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Digital Reporting: Back to the Future


By Steve Townsend


Technological advancements in digital reporting and stenographer shortages are now impacting the legal market in all regions of the country. When markets become disrupted, it is always messy and confusing.  However, what we see happening today is not the beginning stages of disruption, it is an inflection point indicating that changes in the market will begin to accelerate, eventually reaching a new and stable state once again – at least until the next disrupter hits.

This inflection can be thought of as the point where a technology or method transitions into the mainstream market. In the case of court reporting, digital reporting is expanding from the courtroom into the deposition room. Since depositions represent as much as two-thirds of the total court reporting market, this is a significant moment in the adoption cycle.

While digital reporting seems new to many in the legal market, it has been a standard part of courtroom infrastructure for years. Introduced into the courtroom in the mid-1990s, digital reporting is now installed and operating in nearly all jurisdictions in the U.S. and much of the rest of the world. Understanding the courts’ experience with digital reporting adoption can provide important insights into what to expect in the deposition market.

Lessons Learned and the Whole Product Solution

Stenographic courtroom reporters, referred to as officials, operate in a very different manner from deposition reporters. While the foundational skills can be employed in either environment, the processes and daily activities are quite different. This is true for digital reporting as well. The technology is basically the same whether it is being used in the deposition room or the courtroom, but the business processes are very different. These variations are driven by the fact that each market has its own requirements.

Digital reporting in the courtroom incorporates multiple microphones recording into at least four separate channels of audio. The microphones are connected to a mixing device that is often integrated with the courtroom’s public address system. The recording solution is configured to capture multiple channels of audio to accommodate several speakers in a large, open space. The system can also be installed in the room permanently, allowing cables and hardware devices to be affixed to set locations and concealed.

In a deposition setting, the recording solution must be portable and easily configured. Professional gear and multichannel recording software are still essential, but the size of the room and the number of speakers are usually more limited than in courtroom environments. Both deposition and the courtroom reporting systems should be operated by qualified reporters who know their equipment and understand procedures.

Early digital recording vendors understood and addressed the specific needs of the court. Systems were configured to accommodate the unique recording environment, and features were designed to meet the needs of judges, court monitors and transcribers. The market needs were studied, and a whole solution was delivered. Digital reporting will not be fully adopted in the deposition market until providers offer the broad legal community an equally comprehensive deposition solution. That solution must produce a timely and accurate record consistently, including written transcripts, without requiring significant changes in deposition procedures.

The courtroom experience has proven that, when managed properly, digital reporting can provide highly accurate transcripts in a tight time frame. Companies offering digital reporting of depositions must demonstrate the same success. As a buyer of deposition reporting services, you need to make sure that you are engaging professional firms that can provide quality service on a regular basis.

Creating a service that can produce an accurate record is the easy part; streamlining the reporting process and making sure that customers are completely comfortable with the method are the real challenges.

That’s Not the Way We’ve Always Done It!

The courtroom market offered a number of advantages for the early technology providers. Court administrators were highly motivated by cost savings, which was a benefit digital recording could easily deliver. Court administration still had to make sure that digital recording met the requirements of the judges and other courtroom participants, but they were happy to advocate for modified business processes to achieve the anticipated cost savings.

Frankly, it was also an advantage that these court administrators were not indoctrinated into many of the legal industry’s long-established traditions and workflows. Viewing processes through fresh eyes allowed court administration to see the benefits of digital reporting quickly. And because court administration usually had direct influence over the rule-making process that can often impede adoption, rule and statute changes could be pursued efficiently when needed. The deposition market presents a much less centralized decision-making process and thus some unique challenges.

Courts have only their own set of rules to manage and the laws of just one state regarding issues such as reporter licensing. But providers and customers in the deposition market must navigate rules of civil procedures, licensing requirements and state laws from all over the country. National associations and service providers are working now to change antiquated rules and laws, but the process will take some time and leave practitioners and customers confused and hesitant in the interim. While this change is occurring, the best practice is to make it clear in a deposition notice that an alternative method of capture is being used and stipulate the same on the record.

