Court reporting, otherwise known as stenography, is the act of transcribing spoken words in a courtroom. Court reporters use a form of shorthand on a steno machine, similar to a typewriter, to take down all verbal communication exchanged during a hearing. Sounds like an important job, right? That’s because it is. Court reporting offers a point of reference for us to understand how justice works. Without it, there would be little to fall back on when studying major cases throughout history. Over the last decade, we’ve seen a decline in court reporting. There are a few different theories as to why this decline has taken place. Below we explore these theories and how this affects litigators and their cases. But first, let’s take a look at the history of court reporting.
History of Court Reporting
It’s not too far-fetched to say that the concept of court reporting began with the birth of writing itself. There are artifacts from all over the globe that provide evidence of shorthand. Around 3500 B.C. in Mesopotamia, there was a shorthand system of writing called cuneiform. Cuneiform is Latin for “wedge”, taken from the actual wedge-like instrument they used to write with. Cuneiform was a collection of pictographs that philosophers used. There was also a form of Ancient Chinese shorthand that was used to quickly record confessions. Officials would use these as formal documents in court settings. Hundreds of years later, an abundance of authors appeared who formulated their own systems of shorthand. These innovators used pictures, signs, symbols, and sounds of vowels and consonants in their creations.
In 1906, an American court reporter by the name of Ward Stone Ireland made the very first commercial stenotype machine. The keyboard used on this machine set the foundation for developments of future keyboards used in court reporting.
Importance of Court Reporting
The court reporter has always been a staple figure in the courtroom. Even those unfamiliar with law professions can identify a court reporter from their roles in TV and movies. Even though they seem discreet, their role is incredibly important. Their recordings act as official evidence that can be used for a number of reasons. In many cases, it’s actually illegal to proceed without a court reporter. In some instances, judges have a choice between using a recording device or a stenographer.
They will more than likely choose stenographers because they know their transcripts are more accurate. Court reporters have to go through intense training to become certified. They have special courses in legal terminology, courtroom proceedings, and must type at least 225 words per minute. Their role in the courtroom has proven to be essential for decades. This begs the question, “Why the decline?”
Court Reporting on the Decline
In 2017, the San Diego Superior Court declared that they’re no longer issuing court reporters for family law proceedings. This isn’t the only place where this is happening. Courtrooms all over the country, especially in family law, are experiencing a lack of court reporting. There are a few theories that could explain why court reporting is diminishing. First of all, there’s more legal activity. Even though some courts are now primarily digital, because there are so many hearings, court reporters are scarce. A second theory points to the fact that a lot of court reporters are retiring. The median age of a court reporter is 51 years old. This is significantly older than the average age of those in the workforce.
In addition to more court reporters retiring, fewer people are entering the industry. Educational court reporting programs have noted the steady decline in enrollment. This could be attributed to the lack of recruitment and the decreasing use of court reporters.
What this Means for Family Law
It’s quite discouraging for litigators to not have an official transcript to depend on, especially in cases of family law. Family law cases are often quite emotional and sometimes require multiple hearings or appeals. If you wanted to appeal a judge’s decision, there are no official transcripts to reference. This means that litigators would have to create an official statement summarizing the hearing from both parties. This is very time consuming and could end up costing more money. When court reporters are present in family law cases, it’s most likely because one of the parties is paying for it themselves. In addition, getting both parties to agree on the details of the hearing could be nearly impossible. This steady decline of court reporting in family cases is particularly troubling.
More people in the legal field are beginning to raise awareness about the importance of court reporting. If you or someone you know is in legal trouble, contact legal experts to make sure a court reporter will be present during any potential hearings.