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      The American Association of Electronic Reporters and Transcribers
 

 

Due to changes in our website format, there may be limited access Friday, March 18, through Monday, March 21, for membership renewals or to join the Association.

We are the electronic court reporting and transcribing industry's professional association in the United States, founded in 1994.

AAERT is a nonprofit mutual benefit corporation organized to provide education and certification for professionals engaged in electronic reporting, transcribing, and supportive employment roles, and to promote public awareness and acceptance of the electronic reporting industry.

 

 
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Revised 15 March 2011   

 

Certification Examinations scheduled — Saturday, April 2nd.
Click here for schedule and details.

 

 

Electronic / Digital Court Reportingan overview





Electronic reporting uses professional-level audio recording systems to register court proceedings.  For decades, it has been a successful reporting method in federal, state, and local jurisdictions.  Indeed, both the United States Supreme Court and the United Kingdom Supreme Court use E-Reporting exclusively to capture and preserve their historic public records.

E-Reporting includes two elements:  first and foremost, the electronic court reporter who oversees the process and who is generally responsible for a subsequent transcript, and secondly, the sound recording process itself.

Its long history began with analog tape recordings.  Today, computer-based digital systems not only perform those same recording functions, but now with enhanced features, plus added convenience, flexibility, and economy.




Standard benefits of either E-Reporting system, analog or digital, include:

  • Equipment Oversight.

    At all times, electronic recording equipment should be overseen by an experienced reporter, who also takes simultaneous notes regarding the proceedings. In digital systems, these notes can be very extensive, indeed. (Digital annotations are time-linked to the corresponding audio, so one can go instantly to that point in the record to re-listen to the actual testimony or colloquy or review the accuracy of an interpreter's translation.)

  • Speaker Identification.

    Primary participants are assigned to separate, discrete sound channels. In this way, a typical four-channel system individually records the judge, witness, plaintiff's attorney, and defendant's attorney.  Thus, when two (or more!) parties overlap and talk at the same time, E-Reporting captures each voice clearly on its own separate sound channel. This voice isolation feature permits a full and accurate transcription of exactly what was said — and who said it — because each channel can be listened to individually.

  • Unobtrusive presence.

    The reporter rarely, if ever, needs to instruct speakers to slow down their speech, or repeat testimony because of an accent or because complex medical / technical terms are being used. The recording process captures all words exactly as spoken — then in transcription the audio can be replayed as needed to verify verbatim accuracy.

  • Playbacks.

    Any portion of a recorded proceeding can be played back when requested by the judge or counsel.  The audio, when an integral part of the court's official record, can be replayed for jurors if they wish to review actual spoken testimony during deliberations — a critical element in determining credibility.

  • Translators / Interpreters.

    E-Reporting preserves both the English and the foreign-language interpretation, making it possible to confirm the accuracy of translations.

  • Accessibility.

    Counsel or interested parties may obtain copies of the actual recorded proceedings from the court. Judges can review the recordings in their chambers without the need for paper transcriptions.   With digital annotations directly "hot-linked" to the audio, points of interest are located quickly and efficiently.   (Computer software needed to replay digital recordings is generally free, akin to Adobe's Acrobat Reader for viewing PDF documents.)


Digital recording systems include these valuable, specific features:

  • The reporter's log notes automatically link to their corresponding points in the digital recording, which speeds and simplifies replaying portions of the record when requested.

  • Judges and attorneys can also take simultaneous audio-linked notes, which give them instant and independent access to critical points in the record or subjects of particular interest.

  • Both log notes and audio files can be transmitted over the Internet, reducing or eliminating shipping costs and delivery delays.

  • The sound quality of each digital copy is identical to the original. Courts can retain their original audio files, yet provide exact duplicates for transcribers, eliminating any possible degradation due to the extra step of tape duplication.

  • Storage and archiving are efficient and compact. When the audio and log notes are saved as computer files, there are no cassettes to store, nor files of reporters' paper notes to maintain.

  • Digital recording will be the basis for further developments in the areas of speech-to-text, rapid word / phrase audio searches (sometimes called "audio-mining"), transcript links to exhibits or other file documents, and related enhancements.

