Workers in almost all industries experience some anxieties when facing the onset of technology — and understandably so. Replacing human jobs with technology has become an increasingly common occurrence and relevant topic in our society. When confronted with this, it’s natural to fall into a pessimistic thought spiral; to imagine a dystopian future in which robots take over the world à la I, Robot.

Court reporters are not exempt from this anxiety. The industry faces a shortage of reporters coupled with advancements in high-tech voice recognition software. Because of this, many legislators and legal professionals are debating the importance of the profession. Will technology replace court reporters? In our June blog post on the Court Reporter Shortage, we touched on this central question, but here we will address it in more detail. We will objectively examine arguments from both sides in order to predict what the future may hold for court reporting.

Technology Will Replace Court Reporters

The central arguments for replacing court reporters with technology are simple: efficiency and cost. Courts are overloaded and underfunded; audio and video recordings present an opportunity to reduce expenses by eliminating the salaries of court reporters. Courts that choose to adopt this technology could save between $30,000-$40,000 annually. Many legislators feel that high-tech voice recognition software sufficiently replicates a court reporter’s services at ultimately lower costs.

Furthermore, this cost-effective technology leaves courtrooms immune to the stresses of the impending court reporter shortage. Ideally, courts that implement new technology will not suffer from understaffing. Nor will they be forced into a bidding war for a court reporter’s services. Again, cost is central to the argument.

Court Reporting Will Stand the Test of Time

Arguments for completely replacing court reporters are often more idealistic than realistic. While adopting technology may be a cost-saving measure for the courts, those costs do not disappear. Many argue that audio and video recordings come with hidden costs that will shift from the courts to the attorneys — and therefore to the clients. In many cases, transcriptions of these recordings cost more than an official transcript from a court reporter.

Most legal professionals will testify that human court reporters remain essential to the legal process. In spite of technological advances, digital recordings frequently malfunction, leading to fragmented and garbled testimony. Recording the nuances of human language (altered by accents, emotion, foreign language, overlapping speech etc.) still requires human judgment. While technology provides a useful tool for court reporters, many believe that it cannot yet fully replace their skills, experience and humanity.

Looking Forward

While voice recognition software will not be replacing court reporters anytime soon, it would be naïve to think that technology will never catch up. The best way for court reporting to guard against a “tech takeover” is to adapt with new technology. Just as court reporters once traded out quills and inkwells for stenographs, now they must adopt computer-aided transcription and voice recognition software. Most court reporters already have.

Technology is transforming our legal system and world at large. However, humans continue to be the wielders and monitors of that technology, and human judgment remains indispensable. When facing the anxieties of technological advances in the workplace, professionals must be willing to adapt, educate, and retrain themselves to operate within the new technological framework. The legal industry can and will do just that. Court reporters will certainly endure the coming decade. Perhaps they will simply be called “court technologists” instead.

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