The official record of what is said by the participants in an official court proceeding remains a critical requirement to the cause of justice. Historically, the sacred responsibility to faithfully capture the verbatim record of every word uttered in a court of law fell to an official Court Reporter. Most of today’s increasingly digital courts have implemented some form of digital court recording either to augment the work of a dwindling pool of Court Stenographers or to replace them altogether. This fact will not be new information to anyone working in a modern courtroom. But you might find it intriguing to delve into how courts evaluate and purchase digital court recording solutions. When you do, you may come away with some questions that leave you wondering if there is a better way to evaluate and purchase digital court recording solutions.
We can start by looking right into the confusing heart of the government procurement beast — the dreaded Request For Proposal or “RFP”. Those three little letters can cause a Court Administrator a migraine and bring tears to the eyes of anyone who markets solutions to help courts do their work. An RFP written by court officials for a specific solution that has well-defined specifications can be a straightforward exercise. Unfortunately, when it comes to purchasing a digital court recording solution, confusion often reigns supreme leading to needlessly complex evaluations in a market that offers multiple solid options from a handful of proven vendors. The confusion stems from one innocent mistake — combining a digital court recording software solution evaluation as part of a larger courtroom technology refresh. Because of the unique import of digital court recording, courts are far better served by separating their evaluations of digital court recording software from broader courtroom technology evaluations.
We could discuss dozens of reasons why I believe courts should separate their evaluations of specific software solutions from broader technology discussions. For emphasis, I will focus on three reasons for courts to evaluate court recording on its own merits rather than as just another piece of a larger technology purchase decision:
The official record of the court is sacred in a way that makes it unique and deserving of its own process for determining how a court will capture, manage, and produce transcripts of official recordings. In the United States, a recording failure can lead to a mistrial because the verbatim transcript of court proceeding forms the basis for an appeal of a court ruling. As such, software and hardware bells and whistles are secondary to supporting fail-proof recording and effective integration of a digital court recording system with a court’s other solutions. This is particularly true regarding integration with case management systems and courtroom AV systems. Many nuances need to be considered that can be devalued when court recording is evaluated as part of an overly broad procurement process.
Several of the most important considerations for selecting a digital court recording software are methodological rather than technological. For example, courts should be carefully considering how they manage official court recordings from the initial capture in the courtroom all the way to how recordings are used by all stakeholders, including how transcripts will be created from official recordings. These larger and more impactful considerations are diluted in a process that pays more attention to the latest conferencing technology than Constitutional requirements to faithfully capture and make quickly available to participants a verbatim record of what is said by a remote participant at the lowest possible cost.
As important as the first two considerations are to selecting a digital court recording software solution that best fits the critical needs of your court, the most important consideration is understanding the shift that is underway in where court recording fits into critical court operations. During the days when court recordings were a stand-alone operation on a dedicated device sitting on desk in the courtroom, any system that worked well and could produce a disk containing a decent quality recording was more than sufficient. The best court recording solutions available from today’s top vendors offer a true end-to-end solution fully integrated with the court’s case management system and capable of accessing official recordings across a given county, state or jurisdiction. Given this new reality, courts have an opportunity to consider more efficient processes related to court recordings that can more than pay for the costs associated with purchasing and maintaining a system to digitally capture the official record of the court.
Once your court selects an approach and a court recording solution best suited to supporting your digital journey, then you will be able to create a subsequent RFP for your technology refresh more fully informed by your court’s end-to-end digital strategy. Equally as important, you will not be stuck with an ill-fitting solution because the winning AV company offered you a better deal on mixers, microphones, and installation costs. You will have lots of great options to consider from several competent audiovisual integrators, including ExhibitOne who will be glad to compete to help integrate digital court recording into your overall digital courtroom project.