The Unbearable Shortsightedness of the Hampden County Bar Association’s Opposition to Replacement of Court Reporters?

Closeup of a court reporters hands typing on a stenograph machine. Isolated on white background.

With concern over the high cost of legal services so acute that even the ABA is encouraging bars to consider allowing non-lawyers to provide limited scope services , it is unfathomable that the Hampden County Bar Association is opposing a move towards replacing court reporters with a digital reporting system, as reported in The association claims that “This proposal [to eliminate 40 court reporters] however, risks the fair administration of justice, sacrifices important jobs, costs a lot up front, and only saves a little bit down the road.” But that’s a short-sighted view, focused only on the initial start-up costs of digital reporting while ignoring broader benefits.

According to the article, the digital recording system will cost $5 million to install and will eventually save the courts $320,000 annually. But the savings to the court are only part of the calculus – because eliminating court reporters will save litigants hundreds of thousands of dollars in costs associated with ordering hearing and trial transcripts. In most courts where I practice, court reporters have a lock on the transcripts – and can charge each party four or five bucks a page to order a copy.  As a result, many lawyers with cash-strapped clients may forego ordering the transcript at all, which disadvantages them at motions hearings or on appeal.

Moreover, the lack of access to transcripts deprives both lawyers and the public with a rich source of information that can help train young lawyers and educate the public on what happens in the courtroom. Most of all, transcripts can give lawyers some insight into a particular judge’s preferences and peccadilloes, thus enabling them to better prepare a case.

And as technology advances, who knows what is possible?  Eventually, computers could be trained to analyze transcripts and determine, what types of argument style are most effective, or whether a judge or lawyer hold race or gender-based biases. Plus, it goes without saying that the accuracy of digital recording will rapidly improve when it is employed on a widespread basis.

What’s unfortunate about the Hampden County Bar Association’s stance on digitization isn’t so much the guild mentality – after all, that’s to be expected of lawyers.  Instead, it’s the Association’s utter lack of imagination that the Association about the incredible possibilities that digitizing transcripts would offer to the profession that is truly the most troubling.


  1. Autumn on February 17, 2016 at 12:05 pm

    I recently had a jury trial in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, which has adopted a recording system in lieu of live court reporters. It was a total disaster. We still had to order the transcripts from a traditional court reporter, so didn’t see any cost savings. Numerous portions of the transcript contained errors, such as misidentifying who was speaking or misspelling key terms (an on-site reporter would not have made the misidentification mistake, and for spelling issues could have asked for clarification on the spot, as often happens during depositions with a live reporter). Other portions of the trial were just completely omitted because the recording system didn’t pick them up. Crucially, the majority of the sidebar where the judge heard counsel’s objections to the jury instructions is totally absent from the record, with just the notation “Unintelligible.” A minor cost savings resulting in major errors is not any savings at all.

  2. Kristi Bodin on February 17, 2016 at 12:56 pm

    I have had terrible results from “recorded” versions of hearings and trials. Technology has not yet reached the point where you can count on a reliable recreation of live testimony without human intervention. I can’t count the times a (wise and alert) court reporter has asked for clarifcation or spelling of a word or a name, or asked a speaker to slow down, or speak up, in order to produce an accurate transcript. The voice and sound quality from most court recordings is deplorable, and relying on such poor source material is a travesty which muddles the record and threatens the right to a just appeal.

  3. Geri Wickram on February 18, 2016 at 8:44 am

    I agree that technology has not reached the point where it can be relied on to perform this vital task without human intervention. However, according to a comprehensive study spearheaded by the Administrative Office of the United States Courts in 1970s, audio court reporting systems, operated by court reporters trained for this method, have the highest rate of accuracy in the profession. It eliminates the shorthand system completely, and uses the best of audio technology, monitored by a TRAINED professional to create a quality audio transcript that is made available at very reasonable cost in audio form, but can also be transcribed for the higher page rate.