Since court administration has full control over the physical infrastructure in their facilities, digital recording systems could be installed in an elegant manner. Depositions require portability and flexibility. Providers must rely on individual digital reporters to configure different rooms. The configurations must be able to capture audio and video accurately and not be intrusive for the participants. Technical and operational solutions can be deployed today, but the management of the process on a day-to-day basis is very new to the firms just entering the market.

The court market has one other advantage: the judge. Not to say that all judges were fully supportive of digital recording over the years, but their presence in the room was critical. Court administrators were able to focus 100% of their hiring and training efforts on recording and note-taking, leaving the judge to control courtroom behavior. That simplified things a lot. In the deposition world, your court reporting firm takes on some of that load.

Professional deposition reporters, whether digital or steno, know how to manage a deposition. They understand that they are officers of the court and responsible for the record of a deposition. That means that good reporters know how to manage attorneys and witnesses when they need to. That is not a skill that comes easily to a lot of people. Without the support of a judge in the room, all deposition reporters must know how to look after themselves and others. This is just one more reason why you should always rely on a reputable provider that can ensure that all the complex logistics for the deposition will be taken care of.

So Who’s Got It Right?

There are lots of court reporting firms introducing a digital reporting offering for depositions. Whether it is a new service or not, many of them do know what they are doing. But even the best of them would have to admit that there is more to learn.

The inflection point is upon us. Over the next few years, consumers of deposition services will see plenty of changes. Stick with your reliable and professional providers and you will be happy with the results. Your stenographic court reporter will probably be around for quite a while longer, but don’t be concerned about the future – it is bright and includes digital!

About the Author

Steve Townsend is CEO of TheRecordXchange, a web‐based platform for court reporting professionals. He has extensive experience in courtroom and hearing room reporting and transcription. He was CEO of FTR from 1997 to 2007 and CEO of AVTranz from 2008 to 2015. Townsend is a co‐founder of the American Association of Electronic Reporters and Transcribers.

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STTI & AAERT Respond to Misinformation in “NCRA Strong” Brochure


8 January 2020

Roy M. Curry, Jr. (Max), RPR, CRI, LCR, BCR
National Court Reporters Association
12030 Sunrise Valley Dr., Suite 400
Reston, VA 20191

Dear Max,

If we all can agree on one thing it is this: It’s a confusing time within the industry that our organizations serve collectively. The declining population of stenographic court reporters in parallel with the evolution of digital reporting technology and voice writing are bringing significant disruption to the marketplace, this as we contemplate how and when automated speech recognition (ASR) will begin to play a meaningful role in converting the spoken word to text within a legal environment.

Like NCRA, our organizations are committed, above all else, to protect the quality and the integrity of the legal record. Stenographic/shorthand reporters helped to pave the way for the standards of quality that are required to create a legal record, but multiple technologies and corresponding practitioners now are capable of meeting that high threshold of quality. Of course, there is another reality that cannot be ignored. That is the aforementioned shortage of steno reporters, which NCRA itself documented, was to be 5,500 by 2018 and will accelerate significantly in the years ahead – to more than 11,000 by 2023, to more than 18,000 by 2028, and to more than 23,000 by 2033.

Therefore, if organizations like ours are genuinely committed to protecting the quality and the integrity of the legal record, it is incumbent upon the leadership of our organizations to acknowledge what for some is an uncomfortable reality. As leaders, it is incumbent upon us to engage in collaborative, good-faith efforts to establish and perpetuate best practices and standards across all technologies. And, as leaders, at this critical time, we must not engage in the misrepresentation of facts in the name of advancing parochial interests.

We therefore were disappointed recently to see NCRA produce a brochure that warned of the “dangers in hiring a digital/electronic reporter.” Beyond the factual inaccuracies contained in the brochure, encouraging your members to distribute what can only be called propaganda will only add another layer of confusion to a situation that requires a new era of collaboration.

