It can be tempting to save money by replacing human workers with automated systems. In the case of court reporting services, a digital recording option may be cheaper than hiring a person for the job—and since it records every word that is said, there is ostensibly no difference in the testimony.

At least, that’s what a Nebraska judge said when he ordered digital recorders to be installed in all federal courtrooms across the U.S. last year. U.S. District Court Judge Richard Kopf stated in his motion that recordings are comparable in accuracy to court reporters and allow more widespread access to trial records.

However, the case for digital recordings over certified court reporters is not that simple. Many attorneys and judges believe that court reporters are still necessary in order to preserve:

  • Accuracy. A recording is a listen-only technology that does not recognize garbled language and treats every noise in the room with equal weight (be it testimony, a cough, or electrical feedback). Human reporters, on the other hand, can interrupt trials to tell parties to speak one at a time, repeat their phrase, and read testimony back from earlier in a trial, making a more accurate record.
  • Efficiency. There is a myriad of reliability issues with recording devices, and the recorders must be constantly monitored to ensure that they are functioning correctly. If they break down, a trial may be suspended, delayed, and even reheard as a result.
  • Depositions. While state and federal governments may benefit by dropping court reporters from their payroll, reporters are still desired to take depositions and to record testimony in courtrooms that are not equipped with recording devices—or in many cases, after recording devices have failed.
  • Higher court testimony. Many people who support the use of recording devices in district court proceedings are unwilling to rely on the technology for higher civil and criminal trials. The devices’ well-known tendency to fail leads attorneys to continue to rely on live court reporters until the technology can catch up.

How valuable is a good court reporter? Consider this: the North Carolina state Senate received a study stating that recording devices could curb court costs by allowing them to release half of its court reporters. However, the report then suggested that the money saved can be used to hire private court reporters as needed, allowing that digital technology alone is not appropriate for higher court cases.

Do you rely on court reporters, or have you used digital recording devices only?

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