  4. Patty on March 3, 2016 at 11:47 pm

    Dear Ms. Elefant, If you ever have to give testimony in a deposition or court on your own behalf in a matter that is very important to you, be sure to refuse the services of a live court reporter. Instead, demand a tape recorder and a transcription of the testimony from the digital recording. Be sure to let me know how you make out.

  5. Patty on March 3, 2016 at 11:51 pm

    Can you please tell me where I can find the results of the comprehensive study? I am most interested to see it. The fact that it was conducted in the 1970s before the advent high quality digital recording surprises me. I have been a court reporter since the late 1970s. I have reported court proceedings and I have transcribed from recordings. My transcriptions from audio recordings take at least FOUR times as long and are spattered with (inaudibles). My transcripts prepared when I am the court reporter present at the proceedings NEVER have an (inaudible) because I am there to prevent this.

  6. Tennis dad on March 4, 2016 at 12:10 am

    I used to transcribe district court tapes for a district attorney’s office in Massachusetts. I produced transcripts from cases venued in three different district courthouses. Each one had their own set of problems. There are many things to say about the inadequacy of these recordings, but my favorite was the tape I received some six months after the Jury of Six trial had occurred which revealed the microphone for the witness stand wasn’t working.

  7. Roy on March 4, 2016 at 12:21 am

    The cost per page for audio transcription is the same or higher than steno reporters. Yet you have lesser qualified people transcribing them, for lower pay, because it takes more time to transcribe. And those transcribers have a “lock” on the transcripts. The shortsightedness of your exasperation is what’s really unbearable.

  8. Trantham Bailey on March 4, 2016 at 8:21 am

    “…court reporters have a lock on the transcripts – and can charge each party four or five bucks a page to order a copy. As a result, many lawyers with cash-strapped clients may forego ordering the transcript at all, which disadvantages them at motions hearings or on appeal.” I believe page rates are set by statute, whoever transcribes them. Whenever I’ve had my own secretary transcribe a tape, there has been no cost savings. I believe court reporters cost less than the alternative. The better ones are faster at what they do and therefore make more money, which they use to buy their own expensive software and equipment. If you look at it more closely, the audio experiments have been disastrous.

  9. Steve Hubbard on March 4, 2016 at 8:30 am

    “Automated Speech Recognition Transcription”

    As seen on LinkedIn – Pulse Article by Steve Hubbard – AMVSR, LLC

    Click here to view the video demonstration of this technology, capturing the dialogue between a federal court judge and lawyers in a U.S. District Courtroom in California, in the case of Jewel vs. NSA (National Security Agency). This is where technology is going. It is actually here! After FTR installs those HQ mics in all of Massachusetts courtrooms, will lawyers want to continue to pay absurd prices for transcripts be it from court reporters or common typists or will the courts come around to contracting with 21st century technology that at least includes realtime transcripts for every court case?

    When our North American courts allow its citizens – in fact the world – to view not just their celebrated trials, but also the mundane, boring trials simple landlord and tenant disputes, fender benders, small claims actions, even traffic court, “Let’s size up the judge and how he behaves when it’s out turn to appear before them. Let’s see how my attorney behaves in another case before I hire him,” but also the more exciting cases, the class action lawsuits, medical malpractice, products liability, big time white collar crime, murder cases, yes, anybody who has a smart device no matter where they are on the planet can watch and see their courts in action dispensing fair and equal justice to all, when that day comes, AMVSR, LLC will be there providing not just to the litigants, but to anyone for realtime viewing of the proceedings and at every break or adjournment walk away with an editable OpenOffice 4.1 transcript, to copy paste directly into their favorite word processor, for the lawyers into their pleadings, and playing back our interactive multimedia video to cross-examine a witness with, and yes, for members of the news services, the press, when following a trial running several weeks, to highlight portions of their OpenOffice transcript, edit, verify against the audio, then paste directly into their online newswire services constantly updating their readership with the most current news!