Let us address the distortions that NCRA positions as “dangers in hiring a digital/electronic reporter” before suggesting a path forward where our organizations can work together.

1. NCRA states that there are “no standards or certification of digital reporters.” This is completely and obviously false. AAERT administers the Certified Electronic Reporter (CER) Program, a program that has existed for more than 20 years. Indeed, AAERT representatives have recently presented details of the program directly to members of the NCRA Board.

2. NCRA states that “the integrity and accuracy of the transcript completely depends on the audio quality.” While true, this neglects to mention that the primary role of a digital reporter is to ensure the quality of audio recording that takes place while making annotations, taking notes, and executing countless other tasks to ensure the integrity and accuracy of the record.

3. NCRA states that “audio files are outsourced for transcription to someone who was not present at the proceedings.” The statement is true, but its implication that this is some type of a problem is not. Digital reporters rely on teams of trained, educated transcribers to produce an accurate record in a timely manner. This is no different than steno reporters who smartly make use of scopists and proofreaders in the transcription process who are not present at proceedings. We also will add that many steno reporters are involved with the transcription of digital audio recording from legal proceedings.
The brochure then goes on to list the rationale for hiring a “qualified steno reporter” – specialized training, a live record, expedited transcripts – and implies that such attributes are unique to stenographers, which they are not. Rather than haggle over each of those details, however, let us instead offer that an area of strong agreement is that court reporters, regardless of the technology they use, above all else, must be “qualified.”

Therein lies areas where our organizations can and should collaborate. As NCRA suggests, there should be standards, but those standards must be reflective of a marketplace where an integrated workforce of steno reporters, voice writers, digital reporters, and others will work side-by-side to create accurate records of legal proceedings.

If we are serious about protecting the quality and integrity of such proceedings, there is no choice but to collaborate. To do anything else – to deny the effects of the stenographer shortage, to dismiss out of hand the capabilities of other technologies – is by default making the decision that the quality and integrity of the legal record is not in fact important.

We therefore invite you to collaborate, to engage in a sustained conversation about the roles our organizations can play to ensure the long-term quality of the legal record and to prepare our members and their clients for the new marketplace reality.
As we stated at the outset, this is a confusing time. We appreciate your time and hope that we can work together to bring a degree of clarity to a future that promises to bring significant change to our industry.

Janet Harris, CER, CET                                                     Jim Cudahy, CAE
President Executive Director                                              Executive Director
American Association of Electronic                                    Speech to Text Institute
Reporters and Transcribers




By Janet Harris, CER, CET

Happy Holidays to everyone from the Board!

This is the time of year where many of us reflect on the accomplishments of the past, set new goals, and make New Year resolutions for the future.  The AAERT Board of Directors has been doing just that this year, and we have an announcement to make to our members.

As many learned at our convention in June, this year marked the 10th anniversary of our executive director, Michael Tannen’s company T-Team managing AAERT. Over the past ten years, AAERT has not only grown in membership, but also in program development through the addition of our continuing education requirement, an online Learning Management System, Executive Forum and a new look and website.  T-Team’s staff members Maria Tannen and Sherry Simmons have also contributed in great measure toward the goals the association has set over the years. Sherry Simmons dedicated her efforts towards the management and development of AAERT’s certification program, and as a longtime member and reporter herself, her passion for the profession has helped us maintain the high standards we hold in the industry.  These accomplishments added to the strong foundation of AAERT, and we are excited about the next phase of AAERT’s future.  We are grateful to T-Team for a decade of service to our association.

