Is There a Shortage of Court Reporters?


Is There a Shortage of Court Reporters?

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By Sheila Atkinson-Baker


A question that has been coming up lately is whether there is a shortage of court reporters and, if so, how long will it last? The answer is that yes, we are entering a period where, in many parts of the country, there will be a shortage over the next several years.

The supply of court reporters, like the supply of attorneys, tends to go through boom and bust periods due to changing economic conditions. Those of you who have been in practice for a while will recall the glut of new attorneys in the post-Watergate years, with the attendant low billing rates for new attorneys. Now, market conditions have reversed and first-year associates are commanding six-figure incomes. Seventy percent of the Am Law 100 firms last year reported profits of over $500,000 per partner and at two of the firms the figure was over $3 million. Such prosperity will ensure a steady influx of new practitioners.

In the court reporting field, there was a shortage in the late eighties. Reporters were making a high page rate and could pick and choose what jobs they wanted to take. Due to the high income, many students decided to become court reporters, resulting in an oversupply. Competition then caused the page rates to drop and reporters’ pay declined rather than at least keeping up with inflation.

With the drop in pay, during a time when the economy was booming, fewer people elected to go into the field. The National Court Reporters Association reports that half of the court reporting schools in the country have closed in the last five years. The California State Labor Market Information Division estimates that the number of court reporters will drop by 3% between 1993 and 2005 while the number of attorneys will grow by 33% during that same time period. In the meantime, disability laws have created a demand for court reporters to do closed captioning on television and realtime transcription of college lectures and public meetings and many reporters have left litigation for these new fields.

In several parts of the country, we are already starting to see the result of the shortage. Reporters are able to demand and receive higher page rates. For the next several years this trend will probably continue, reversing the pay cuts that have dominated for the past decade.

So, should you worry about being able to get a reporter when you need one? Well, our company initially made its reputation by being able to find reporters back when the market was tight. We have recently beefed up our Calendar Department and our reporter recruiting efforts to compensate for the shortage. In the longer term, we are supporting the National Court Reporters Association to get more people trained. A national vocational guidance publisher, and numerous schools around the country are using materials we have created to inform prospective reporters about the profession.

It takes an average of five years to train a court reporter, so it will be a while before we see a result from all this activity. Meanwhile, we will continue to put forth the additional effort necessary to ensure that your needs are always met.