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A Brief History of Court Reporting

Since ancient times, it has been a core value of mankind to document its history. Whether it be a primitive cave painting or a high-definition digital recording, the History of Court Reporting has has always been the same, to preserve our past.

Thousands of years ago, chosen individuals of society, called scribes, were responsible for writing and keeping track of important documents for the city. These individuals were sent to a highly specialized school, where they learned to read and write. Once they were ready, they were sent to work for the city.


Although by the name, you may think a court reporters primarily work in court, but that’s not always the case. Court reporters have a wide range of job responsibilities from taking depositions, reporting hearings and trials, to Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) which is a fancy name for Closed Captioning. Court reporters are also hired by schools and universities around the world to provide transcripts and notes to disabled students. Court reporters are often present for popular events like City Council meetings, and public speeches such as political campaigns.

Within the court system there are two categories of court reporters, the most common being a freelance court reporter. Freelance court reporters are typically independent contractors that work for attorneys and court reporting agencies. These court reporters, although considered “Officers of the Court,” are actually private sector workers. Depending on the part of the country you’re in, freelance court reporters may also be the reporters in the court room and often rent offices to provide opposing sides of a lawsuit with a neutral meeting ground for depositions.

Conversely, official court reporters are hired by the court. These are taxpayer funded employees and may work for the Federal, State, or Local government. Official court reporters and freelance court reporters typically have the same job responsibilities, although pay structure and benefits are very different. Although most official court reporters are stenographers, there are many other flavors of court reporters.


Currently the most popular type of court reporter, stenographers create the record using a steno machine. This machine allows the court reporter to phonetically record sounds, words, and phrases in a fraction of the time it would take to type it on a keyboard or write it in shorthand. In many ways, the steno machine is more like a piano than a keyboard, as multiple keys are pressed simultaneously to capture every word. The specialized language used to take down the stenographic notes, is then translated in realtime using sophisticated Computer Aided Transcription (CAT) software.

In order to be a stenographic court reporter, one typically attends a court reporting school for two to four years. Depending on the state, the court reporter may be required to pass additional certification programs in order to seek employment, although some states like Florida, don’t require any certification at all. The US federal court requires stenographic court reporters to be able to type a minimum of 225 words per minute with a 97% accuracy rating.

Voice Writing

The 1940s brought on another piece of court reporting equipment, the voice writing mask. Horace Webb, a frustrated court reporter, invented the mask to streamline the process. He was discouraged when he couldn’t keep up with a fast-talking attorney or a tongue-tied witness, so he decided to create a device that would make it easier. Trying everything from a cigar box to a tomato can, Webb finally figured out how to make the mask work without disrupting the proceeding, with a piece of rubber and coffee pot attached to a microphone.

Speaking directly into a hand-held mask, voice writing court reporters repeat exactly what is said by attorneys, witnesses and judges during a proceeding. The mask is a voice silencer, allowing the court reporter to speak without disturbing the court room. Gestures and emotional reactions are also depicted into the mask, as well as punctuation, speaker identification and in some cases, exhibit marking. Modern voice writing court reporters prepare the same transcripts as stenographic reporters and can also provide realtime text feeds using voice recognition and CAT software.

Electronic Court Reporters (Digital Court Reporters)

Not until recent years has History of Court Reporting evolved to include digital (electronic) court reporting in the freelance market. This new way of creating the record is quickly being embraced by court systems and attorneys throughout the country, proving affordability and convenience.

The electronic court reporter acts as a moderator to the proceeding, takes notes to identify speakers and ensures that the recording is clear and accurate. Using a multi-track, broadcast quality audio system, electronic court reporters otherwise known as “digital court reporters,” record the audio tracks from the proceeding and outsource the transcription process. The use of a multi-track recorder is incredibly useful to a transcriber, who can then play back audio from different vantage points to make sure he or she captures every word. Even during a cough, sneeze, or laugh, the transcriber is able to accurately generate a proper record. With no need to dispatch a highly trained stenographic court reporter to the proceeding, costs can be kept lower, making electronic reporting a popular choice among cost conscious law firms.

The Future of Court Reporting

Voice recognition software is starting to become increasingly effective. Already used in the medical, military and voice writing fields, voice recognition software takes the audio file and transcribes it into text without the need for a transcriptionist or stenographer. With some popular programs having a 99% accuracy rating potential, voice recognition may just be the wave of the future in the court reporting industry. Only time will tell…


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