What Do They Do and Why Do We Need Them?
From the craft of shorthand to the skill of stenography to the new-wave digital alternative, court reporting has come a long way. Court Reporting can be said to have origins that date all the way back to the year 63 BC in Rome where the first known shorthand system was created. From the shorthand system of symbols and abbreviations to the birth of the modernized steno machines where typed words and symbols could be translated into many different languages, to the most recent digitized system, this field has transformed to mirror the times.
Those familiar with the court system are familiar with how important Court Reporters are to court proceedings. Those that are not, would understand quite easily if they imagined a Court Reporter to be the official witness whom keeps record of all spoken and unspoken communication in any court proceeding when requested. So how is it that they are such an integral part of the court process and yet there is a nationwide shortage of Court Reporters?
How Did We Get Here?
Four years ago Ducker Worldwide released a report to the National Court Reporters Association predicting “decreased enrollment and graduation rates for court reporters, combined with significant retirement rates, will create by 2018 a critical shortfall projected to represent nearly 5,500 court reporting positions.” This prediction was deduced from decreased enrollment and graduation for new court reporters, combined with climbing retirement rates in the field. Yet here we stand 4 years later after said report and almost a decade after the first predictions amidst a shortage in a profession that the court process depends.
Well there are a few factors that have played into this shortage. The first factor we already touched upon with decreased enrollment and climbing retirement. The decreased enrollment can be traced to two catalysts.
The first catalyst is the lack of education and/or marketing by the both the State Court Administrations as well as National Associations to perpetuate awareness in the graduating populations about Court Reporting as a viable career as well as the looming shortage. The second catalyst being the failure to initiate sufficient educational Court Reporting programs in many states, such as South Carolina and Illinois which causes a drought at the very source of possible new comers. This coupled with the fact that the average age of a Court Reporter is 50 which explains the climbing retirement in the field is part of the recipe of lack.
A second factor fueling this shortage that has been noted by many Fort Lauderdale Court Reporting firms; the community here in Broward as well as all over the country, is the incongruencies in the Court Reporting pay rate structure. In short, the rates paid to Digital Court Reporters in comparison to Certified Stenographers or even the courtroom Reporters versus Court Reporters that are hired by private firms are so incomparable that they simply end up fueling the fire. For instance, take the average daily rate of a Court Reporter hired by a private firm whom brings in a rate of $500 versus a court hired Court Reporter that makes a daily rate of $200, those numbers are too far apart. What Court Reporter in their right mind would choose to make $300 less per day?
What Is The Solution?
It would seem the solutions are fairly obvious to end this pending crisis, though some solutions will take some time to implement.
First, create initiatives that will help the graduating youth to associate Court Reporting as a viable career in great demand. Just as we see advertisements and campaigns about the viability of many careers on all different platforms, the same drive to induce knowledge about Court Reporting must be initiated in those states lacking.
Second, ensure on a statewide level that there are enough continuing education options for graduates to enroll in whether it be brick and mortar or alternative online options. Now that our State Administrators have become aware of such a looming problem for the courts, it would be a sound decision to incentivize the creation of such programs. Incentives obviously would not only entice educational platforms to offer such a curriculum buy also in turn initiate a much quicker means to an end of this shortage.
Lastly, the pay incongruencies in the Court Reporting arena must be corrected. Somehow, we must reach a meeting of the minds between the private and civil sectors in the market for Court Reporters. The civil sector cannot continue to take the approach of paying Reporters less than half of that paid in the private sector and expect that their jobs will ever be covered with the same ease or quality. As an example, a program was initiated in the Broward County Courts to partner with digital court reporting companies in Fort Lauderdale that would supply reporters at these civil sector discounted rates. It became evident this summer that this initiative had its definite issues when Judge Jack Tuter was quoted as saying “(b)ecause of the limited rates we are able to offer, many court reporting firms will not participate in state work.” He has had to issue cautionary warnings to some of the firms of which they work for failing to provide the reporters they need. The fact of the matter is with all the alternative higher paying options Reporters have in the private sector, until the civil sector approves its pay rates or perhaps approach, it will continue to have such issues.
In conclusion, there are so many simple solutions that can be instituted to correct this shortage of Court Reporters Nationwide. However, it seems clear it must start on the state level with our State Administrators rectifying the shortage of initiatives and educational programs as well as addressing possible solutions to the pay scale gap between the civil and private sectors.