The study was published four years ago and put hard numbers behind a phenomenon that most of us in the court reporting profession saw coming for many years. The court reporting profession was about to see a substantial gap between the demand for court reporters and the supply. That gap would be 5,500 by 2018.
Well, it’s almost 2019 and the shortage is upon us. We’re tackling that shortage in two ways. As a law firm, let me first address what matters most to you. And, let me emphasize to start, here at Hart Reporting, we’ve been fortunate in that we have not yet felt the pinch.
How will we serve the needs of law firms with fewer court reporters?
We’re going to need to be more efficient. We need to protect and more effectively deploy the finite resource of stenographic court reporters. That can and will take several forms. First, we’re going to need to make sure that nothing gets in the way of our court reporters being able to be physically present at depositions.
That means that we need to streamline our production process so that court reporters are never using time for proofreading when they could be in depositions. That may sound logical to you, but we court reporters are perfectionists by nature and we take pride in the quality of our transcripts. It’s not enough for us to know that someone else is proofing our transcripts. We want to do the work ourselves, which is why we often give up evenings and weekends poring over hundreds of pages of transcripts.
That’s got to stop. As a profession, we need to leave our comfort zone and more frequently make use of available resources beyond ourselves to proof transcripts. It’s a better business model for everyone and attorneys will not notice the difference in quality (because there won’t be a difference).
We also need to make use of available technology to be more resourceful with court reporters’ time. Here, as a client, we might ask for you to leave your comfort zone as a client. Technology now allows for reporters to handle depositions remotely. By reducing the amount of time reporters are traveling, reporters can have the ability to serve two or more depositions in two or more locations within the confines of a single day (obviously not simultaneously, we’re not yet capable of time travel). It likewise allows a reporting firm to access reporters from other parts of the country, potentially increasing the size of our team despite the shortage. Think about a reporter who lives in Chicago who’s sitting idle on a given Tuesday. There’s no reason a court reporting firm in Virginia can’t use that reporter in Chicago for that Tuesday.
Will this be ideal? No, we’d always prefer to be in the room with our clients to be sure every detail is handled with the highest degree of professionalism. But if we can get you 90 percent of the service to which you’re accustomed via technology, then that’s something the shortage compels us to explore.
How do we recruit more court reporters to the profession?
Those of us who love this profession always have scratched our heads why more people don’t look to court reporting as a career option. The benefits of court reporting are substantial. It provides solid, reliable compensation. It has multiple career paths: working as a deposition reporter; as an official reporter in the courts; or as a broadcast or CART captioner who converts live speech to text on television, in classrooms, and elsewhere to serve the informational needs of the deaf and hard-of-hearing community. Court reporting also allows for those with an entrepreneurial spirit to open their own businesses.
What might be most attractive about court reporting compared to other professions, it doesn’t require the massive expense of a four-year college degree. It’s difficult, make no mistake about that. It takes two to three years of intense training to learn the skill. You must have a strong work ethic. You must be good with language. And you must be persistent and disciplined with your practice.
What’s also great is that many court reporting schools now have online programs so that students can complete their schooling remotely. Still, a prospective student might want the opportunity to try court reporting out for a while without making the commitment to a career.
And that’s where I have great news. A number of groups around the country have assembled orientation-type programs to teach prospective students the basic skills of court reporting to see if they have an interest and/or the proclivity for it without having to make a life commitment at the start.
The programs, called A-to-Z, are free and are something anyone can complete over the course of several weeks. After that, there is another group, called Project Steno, that exists to provide those who complete A-to-Z programs with tuition assistance to defray the cost of court reporting school.
We’re in the process of forming an A-to-Z program here in Virginia and I intend to be closely involved. When I do, you can bet that I will let you know so that you can pass the word to young people whom you might know who might be interested in a great, great career.
Of course, once they’re done with court reporting school, you can also bet that we’ll be ready to put them to work at Hart Reporting.