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Digital Recording? Fine, but I still need a transcript

By Steve Townsend
Court Reporter, Industry News

This article is Part 2 of a three-part series. Part 1 published in August

I once had a federal judge explain to me, in detail and with great conviction, that digital recording would never be adopted as an acceptable court reporting method. His argument was simple: Digital recording was fine, but judges and lawyers needed a written record. Since getting a transcript from a recording was difficult, time-consuming, error-prone and expensive, the method would never work. I owned a successful court transcription business at the time, but that was not enough for him to reconsider his position. Interestingly, this discussion occurred in the ForTheRecord booth at a court technology conference. FTR was already the leading provider of digital court recording software with thousands of systems installed in courtrooms around the world.

That was not the first time, nor the last, I heard this misunderstanding about transcription from digital recordings.

How Transcription Works

Tens of millions of court and deposition transcript pages are produced successfully every year from digital recordings. While different firms and transcribers have developed different processes for completing accurate and timely transcripts, the basics are the same. So if you have been wondering how recordings from court proceedings and depositions get typed, a brief description of the process may help.

Professional court and deposition recordings are captured in multiple channels. Recordings may capture two, four or even eight separate channels or tracks. The recording file(s) can be copied to physical media, such as a USB drive or a DVD. It is also common for recordings to be uploaded to the cloud for long-term storage and distribution to transcribers and others who need access to them.

Once a deposition has been recorded, your court reporting firm will select one or more transcribers and assign the recordings to those individuals for transcription. Most professional transcribers work from home, and once assigned, they can download the recordings and the reporter’s log notes from the cloud to begin transcription.

Legal transcriptionists use different transcription applications depending on the type of media they have been provided. All professional legal transcription applications allow users to play the recording on their computer, listen to audio via headphones and watch proceedings on the screen if video was captured. Transcription applications allow the transcriber to isolate channels to focus on specific speakers, control the volumes for each channel separately and use a variety of other features designed specifically for transcribing recordings with multiple speakers.

These professional legal transcription applications, along with a fully functional foot pedal and high-quality headphones, allow a qualified transcriber to listen to the audio and transcribe the record in standard legal formats. Transcription may be performed in Microsoft Word, WordPerfect or stenographic software such as Case CATalyst or Eclipse.

Transcriptionists Are Trained Professionals

The person who recorded your deposition may also transcribe the recording, but more often than not, your court reporting firm will assign one or more qualified individuals the task of transcribing. In the past, transcripts may have been produced by individuals with little or no formal training or a certification. That has changed.

Today, organizations such as the American Association of Electronic Reporters and Transcribers provide extensive support, best practices guidance and certification opportunities for the digital court reporting industry. Reputable transcription and court reporting firms will contract only with qualified individuals who are either certified or preparing for certification.

Accuracy of Transcripts

A proofreader will also be assigned to your transcription project. The proofreader is responsible for reviewing the transcript and audio in detail and making required corrections prior to completion and delivery.

Regardless of the reporting method used—steno or digital—minor errors can be expected. Professional court reporting associations acknowledge that all transcripts contain some minor errors, and each association has published specific guidelines as to what constitutes an error. There are also well-established strategies for “scoring” transcripts. The National Court Reporters Association requires testing at 95 percent accuracy for a stenographer to achieve its foundational certification of Registered Professional Reporter (RPR). The AAERT requires 98 percent accuracy for transcribers to achieve its foundational certification of Certified Electronic (digital) Transcriber (CET®). Either method, executed by a qualified individual, will provide an accurate and timely transcript.

Timeliness of Transcripts

It takes about three hours for an experienced transcriber to type an hour of recorded audio. A single transcriber can easily complete short depositions or court hearings that do not require a rush turnaround. However, longer recordings, such as trial transcripts, or transcripts that need to be delivered in a rush can be assigned to more than one transcriber.

Professional firms work with many qualified transcribers and proofreaders. These firms provide sophisticated, web-based tools to facilitate collaboration. Using these collaboration tools, digital reporters, transcribers and proofreaders can share spellings, chat about nuances in the proceedings, share research about the content and generally support each other to complete a highly accurate and timely transcript. This strategy allows firms to offer daily turnaround for transcripts of any size and even hourly turnaround if required.

Transcripts from Digital Reporting Work


Some claim that the reporter who was in the room to capture the record of proceedings is the individual best suited to produce an accurate transcript because that person was able to experience the event live. This thinking is intuitively attractive. However, it is simply not true. The technical features of modern recording and transcription applications, the power of effective collaboration and the “the wisdom of crowds within a crowd” combine to create an effective process that can produce highly accurate and timely transcripts.

The accuracy and timeliness of the transcription process I have described in this article have been studied extensively over the last 50 years. The bottom line is that transcription from digital recording works.

Once again, the question to ask when considering how to record and transcribe your next deposition is not which method is best. Regardless of the method, select a professional court reporting firm that has experience and well-established processes for recording depositions and producing accurate transcripts.

Of course, there is one more obvious question that you may be asking. Given artificial intelligence and the other technologies we have available today, why do we need humans to transcribe these recordings at all? Can’t Google or Alexa do it at no cost and in a fraction of the time? We’ll discuss that question in our next installment!

Steve Townsend is CEO of TheRecordXchange, a web‐based platform for court reporting professionals. He has extensive experience in courtroom and hearing room reporting and transcription. He was CEO of FTR from 1997 to 2007 and CEO of AVTranz from 2008 to 2015. Townsend is a co‐founder of the American Association of Electronic Reporters and Transcribers.

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