the digital recording.

Digital court reporters must have a thorough understanding of the digital recording equipment they are using, as well as its upkeep, maintenance, and operation. They must be proficient in the use of technology, have a great understanding of language and grammar, as well as the terminology found in a vast array of professions that they are reporting on. This is the same skill set for a stenographic court reporter.

Only a court reporter can provide the needed skill set to manage the proceeding and provide a verbatim transcript of the official record. A person hitting the record button on a tape recorder may be a court recorder, but they are not a court reporter.

Benefits of Digital Court Recordings Created by Digital Court Reporters? 

Digital court recording, recorded by a digital court reporter, can save money, provide more control over the court record, and make personnel more productive. Here is a quick overview of the main benefits of digital court recordings.

More accurate records 

Having distinct audio channels for all key participants is a significant benefit. In essence, this eliminates the chance of human error. It’s unrealistic to expect a single person to capture all the spoken words of a room full of people talking over one another. When you combine digital recording on different audio channels with annotations, you get a superior product that combines precision with the human touch.

Quick and inexpensive delivery

Using digital recordings and artificial intelligence, or a real-time stenographer, lawyers and judges no longer have to wait for reporters to submit their final transcripts, but can review a rough draft immediately after a proceeding. A real-time stenographer’s fee will be higher versus a rough draft provided by artificial intelligence, but both can be done quickly.

Important cost savings

The same technology that makes it speedier also makes digital court reporting substantially less expensive. 

A new generation of digital court reporters

Any technological advancement requires the hiring of educated individuals to fill in the gaps created by retirement and the uptick in litigation. The introduction of digital court reporting has ushered in a new generation of court reporters and their number is expected to increase over time. Like stenography students, they go to school, but usually the training does not take as long, therefore allowing the new reporter to get out into the field quickly.

Ability to see facial expressions and hear the tone

Unlike in the case of transcript-only proceedings, digital recordings make it possible to hear the tone and see facial expressions and body language. 

Streamlined workflow 

Members of your firm can access their court video recordings through your private online transcription repository from any computer, making it much easier to communicate information and work on a case simultaneously.

Downsides and risks of digital court recordings

Even though digital reporting is a reasonable technique for generating an official record, there are some arguments made against using digital recordings.  Let’s look at them and see if they are valid arguments or not. 

The following are some of the risks that have been linked with digital reporting:

Inaccurate transcripts

Inaccurate transcripts are one of the main concerns of digital reporting.  An accurate transcript is achieved first by recording high-quality, multi-channel audio captured by a professional who knows how to use the equipment efficiently. The quality audio is provided to a professional transcriber who is an expert in preparing legal documents. Poor audio quality, subpar equipment without redundancy, or an inexperienced transcriber can compromise the record’s integrity.

It is important that the reporter monitors the audio to ensure background noises, audio distortions or overtalk do not make transcription difficult.  Clear annotations and the willingness to speak up when people are talking over each other will help to ensure an accurate transcript as well, in the same way that a stenographer may have to interject due to overtalk, or background noise

Indiscernible parts 

In a situation where something cannot be heard, whether it be because of garbled speech, a strong accent, people speaking at the same time, or a technology glitch, the benefit of a digital recording is the transcriber can listen to the audio as many times as needed to get the challenging words.  Stenographic reporters will use their audio redundancy to do the same when they encounter those same challenging sections. If after much deliberation and effort the transcriber cannot decipher something, they would use a parenthetical of (indiscernible).  

Human error

Human error can cause major issues in the digital reporting process. For example, if a recording device’s batteries die or someone forgets to click the “record” button, entire transcripts can be lost. The best practice for a professional court reporter, whether digital or stenographic, is to have redundancies to ensure that if there is a device failure, other means of recording continue. Human error happens no matter the means of capturing the record, that is why it is important to work with highly trained, experienced professionals.   

Despite these downsides, digital recordings are constantly evolving and becoming better and better. For example, some platforms offer editors who listen to the audio recordings and watch the video to perfect it. This improves the accuracy of digital court reporting tremendously. 

By combining written legal transcripts with video recording, you can create a powerful digital transcript. Your legal transcription can also include hyperlinks to the exact location in a proceeding where precise words were stated. This method is extremely useful when bringing someone up to speed on an old case that is being appealed or when bringing in a new employee to work on a current case.

Courts and attorneys understand the importance and value that court reporters bring to legal proceedings. Using a court reporter will ensure they receive what they need, but just using a court recording, not captured by a court reporter, may leave them underwhelmed.  Meetings, hearings, and small litigation circumstances may benefit from digital court reporting, whereas complex litigation situations may require the expertise of a stenographer.

Court reporters vs Digital recordings – the final word

Court reporters and the rising use of digital reporting is a hot topic in the legal industry. So, who wins in the battle of court reporters vs digital recording?  

The supply of students coming into the field of stenographic reporting does not meet the demand. Simply said, due to a shortage of certified stenographic court reporters, as well as advancements in technology that have improved digital recordings by digital reporters,  digital court reporting is a viable and important partner to the stenographic community in providing services to the judicial system. 

Pushing a button, to make a recording alone, is not court reporting and the final word is you will not get a verbatim, quality product from using just a digital recording. It’s reassuring to know that stenographic and digital court reporting are professions with well-trained and passionate individuals who use those digital recordings to provide you an accurate, cost-effective, verbatim transcript.  

Are you ready to learn how remote digital court recordings work and how they may make your work more efficient? Get in touch with us today to schedule a demo. 


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