How Court Reporting Agencies are Dealing with the Growing Shortage of Stenographers 

The Wall Street Journal reported on July 28, 2019, that the population of stenographic court reporters in the United States has decreased from around 17,700 in 2015 to 14,500 in May of 2018. That represents a roughly 18% reduction in the available workforce within only three years. 

Could you imagine if the United States lost 18% of available surgeons, dentists, or firefighters within three years’ time? What would the impact be on your daily life? The entire justice system depends on the ability to preserve an official court record within depositions, court hearings, and other legal events and losing 18% of the workforce puts that ability in jeopardy.

There is a phrase that is common in the legal world: “The wheel of justice turns slowly”. While that phrase rings true for many attorneys, the decrease in available stenographic court reporters is causing the wheel of justice to turn even more slowly. The Wall Street Journal quotes Nancy Varallo, owner of a Massachusetts-based court reporting firm as saying that “There is a severe shortage and it’s rough.”  She continues to say “our firm turns down about five assignments a day because there aren’t enough reporters for the jobs.” Perhaps that common phrase will soon have to be rewritten to say: “The wheel of justice is slowly grinding to a halt.” 

So, how is the legal industry mitigating such disruptive changes? The Wall Street Journal comments on the fact that “You need the human factor,” and that “Alexa and Siri can’t take over” to fill the growing marketplace gap. While software cannot currently replace the entire duties of a court reporter, new technologies are emerging that address the human resource constraint by adopting new methods such as video conferencing and digital reporting. These innovative methods unbundle workflows and allow reporters to service more depositions with the resources they currently have. 

Let’s explore some of the methods by which the court reporting industry is tackling this challenge. 

Remote Stenographer Method 

A significant amount of a stenographer’s time is wasted simply traveling to and from the physical location of a deposition. In the largest population centers of America where a majority of litigation occurs, daily traffic jams exacerbate the issue. 

One method court reporting agencies are using is remotely connecting stenographers. The deposition happens across town while the stenographer sits in a central office, or their own home, and connect via video conference. 

The benefit of this method is that now the remote stenographer is more likely to be able to attend two or three depositions in one day, versus the risk of not being able to make it to a second deposition due to travel logistics. 

Expanding a stenographer’s reach through remote video conferencing not only allows for the potential of increasing their daily workload, but a video record can also be generated that makes it easier to reference back for scoping purposes. 

Digital Reporter Method with Stenographic Transcription 

Some of the leading court reporting agencies are beginning to solve the resource constraint by separating the capture of a deposition from the stenographic transcription, otherwise known as “unbundling the workflow.” This is largely accomplished by the use of digital reporters, trained professionals that capture depositions or other legal events by the use of audio or video recording systems. Digital reporters handle the administration of the oath, exhibit management, and take extensive notes. Because digital reporters are not stenographers and do not capture the testimony in written form, they don’t have to know how to work a stenotype machine, and thus can be trained and deployed into the field more easily. 

Following the deposition, a fully trained stenographer uses the audio and video recordings to produce the transcript. 

The benefit of separating capture from transcription is that stenographers can accomplish more work at home while the agency is able to deploy a growing number of digital reporters to meet the needs of their clients. 

Digital Reporter Method with Speech-to-Text Editor System 

Depositions following this method are usually captured by a digital reporter, or with a remote capture system and a notary to swear in the witness. 

Transcripts are produced using advanced Artificial Intelligence creating an initial rough version of the testimony. That rough version of the testimony is then scoped to legal verbatim standards by professional human scopists using a collaborative editor system. That means multiple people can work on the same transcript in different locations at the same time to get the transcript completed faster.

Once the text has reached legal verbatim standards, it’s formatted and assembled into the certified transcript the industry expects from a stenographic court reporter. 

The Way Forward

These three methods are the top strategies court reporting agencies are deploying to mitigate the disruption in their ability to provide court reporting services. Reporting service providers and law firms who are currently leading the way are adopting tools such as vTestify, which gives them the ability to run remote depositions, digital reporter deposition capture, and complete transcripts with the latest collaborative editor system, which ultimately expands their reach, solves their human resource constraints and meets growing demand.

“With the increasing pressure our clients face to reduce the cost of litigation, the shortage of court reporters, and the added value vTestify provides i.e. ease of use, flexibility, reduced travel and immediate availability of the ScriptSync rough transcript, vTestify has proven to be a nice addition to our service offering.  As a forensic company who for twenty years, has helped clients leverage technology to preserve, gather and analyze evidence in a cost-effective and defensible manner, vTestify allows us to do the same with a different form of evidence, oral evidence that is captured on video.  vTestify has been great to work with and continues to take the feedback we receive from our clients to improve the solution and client experience.”

– Chip Koons, Principal, Vice President, Digital Discovery

Remotely connected depositions are becoming more popular as cost-saving measures, making clients happier and saving time. 

While what the Wall Street Journal quotes in the article is currently true, “Alexa and Siri can’t take over”, the industry is evolving by reimagining the relationship between the court reporter and new technologies.  The relationship works best through a collaboration of new technologies, enhanced traditional methods, and innovative alternative methods, which empowers humans to capture more depositions than ever before. 

To learn more about vTestify and how we help Court Reporting Agencies and Law Firms navigate these issues, please call us today at (866) 845-1181 or send us an email to ContactUs@vTestify.com


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