What Device Do Court Reporters Use?

What Device Do Court Reporters Use?

Court reporters play a vital role in legal proceedings by creating a verbatim written record of everything stated for official transcripts. To capture spoken words accurately and swiftly, most court reporters today rely on specialized stenography machines paired with computer-aided transcription (CAT) software.

However, with advancing technologies, court reporters now have various equipment options to best suit their recording style and preferences. This guide will explore the main devices used by court reporters currently and how they have transformed the profession.

A Brief History of Court Reporting Devices

Court reporting dates back to ancient Roman times when scribae manually transcribed court proceedings word-for-word. This tradition continued for centuries until the advent of shorthand machines in 1913, allowing more expedient transcription.

The shorthand machine, also called the stenotype or stenograph machine, became widely adopted by court reporters in the 1950s and remained the dominant technology for decades. However, relying solely on the steno machine also had drawbacks—mainly that it did not provide audio backup of the court proceedings.

In the late 20th century, computer-aided transcription tools were introduced. When paired with the shorthand machine, CAT software revolutionized court reporting by enabling real-time transcription and providing the reporter an audio recording to reference. This improved accuracy and positioned court reporters for the digital age.

As technology continues to progress, court reporters now leverage the capabilities of their computers and software to input testimony through a variety of methods. The primary options in use currently are:

  • Stenotype or shorthand machines
  • Stenomask voice writing
  • Digital recording software

Next, let’s explore how each device works and its pros and cons.

Stenotype Machines

The stenotype machine, invented by Ward Stone Ireland in 1913, remains the most widely used device by court reporters today. Over 90% of court reporters utilize a stenotype machine paired with CAT software.

How Stenotype Machines Work

Stenotype machines have a specialized keyboard with 22 keys. Using a chorded shorthand, court reporters press multiple keys at once to capture phonetic sounds, enabling them to type over 225 words per minute.

The shorthand notes input into the stenotype machine then convert into English text via the connected CAT software. Using a steno machine with CAT software allows court reporters to provide:

  • Real-time feed of the transcript for attendees to view
  • Audio recording backup
  • Annotation capabilities
  • Easy editing and production of official transcripts

![Stenotype Machine]1A typical stenotype machine used by court reporters

Benefits of Stenotype Machines

There are several key reasons stenotype machines remain the dominant choice of court reporters:

  • Proven technology – Used reliably since 1913 with continuous improvements
  • Portability – Lightweight and durable to transport to proceedings
  • Speed and accuracy – Allows for 225+ WPM capture
  • Real-time capabilities – Pairs with software for live transcript feed
  • Backup recording – Software records audio to reference if needed
  • Professional standard – Considered the official court reporting method

Drawbacks of Stenotype Machines

While stenotype machines are unmatched in speed, they do come with a steep learning curve. Disadvantages include:

  • Difficult to learn – Can take 1-4 years to become proficient
  • Repetitive stress injuries – Frequent typing carries risk of RSIs
  • High initial cost – Stenotype machines start around $3,000

Overall, stenotype machines require extensive training but produce reliable results for skilled court reporters.

Stenomask Voice Writing

Stenomask voice writing is a newer approach that has gained popularity as an alternative to stenotype machines.

How Stenomasks Work

Instead of using a specialized keyboard, stenomask reporters speak verbatim repeats of testimony into a handheld mask microphone. The mask prevents their voice from being audible in court. The audio gets recorded and later transcribed, often with assistance from speech recognition software.

Stenomasks essentially turn the court reporter into a human recording device. But they still actively monitor and annotate the testimony as it occurs.! A court reporter using stenomask voice writing equipment

Benefits of Stenomasks

Compared to traditional stenography, stenomask reporters tout several advantages:

  • Easier to learn – Basic training takes 6 weeks up to 6 months
  • Prevents RSIs – No repetitive typing motions
  • Lower investment – Equipment as low as $500 to start
  • Expand services – Can provide CART captioning

Additionally, stenomask voice capture produces high-accuracy results when using computer-aided speech recognition programs for transcription.

Drawbacks of Stenomasks

However, there are some downsides to consider with stenomask recording:

  • Speech recognition learning curve – Software must adapt to each reporter’s voice
  • Mask comfort – Extended wearing can be tiring
  • Audio-only backup – Lacks real-time capabilities of steno machines

While the stenomask method continues to improve with technological enhancements, traditional stenotype machines currently maintain faster speeds and real-time functionality.

Digital Recording Software

Aside from shorthand machines and stenomasks, court reporters can also utilize standalone digital recording software to capture court audio.

How Digital Recording Software Works

Digital recording software allows court reporters to record multichannel high-fidelity audio directly through their laptop or computer. Some software options include:

  • FTR Gold – Records up to 12 audio channels
  • Court Recorder – Developed specifically for court reporting
  • Audacity – Open-source, multi-platform software

The court reporter adds microphones in strategic positions around the room and monitors the live testimony. Using a foot pedal or annotations, the reporter notes important moments in the proceedings to reference later.

Benefits of Digital Recording Software

Key advantages this method provides include:

  • Low overhead – No specialized equipment needed
  • Easy setup – Simple USB microphones and software installation
  • Familiar interface – Functions similarly to common audio recording software
  • Cost-effective – Affordable packages under $2,000

Drawbacks of Digital Recording Software

However, depending solely on digital software has substantial shortcomings:

  • No real-time capabilities – Cannot provide live transcript feed
  • Difficult to annotate – Tedious to constantly stop and start recording
  • Labor-intensive – Requires extensive post-processing efforts
  • Not a professional standard – Unlikely to be permitted making the official court record

While digital recording software affords court reporters more options, it currently lacks the functionality provided by shorthand machines and stenomasks.

