I’ve been a stenographer for 20 years now, and in tech terms, that’s a lifetime! In terms of what we output, our job has remained mostly the same – top quality transcripts, people! – but the way we work has changed an awful lot over that time. Mostly it’s better, faster and more efficient.
So what’s changed? Okay, it’s the Internet. I could stop there. But let’s think about the many ways in which it’s changed our lives.
God love em. It’s almost unthinkable to remember how we used to find out spellings: ask witnesses (they never knew); look cases up in books (they were never there); look up place names in atlases (they were never detailed enough); ask someone in the office (they’d always vaguely heard of it but couldn’t remember how to spell it). Now you ask Google and Google in its infinite wisdom responds. Is there a hyphen in point-blank range? Who’s the COO of Telefonica? What’s the power station in India beginning with K? All these things would have been massive issues before having Google to reassure us. Top tips for Googling: working in Google Chrome seems to yield better results, and being logged into LinkedIn gets you more people results when searching for names.
Google Translate: did the witness just say “aeroplane” in Swedish? Did counsel give the Turkish word for “pipeline”? Google Translate can give you the word, to check against the audio, to give you a perfect translation.
Google Books and Amazon LookInside: Did counsel just quote from a text book? One that he didn’t bother to photocopy because everyone has it back at chambers? Now you can find it using Amazon or Google. Type the title or author or words you’re sure of in quotes into Google, and the text of the book is right there. Genius.
Cast your mind back to the trusty Lanier. You couldn’t listen live, and your editor couldn’t listen to anything during the session. It was like writing with one hand tied behind your back. But now, whether you do it through the FTR mixer or the interpreter boxes, you can amplify what’s being said via headphones. It doesn’t matter where you sit in the room, as long as the microphones are well-placed, you can hear what’s going on. Makes us much more popular now we’re not obstructing eyelines. And sometimes you had to climb into the middle of the horseshoe in arbitration rooms! And of course you couldn’t share the audio, without copying the tape and handing it to a colleague.
Remoteness generally: I won’t flog this horse because it’s obvious, but the idea of Remote Speech-to-Text and Remote Editors was so impossible even ten years ago, but now it’s standard. What a wonderful development. People might worry that it makes us more invisible, but I think it makes us more adaptable and modern.
3G and travelling: being able to send transcripts via e-mail and on-the-go. Remote jobs used to be characterised by struggling with printers and endless taxi journeys to multiple hotels at the end of each day, as that was the only way to provide the transcript to clients. Thank God for email via pdf, so everyone gets the same copy and they can decide whether to print it or not. Also 3G – you can work on your transcript en route and still email it when completed, even if you’re just about to board the plane home!
This one’s probably a bit more niche, but I’ve really enjoyed clients not being afraid of computers like they once were. You don’t hear, “It said ‘do you want to reconnect’ but I didn’t want to touch it in case I broke it” much any more. More likely, “Can I email myself this realtime?”
I think you’ll get the message that generally I feel we can produce better output – transcripts and realtime – with all this information at our fingertips. And I’m looking forward to the innovations the next 20 years will bring.
Claire started her steno training at Smith Bernal (now DTI Global) in 1994, started working in court in 1995 and attained Accredited LiveNote Reporter status in 1996.
Since becoming freelance in 2004, she has broadened her competences to include all the areas where verbatim realtime reporting can be used.