Court reporting makes comeback as more legal proceedings demand human touch

Ginger Adams Otis via NY Daily News

Student practicing on a stenotype machine via Daily News

Student practicing on a stenotype machine via Daily News

At last, the humans win one. Court reporting, a skill that seemed destined to be replaced by electronic tape recorders, is making a comeback — and bringing a lot of very good jobs.

Once upon a time, the fast-tapping typers — who must hit 225 words-per-minute with 95% accuracy to be deemed competent — were a ubiquitous sight across the city’s court system.

They were a fixture in every sort of courtroom drama, both in real life and on TV’s “Perry Mason” and early “Law & Order” episodes, drawing attention whenever a judge or an attorney demanded, “Readback, please.”

Demand for live court reporters faded in the 1990s, when budget cuts prompted many of the city’s courts to switch to electronic recorders and farm out the tapes to inexpensive freelance typists.

Yet even as that happened, the realization slowly dawned on many court administrators that tape recorders couldn’t fully replace human beings after all — especially when the machines occasionally didn’t get turned on.

“There have been many, many instances in the past when recordings have failed, the machinery didn’t work, or it just wasn’t turned on due to human error,” said Eric Allen, president of the Association of Supreme Court Reporters.