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Big Box Agencies and the Ongoing Digital Court Reporter Debate

court reporter

A few years ago, I wrote about Veritext and their ongoing acquisition of small and medium sized court reporting agencies. That acquisition continues and several “big-box” agencies are still dominating the field. In some cases, this has had a detrimental effect on the industry. Specifically, with the use of digital reporters.

I’m sure you remember when everyone was in a panic about the court reporter shortage. Was there really a shortage? Real or not, that narrative was used to justify the push toward digital reporters instead of traditional court stenographers. Some training schools were even encouraging students to drop stenography and study digital reporting!

Well, the digital hoopla died down a bit as reality came into view. Lesson learned: A digital reporter/recorder can not replace an experienced, qualified court stenographer in complex legal proceedings.

If your litigation requires an accurate transcript, especially if you anticipate appeals, there is no question that you should be using a professional court stenographer. Don’t let the big-box agencies convince you that a digital recording will suffice. Protect your record.

I’ve been hearing from attorneys who are frustrated with the level of service they’re receiving from the large agencies. A few of the complaints: unreliability, shoddy work product, and overcharging for services.  Oh, and the bait and switch tactics! For example, one agency promises to send a court stenographer for a deposition, but a digital reporter shows up instead.  Many legal professionals have learned the hard way and are going back to the smaller firms.

StoryCloud Caught

Earlier this year, there was a case in Texas where a company called  StoryCloud was allegedly sending unlicensed individuals to record deposition proceedings. A small court reporting firm, Preferred Legal Services, Inc. got wind of this and filed a complaint with the Texas Judicial Branch Certification Commission (JBCC). After initial resistance from the JBCC, a hearing was finally scheduled.

I haven’t found the final determination of the case online yet, but according to StoryCloud’s website, their client portal was disabled on July 29, 2022. They don’t appear to be doing business in Texas anymore and are only offering instructions for previous clients to access their transcripts.

Hopefully, the StoryCloud case will send a message to all. Professional court stenographers, as well as the attorneys they serve, have the power to shut down unscrupulous businesses.

Court Reporter vs. Digital Recorder – What’s the Diff?

The court stenographer is skilled in creating an accurate record, navigating accents, nuances, technical terms, and slang. Unlike a recording machine, the court reporter can interrupt testimony to request that a statement be repeated or ask for clarification if two people are speaking at the same time. Most importantly, a professional stenographer will give you an accurate, reliable transcript that is certified under their license number, guaranteeing its accuracy.

Digital Can Be Okay

Done the right way, digital reporting is sufficient for routine legal proceedings when the equipment is managed by an experienced reporter. The reporter can link their notes to the corresponding audio, in case you need to go back to a part of the testimony. The technology allows for a four-channel system that will separately record the judge, witness, and attorneys. Problems can arise when the audio recording is sent to the transcriptionist. The digital recording will inevitably contain inaudible words and phrases, background noise, and mechanical snags.  The transcriptionist is not usually certified and, since they weren’t present during the recording, they can’t guarantee a verbatim transcript.  This transcript can take much longer to produce and will usually contain more errors.

Voice Writer

stenomask - voice writerAn interesting alternative is a voice writer. Voice writers speak into a Stenomask, which fits over the mouth and contains a highly-sensitive microphone. The Stenomask uses voice-dampening technology so that the writer’s voice doesn’t interfere with the proceedings. The voice writer repeats the proceedings verbatim and uses speech recognition software to create the text in real time. Voice writers must complete a training program and pass a certification exam. According to the manufacturer’s website, Stenomask is used in every military courtroom in the USA.

Are You Receiving a Certified Transcript?

When it comes to your legal proceedings, your primary concern is the accuracy and integrity of the record. If you are paying for a certified transcript, make sure that a licensed court reporter has certified it. If you receive a transcript document that only states, “This is the best transcript that could be created from the recording,” that is not certification. Will it hold up in court? Also, what happens to confidentiality and integrity when the record of the proceedings is transcribed by a student overseas working part-time at home?

Is Digital Really Less Expensive?

Despite the initial promises of cost savings, courts are discovering that digital court reporting can be expensive. In addition to the initial equipment costs, there are maintenance requirements and software updates, as well as the expense of paying a digital court reporter to manage the machine during proceedings. According to a 2009 study in the California and Florida courts, digital recording was more expensive than stenographic court reporting, with a substantial increase in the cost of producing the transcript.

Why the Industry Should Look to Smaller Agencies

Customer Service
In small and medium sized firms, the owner will work one-on-one with the client and with the court reporters and transcriptionists. Relationships are built on trust and accountability. This business model ensures that exceptional customer service is consistently provided to meet the unique needs of the client.

Quality Work Product
To a smaller firm, stenographers and transcriptionists are our biggest commodity. At MGR, we work with our team to ensure that the highest standards are maintained. This isn’t the case with big-box firms. Some don’t give corrections back to the reporter and proper training is lacking. How can inexperienced stenographers build their skills if they are not motivated to improve?

At MGR, our clients know that when they schedule a deposition with us, a qualified professional will show up. A small agency will not send you an email the day before a scheduled deposition and tell you the stenographer is not available. Larger agencies may be processing hundreds of jobs a day and some will inevitably fall through the cracks. Do you want to be put in this situation?

Finally, as I said earlier, digital recording can not replace a professional stenographer. Maybe one day it will, but that day hasn’t arrived yet.  Even though several states have implemented digital recording in some courtrooms, a licensed court reporter is still responsible for creating the official record and certifying its integrity.

MGR Reporting offers experienced court stenographers skilled in the latest digital recording technology. If you’d like to know more about our services or schedule a deposition, please give us a call at 844-647-7784.

Photo by Thomas Martinsen on Unsplash