AN OVERVIEW OF REPORTING METHODS:

Click here for a comparisons chart     
or here for the U.S. Department of Labor's review

Direct multi-channel audio, available as an integral part of the official record, preserves the only independently verifiable registration of what people in the courtroom actually said — unfiltered by anyone's individual interpretations, mishearings, or distractions.  The audio record can be replayed as needed to ensure precise transcription.

The accuracy of foreign-language interpreters can also be confirmed by reviewing the digital file or audiotape.

In an average courtroom, the annual savings due to electronic reporting (including audio equipment, salary, and benefits) can total half the cost of a Stenographic machine operator.  Why this difference?  Remember that stenographic machine reporting is extraordinarily labor-intensive and stressful.

BENEFITS OF E-REPORTING IN COURT ADMINISTRATION:

Audio recordings can be easily and quickly copied for attorneys or other interested parties.  Thus, E-Reporting can add revenue to the court through the sale of audio copies of proceedings.

The technical training period for E-Reporters is considerably shorter than that required to become even moderately proficient in typing Stenograph machine codes or in mastering voice-recognition programs.

Transcription is timely because it can be completed by a team of federally approved transcriptionists, and / or AAERT-certified transcribers.  Thus, transcription of electronically recorded proceedings can be prepared in any time frame requested by the court, including daily or even hourly copy.  Condensed transcripts and diskette copies are easily produced.


STUDIES AND REPORTS:

  • "A Comparative Evaluation of Stenographic and Audiotape Methods for U.S. District Court Reporting," July 1983, for the Federal Judicial Center, reports (page 77, IX Conclusions):

    "Transcripts produced from records taken by the audio recording system were more accurate than transcripts produced by the stenographic reporting method";

    (At page 81): "Given appropriate management and supervision, electronic sound recording can provide an accurate record of United States District Court proceedings at reduced costs, without delay or interruption, and provide the basis for accurate and timely transcript delivery."
  • In "Report to the California Legislature on Electronic Recording Demonstration Project," a pilot program, the Judicial Council in January 1992 decided: (At page 36, Conclusion): "The use of electronic recording as an alternative method to produce and preserve the verbatim court record has been successfully demonstrated in the current pilot project";

    (At page 37, Conclusion): "Electronic recording has proved to be as acceptable in making a [court] record as that made by a stenographic reporter";

    (At page 37, Final Conclusion): "Efficiencies and savings will also be enhanced when the prohibition against using electronic recording in criminal and juvenile proceedings is eliminated."
  • In a review of previous comparison studies by Rae Lovko and Susan Myers, prepared for the National Center for State Courts — Institute for Court Management, in March 1994 the authors compared twenty side-by-side comparison studies and reported the following conclusions:

    (At page 1 of the Introduction): "Specifically, 15 reports found that electronic court reporting provided either cost benefits, quality benefits or both. All but one of these reports were prepared by or for state and federal judiciaries.

    "Five reports drew contrary conclusions, arguing that non-electronic reporting methods were equal or superior to electronic court reporting methods. Four of the five reports were commissioned and paid for by the National Court Reporters Association."
  • In a report to the U.S. Congress, prepared by the Comptroller General's Office, June 1982, government researchers concluded:

    "Electronic recording systems are a proven alternative to the traditional practice of using [Stenographic] court reporters to record judicial proceedings. Numerous state and foreign court systems are using electronic recordings systems, achieving substantial savings, and also providing excellent service to the courts and litigants."

BRIEF COMMENTS FROM ATTORNEYS AND JUDGES:

  • Judge Jodi L. Williamson of Minnesota's Third Judicial District detailed her court's experience in a letter dated February 26, 2007, and concluded:

    "While I currently employ an electronic reporter, I periodically work with stenographic reporters.  I find both reporting methods to be highly accurate.

    "The State of Minnesota makes no distinction between the reporting methods.  Since their job responsibilities are identical, electronic and stenographic reporters are included in the same job classification and both methods receive the same salary, benefits, and professional courtesies. . . . The positions are interchangeable."

