Court Reporting: The Dying Profession

Listen up court reporting students and listen well.  I recently had a colleague of mine from the University of Central Florida send me a Facebook message.  She wanted some information for her friend, who was considering going to court reporting school.  They wanted to know my opinion on the profession, and whether or not it was worth it for her to spend the tens of thousands of dollars on training and equipment.

When all you look at is the “pros” of the court reporting profession, it really seems too good to be true.  And this is what the court reporting schools want you to think.  Court Reporting schools are for-profit institutions that care about numbers, not what’s best for their students.  Granted, there are some quality schools out there, but they probably aren’t the ones with ads posted all over the Internet.

Stop Spending Money on Court Reporting School

Stop Spending Money on Court Reporting School

Coming out of school, you’re likely to be taking the work that senior court reporters don’t want.  You’ll be taking the EUOs, DMV court, and Foreclosure hearings.  You may get a few criminal depositions here and there.  Typically these types of jobs don’t even order transcripts (in Florida).  You’re basically in there, stressing to get every word, when no one will read your hard work.  It’s incredibly dissatisfying for a stenographer.

So let’s say that you’re willing to muscle through it.  You’re going to grind through the tough part (while probably having a second part-time job).  You’ve spent the money on the steno machine, court reporting school, and you’re paying off student loans.  There’s no turning back, right?  Before you dig any deeper, here’s a glimpse of what Google thinks about court reporting:

Google Insights for Search

Google seems to think that the overall interest in “court reporting” has shrunken to less than half of what it was in 2004 and forecasts it to keep declining at a similar rate into the foreseeable future (throughout 2013).  These are raw statistics, irrefutable evidence that people in general, are becoming disinterested in court reporting.

I don’t like telling someone to quit school, or abandon something for which they’ve worked hard, but the writing is on the wall.  It’s not looking good for stenography.  Although it may not be in the immediate future, stenography is on it’s way out.  In order to succeed as a stenographer, you not only have to be the best at your trade, but you also have to be a good businessperson.  You’ll have to schmooze your way in and out of law firms to even have the chance at getting the good work.

I think that court reporting is heading for a drastic change in the coming decade.  I think that digital court reporting is going to take over the majority of court reporting work.    Legal transcriptionists will be in high demand, but the use of stenography won’t be, except for maybe the high profile corporate cases.  The 95% of litigation that doesn’t require realtime and same-day expedites will be forced to make the smarter economic decision for their clients, which is digital court reporting.

digital court reporting whitepaper

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  • Steve Hubbard

    Tony is absolutely correct. Those of you who are already in a program, finish, maybe – just maybe with the antiquated testing procedures NCRA places on graduating studnts 5% of you might make it amfter lining the pockets of the owners of the remaing schools rich with your parents hard earned money or you are in debt between $35,000 to $45,000 in loans and history has shown consistently that only 5% make it? Yes, Tony is absolutely right. But he forgot one thing. His and everybody’s QWERTY keyboard typist is ALSO going the way of the dodo bird as ASR – standing for fully automated speech recognition – will be launched for use by the general public consumer within three years at the most. Already transcriptionists are feeling the pinch and the bite who have been typically been medical transcriptionists as well as others who used to transcribe other work. Just look at their comments in Transcription blogs on LinkedIn and elsewhere. They are scared silly. For sure in controlled environments such as courtroom testimony and depositions, the digital reporter will simply be a digital monitor acting as referee to make sure lawyers and witnesses do not talk ove,r one another – AFTER ALL the lawyers recognize the better will be their realtime output because they too want the text editor to pave to work less to clean up and correct the transcript and eventually the cost to produce the final certified transcript will be a fraction of what it is today. So Tony you are absolutely right. Good luck to all of us. May the brightest and the better businessperson get all the enchilada!’

  • Tom Runfola

    Tony pretty much hit the nail on the head. “Traditional court reporting” (stenography) is on its way out — statistically, technologically, culturally. The numbers don’t lie; only about 20% of the stenographic court reporters can even meet the entry level qualification of the Registered Professional Reporter Examination. Baby Boomers retire from the ranks at 5000 per year and are replaced by 500 new stenographic entrants into the field. Most high school grads don’t even know what “shorthand” is. These “shorthand schools” bring in 80 or 90 students a year and graduate 2 or 3 three to five years later from what is supposed to be a 2-year course. Does that mean that “court reporting is dying?” Or does it really mean that court reporting done via shorthand machine is dying? Obviously, the legal system still needs deposition & court records. Today digital sound recording is the most accurate, fastest & economical way to make legal records. It is learned in days; not years! Again, statistics tell the story with 75% of the courts in the nation using digital recording & transcription. Computerized voice transcription, when it comes, will merely be an add-on component to digital software programs, and it will still require a monitor or editor. So humans will continue to do “court reporting,” they will just have better, more efficient & more cost effective tools.

  • Dana Jasper

    I enjoyed this post very much and certainly the link to the Google Insights for Search. I am a certified medical transcriptionist, and Steve is correct in that the use of back-end speech recognition software has come into the medical transcription arena, and it has done so like gang busters in just the past couple of years. Editing speech recognition draft text is not really the problem (I personally like it), it is the transcription companies paying medical transcriptionists one-half, or oftentimes even less, the line rate compared to what is paid for straight transcription. There is a false notion that got started several years ago by a few of the top vendors of speech recognition software as part of their marketing strategy. They touted that the use of back-end speech recognition software could increase the productivity of medical transcriptions by 95% to 100%. I have seen marketing materials from 2010 with those exact figures. That gave way to the transcriptions companies telling medical transcriptionists, “Speech recognition makes you twice as fast, so the pay will be one-half the line rate. You will see no difference in your pay.” Hogwash! It is completely false. The promise of 95% to 100% increase in productivity was an overinflated value, buy I am sure it served as a great selling point by the marketing department. I have read 2012 case studies by the very same vendors of the software stating their clients have seen increases in productivity of 31% to 50%, a far cry from the 95% to 100%, but there are no worries because the transcriptionists are getting paid half what they used to so it is still a win-win for those who purchased the software. I know many transcriptionists who enjoy editing speech recognition draft text, but the hit to pay to do so is driving us away to seek better paying opportunities that can create a livable wage.