The Board engaged in a thorough and comprehensive RFP process this year for association management services. A new phase of AAERT management will begin in January of 2020. The Board is excited to announce ADG – Association Development Group from Albany, New York as our next association management company. ADG has a proven methodology and history of achieving results-driven solutions for associations facing critical challenges. The court reporting industry has entered a period of disruption, and all associations are exploring how the future will be affected by technology and the increased use of digital reporting in courts and the private market.  Holly Cargill-Cramer will lead the team of administrative, marketing, social media, financial, and strategic planning professionals from ADG as AAERT’s new executive director. Holly brings a wealth of experience to this role. Partnering with Holly in leading the team will be Aric Aery, who will serve as AAERT’s managing director in charge of day-to-day operations and our certification program. Aric Aery has a two-decade career in executive leadership and turnaround management in for-profit and non-profit organizations.

The annual January meeting of the Board of Directors is scheduled to be held in January in Albany, New York. We look forward to meeting with Holly, Aric and the entire team at ADG’s offices to review where we’ve been as an organization and where we are going. We are committed to strengthening AAERT’s certification and education programs.  This is an exciting new venture for us and we appreciate your patience as we transition our management companies.

Janet Harris is the President of AAERT


Automatic Speech Recognition in Court Reporting—It’s Toast!  



By Steve Townsend, TheRecordXchange

This article is Part 3 of a three-part series. 

It is safe to say that automated speech recognition systems will become the standard method for transcript production in many industries, including court reporting. Is it ready today? Not yet.

CTC 2019 was held last month in New Orleans. This biennial court technology conference is the largest conference of its kind and always a great opportunity to see where technology vendors are focused with their court offerings. This year was all about artificial intelligence. Vendors of every sort were touting their latest AI-enabled applications—some of them brilliant and some of them boring. All of the digital recording vendors were demonstrating some form of speech recognition. None of them claimed to be able to produce an acceptable transcript, much less a certified transcript, but applying speech recognition to closed captioning and assisted listening looked like some potentially viable solutions. Full disclosure: My company, TheRecordXchange, also offers a speech recognition solution called VoiceCopy. We do not claim that the technology can produce an adequate transcript yet either.

How Good Is the Technology?

I first began working with speech recognition technology in the late 1990s as CEO of FTR (For The Record). Even 20 years ago there were serious companies with plenty of cash trying to crack this nut. The technology has improved dramatically, and it continues to advance at a rapid pace.

There are two significant factors that have changed the landscape for speech recognition. First, as expected, the technologies related to artificial intelligence, machine learning, and neural networks have matured. Equally important, big tech, most notably Google, Amazon, and Apple, have created services that collect unfathomable amounts of voice data. Alexa, Google Home, Siri, and other applications amass valuable data by the second. For machine learning, data is gold, and big tech has cornered the market.

Big tech is great at solving big problems.  But it rarely tries to meet the needs of niche markets. Addressing the specific requirements of court reporting and transcription is exactly what some of the companies at CTC and a handful of innovative startups are trying to do. Google and Amazon rely on these ventures to service niche markets based on the technology they have developed. Smaller companies with domain expertise understand that transcripts must be punctuated accurately, present accurate speaker identifications, and be formatted to meet the specifications for different jurisdictions.

Most companies acknowledge that an acceptable legal transcript cannot be produced from current speech technology alone. So what is their answer? Some are promoting their solutions not for transcription but for closed captioning or assisted hearing. Some have given up on the court reporting market and focus resources on markets with less stringent accuracy and formatting requirements. But some are offering a transcription solution that combines AI with human input to produce an acceptable transcript.

AI with a Human Touch

The AI/human strategy uses automatic speech recognition to complete the first pass of transcription. Transcription is the most labor-intensive part of the process, so if that can be automated, it’s a big win. Then, a qualified proofreader, using appropriately designed tools, reviews and corrects the transcript. The review process will take longer than if the proofreader were reviewing a transcript produced by a qualified transcriber, but any additional time and money spent on the proofing process is more than made up for by the savings achieved from the automated transcription.

Today, the transcription providers may be benefiting from this cost savings, but savings may not be passed on to transcript purchasers. But if transcript users are getting an accurate transcript, they probably don’t care.

