You know how the old saying goes, “If a tree falls in a forest and there’s no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?” Well, first of all, if it’s a forest, there are always plenty of things that can hear around to make the answer a moot point. Likewise, the vast majority of court transcripts captured by any of available technology from traditional transcription to audio and/or video recording ultimately serve no purpose other than to insure that a record of what happened during court will be available IF one is ever needed. Fortunately for the office of the court clerk, only a small percentage of court transcripts are ever requested once they are filed to be stored for the legally required period of time. In fact, less than 10% of court transcripts are ever needed. Like all those books in your local library, they just sit there waiting for the day they are called into action.
So, why do so many courts transcribe 100% of their proceedings?
The answer is simple. Habit and tradition.
Before the advent of audio and video recording, the only way to insure a complete court record would be made available after the fact was to have someone sit there and write down what was said during a proceeding. The traditional court reporter or stenographer served a critical purpose and where court reporters are still faithfully recording every word spoken during live court, they still do. The problem is that the expense of producing transcripts for 100% of court proceedings amounts to hundreds of millions of dollars of wasted tax payer dollars. As anyone within an earshot of a courthouse in the United States already knows, this funding is desperately needed in other areas of the chronically budget-challenged justice system.
Fortunately, the problem is super-easy to solve. There are any number of proven solutions available to the world’s courts that can cost effectively make an audio and/or video recording of every court proceeding every single day come rain, shine, flu or fender bender. It really is as simple as you just press the record button, hold court and then press the stop recording button. Today’s systems handle everything else for you. If you need to review the proceeding, then you can either just watch the video, listen to the audio or have an old-school transcript made from the recording. Presto! Problem solved.
If only the world really worked according to such logical rationale. In the real world, the question of “traditional court reporting versus digital court recording” has become primarily a political question. Where court reporters enjoy political power or favor, they remain the indispensable agents of the court they’ve always been. But the landscape has begun to change more quickly after over 30 years of near glacial speed adoption of audio and video court recording.
Court reporters are, with rare exception, kind, generous, hardworking and respected court professionals. Historically, many are handpicked by their judges and become indispensable to the operations of the court. From an objective analysis, however, court reporters are very dispensable and easily replaced by a less expensive method that is a demonstrably better solution.
The good news is that as the pool of qualified court reporters shrinks for a variety of factors, the good ones left have lots of attractive options when they are displaced from official court employment. The primary option for these practitioners of the ancient and difficult craft of stenography or the newer but equally demanding art of transcription is now the private market. If you don’t believe me, just Google “professional transcription” or “stenography” for your city and see the results. In a bit of irony, the confluence of the video age with the computer database has created high demand for Internet video to be transcribed to make the contents more searchable. How’s that for a novel proof of Smith’s “invisible hand” of the market at work?
Seriously folks, if you’re still doing it the old fashioned way by using traditional court reporters in live court to produce transcripts for 100% of your court proceedings then you’re doing it wrong. Vendors such as JAVS, FTR, Liberty and others offer a range of affordable audio and video court recording solutions for any budget. Best of all, if you just can’t live without sitting down to a good court transcript at night then you can just upload the recording to Pheonix-based AVTranz and they’ll have one of their awesome transcribers shoot back a PDF transcript in a nanosecond or maybe a little longer depending on the length of the trial!
Do yourself and YouTube a favor and install either an audio or video court recording solution this year. Trust me, YouTube needs the transcribers more than courts do!
About the Blogger: Kurt Maddox is a veteran former digital court recording executive turned consultant/pig farmer living in Louisville, Kentucky with his attorney wife and a couple of Vietnamese Pot-bellied Pigs. Kurt serves as an executive advisor to Jefferson Audio Video Systems (JAVS) and actively consults with courts and other court technology vendors in areas related to audio and video court recording.