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The History of Court Reporting


When we think of court reporters today, we think of them as an indispensable part of the legal system known for their skillful transcription of courtroom proceedings. We also think of them as technologically astute and adept at capturing and recording verbal and non-verbal courtroom communication.

The history of court reporting and shorthand goes back much further than one might think, however. Let’s take a brief look at the evolution of shorthand reporting beginning in the ancient Roman times.

The Origin of Shorthand

Shorthand, as we’ve come to know it today, can be traced back to around 63 B.C. when Cicero, the great Roman philosopher, lawyer, and orator, was spreading his influence across the Roman Empire. Central to Cicero’s life was his slave (and later freedman) named Marcus Tullius Tiro. Tiro was responsible for taking Cicero’s dictation as well as managing his financial affairs, garden, and other duties. 

In his role as transcriber, Tiro developed a shorthand system consisting of more than 4,000 symbols and abbreviations, which later went on to be used by other scribes around the world. Tironian notes were also taught in monasteries, and monks and scholars further expanded the system to include upwards of 13,000 signs.

Expanding Shorthand for English Speakers

While the Tironian system declined in use around 1100 AD, a new shorthand system for English speakers was emerging around that same time. Shorthand, however, didn’t gain widespread use among English speakers until the late 1500s when Dr. Timothie Bright published a book of shorthand symbols. Following this in 1602, John Willis also published a shorthand system book based on the alphabet, rather than symbols.

Shorthand in the Courtroom

Shorthand began making appearances in the courtroom in the 1700s. Thomas Gurney was the first appointed shorthand writer for the English government in 1772. He continued to refine and expand shorthand, as did those who followed him, including his son, Joseph. In 1837, Isaac Pitman began relying on phonetics, and created a shorthand method that is still practiced in the UK today.

In the United States, court reporting owes is origins to a man named John Robert Gregg. He came to the US from England and opened shorthand schools in Chicago and Boston as well as published his method in 1893.

Technology in the Courtroom

While the pace of change in shorthand was relatively slow up until the late 1870s and into the early 20th century, technology changed all that. American court reporter Miles Bartholomew invented the first stenotype machine in the late 1870s, which vastly improved speed and accuracy among court reporters. New recording devices were added to the stenotype machines in the early 20th century, further improving accuracy, and today, modern stenotype machines have developed into being more like a computer. Microprocessors, LCD screens, voice recognition, and more are all welcome technology improvements to continue improving the quality, speed, and accuracy of court reporters.

While shorthand and court reporting have evolved significantly over time, one thing that hasn’t changed is the need for skilled court reporters. If you’re looking for an experienced court reporter committed to your needs, give us a call at DLE Legal.