Key Considerations When Choosing Equipment

With the primary court reporting equipment options laid out, professionals can better gauge what device may suit their skills, preferences, and proceedings. Here are some key considerations when deciding:

  • Speed – Are real-time capabilities needed? What capture rates are required?
  • Accuracy – Will audio backup be available? What error rates are acceptable?
  • Budget – What equipment costs align with business projections?
  • Ergonomics – Will long durations using the device be straining or tiring?
  • Portability – How easy is transportation between court sites?
  • Admissibility – Will the court permit the record created by the chosen method?

Additionally, court reporters should research all necessary accessories for their selected equipment, like foot pedals, headsets, software, carrying cases etc. to compile their full setup.

Key Components of a Court Reporter’s Equipment Kit

Beyond just their essential recording device, court reporters require other gear to professionally capture courtroom proceedings.Here are the key components that make up a court reporter’s working equipment kit:

Stenotype Machine

The stenotype machine, using either a steno keyboard or stenomask, serves as the basis for capturing live testimony. Choices span from basic manual machines to sophisticated computer-integrated smartwriters.

Laptop Computer

The laptop pairs with the shorthand machine to convert shorthand notes into text using CAT software. It also records audio, accesses necessary programs and dictionaries, and allows for real-time transmitting.

CAT Software

Computer-aided transcription (CAT) software is what powers the text conversion, links audio backup, enables real-time output, and supports efficient transcript production. Professional software options used in court include Case CATalyst, Eclipse, and ProCAT.

Real-Time Equipment

To provide real-time feeds, court reporters need interface kits like CaseViewNet to connect their laptop and broadcast live transcripts to viewers in court.

Audio Recorder

As backup and to review unclear sections, court reporters use digital audio recorders, like the Marantz Professional solid-state recorder, to comprehensively capture all audio.

Professional Headphones

Quality headphones are essential for accurately hearing all speakers and playback. Noise-cancelling headphones from brands like Audio-Technica allow focused listening.


To amplify sound for the audio recording, court reporters position microphones around the courtroom. Mini shotgun mics or boundary mics are common options.

Foot Pedal

Foot pedals connect to the shorthand machine to control functions like scrolling through notes, playing back audio synced to steno strokes, and annotations.

Tripods, Cables, Cases

Tripods securely hold digital recorders. Durable cables provide connections between all components. Carrying cases conveniently transport machines, computers, and accessories.Proper setup of compatible equipment components ensures court reporters have quality, comprehensive documentation of proceedings. Care and maintenance of costly professional gear also helps extend its working lifespan.

5 Must-Have Accessories for Court Reporters

Beyond standard equipment needs, helpful accessories can further assist court reporters in capturing complete and accurate records while remaining comfortable on long proceeding days.Here are 5 must-have accessories all court reporters should consider:

1. External Keyboard

The small stenotype keyboard allows for rapid shorthand input. However, when editing transcripts on a computer later, an external ergonomic keyboard can reduce strain. Keyboards with adjustable tilt/height settings can improve comfort.

2. Laptop Stand

Laptop stands that attach to stenotype machines enable court reporters to position their computer at eye level. This improves posture and avoids constant glancing down at a low screen level to view real-time text.

3. Headset with Microphone

Headsets allow court reporters to hear audio playback clearly while also dictating translations or notes more conveniently than using a handheld mic. Noise-cancelling headsets further enhance focus.

4. Seat Cushion

Long proceedings mean extended sitting for court reporters. Seat cushions provide essential back support and comfort on hard courtroom benches. Some feature customizable gel padding placements.

5. Extendable Tripod

Mini tripods offer flexible microphone positioning to detect optimal sound quality from all speakers. Models with adjustable-height legs and swiveling heads provide further adaptability.

Investing in accessories makes court reporting duties easier on reporters’ bodies, eyesight, and voices over continual use. Boosting efficiency ultimately translates to higher transcript accuracy as well.

Key Skills Needed to Operate Court Reporting Technology

While court reporters rely heavily on technology to produce official legal records, it takes far more than just the equipment itself. Excellent listening abilities, communication skills, technical capacities, and unbiased conduct are equally vital.Here are the top skills court reporters need to expertly operate their technology:

Attentive Listening

Keen hearing and focused listening skills allow court reporters to clearly comprehend every single uttered word to capture it in their transcription. Simultaneously monitoring multiple speakers poses added difficulty.

Clear Speech

For stenomask reporters, speaking clearly and concisely into their mask microphone without mumbling ensures audio gets accurately converted into text transcripts.

Language Precision

Court reporters must possess extensive vocabulary, grammar expertise, and punctuation proficiency to properly construct transcripts reflecting exactly what was said.

Technological Competency

Troubleshooting basic technical issues quickly preserves vital court record captures. Understanding how to fully utilize their equipment is essential as well.

Composure Under Pressure

The pressures of real-time transcription require immense concentration. Maintaining composure when struggling to keep pace shows professionalism.

Diligence & Endurance

Producing accurate documentation demands tireless diligence listening to long proceedings without mental drifts. Physical and mental endurance is vital.

Court reporting certainly involves advanced equipment, but it is really the knowledgeable professional operating it that determines superior transcription outcomes.

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