    Lawyers, paralegals, support staff, edit your own excerpts, and if you are going to use your excerpt to impeach a witness with, first make sure that your transcript conforms to the court’s official audio / video that comes from the courtroom itself! Why on earth would you pay a court reporter $10 a page for same day delivery of an excerpt that you can do on your own!?

    Or AMVSR, LLC would be glad to discuss with you our preparing the final certified transcript with all the bells and whistles you desire!

    And the cost? Up to 70% less than what you will pay to anybody else! And why? Because the grunt work of “taking it down” has been forever eliminated!

    For 48-hour turnaround the cost is only $1.00 per minute, minimum order is 320 minutes, so either one event running 320 minutes or several audio – video files totalling 320 minutes.

    Order realtime viewing with same day delivery of both the OpenOffice working rough draft transcript, and our interactive video transcript, just $2.50 per minute, minimum 320 minutes, and share the files with opposing counsel and SHARE in the cost!

    Not only that, but you can share the video transcript, the OpenOffice 4.1 editable document, enjoy free open captioning that comes bundled with our delivery service, and the parties can share in our flat rate price tag.

    If you need a final certified transcript, depending on when you need it, there are different rates.

    Please contact us at AMVSR, LLC for details.

  10. Dave Migliaccio on March 4, 2016 at 11:52 am

    I’m an appellate lawyer, so I deal with transcripts on a regular basis. The transcripts from recordings are invariably laden with “inaudibles,” as people move away from mics, papers shuffle, attorneys, witnesses and judges talk over each other, and so on. Since no one identifies himself or herself, the transcriptionist is left to figure out from voices who is talking. Result; we get less accurate records of the proceedings. If the transcript is only almost accurate, we run into the problem described by Mark Twain: “The difference between the almost right word & the right word is really a large matter–it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” Give me reported over recorded any day.

  11. Tina Harris on March 4, 2016 at 1:20 pm

    Mr. Hubbard, What court is going to allow uncertified, unverified transcripts into their proceedings? If you allow any biased party or nonparty to record and transcribe proceedings, how will you verify instantaneously from a cell phone — or for that matter a transcript you had typed up — that what was said was not altered?

  12. Steve Hubbard on March 4, 2016 at 3:57 pm

    Tina, good questions! You are either a court reporter or a typist. The way we have been doing business from the 1900s is no longer acceptable.

    As digital audio video becomes more commonplace, as if it isn’t already, any party will just go up to the clerk, and say, “How much for the Audio CD or DVD of today’s trial?” “Oh, is that all, $25.00?” The court clerk then says, “Here is a list of approved transcribers, and here are the rates for the different levels of service they offer.”

    But guess what, with ASR transcription, at least with AMVSR, LLC, that lawyer can choose to talk to the opposing counsel, “Charlie, Mr. Hubbard is going to charge me $1.00 per minute to have this audio CD turned into a transcript, it’s only a working rough draft, mind you, and for .50 more per minute, he will synchronize the audio to the transcript so we have 100% confidence in the record. Will you share in the cost and he will send to you and me the full trial this way, 48 hour delivery, each and every day of the trial, you will be able to review the rough draft against the audio or video, and maybe, just maybe we might be able to settle the case after the verdict.

    “Mr. Hubbard’s system with OpenOffice 4.1, we can have our staff edit excerpts as long as we both make sure that the excerpts conform to the court’s official record, the audio / video!

    “We will save our clients a lot of money this way. If we need an appeal, then we go to the official appointed transcribers.”

    Tina, dare I say that judges will not force people to pay higher rates for services they can have for a fraction of the difference and they are able to settle a case because they have a 95% accurate working rough draft that is interactive with the court’s official record, the audio or the video as the case may be.

    And when courts finally stream a hearing or a trial, audio or video, and the quality is what AMVSR, LLC requires, we will deliver realtime viewing of the transcript and same morning, same afternoon, same evening interactive video with the transcript and OpenOffice 4.1 so lawyers and their support staff can edit small excerpts.

    Just because I say these things does not make it so, for sure, but I do know this, somebody a long time ago thought of these things, and I am doing my best to make it so.

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