Sunday, April 18

A Soldier’s Story: The Changing Face Of Court Reporting

Soio A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers soldier recently became the first person to graduate from the Marine Corps’s new court reporter course. Sgt. First Class Jason Trumbull will be assigned to the Middle East District following his successful completion of his studies at the Naval Justice School.

Trumbull originally planned to attend the Army’s program, but instead accelerated through the Marine Corps program. In the past, the military hired contractors for overseas court reporting, but Trumbull’s assignment will save the government at least $100,000 annually.

Although many Americans imagine court reporters diligently typing away on old-fashioned typewriters, that technique is quickly being replaced by high-tech options. Sgt. Trumbull was trained with the “voice writing” method, which utilizes a device called a “stenomask,” a soundproof microphone that covers the mouth and masks speech. The reporter repeats everything he or she hears during the legal proceedings, then edits a computer-transcribed document afterwards.

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Trumbull was expected to speak at least 240 words per minute, whereas normal conversations take place in the 100 to 150 words per minute range. Voice writers are also expected to have impeccable grammar skills, as well as the technical knowledge needed to follow complicated legal procedures.

Trumbull’s new skillset should also serve him well if he returns to civilian life. Despite new technology, legal experts say court reporting is a highly sensitive job that still requires human labor. Experts say the employment of court reporters is expected to increase by 10% by 2022.

“People ask me all the time, ‘Why don’t you just use tape recorders?'” says court reporter Dina Marcus. “You can’t use tape recorders, because you don’t know who’s speaking. You hand over the tapes to a typist, and the typist doesn’t know who’s speaking…[reporters are] able to see who’s speaking, stop them, question them, and get that testimony. And we’re skilled in that regard.”

There are about 21,000 U.S. court reporters working today, and on average they make $55,000 a year. The military assigns its own court reporters overseas regularly, sometimes in or near combat zones.

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