Court reporting’s future lies outside the courtroom

Court reporting’s future lies outside the courtroom by Matthew O’Mara, January 30, 2013, Financial Post
Justice Colin Campbell of Ontario Superior Court: “Court reporters are very valuable.”
Can you type at 225 words per minute? That’s how fast short-hand court reporters have to type to be marketable. The average office worker types at 38 to 40 words per minute. Being able to type at the speed of speech — around 160 words per minute (wpm) — is a highly specialized skill, one that requires years of education to hone. You’ve seen ads for court reporting on the bus. “Become a court reporter, you could earn up to $100,000 in just two years!” It’s true, you could earn that much money — but don’t expect to be working in the courts. The future of court reporting is outside the courtroom. More and more courts are moving to digital reporting, where a person will sit with audio recording equipment to prepare transcripts. In Alberta, court reporters are now used only in jury criminal trials. In Ontario, courts are slowly replacing the role with monitoring positions.

“There is a concern on the part of some that with digital audio recording being installed in most courtrooms, the traditional court reporter will be phased out,” said Justice Colin Campbell of the Ontario Superior Court in an email. “I hope this will not be the case, as court reporters are very valuable, particularly in situations where a speedy transcript is required by counsel or the judge.” Yet court reporters are disappearing from the courts. “It’s just a matter of supply and demand,” said Carol Denman, president of Atchinson and Denman, a court reporting firm in Toronto. … Ms. Denman says the courts have moved to digital recording as a means of saving money, but she says the quality of the work is lacking. “I would love to defend the role of the stenographer and why it is better, but do I think there’s a future in it? No.”

Gina Nicoll says she signed up for a court-reporting course because she thought there was a good career outlook. Now in the final stretch of a two-year program at the Canadian Centre for Verbatim Studies, she is completing an internship with ASAP Reporting Services Inc. “I had started out being interested in captioning and that sort of thing. I think it’s something a lot of people get into and they realize how hard it is,” Ms. Nicoll said. The Canadian Centre for Verbatim Studies, founded by Kim Stewart, accepted its first class of students in 2008. Ms. Stewart created the school when she realized the average court reporter is about 55 years old, and that Canada needed a new generation of reporters. “Court reporting is not a dying profession,” Ms. Stewart said. “As a court-reporting agency, we were invited to provide a tender to the province for outsourcing court reporters.” Service Canada expects employment for “court recorders and medical transcriptionists” to grow within the industry by an average of 1.4% a year from 2011 to 2015. And while courts still hire staff to write transcripts, more and more jobs are being found outside of the courtroom. “The growth is in the real time,” said Len Sperling, associate chairman of the captioning and court reporting program at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT). “That’s where it’s said, the reporter or the captioner writes it, and you get the instant translation and the instant transcript.”

Mr. Sperling says there has been a substantial amount of growth in areas like real-time captioning for television broadcasts. “That’s been moving in that direction for quite a while now. In Alberta, the only thing that’s done by court reporters in the courts now are the jury criminal trials. Pretty much everything else now is done by tape and transcriptions after the fact. So that’s not really an area that most of our graduates go into.” [Emphasis added]

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