The Court Reporter Crisis: Stenographer Shortage Pushes Innovation

Court reporters play a critical role in the legal process, taking notes on live proceedings so that they can be entered into the formal record. They also take depositions, noting the testimony of important witnesses. There’s just one problem: across the United States, there’s a serious shortage of stenographers who can do the job.

The court reporter shortage didn’t happen overnight. Rather, in the past, steno – the shorthand used to quickly take accurate notes – was taught in schools. That stopped decades ago, though, and at this point the majority of court reporters are nearing retirement, with an average age of 51. What’s more, young people have come to view stenography as outdated, an analog skill that will soon be automated. In reality, the market has actually increased demand for stenographic typing, which is also used by insurance companies and some corporations, but there are no new stenographers coming down the pipe to replace them.

Can Steno Go Digital?

Based on the shortage of court reporters and others trained in stenography, our legal system has seen increased pressure to find digital alternatives, but it’s an issue of some contention. In particular, some have argued that outsourcing audio files for transcription is risky because there’s potential that those recordings could be maliciously altered. Without a digital expert to evaluate the recordings, no one can determine their authenticity.

Is this a legitimate risk? Most say that it’s unlikely, and moreover, no one is proposing that courts begin emailing recordings to reporters without protections. Rather, groups like Cooper Litigation Services have partnered with Vertitext to create HIPAA and PII compliant data security, with systems linked to brick-and-mortar transcription sites. This would minimize the likelihood of tampering, instead securing recorded information at a level comparable to medical records.

Is There Room For Artificial Intelligence?

Remote transcription would certainly make it easier for stenographers to work beyond the limits of court hours and cover more cases, but it wouldn’t resolve the current shortage. At best, not transcribing in real time would allow courts to hire individuals not trained in steno for the job. At worst, courts would still be facing a shortage, but they would also have invested in expensive technology – and that’s where artificial intelligence (AI) comes into the picture.

What developers on the AI side of the court reporter debates propose is a system in which court reporters would transition to being court technologists. This would close the skills gap because rather than a stenographer, courts would just need staff who could review completed AI generated transcriptions. This would enable much faster turnaround and would be a scalable solution, precisely the opposite of the current stenography model.

Whether courts ultimately turn to remote transcription, AI-facilitated programs, or some combination of alternative court reporting methods, they need to act quickly. Demand for court reporting services isn’t set to decline any time in the near future, and it takes too long to build a viable workforce. As existing court reporters continue to age out of the profession, only tech-driven solutions will solve this problem,

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