Wednesday, July 25, 2012

There is no place for digital in the legal arena

Digital recording advocates are business people who are selling the method.  I have yet to hear a lawyer say he loves it and prefers it over steno.  I have yet to hear anyone say they have heard it either.  To the contrary.  Even digital firm owners acknowledge that steno is superior to digital, but that the cost savings and recordings is what makes them better.  Funny thing is, we can do everything they can do.  We can use all the equipment they use and even more.  They cannot hold a candle to us.

Back to the subject at hand.  There is no place for digital in the legal arena.  Why?  Because it is pointless.  Digital recorders use a notetaking software that syncs their notes to the audio by timestamps.  The notes they take are speaker identification and if they are bored enough, they might try to type some words.  Definitely not what an appellate court wants to read.  How about those inaudibles they are allowed to throw in there?  Dare a steno ever use an inaudible.

I was reading an article the other day about a digital firm owner touting a certain software that the firm is using for taking these notes and syncing it with the audio.  This person was so happy that the firm could buy this software for $5 and do their job.  As it turns out, this software he is talking about is marketed towards students who want to take notes in class and record the class for later listening during study time.  It is also marketed for businesses who have meetings and want to take notes during the meeting and reference back to the audio.  So this firm owner uses this $5 software geared towards scant notetaking to produce a transcript.  It is a disgrace to try to pawn that off as a way to create a verbatim appellate transcript for a panel of judges to make a costly decision.

The digital community continually criticizes the stenographic community for defending our profession through lobbying efforts and trying to monopolize the industry.  What the digital community fails to understand is the importance of our duty as the guardians of the record.  This is why these business people are using this method to make money.  Stenographers take pride in their product and understand the importance of the role of a verbatim transcript in the legal world and will fight tooth and nail to guard it.  If digital reporting were a worthy opponent, I could handle that kind of competition.  I might even switch my method if it were worthy, but digital is not worthy of anything having to do with the law.

The judicial arm of the government has allowed digital recordings in their courthouses as a cost-saving measure.  Well, that has happened time and time again.  It has been started and stopped, started and stopped and yet again started and stopped in the same courthouses time and time again.  The reason this happens is because new management comes in and thinks that the previous management made a poor decision by going back to steno for budgetary reasons.  Then the new person comes in and puts in the "new technology" and it fails again.  The only credit I will give to recordings happening in a courthouse is that the government is responsible for it from all aspects; from the cost of it, to the efficacy of it, to the storage of it, to the production of the transcript, to the inevitable retrials.  Everything.  It is on them to make sure that what they are allowing into our states is their full responsibility from start to finish.  When this takes place in the private sector, it is purely a free-for-all money-making process.

These digital houses are hiring people who have no idea what they are doing.  The people going out and doing this are simply saying, "Hey, I can be a court reporter with just a laptop.  Wow.  I'm a professional now."  The digital firm owner pays these people a small salary, trains them on microphone usage and sends them off running.  This hardly trains them for the language they are about to encounter and the ways of carrying themselves in a professional setting and what it takes to create a verbatim transcript; after all, the one recording it does not create the transcript.  The truth is, there is no place for digital recording in the legal arena.  I believe that digital recording is at its peak and will see its own demise.  In the meantime, the digital firm owners are making big dollars at the expense of the general public.  After all, it is the party to the litigation paying for the court reporter.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Get off my coattails

Pictures are worth a thousand words.  I found this page on Facebook today.  It is an insult to have a stenographic machine on a page that is advertising electronic recording.  This only proves that they know that stenographic reporting is superior to their recording because they are trying to ride on our coattails.  Thanks for the acknowledgement, but please put a picture of a microphone instead of a stenographic court reporting machine.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

What does it take to be a digital court reporter?

Not much.  The majority of electronic recording monitors who call themselves court reporters only have on-the-job training.  This training consists of learning how to use the laptop which they record proceedings on which tells them whether a microphone is recording or not.  They also learn to take notes on assigning speaker identification to the microphones, if individually miked up.  Other than that, they sit back and watch the microphone lights go back and forth.  There is no training in legal, technical, medical terminology.  No training on procedures of the court.  No training on how to work with attorneys and what is important to their role.  Their job is to simply make sure the recording equipment is running.  Although they can see that the microphones are recording, this does not tell them whether the words are audible enough for their transcriber to hear.  There are two major problems with this method of "training."  The first major and most important problem with this method is that the record is not guarded.  The second problem is that the majority of people who are recruited for these jobs are people who are not experienced in the law in any way, shape or form.  They do not understand the duty with which they are charged, the importance of their role in the judicial system.  If they are certified through the AAERT (American Association of Electronic Reporters and Transcribers), this does not mean much as they are only required to pass a test with a 70% proficiency.  Training on a recording system, passing a test at 70% and no other skill required is a disgrace to the court reporting profession.  Then to call themselves court reporters is simply riding on the coattails of the highly trained professionals who have been guarding the record for decades.  If this method of producing a transcript were anywhere near acceptable, I would fully support it.  In light of the training involved and the pitfalls that come along with it, there is no way this method can be anything other than a fad that will pass as it will prove itself ineffective.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Let's open the mic on microphones and recordings

