Debunking 3 Common Misconceptions About the National Court Reporter Shortage

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In 2013, Ducker Worldwide conducted a study to explore the problems and probable implications surrounding a likely court reporter shortage. They found that the gap between the number of available stenographers and the demand for their services nationwide continues to increase year over year. Fast forward seven years later and the shortage is now impossible to ignore – a reality that the COVID-19 pandemic couldn’t even mask.   

No firm is immune to the impact of this court reporter shortage, especially firms located in the most litigious states including California, New York, Illinois, Texas and Florida. However, there are plenty of misconceptions about the national court reporter shortage, both of unnecessary skepticism and also uninformed hope. While many believe that there isn’t a court reporter shortage at all, nearly a decade of data proves otherwise, validating why it’s increasingly harder to secure a last-minute court reporter, especially for an in-person deposition.  Take a look at some common misconceptions surrounding the shortage:  

Misconception #1: Just train more stenographers. 

Easier said than done, especially when statistical data proves that such a proposition is near impossible. 

Why is this happening? In 2013, when Ducker Worldwide conducted its study, they found that 70% of stenographers were over the age of 46. As the current population of stenographers continues to progress towards retirement, there are not enough new stenographers from younger generations entering the field to help close the gap.  

For a simple perspective, here’s an equation that maps out the annual problem of closing the gap of stenographers in the market:  

1,120 stenographers retire – about only 200 new stenographers enter the market = population shrinkage of 920 annually

Add the pre-existing shortage to the equation above and the reality is simple: you can’t meet demand if a new supply is not available.  

Misconception #2: The shortage won’t affect my firm.  

While you might think that only the “big” litigation states will be impacted by this shortage, each state will face the devastating lack of court reporters—sooner than later.  

As of 2019, we needed 82,000 new students to enroll in court reporting training programs nationwide each year to overcome the deficit. But, in 2019, there were only about 2,500 new enrollments. When coupled with the average graduation rate of 10%, we are looking at a maximum of 125 new court reporters introduced to the market annually.  

With these numbers, you can see how the shortage is affecting all states. Couple this with our new remote and hybrid work environment brought on by the coronavirus pandemic and there are even fewer court reporters available for in-person depositions.  

Misconception #3: There are no viable alternatives to stenography to combat the shortage.

While stenography remains the gold standard for capturing a verbatim record of a proceeding, there are other court reporting methodologies available that are both accurate and flexible and provide the same finished product – a verbatim transcript.  

Voice writing offers an alternative to stenographers. A Voice Writer speaks into a stenomask, capturing a verbatim record of the proceeding, while speech-recognition technology converts the recorded audio into text.  

Digital reporting is another viable court reporting methodology that has gained more widespread adoption in recent years. In fact, courthouses and law firms across the United States have been successfully using digital reporting for years as their sole means of recording hearings and trials, including the Supreme Court of the United States.   

With digital reporting, a Certified Electronic Reporter (CER) administers the oath, records the audio, performs readback/playback of testimony and monitors the entire proceeding. Sounds familiar, right? The process is very similar to that of what you’re used to with a stenographer. The real difference lies in the technology used to capture the record—but the outcome remains the same: a verbatim record of what transpired.  

What’s Next?  

As the supply gap of available court reporters continues to widen each year, it’s becoming increasingly more important for legal professionals to understand and recognize the potential implications for their practice. While stenography will always remain the gold standard, there are additional court reporting methodologies that offer accurate, affordable and flexible solutions.  

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