The big beneficiary of this model is the technology provider. Remember my comment above about data being gold to AI developers? This is equally true for these startups chasing opportunities in the court reporting market. These companies will never be able to collect as much data as Amazon can, but they don’t need to.

Machine learning, a subset of AI, can be divided into two types: supervised learning or unsupervised learning. When you ask Alexa a question or give it a command, if you accept the response, then Alexa “infers” that its recognition was accurate. If, however, you repeat the request after a response, then the system may infer that its recognition was incorrect. This is an example of unsupervised learning; there is no established truth to be fed back into the system, only inference. Unsupervised learning can take a long time and requires a lot of data.

Supervised learning is based on the idea that there is a known truth. With a transcript, there is something close to a known truth. Accurate final transcripts can be fed back into the system for learning purposes. The system can compare the automated results with the “truth” of the final transcript and make adjustments for future processing. Supervised learning can achieve results much faster and requires far less data to get meaningful improvement. So an AI/human process that results in the technology provider having access to final transcripts can also result in a significant competitive advantage. Eventually, improvements will certainly benefit transcript users, but in the meantime…

So with AI/Human Processes, Can I Get Good Transcripts?

Probably not. And, here’s why.

When you receive an accurate, certified transcript today, that transcript was likely produced by a qualified transcriber and reviewed by a qualified proofreader. Think of the proofreader as the quality assurance step in the process. Good transcription firms have well-developed processes using qualified and efficient teams of transcribers and proofreaders producing quality results. Quality does not happen just because the individuals are good; it happens when qualified individuals follow a good process.

Harold F. Dodge, one of the original architects of the science of statistical quality control stated that “You cannot inspect quality into a product.” And, to paraphrase W. Edwards Deming, the father of modern quality control science, proofreading does not improve the quality of the transcript. The quality, good or bad, is already in the transcript.

As a practical matter, what this means is that a qualified proofreader can consistently review and complete accurate transcripts when receiving quality work from transcribers. The lower the quality of the original content is, the lower the quality of the finished product will be. Automated transcripts are of far lower quality than those produced by qualified transcribers. Proofreaders cannot consistently turn them into high-quality transcripts. As of today, you will be disappointed in the results.

To quote W. Edwards Deming, this AI/human combo is a “system of make-and-inspect, which if applied to making toast would be expressed as: ‘You burn, I’ll scrape.’”

If Not Today, When?

Predicting that something is going to happen is easy. Predicting when is not easy—timing is everything. It is safe to say that automated speech recognition systems will become the standard method for transcript production in many industries, including court reporting. Is it ready today? No.

Will it be ready in a year? No.

Will it be ready in five years? Maybe.

Ten years? Probably.

If you are a classic early adopter and want to live on the bleeding edge, go for it. If you want to go into court with an accurate transcript from a witness deposition, hire a qualified court reporting firm and make sure your transcript is produced by a qualified transcriber and proofreader.

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Steve Townsend is CEO of TheRecordXchange, a webbased platform for court reporting professionals. He has extensive experience in courtroom and hearing room reporting and transcription. He was CEO of FTR from 1997 to 2007 and CEO of AVTranz from 2008 to 2015. Townsend is a cofounder of the American Association of Electronic Reporters and Transcribers.





PRESIDENT’S MESSAGE: September, 2019



By Janet Harris, CER, CET

It’s Back to School wherever you look these days.  Summer is over and a slow August will typically be followed by a very active September for our members. AAERT’s Education Committee has seen an uptick in schools requesting assistance and approval of digital reporting and transcription programs.  We’re very excited to be involved in these efforts to expand educational opportunities and programs to members and those interested in the court reporting industry. Certification registrations are also increasing. Congratulations to our recent newly certified members!

