Laws & Taxes

A Court Reporter Shortage: Critical Field Faces Lack of New Recruits

Court Reporter Shortage

The shortage of court reporters in the United States is steadily becoming a nationwide concern. And with an ever-increasing dropout rate happening in training centers, the American justice system faces a bottleneck in its legal proceedings. Many court reporting agencies say that one way to bridge this widening gap is to better leverage technology and increase the demand for digital remote court reporter services. 

It would be difficult to imagine a day without any available court reporters. In some cases, a judge’s schedule is determined by the availability of a court reporter. Sometimes, trials are continued many times over due to a lack of court reporters. And imagine when you schedule a proceeding with an agency and they tell you that you have to wait for six months for the next available opening! 

These are just some of the scenarios that are increasingly becoming normal in many courtrooms across the nation. Due to the absence of court reporters, agencies are forced to turn down work and trials are being postponed left and right. This results in the increase of the cost of hiring a court reporter. 

The Birth of Court Reporting in the U.S.

Court reporting in this country can be traced back to the mid-19th century when writers would document proceedings in shorthand using quill pens and inkwells. The practice evolved over the next century, leading to the invention of the stenotype or the stenography machine. By the 1940s, stenography became accessible to court reporters, and by the mid-1990s, stenotypes became computerized. Connected to a computer, it uses specialized software to translate the phonetic shorthand into a readable transcript.

Since then, there has been a swift development of technology in the field, including real-time transcription feeds, closed captioning systems, and integrated audio backups. New technologies including digital court reporting have been utilized for the last couple of decades. New jobs such as digital remote court reporter are increasingly becoming mainstream in depositions, EUOs (examination under oath), and other out-of-court proceedings. 

Stenographic practice has reached its peak between the years 1970 and 2000, with more than 60,000 court reporter jobs across the United States. In 2018, there’s an estimated number of 30,000 stenographers nationwide, and this number has been decreasing every day since. The Massachusetts-based non-profit Speech to Text Institute (STTI) reports that each year more than 1,000 stenographers retire, while only 200 recruits enter the field. If this trend continues, we will be down to 23,000 stenographic court reporters by the year 2023. This results in an estimated gap of close to 12,000 court reporters needed in the marketplace. With litigation rising and a gap of at least 35% below the required workforce, the shortage is a case that needs more serious intervention. 

The New Generation of Court Reporters

The good news is with the innovation of technology, the new generation of court reporters is starting to fill the gap. Electronic court reporting, or more commonly known as digital court reporting, is currently the fastest-growing method of testimony documentation. Much like the 20th century, the marketplace is seeing a combination of various capture methods such as digital, analog, and voice court reporting. This diverse workforce is an asset to the American legal community and will greatly help the nation’s litigation process to continue its evolution. 

It’s common for different capture methodologies to dynamically co-exist. Former National Court Reporters Association (NCRA) president Martin Block writes in his article “The Realities of Court Reporting in the 21st Century”: “In the right hands, each methodology will accomplish everything it was designed to do- provide an accurate and timely transcript taken by a professional officiant.” 

Court Reporting Standards and Best Practices

Although many people assume that digital court reporting is fairly new, the technology has been around and has been utilized across U.S. courts for more than 25 years. The practice of recording high-quality audio files and transcribing the recording into a legal transcript has been a reliable method refined over the years.

The American Association of Electronic Reporters and Transcribers (AAERT) provides education and certification for professionals engaged in digital reporting and related occupations. The New York-based association sets standards for court reporting methodologies through its Best Practices Guide and reinforces these standards through national certification. As with all other court reporting methodologies, digital reporters learn from experienced professionals in the industry. Apart from the formal training provided by schools or learning centers, students are provided with on-the-job training and are mentored in best practices.

Court Reporting Equipment

A digital on-site or remote court reporter is a court notary or officer who acts as a neutral third party to protect the captured record. The software used by a digital on-site or remote court reporter is secure. Aside from synchronizing the audio and text, the software adds metadata with particular information that would make it noticeable if the file had been tampered with. There are also many software platforms available that encode the files in proprietary code, which prevents them from being opened by other programs. 

Although the equipment used by a digital court reporter may be different from that of an analog stenographic court reporter, the attorney experience should be the same. The main distinction is that a digital reporter uses a microphone to record testimony to an audio file, which is then transcribed by a legal transcriptionist. The timeliness, accuracy, and rate of the service will be close to that of other methods such as stenography and mask reporting. Courts hire a digital on-site or remote court reporter and a legal transcriber from reputable agencies to make sure they are well-trained to perform the required tasks and the record will be acceptable in court.

The Future of Court Reporting

Digital court reporting is clearly the next stage of an ever-evolving profession, however, the shortage for new blood is real. This means that having a digital on-site or remote court reporter in your proceedings would be inevitable in the near future. So, if your trusted agency designates a digital court reporter for your legal proceeding, rest assured you’re in good hands. They are legal professionals who are well-trained to protect the record.

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CEO & Editor
I'm Ved Prakash, Founder & Editor @Newsblare Media, specialised in Business and Finance niches who writes content for reputed publication such as,, Motley Fool Singapore, etc. I'm the contributor of different... news sites that have widened my views on the current happenings in the world.

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