In 2014, Ducker Worldwide released a report predicting an estimated 5,500 unfilled court reporter positions across the USA by 2018.
This prediction was based on decreased enrollment and graduation for new court reporters, combined with climbing retirement rates. The average age of a court reporter is in their fifties, a good decade older than the average working population.
Well, we’re a quarter of the way through 2018 now, and while we don’t have the official numbers for the nationwide shortage, plenty of courts across the country are feeling the impact.
Does the shortage matter?
Some legislators view concern over the court reporter shortage as being overblown. After all, recent (and not so recent) advances in technology make recording court sessions possible for both audio and video. Because of this, these legislators believe that court reporters are heading the way of lamplighters and switchboard operators anyway.
However, this view oversimplifies the issue, and fails to account for problems that have already been encountered as courts try to test new technologies. Issues like garbled testimony and equipment failures are frequently experienced.
And, even if recording equipment works flawlessly, a skilled human is still required to to review and interpret the material.
Court reporting is a very specialized, skilled, and necessary field. Even a green court reporter starts out typing 225 words a minute, around three times faster than even the fastest typists in other fields. And when technology fails, being able to type at the speed of speech is a very important skill.
What does it mean for litigation?
Demand for skilled court reporters now far exceeds supply. As demand continues to rise, court reporting firms and legal firms will find it increasingly difficult to recruit qualified reporters.
While this is good news for new reporters entering an in-demand field, where they can command higher prices than they would have been able to 5 or 10 years ago, this is a less promising situation for the judicial system as a whole.
Complaints are coming from across the country:
“Hall [an Oklahoma court reporter] says the Tulsa County case flow has slowed down as a result of the shortage. She says fewer cases are being litigated, because there aren’t enough court reporters available for court proceedings.”
“It’s the beginning of a disaster for the court system in South Carolina,’ said Valerie McFarland, president of the South Carolina Court Reporters Association. ‘There is a problem. In South Carolina it is broken.”
And because of this shortage, the usual unpreventable issues like sickness or traffic jams are being felt more than they were in the past.
How to end the shortage
To bring this shortage to an end, it’s important to look at the factors that are contributing to it. Some litigators point to low awareness about the profession among young prospects and the lack of marketing in the field.
Others blame a history of scarcity in entry-level jobs, funding cuts to judicial programs, and declining pay rates for the issues being experienced today.
Luckily for would-be court reporters, the shortage has made this one of the best times to start out in the profession.
New reporters can expect higher earning potential than in the past, less demanding education requirements than other specialized professions, the option for self-employment through freelance, and a stable career with growing opportunities.
Court reporting firms need to make these benefits clear to the next generation, who may not even think about court reporting as an option, perhaps mistakenly believing that it is an example of yet another career option becoming obsolete.
Now we want to know what you think! Is the shortage really an issue? Have you experienced it yourself?
Let’s take this conversation to Twitter!
You can tweet us @expertdepos and/or use the hashtag #expertdepostech