Education can never be taken away from you. It is the foundation for success, personally and professionally. In the past year, AAERT has seen developments in technology occurring so quickly, it is challenging to stay up-to-date and understand how the developments in artificial intelligence will impact our industry, our work life, and our personal lives.  I know I appreciate the AI in my vehicle for safety, and in my cell phone to help manage my life more easily. AI is playing a role in medical diagnoses and nearly every facet of life. The Natural Language Processing (NLP) branch of Artificial Intelligence is what we are concerned with when we discuss automated speech recognition (ASR).  This area is known to be especially difficult due to the nuances in language, how it changes, semantics and syntax.  Unfortunately, fear of the unknown breeds speculation of the future and not necessarily accurately. It is Back to School time for the association as well — a time for informed discourse and critical thinking. Many may recall when digital reporting threatened the steno industry with “replacement of jobs.” However, the shortage of court reporters exists in great part because the profession could not produce the numbers needed to supply the ever growing need.

Digital reporters and transcribers are in great demand. The technology we use today is far superior to the technology we used to capture proceedings 20 years ago on cassette tapes. We strive for efficiencies in all aspects of our lives, to maximize our earning potential, and improve our productivity.  AI/ASR tech blogs may tout all kinds of promises, but we have yet to see a product that produces a verbatim transcript with the accuracy of a certified reporter/transcriber or stenographic reporter or verbatim voice writer. The technology shows impressive development over the past decades and will likely get better over time, but the need for certified reporters and transcribers to produce the final certified transcript remains necessary.

When you are learning about a new technology, it’s important to ask questions. Educate yourself, reach out to subject matter experts, and try it out for yourself. Allow yourself time to read, discuss, evaluate, witness, share, and formulate your opinion based on facts and actual experience, rather than falling prey to hype based on fear and speculation.  In all your professional interactions, remember to be respectful because no one knows everything.  This industry needs all of us now and for a long time in the future. Collectively, we can learn a great deal from each other. Don’t let a single voice drown out the wisdom of the group..

AAERT is committed to providing members with access to differing opinions and subject matter experts from various perspectives. We hope you will join the discussion for a positive outcome for all.

Janet Harris is the President of AAERT





By Janet Harris

Welcome to our new board members, Jennifer Burke and Jay Gross!  Though both are newly elected directors, each has a long history with AAERT as active members.  I’m happy to serve with them as AAERT’s new president, along with members Betsy Ertel, Vice President, Jennifer Razzino, Secretary, and MaryBeth Burke-Dring, Treasurer.  Thanks to Geoff Hunt for his service to AAERT as president and a director.  Geoff worked with our Conference Committee to ensure a wonderful time was had by all in Kentucky where members were “Keeping on Track with Technology.”  Though Rick Russell is leaving the board as a Director, he will continue to serve as Government Relations Chair. Rick served on the Board as Treasurer and Vice President. I am glad Rick will continue to be actively involved.

For me, it was a reminder of the track we’ve been on as technology has changed our industry.  Over the past 25 years, we witnessed the transition from analog to digital systems.  The day I transferred data electronically, rather than burning a CD to ship to a client, felt like magic!  The first time I used a noise reduction filter was a thrill.  Technology has allowed us to become more effective and efficient, when you take the time to learn how it works and are willing to adapt to the changes it will bring.  Digital reporting and transcription needs reliable technology as well.  If you missed this year’s conference, many of the sessions discussing these topics and more will be posted on our LMS for CEU credits.  Even if you are just looking for answers about the latest features available to digital reporters and transcribers and their users, check out our Learning Management System videos on AAERT’s LMS page.

This year featured ASR (automated speech recognition) technology and exhibitors showcased live transcription.  We visited the Jefferson County Courthouse and viewed a courtroom where a video recording system is used to capture the court record.

