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How the court reporter shortage
could affect your case – and what to do about it.

How the court reporter shortage could affect your case – and what to do about it.

If you’ve tried to secure a court reporter recently for your litigation but have struggled to schedule one, you’re not alone.

Earlier this year, Jim Cudahy, former executive director of the National Court Reporting Association told legal news site Law360 that he estimates the legal industry is short about 9,000 court reporters, based on current demands.

Cudahy was head of the group when it commissioned the so-called Drucker market research outlook in 2013 that found then, the industry had about 32,000 stenographic court reporters. The report estimated there could be as few as 23,000 court reporters by 2023.

As courts begin to resume proceedings in earnest after the pandemic, jurisdictions across the country are raising alarms over the shortage.

While there is disagreement among industry groups as to the scope of the shortage, it’s clear that the industry faces both a pipeline problem and a worker replacement problem as older court reporters reach retirement age.

One of the first pain points is stenographer school. Frequently, completing a program can take up to four years, and can be grueling for students. Many drop out because they’re unable to develop critical skills, like typing 225 words per minute.

According to the Speech to Tech Institute, fewer than 1 in 10 students who enter stenography school actually become court reporters.

Additionally, schools across the country are seeing low enrollment. Current national enrollment in stenographer programs is lower than 2,500 students, according to the latest available data.

On the other side of the experience spectrum, according to the Drucker study in 2013, 70 percent of respondent stenographers at that time were 46 years or older. The STTI says that 1,120 stenographers retire each year, compared to the approximate 200 students who start in the profession, a gap of more than 900 court reporters annually.

The shortage is more pronounced in states with more litigation, including California, New York, Texas, Illinois and Florida, but ultimately, it’s an issue that affects all courts, court reporting vendors and law firms.

As industry groups grapple with ways to solve the shortage, including proposing a shift to digital reporting, there are some actions that attorneys and paralegals can take to ease the effects of the shortage:

Schedule your deposition as early as possible.

Long gone are the days when you could call a court reporting service at 4 p.m. the night before a deposition to request a court reporter for the following day. Today, we recommend paralegals and attorneys schedule their court reporters as early as possible to ensure coverage is available when you need it.

Choose a reliable partner.

Litigation is stressful enough without having to add on the stress of working with an unreliable vendor. Do your homework before engaging a new company. Ask your contacts for recommendations, check their references and reviews, examine their track record and qualifications before engaging them for court reporting services.

Be well prepared for your depositions.

Consider your exhibit-handling strategy for depositions and work to organize them as early as possible in the litigation. Also consider how technology can assist in making depositions go as smoothly as possible.

Many court reporting services offer excellent in-house technology solutions to assist with this effort. Before signing up to use them, do your research first. If you choose to implement new technology, also ensure your vendor’s staff is well-trained in the technology and works to keep your clients’ data secure.

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