2017 has seen the onset of the “war for talent.” Recruiters are struggling to find qualified candidates across all industries. Specifically, jobs that require specialized skill sets are suffering these shortfalls. Registered nurses, pharmacy technicians, software engineers, vocational teachers and many other professionals are in short supply.

Add qualified court reporters to the list. The legal and court reporting industries are facing a looming court reporter shortage. Unless this trend reverses, it could have some serious, negative repercussions for the industry long-term. On the other hand, this market could present many opportunities for both current and prospective court reporters.

The Shortage

In 2013, Ducker Worldwide released a report predicting an impending court reporter shortage. According to the report, the industry will begin feeling the effects of this shortfall in 2018. Projections indicate that the shortage will represent nearly 5,500 qualified reporters. But why would such a lucrative industry experience this kind of shortage?

There are several factors at play:

  • Increased demand in the legal field — Despite the steady transition of some courts to digital reporting, increased legal activity has driven the demand for qualified court reporters higher.
  • Increased demand in other industries — A growing number of fields (including business, politics, medicine, professional sports, television and many more) require real-time court reporters and transcriptions of conferences, seminars and video.
  • Significant retirement rates — The median age of working court reporters is 51 years old. This is almost ten years older than the median age of workers in all occupations: 42 years old. Additionally, 70% of the court reporting population is 46 years or older. This contributes to significant retirement rates in the industry.
  • Low education and enrollment rates — Court reporting schools across the nation have reported a steady decrease in enrollment over the last two decades. The schools attribute this trend to low-awareness and the push toward four-year degree programs.

With high demand, high retirement and low enrollment, there just are not enough reporters to go around. All of these factors contribute to the imminent court reporter shortage, despite the rewarding opportunities the industry offers.

Industry Impact

There is an ongoing debate right now between legislators, legal professionals and court reporters as to whether this shortage will have significant impact on the legal industry and the court reporting industry. Many legislators tend to dismiss the concern over the shortage. They argue that the advent of digital recording technology will make court reporting an unnecessary, outdated profession.  It is true that many courts are incorporating digital recording and voice recognition technology. But is court reporting really dying out? Will technology save us from the shortage?

The answer is no. As every experienced lawyer (and most experienced judges) recognize: qualified human court reporters continue to be indispensable to the legal process. All too frequently, digital recordings lead to garbled testimony and equipment failures. Without human judgment, digital recordings are unable to detect the nuances of human language with 100% accuracy. Technological advances provide useful tools for court reporters. However, current digital technology is just too limited and fallacious to be solely relied upon.

What This Means for Reporters

All this begs the question: What impact will this shortage have on current and prospective court reporters? Current court reporters will experience an increased demand for their services. Court reporting firms and freelance reporters will likely encounter more and more opportunities for business. Some experienced professionals may even find themselves caught up in bidding wars for their expertise. However, as demand rises and professionals retire, court reporting firms and legal firms will find it increasingly difficult to hire qualified, quality reporters.

Prospective court reporters will find themselves entering a lucrative career with boundless opportunity. There are countless benefits to pursuing court reporting:

  • Less demanding education requirements — An expensive, four-year college education is not necessary to become a court reporter. While continued education is valuable, most certification programs are two years in duration. There are many online education opportunities as well. Additionally, court reporters are competitively employable right out of school. In terms of education, this translates to high financial reward for less financial risk.
  • High earning potential — The earning potential for a court reporter right out of school is an average of $40,000 nationwide, and this number drastically increases with experience. In fact, reporters who invest in continued education and advanced certification typically earn six-figure salaries.
  • Freelance options — With the variety of industries in need of court reporters, professionals have the opportunity to create freelance careers. This freelance path can be very rewarding and enables professionals to choose their own hours and create flexible schedules for themselves.
  • Stable career, growing demand and increased opportunities — As the Ducker Worldwide report indicates, court reporters are in demand. Young professionals in the field will benefit from the various opportunities of this market. New court reporters will be embarking upon a lucrative and stable career.

Low awareness among young prospects contributes greatly to the current court reporter shortage.  To help overcome this, the industry would benefit greatly by making itself more visible. If court reporting firms, seasoned reporters, and schools more effectively advocate for the benefits of this career path, perhaps awareness and interest will begin to spread. Court reporting can be a fulfilling, lucrative career, and with the current shortage, opportunities for young professionals are boundless.

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