    To read Judge Williamson's complete remarks, click here.
  • Bar Notes (San Fernando Valley, California, Bar Association), February 1998, (page 3, President's Message):

    "While no one doubts the necessity of Certified Shorthand Reporters (Court Reporters), practice and experience dictates that there be more modern, responsive, and less expensive methods of recording Court proceedings.... In this, the Electronic Generation, we must look to technology to help save time and costs so as to make our Courts more accessible to the general public and move towards a more efficient and cost-productive Court system."
  • A letter written to Assembly Member Bill Morrow regarding the use of electronic court reporting by Judge Richard G. Harris, Santa Monica, California, May 14, 1998:

    "With electronic reporting, when the record is read back, you hear the actual voices of the attorneys and witnesses and their inflections rather than a dry reading of the record."
  • A letter to Senator Quentin Kopp regarding the use of electronic court reporting by Sue Berry, President of The Association for Children for Enforcement of Support, Inc., (ACES), Sacramento, California, May 20, 1998:

    "In most states, it is standard practice to use audio and/or video recordings as a way to record the events of routine family law hearings. These recordings are less expensive to produce and reproduce and freeing those resources for other vital services."
  • A letter to the California Legislature regarding the use of electronic court reporting by Scott Gailen, Esq., Woodland Hills, California, May 14, 1998:

    "[W]ith the electronic recording system, you can order a tape and receive it within one or two days for $10.00. There is no question as to what was said. There is no question as to when you will receive it. The program has made it easier on the litigant to enforce his or her rights, and it has made the system more efficient."
  • Letter to Assembly Member Bill Morrow regarding the use of electronic court reporting by Judge Laurence D. Rubin, Santa Monica Municipal Court, Santa Monica, California, May 28, 1998:

    "In heavy-calendar courts, with little need for transcripts or the reading of testimony, electronic court reporting is usually an efficient, cost-effective method of recording court hearings. In those instances, electronic monitoring provides an adequate safety net for the few cases where transcription is required, or when a transcript is not necessary the judge can simply listen to the tape recording of prior proceedings."

AMERICAN ASSOCIATION OF ELECTRONIC REPORTERS AND TRANSCRIBERS:

Most members are actively engaged in the field as electronic / digital reporters, transcribers, proofreaders, videographers, managers, and administrators within the private sector and court offices.

Corporate members are those companies, partnerships, or joint ventures holding a business license with a governmental agency to conduct the business of electronic reporting, and/or transcribing, or who contract only within the private sector.

Vendors who supply goods and services to the electronic reporting industry can also become members.
AAERT offers opportunities for networking, training, and planning at its annual conference. Its online publication, The Court Reporter, keeps members abreast of legislative issues and industry news, and discusses technical questions. Timely information is also given on the AAERT website (www.aaert.org), with hotlinks to business, government, and other industry-related sites.

Membership directories are provided for members, and certification testing is conducted in regular cycles in selected cities nationwide. AAERT works to help break down barriers on a national and state-by-state basis.

Click here for more information about AAERT membership.

 

 

 
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Frequently asked questions
about working as E-Reporters and E-Transcribers
  • Definitions:
    Electronic Court Reporter     View
    Electronic Court Transcriber     View
  • How does one receive training?
        Do I go to a school to learn E-Reporting?


    Electronic court reporting uses professional-level audio-capture technology, so hands-on exposure to the equipment, together with actual on-the-job experience in its use, are needed to become technically adept.

    As with any highly technical endeavor, training involves:
    • reading the necessary procedures and relevant manuals,
    • reviewing them with your trainer[s] / mentor[s],
    • observing skilled practitioners perform the procedures,
    • being observed while performing them yourself,
    • having your performance closely critiqued, and
    • in due course being able to work independently,
      competently
      , and consistently.
 
Electronic court reporter
  Public sector or court staff generally obtain initial technical training from the system's vendor when it is placed in service, with further court-specific instruction provided in house.

  In the private sector, hands-on training occurs under the direct supervision of an established practitioner or firm.

Beyond these basic initial skills, exposure to a wide variety of situations and the experience gained only with time are crucial to a successful career.  Thus, a permanent learning curve exists, as recording technology evolves and your job responsibilities expand.

