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International Federation for Information and Communication Processing INTERSTENO

The Status of Electronic Reporting in North America

Randel Raison (USA)

Ms. Schwarz-van Poppel gives the floor to Mr. Randel Raison, who is the president and founder of the International Alliance of Professional Reporters and Transcribers (IAPRT). Mr. Raison maintains a large transcription facility located in Texas, that serves courthouses across the United States and Canada.

The original title of Mr. Raison’s presentation was “The state of electronic reporting”, but he changed it into “The status of electronic reporting”, because he realized that reporters are faced with permanent change, and the status of electronic reporting changes every day. His aim is to give an overview of the evolution in electronic court reporting and transcription in the United States and Canada.

Mr. Raison starts off by presenting the International Alliance of Professional Reporters and Transcribers (IAPRT) to the audience. The purpose of IAPRT is to strengthen the role of professional court reporters through innovation. IAPRT is dedicated to developing and using the most state-of-the-art methods and technology for court reporting. Its members are not advocates of any particular system or method, but believe in the integration of all methods of making the record.

Court reporting business models and production models for court transcription vary substantially in North-America. The court record remains consistent, but the means and the processes to produce it are numerous. The use of court reporting technology has become standard in many courtrooms, specifically in the lower courts, in the last decade. Some of the jurisdictions started using digital court reporting in response to budget cuts and because of a shortage of stenographic court reporters.

Mr. Raison lists the requirements that the court record has to meet. It must be fast, accurate, verifiable and inexpensive, and it must offer instant access. In addition, it must have the capacity to be transcribed by another person simultaneously, without highly specialized skills, like reading steno. Technologies that served in the past, can no longer stand the test, IAPRT members believe. It is no longer necessary to have someone who has honed his or her craft in stenography for ten years, to record a legal procedure. A digital recording equipment can be utilized and mastered in days or weeks. There are plenty of people who can cross disciplines, and transcribe a record from digital media as accurately, or more accurately, than a skilled stenographer can.

Moreover, simultaneous processes are necessary, Mr. Raison argues. The old paradigm of one person being the master of all domains, does not work anymore. Mr. Raison sees an analogy with the modern assembly line. Complex processes, reduced to manageable chunks or pieces of work, can be done by a less skilled and less costly work force, as opposed to a highly skilled and expensive work force that is required if one person combines all functions, for instance a court reporter starting with recording the proceedings, then processing and transcribing the record, and finally proofreading and assembling the report.

Stenographers claim that you cannot do “real-time” with anything but stenography. In reply, Mr. Raison mentions a couple of advantages of the audio recording. It is an instant record, that is 100% accurate, can be accessed immediately, and can be pinpointed by date and time references. In the event that real-time is needed, it can be done from anywhere, thanks to modern technology. Economics are an important factor, and Mr. Raison feels that court reporters should be concerned about how they can relieve court budgets, and how to give greater value at lower cost.

Mr. Raison agrees with the traditional stenographers on several other points. The legal system deserves trained, certified personnel. Machines in themselves are not the solution: smart human beings with brains behind those machines are necessary to ensure an excellent final product. Stenographers use audio back-ups as well, and the stenotype machine, with a good digital record, is a fine backroom transcription technology. When voice-to-print technology is refined, it can work perfectly in conjunction with digital reporting technology as well.

Mr. Raison refers to a survey conducted among court reporting professionals, court administrators and other court officials. The purpose of the interviews was to assess what current challenges exist in providing court reporting services, to determine some of the reasons why current delivery models are being used, and to learn what the interviewees believe the upcoming decade holds for court reporting services.

First, Mr. Raison points out the commonalities and differences between jurisdictions, and distinguishes different business models for court reporters. For instance, in some jurisdictions court reporters are hired by a judge, whereas other jurisdictions provide court reporting services collectively through court administration. Jurisdictions produce transcripts using either staff or local contractors. Court reporters can be freelancers who work both in private industry and in the courts.

Difficulties with regard to the stenographic model, mentioned by court reporting professionals, include a shortage of certified stenographers, and the steep cost of stenographic services. Court reporting managers face various challenges, which may include an unmanageable volume of transcript orders, lack of control over transcript orders by contractors, limited staff positions, a lack of IT support, and constant technological changes. To get a broad-based cross-reference of opinions, eighteen court administrators were interviewed for the survey. They were asked questions about the court reporting service delivery model, the use of in-house transcribers and/or contract transcribers, and their level of satisfaction with the quality and timeliness of the transcription.

It was apparent from speaking to the interviewees that hybrid delivery models of court reporting are currently used in many locations. Those that are currently stenographic only, recognize that the future will include hybrid approaches for a continuation of services. The interviewees also indicated potential changes in the upcoming decade, a broad range from real-time stenography reporting to completely digital court reporting models.

An important conclusion is that two particular skills should be highly valued: language mastery and up-to-date technical ability. Many jurisdictions look to the National Court Reporters Association (NCRA) for certification for stenographers, the National Verbatim Reporters Association (NVRA) for certification for voice writers, and the International Alliance of Professional Reporters and Transcribers (IAPRT) for certification of digital court reporters and transcribers. Mr. Raison claims that IAPRT is currently the only organisation offering international training and on line certification. Training materials are on the IAPRT website. IAPRT provides a test for digital court reporters, that it is very difficult to pass.

Another important conclusion is that the court record should be evaluated before finalizing new processes and methods. This presupposes that quality control is in place.

Focus should always be on the intellectual capital behind the record, the court reporters and the technicians, and the need to duplicate that talent within the organization. Mr. Raison emphasizes in closing that court reporting services ensure that all litigants are afforded a guarantee of fairness and justice.

The presentation slides for this presentation are available on our Downloads page.

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