Regardless of the blend of technology we each use, we gathered as a group of committed individuals who are intensely interested in the process of capturing and producing verbatim records.  For some, the track of technology offered new options and for some, it generated some uncomfortable feelings about their future.  How do I fit in?  Will there be a job for me with ASR or if a video courtroom comes to my town?  The feeling in the room was a mixture of excitement and uncertainty, and open discussions on how the court reporting industry is changing.  We are seeing significant developments in new technology and we’ve arrived at a juncture for change in our industry.  In preparation for my first board meeting as president I reviewed several organization documents and found the following:

“All industries face disruptive forces from time to time. However, it is not often that an industry faces a confluence of forces that all point to rapid and dramatic shifts such as we expect in the court reporting market. Technology improvements combined with long-term demographic trends and a sudden change in the economic imperatives for courts, law firms and private litigants will accelerate the adoption of digital recording in all traditional court reporting markets. These forces are highly disruptive and will create both huge risks and huge opportunities. Individuals and companies prepared to take on the challenges will thrive in this new competitive landscape. Those that are not prepared will struggle.”

This was written seven years ago in AAERT’s 2012 Strategic Plan, predicting this shift in 2018.

More recently at the AAERT Executive Forum the well-known Marty Block, our keynote speaker said, “A Paradigm Shift is underway in the verbatim text industry, and as a result, you shall share many additional mutual issues.”

It’s 2019, folks, it’s here and we’re in the midst of it.  Our members are used to change and know how to adapt.  We welcome you to learn about new opportunities with digital court reporting, so we can meet the needs of the industry.

This year the board is working on increasing educational opportunities for you by approving online programs and brick-and-mortar school curriculums offering digital reporting and transcription.  We are reviewing the Strategic Plan, planning for the future to increase our membership, and updating our certification testing programs.  Join us and let’s work together for a successful future for us all.

Janet Harris is President of AAERT




An Interview with Lee F. Miller, CER, CET LeeMiller

By Gail Malm Armstrong, CER, CET

Give us some history please, Lee. I was born in Concordia, Kansas in August 1960. I was the first “preemie” the doctor had ever delivered, but I made it! We moved to California when I was 4 years old. My uncle was a Marine, stationed at Camp Pendleton, and would write home about how great California was. The whole family moved to California. He moved back to Indiana!  I grew up in Orange County. My dad was a pastor and my mom was a school district administrative assistant. I’m pretty sure I got my love for the keyboard from my mom.   

 How did you enter the legal profession? 

I began working on newspapers in high school. That continued as I majored in Communications and graduated from Orange Coast College and the University of Washington. My professional career began as a sports reporter, working for a couple local newspapers and the Los Angeles Times.   

I took a ten-year detour to coach college rowing. The newspaper industry was dying a slow death, so I returned to school and attended South Coast College of Court Reporting. I found that my journalism skill set fit well with court reporting. I was introduced to a court reporting firm that was getting into the law enforcement transcription business. I thought I would just do police transcription until I became a court reporter and moved on. That was 23 years ago, and I’m still working with the police!        

Did you have a mentor or coxswain, so to speak, who helped you set the pace to success? Who and how so?

I’ve been fortunate to have many amazing mentors in my life, both in sports and business. A member of my dad’s church took me under his wing as his assistant baseball coach when I was in high school. He was a National Basketball Association referee at the time and later became the head of NBA officials. He was the first person who taught me that I could do big things if I set my mind to it. 

My rowing coach at Orange Coast was a huge influence on my life. I will never forget the day he referred to Tom Wolfe’s book and told me I had “The Right Stuff.” I learned from him that if you are going to do something, excel.     

I also had great mentors at The Los Angeles Times, and I thank them to this day for being sticklers and teaching me to pay attention to detail. That is where I learned the value of proofreading, as I was responsible for proofing the galleys of the sports pages before they went to press at night. It still drives me crazy when I see a typo in the newspaper! 

Tell us something unusual and unique about your experience as a reporter and transcriber. What is a normal workday for you?