Of course, the underlying principles of E-Reporting or E-Transcription can be learned from resources such as AAERT's Certification Test Study Guide.   Click here for an overview of the Guide's table of contents.
The U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, provides further information on E-Reporting, as well as other methods currently used, in its Occupational Outlook Handbook at the section titled "Court Reporters."
  • Are there areas of knowledge, or aptitudes / characteristics
        commonly shared by E-Reporters?


    We believe so, yes.  Here are some areas of background information all reporters must possess:

    • A broad understanding of court procedures and principles — focused not so much on "Pleadings are stapled to blue Form X," as to what is happening in a case, what must have already occurred, and what can be expected next in the standard order of trial;

    • General familiarity with the legal terminology commonly used by judges and attorneys;

    • Generic technical expertise — how audio-capture functions;

    • Specific knowledge related to the electronic audio equipment and any associated software installed;

    • Awareness of reporters' standard responsibilities and the decorum / attire requirements (and limitations) imposed in legal settings.
    To get a quick idea if you share characteristics we typically find among electronic / digital reporters, click here.
  • How can I contact an E-Reporting firm or practitioner to express my interest?

    Networking within AAERT has proven helpful to many.  Joining AAERT can demonstrate to potential employers or contractors your serious intent to become a successful E-Reporter.  Also, see Selected Professional Links.
  • I am an experienced transcriptionist.
        How do I become an electronic court transcriber?


    You will need to add to your skills-set those elements unique to the legal field.  Be aware that having transcribed business letters via office dictation, or even having processed legal documents in a law firm, is not similar to what you will encounter with courtroom or deposition audio recordings.

    Now you will need to come to grips with hearing different voices, accents, and mannerisms in the rapid exchanges of conversational language — and then faithfully reducing those to comprehensible text, without distortion of content, context, or meaning.  This means you will NOT edit poor grammar, you will NOT correct awkward phrasings, nor will you "clean up" other faux pas made by the speakers.

    Although there should be helpful E-Reporter's notes / notations to assist when transcribing, you will be expected to provide correct spellings and, very importantly, a proper final transcript format.
    To get a quick idea if you share the skills we typically find among electronic court transcribers, click here.

    Joining AAERT can demonstrate to potential employers or contractors your serious intent to become a successful E-Transcriber.
 
Electronic court transcriber
  • Do I need to be certified in order to work in this field?

    Generally, speaking, no.  However, some states or local jurisdictions do require those who perform work on their contracts to be certified.  Thus, certification is both a goal and a professional milestone.  Certain employers / contractors may require CER/T status if you are eligible to take the exams.  Click here for information on AAERT's certification program.
  • What about salaries?

    "Salary" implies full-time employment. Rest assured that such jobs are competitive in the labor market; however, salary levels vary across the country, depending on location and the extent of a specific job's duties.

    Part-time work is available, especially to freelance professionals.


    E-Reporters may be paid per engagement or by the hour.  E-Transcribers generally receive a page-production rate, which varies depending on the type of proceeding, the recording method, and the transcript delivery schedule.
What is the difference between analog and digital recording?
Analog audio-recording electronically registers sound patterns on magnetic cassette tape.  Analog systems are now in a rapidly shrinking minority.  For remaining analog practitioners, AAERT recommends four-channel recording equipment, which provides the best voice separation between different speakers in the courtroom.

Four-channel cassettes cannot be played on standard off-the-shelf tape-players.
Digital audio-recording uses a computer software program to register sound onto a CD-ROM disk.  Digital systems automatically save / archive as recording progresses, ensuring that proceedings are preserved.

These programs permit extensive note-taking during a trial or deposition.  Notes are time-linked to the recording, so any portion of the record can be instantly replayed by selecting its corresponding note or time-stamp.

Playback software for digital recordings is generally a free download, so no costs are imposed on judges, clerks, or attorneys who listen to sections of testimony when determining witness credibility or independently validating transcript accuracy.
Both analog and digital systems employ the same microphone protocols for professional sound capture.

To reiterate, in either system, AAERT recommends four-channel recording, which provides the best voice separation between different speakers, a particularly valuable feature when people talk at the same time, or begin speaking before the final words of a question or answer are said.

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Bill Wagner

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