  • Steve Hubbard


    Florida looks like it is seriously considering – just in preliminary discussions – right now before being tabled for full discussion in committee of the Criminal Justice Committee …….

    Is considering to pass a law or issue a rule requiring that all criminal depositions be conducted under the authority of the statewide Court Administration. No more need for freelance firms or freelance reporters / recorders / digital monitors.

    All depositions would have to be conducted in a county courthouse or some other state government building where they would be recorded digitally under the watchful eye of a trained digital audio reporter/notary public. Transcription would also occur under the supervision and authority of the court administration and certification would be the responsibility of the digital audio reporter who is a state employee.

    The cost for any deposition services would be fixed by state law likely at a rate much lower than it now costs to have the proceedings reported by freelance steno or voice writer or digital reporter so there would be no reason for any fraudulent pricing or preferential service.

    Thereby the courts will turn this into a rather nice profit center which would help cover the costs associated with totally replacing freelance reporters with digital audio recording systems in the trial courts across the State which it seems to be doing quite effectively for some time now.

    The digital audio reporter and transcriptionist. The recorder would get a salary, but not very much and the transcribers, like their recorder associate would be paid a salary, including overtime per hour based on a decision by the US Department of Labor but paid at a rate significantly below hat of what lawyers now pay to street court reporters / recorders, etc.

    Although civil practice is not to be confused with what courts and lawyers do in the criminal arena, but with the financial strain on Florida’s economy, this revolutionary idea, should it pass committee to the floor, and it should, Florida, as with most other states, is looking for new income wherever it can get it, and hence I predict that after proving to be successful becoming a profit center for local courthouses throughout the State, will migrate into the civil arena. How so?

    The courthouse speaks, “General civil practitioner, to all those who do the kinds of cases where you would go to Naples Reporting and to other digital recording firms, consider this. We have the same equipment, a certified digital monitor, and a proven transcription team of voice writers using Dragon and IBM ViaVoice Gold VR technologies.

    “Our people are on salary only and because they are part of a statewide employee network, they get great benefits that they otherwise could not afford on their own. Our prices for the same services you would get on the street is half of what you would pay. No, we don’t have realtime, but we do offer delayed realtime transcription with our voice writers.

    “Furthermore, come down and meet our staff for a free demonstration that we hold once a week on a Thursday, after close of regular business hours so as not to interfere with your busy schedules and witness the implementation of ASR, fully automatic speech recognition, where we start out by creating a voice profile of your voice which will take about 20 minutes of your time.

    “We will have one of our assistant public defenders present who has already a trained voice profile and one assistant state attorney present who is likewise supported by his personal voice profile. You can play the part of the examining lawyer, if you like, and one of the two other lawyers will play witness and the other opposing counsel.

    “Also present will be one of our digital monitor staff who will be acting as referee to make sure you do not talk over one another. Also in the courthouse we have several magistrates who are each assigned days to provide almost immediate assistance to rule on difficult objections if the need arises which is not a service you will get on the street with a freelancing firm.

    “What you will observe will be an incredible realtime transcription being produced and ZERO typist is involved. That is why we can eliminate what used to be excessive charges of the past for far more reasonable prices. For sure the output is yet to be finalized and that proofing and editing from the rough draft to final is accomplished at a rate per minute that is far less labor intensive and thereby this cost savings is passed on to you and your clients, yet allows us to pay for our employees and still make money for the courthouse to be absorbed in and used by many of our courthouse projects.”

    No doubt, Tony, in minor civil matters that would include divorce cases, small time litigation where the claim is under $50,000, and once the word gets out, most of those cases and the lawyers who practice in that realm of nominal exposure, will all migrate to that ever growing dangling carrot of opportunity leaving only the real big cases to the realtime stenos and realtime voice writers who are at the top of their game just like there will be still videographers in the big cases, but for the small fry stuff, devices like the iPad2 and it’s successors that can record HD quality video, that can easily be patched to an audio mixer where everyone is mic’d, and very hour on the hour directly from the digital monitor’s iPad2 a full hour can be DropBoxed within seconds to a server for anyone to see and hear for a fraction of the cost that a videographer charges today and the lawyers in these small fry cases will love it, knowing that they are also watching an ASR realtime transcription that has the timestamping feature so that easy searches can be performed by word and or by time will play back the video off this courthouse server who pay to view the video (another profit center for the cash strapped courthouse) and replay their depositions with impunity as many times as they like and saying to the courthouse digital recording office, “As it has been the practice here in Florida forever, we are placing the final certified transcript on hold for now. What we have is good enough. The parties are close to settling. We will pay for your services for your minimum time, rough realtime draft with timestamping and video access.”

    The race never ends, does it?

  • Tony Wright

    Tom, Dana, Steve,

    Thanks for your comments. I apologize it took me so long to get them approved. I had a bit of a glitch in my system.

    I sincerely appreciate your input.