The digital community's defense to poor recordings creating inaudibles is their system of the use of highly sensitive lavalier (lapel) microphones on a multi-channel system.  This allows them to isolate speakers and hone in on one speaker at a time.  Sounds amazing.  Imagine, being able to hear one speaker at a time.  Huh...that is really amazing.  NOT!!  Let's peel back the layers and set the stage.  Let's go to the civil courtroom setting.  The civil courtroom commands private court reporters hired by counsel.  The digital court recorder comes in with its laptop and sets up at the front of the room.  In this setting, the digital court recorder cannot use their lavalier microphones because of spatial issues with the cords and attorney movement, what with approaching the bench and all.  So they have to use one open microphone. If you can't see where I'm going with the inherent issues, then you MUST keep reading.  If you have ever been in a courtroom, you know it echoes and there are all kinds of noises going on all the time; doors slamming, phones ringing, clerks and bailiffs coming and going, jurors sneezing and papers ruffling.  This microphone cannot isolate voices and hone in on one speaker.  Then you have (inaudibles) all over the place.  What's the point?  No matter how much an attorney pays a digital court recorder, it is too much to risk their case and their client's trust over an inaudible transcript.  Okay.  So that's court.  Let's go to the deposition.

The deposition is a little cozier.  The digital recorder can use lavalier microphones for the attorneys for the multi-channel system.  No worries, right?  (Chuckle).  Let's say Mic 1 is sitting next to Mic 2.  Mic 2 is talking away and making his/her point.  Mic 1 sneezes or coughs really loud.  So the transcriber listening to this turns off Mic 1 and listens just to Mic 2.  Problem is, because they are sitting so close to each other with these amazing little microphones that are so sensitive, it sounds like Mic 1 is right on top of Mic 2.  There is no way the transcriber can hear what is being said.  More importantly the transcriber cannot ask the recording to repeat its answer.  No matter how many times you rewind, you will not be able to ask it to repeat its answer.

Digital court recorders are usually trained within a week to use the recording equipment.  That is it.  The transcribing is left to someone else, most likely in another country.  Being a verbatim court reporter requires much more than that.  Taking down the proceedings in a verbatim manner, not just note-taking, and transcribing go hand in hand in producing the ultimate verbatim transcript.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

International Alliance of Professional Reporters and Transcribers....HA!

As a stenographic reporter, I would be more than happy to be part of an "alliance" that has the best interests of the profession at heart.  Look at this picture:

This is comical.  They show a lady with a few years under her belt (no disrespect).  Her hands are on the QWERTY keyboard.  The caption says DIGITAL REPORTING.  Then they have a steno machine from the 1970s in the background.  This picture is trying to convey a woman with experience using a laptop.  The picture should stop there, but it goes further to include a stenographic machine to pretend they are getting every word.  The digital reporting community claims to be the latest in court reporting technology and that steno is archaic.  Then why on earth would you ride on the coattails of the stenographic community and throw in a machine from the '70s?  To pretend she is getting every word.  This is the kind of propaganda that upsets me when it comes to digital reporting.  If digital reporting is so fabulous, it should be standing on its own two feet and not pretending to be something it is not.

This "alliance" talks about bringing together all methods of court reporting under one roof, so to speak.  The above picture is a snapshot of a slideshow that is rotating.  This is the only method of "reporting" that they show.  Where are the others that this "alliance" claims to be training and certifying as well?  Not one photo in the slideshow regarding voice or stenographic reporting, at least as of today.  Maybe when they get a load of my post they will change it to fool people even more.

Let's take this a step further and talk about the association.  Look at this snippet I took from the same page as the above picture:

Second paragraph says, "We are the official training and certification Alliance..."  Who made them official?  They don't even know what digital reporting is, how can they claim to know about all methods of reporting and being the "official" anything?  Who does their quality control to make sure that their methods of training and certifying are even legitimate?  I would love to talk to them.

Now look at this, taken from the same page:

In this snippet it talks about the "common goal of producing a verbatim and verifiable record."  Verifiable record?  Really?  If they need to prove their record is verbatim, maybe they shouldn't pretend to be verbatim.

Keep watching for more disingenuous marketing toward digital reporting.

Sunday, July 8, 2012


First I would like to address the title of a digital court reporter. Seriously?  Who thought of this term?  This goes to show you how anyone can coin a phrase and others will follow for the simple fact of not ruffling feathers or even allowing themselves to question someone else who is confident about what they speak, even if it is untrue.  A court reporter, in its simplest description, is a verbatim notetaker and can produce the transcript without an audio recording.  The gold standard in court reporting is the stenographic court reporter.  I say this because I am one and I know that I can keep up with a speaker in excess of 225 words per minute.  We use combinations which create phrases that no digital monitor can possibly use to keep up with in the verbatim sense. The digital person can take notes, but they are far from verbatim and have only one method of producing a transcript....a recording. A recording which is sent to another person to transcribe and produce.  So who really is the "court reporter" in this team of typists?  It's a farce to believe this term is anything but a play on words. What is even a larger tragedy is the fact that the savings in dollars is not great enough to warrant the risk that comes with the (inaudibles) that inevitably happen in these transcripts.  The majority of these recordings are outsourced to other countries for transcript production.  The outsourced transcribers are being paid less than stellar amounts to produce these highly important transcripts.  Words are words are words.  They are said every day, but when they are spoken in a legal setting, every word is of utmost importance.  If you are a lawyer or a litigant, be aware of what you are paying for and make it count.  I can't imagine that any attorney would want his client's answer or a judge's ruling to be (inaudible).