The police transcription side of our business runs 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. I’m always on call in case things get really crazy. One of the cases I worked on made the cover of People Magazine and another became an episode of CSI. As a digital reporter, I once took down the testimony of an actor from one of my favorite movies, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.  Sitting next to him, I kept wondering if he was going to say his famous line from the movie:  “Bueller…Bueller.”              

Where do you see technology taking us in the next 5 or 10 years as far as digital recording, use of transcripts, and other technology?

We are in the midst of a technological revolution right now. For instance, I got into live-streaming rowing events a few years ago because I wanted to be able to see the crew races that I couldn’t attend. It was a novelty. Now it is so common that it is expected! I am seeing the same trend happening with court reporting. Traditional video conferencing has given way to more affordable streaming technology. I see that becoming more and more prevalent as budgets are stretched thin.

Do you think the reporting and transcribing roles will exist in the future? Will they exist as they do now or do you foresee a different scenario?

It’s like the Wild, Wild West out there right now, but I do think reporting and transcribing roles will both exist in the future. There will always be the need for a human’s touch in the transcript business. I have experimented with AI on some of my work. It has come a long way in a very short time, but it is still nowhere accurate enough to replace us, especially when it comes to multiple-voice transcription.    

Has AAERT opened up any new horizons for you as a professional?

Mary Ann Lutz, one of the original members of AAERT, introduced us to digital reporting and AAERT. I am glad she did. Reporting has taken me to a lot of places that I would never otherwise visit, and it has always proven interesting. 

Do you believe certification in a profession is important? Why or why not?

I do believe certification is important. However, I don’t feel that certification is the be-all, end-all. Just as important as certification is ongoing professional training and just plain taking pride in your work. I have seen too many certified court reporters turn in subpar work. Again, if you’re going to do something, be excellent at it.

You recently received the prestigious 2019 Oarsman award from Coast Crew in recognition of your extraordinary contribution to rowing at Orange Coast College. Tell us about your history as a rower.

I discovered rowing in college. Orange Coast is the only community college rowing program in the nation, and we had to go up against teams from four-year universities.  Our crew earned the nickname Giant Killers by upsetting many of the established powers over the years. 

After two years, I transferred up to the University of Washington in Seattle, home of one the best rowing teams in the world. You may have heard of the best-selling book, “The Boys in the Boat,” which tells the story of how nine working class boys from Seattle represented the United States and won gold medals in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. I was lucky enough to meet almost all of the “boys” in their later years while I was the coxswain of the Husky varsity 8.  I can’t even begin to tell you how impactful that was!

Rowing took me all over the world. I raced at the prestigious Henley Royal Regatta in England and on the Nile in Egypt. And, much like the Boys in the Boat, I got to represent the United States in the World Championships in Germany as a member of the National Team. I was asked a few years ago to serve as a member of the Board of Stewards for the Coast Crew, and I’m grateful to be able to give back in any way I can.   

What makes a great coxswain?

From the moment the shell is launched, the coxswain is in charge. The coxswain steers the boat while the oarsmen row, which isn’t as easy as it sounds. The boat is 60 feet long and the coxswain steers with a rudder about the size of a credit card.  The coxswain is also an extension of the coach in the boat — mid-management, so to speak.  The coxswain has to manage the personalities of all the oarsmen so that nothing gets in the way of the boat going fast. 

It is the coxswain’s job to implement the race strategy — and they never say, “Stroke!”  The good ones learn to have a feel for the boat, when to seize on the momentum in a race. Almost every race has a moment of truth, that moment when your opponent can be broken. It is the coxswain’s job to be able to tell when that time comes and to take advantage of it.      

What has been your greatest accomplishment against all odds?

I think I’m most proud of my ability to just keep grinding, even in the face of utter disaster going on around me.  I know that my experience in rowing has helped me with that.   

What do you plan to do after you retire?

My wife and I plan on moving to Maine in a couple years when she retires from teaching. I plan to keep on grinding!


Gail Malm Armstrong is an AAERT-certified reporter and transcriber and Chair of the Communications Committee.

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