Court reporters are an important part of how our courtrooms work, keeping a verbatim record of the conversations that occur both during, before, and after the trial. Not only that, but they are important to the way we think about the courtroom.
Think of any television show that has featured a trial. Whether it is a hard boiled crime drama like “Law and Order” or a silly sitcom like “Parks and Recreation,” there is almost always a person clacking away.
But for years, courthouses have been cutting back on the number of court reporters in order to reduce trial costs. The most common replacements were simple recording devices.
While a tape recorder is significantly less expensive than employing a human being, it soon proved problematic.
“There have been many, many instances in the past when recordings have failed, the machinery didn’t work, or it just wasn’t turned on due to human error,” Eric Allen, president of the Association of Supreme Court Reporters, said to the NY Daily News.
Another common replacement for an in house court reporter was to outsource the job, sending a recording to a transcriber in order for it to be properly preserved. However, as Allen explains, this method is not perfect either.
“If you don’t have that human interaction, it can be hard to tell who is speaking, it can be impossible to decipher legalese … It’s just not that easy,” he says.
For years, court reporting represented one of the few avenues for women to enter into the workforce and earn a living wage. And while the gender ratio has evened out considerably as traditional workforce roles continue to degrade, court reporting still represents an important avenue for the underprivileged.
According to Data USA, 45.7% of those who graduated with a degree in court reporting identified as a race or ethnicity other than white, compared to 38.7% of the total population. One possible reason that could be the case is the lower education requirements for court reporting.
That doesn’t mean court reporting is easy, however. While there are many industries that require efficiency when typing, court reports are in a league of their own. In fact, they need to be able to type a minimum of 225 words per minute just to be certified by the National Court Reporters Association.
The resurgence in work is not only a good thing for court reporters, however. The increased accuracy has reduced the amount confusion and costly repeats in many cases. This is especially true for important cases.
According to Allen, “Right here in the city, the Surrogate’s Court put in recording devices years ago, for budgetary issues, but now whenever there’s a really important case, we get a call. ‘Can you please come cover this trial, we need a live court reporter.'”