‘Guardians of the record’ uphold unbiased accuracy
For kings and serfs, for traders and taxpayers, for judges and witnesses, court reporters have been there through the ages to make sure people’s voices lived on in the written record. Find out more about these professionals, how you can become one, and why their work matters.
AN IMPORTANT ROLE
Court reporters preserve words for posterity, although the way they do it has changed somewhat over time.
According to the National Court Reporters Association (NCRA), the profession goes back to the 4th century B.C., when Marcus Tullius Tiro used a system of shorthand—including his still-popular “&”—to record the speeches of Roman speakers and leaders. English physician and clergyman Timothie Bright is credited with the first formal phonetic writing system (recording words’ spoken sounds with special symbols rather than writing their commonly accepted spellings), which he published in 1588. Other popular phonetic shorthand systems followed, including Thomas Gurney’s in 1750, Isaac Pitman’s in 1837, and John Robert Gregg’s in 1888.
Modern shorthand took a technological turn in 1913 with Ward Stone Ireland’s reliable and portable “stenotype machine” which, by pressing one or more keys at a time, court reporters could capture word sounds in phonetic code, with the code typed and printed on paper for recordkeeping. Today’s machines hearken back to Ireland’s invention, with the addition of computerization.
TODAY’S COURT REPORTERS
Today, about a dozen states have their own formal education, testing, and certification requirements for court reporters (also sometimes called certified shorthand reporters or CSRs), with other states offering acceptance of a national certification offered by NCRA or having no regulatory requirements at all.
Since 1951, California has been one of the states with its own high-level licensure and requirements for these professionals. Current licensure requirements overseen by the Court Reporters Board of California (CRB) include passing a three-part exam, usually after attending a CRB-approved court reporting school. Having an out-of-state license or appropriate work experience can also qualify you for the exam.
While many licensed court reporters do work in courts, others are employed in a range of settings:
- Freelance reporters are hired by attorneys, corporations, unions, associations, and other individuals and groups who need accurate, complete, and secure records of pretrial depositions, arbitrations, board of directors meetings, stockholder meetings, and convention business sessions.
- Hearing court reporters use verbatim methods and equipment to capture, store, retrieve, and transcribe pretrial and trial proceedings or other information.
- Stenocaptioners operate computerized stenographic captioning equipment to provide captions of live or prerecorded broadcasts for viewers who are hard of hearing.
- Legislative court reporters transcribe proceedings in the United States Congress and in state legislatures around the country.
- Official court reporters work for the judicial system to convert the spoken word into text during courtroom proceedings. The reporter also prepares official verbatim transcripts to be used by attorneys, judges, and litigants.
- Scopists are professional transcript editors for court reporters. However, unlike an editor or a proofreader, a scopist has the ability to compare a court reporter’s shorthand to the finished transcript. By “scoping” the transcript, mistranslate errors can be identified, thereby helping the court reporter preserve an accurate record.
THE VALUE OF COURT REPORTING
Now, with technology all around us—including the ability to record right on the phones we carry everywhere—some may wonder why professional court reporters are still needed. According to CRB, there are five major reasons why you should rely on their highly trained licensees for your official recording needs:
- Accuracy—You’ve only got one chance to accurately capture the legal record. A licensed court reporter provides a word-for-word record and is trained and empowered to ask participants to repeat words, to speak up when necessary, and to clarify technical terms.
- Qualification—Licensed court reporters must pass a three-part licensing exam and must complete hundreds of hours of training in English, legal and medical terminology, and transcription preparation, plus a minimum of 60 internship hours.
- Certification—Not all transcripts are created equal: Only certified transcripts created by a licensed court reporter are guaranteed to be accepted in court.
- Documentation—For appeals, the accuracy of transcripts taken during the original proceedings is critical and may impact the ability of your appeal to move forward.
- Regulation—If a problem or disagreement arises with a licensed court reporter, you can file a complaint with CRB to investigate on your behalf and to ensure the law is followed.
And what court reporter W.C. (Casey) Jones said in his poem “I Am The Reporter” shared at the 1964 Kansas Shorthand Reporters Association still holds true today:
I have kept confidence reposed with me by those in high places as well as those in lowly positions.
I protect the truthful witness, and I am a Nemesis of the perjurer.
I am a party to the administration of Justice under the law and the Court I serve.
I discharge my duties with devotion and honor.
Perhaps I haven’t made history, but I have preserved it through the ages for all mankind.
Related Reading: Coming Soon to California Courts: Voice-Written Transcripts