Disruptive vs. Destructive: The Court Reporting Crisis.

The more we fight and degrade this, the less control we have over maintaining the standards that we hold.

Lisa Dees | Notewise Program Manager | JAVS

The headlines say it all – we are in a critical time for court reporters. Barely a week goes by that we don’t see headlines about the current state-of-affairs with the court reporter shortage. The Ducker report released in 2013 predicted that the demand for court reporters would exceed the supply by 5,500 by 2018. That time is here and now, and it’s not just hitting the courts – it’s being felt in the deposition market too. 

The courts were the first to start feeling the crunch and were earlier adopters of alternative methods of court reporting introducing them into such courts like traffic courts, and now we see them in all courts. I worked for the courts for many years and knew firsthand how difficult it was for us to hire stenographers. Let’s face it; the only thing we had to offer was the benefits package. It’s hard to compete with the earning potential of the freelance market and flexibility of scheduling. We now see a blend of stenograph reporting, voice writing, and digital (or electronic) reporting in every state’s court system to some degree. Indeed, some more than others.   

Was this change adopted to push stenographers out? No. The shortage of stenographic reporters has exceeded the predictions, and the demand has skyrocketed. Schools educating hopeful, future stenographers are closing. The graduation rates are low, making it a risky investment in time and money. There are more career options available to college-bound students than ever. I could go on and on for the reasons for the shortage, but here we are. The growing frustration of law firms trying to schedule depositions is here. Delays in court cases because they can’t find a court reporter is here. Court reporting firms falling short on fulfilling contracts because they can’t find reporters is here.  

The deposition market represents as much as two-thirds  of the total court reporting market. That’s right, about 72%. I can promise that the shortage we experienced in the courts is going to feel like a walk in the park compared to what we are starting to experience in the deposition market. You may be reading this nodding your head, or you may be questioning what I’m saying.  If you’re not feeling it now, you will. Just wait. 

So, what do we do? We embrace the unsolved opportunity. Unsolved opportunity? Yes. It’s not a problem; it’s an opportunity in need of a solution. The answer is here. We embrace the alternate methods of accomplishing the same task while holding them to the high standards already established by those before us. I remember when I was in school learning to be a stenographer. We wrote on manual writers and had to produce the transcripts by typing them out word-for-word against our notes. We were so intrigued, yet resistant, to the new introduction of CAT software. It required us to change how we wrote and how we thought. We had to learn to write for someone else or something else. Although we could read our sometimes-rough notes, and mine were rough, a computer couldn’t. We could differentiate between homonyms and conflicts; the machine couldn’t. The process was never going to fly. And yet look at it now. Never-before could stenographers do what they can do now. It is simply amazing! And we can credit this success to someone who took technology, disrupted the ordinary course of business with it, and the reporters who were brave enough to embrace it and soar.

Disruptive. That’s an interesting word that has taken on a new meaning with the advancements in technology. The definition of disruptive from dictionary.com reads:

Adjective causing, tending to create, or cause by disruptiondisrupting:  the  disruptive effect of their rioting.


1. Relating to or noting a new product, service, or idea that radically changes an industry or business strategy, especially by creating a new market and disrupting an existing one:  disruptive innovations such as the cell phone and the two-year community college.

2. Relating to or noting a business executive or company that introduces or is receptive to such innovation:  disruptive CEOs with imagination and vision.

I remember when being disruptive was a bad thing and usually involved a trip to the principal’s office for me. Now, at least in business, it is celebrated as being innovative. The introduction of computer-aided  transcription software was considered disruptive. But by understanding it and embracing it, stenographic reporting took on a whole new image. Again, I applaud them.  

I think that it’s time to look at digital reporting with the same set of glasses. It is an advanced technology that allows us to create high fidelity, multi-channel audio recordings, with optional video, and linked, detailed notes operated by a trained, professional digital reporter.

These recordings, when done right, are the foundational tools for trained legal transcriptionists to produce quality legal transcripts. When embraced and held to a high standard, it can be a disruption to an honored industry in need. It’s here and not going anywhere.  

If we viewed the introduction of CAT software and technology the same way we see the use of digital reporting, what would the industry look like today? It’s our industry. It’s up to us not to be self-destructive. What do I mean by this? The more we fight and degrade this, the less control we have over maintaining the standards that we hold. It’s up to us to embrace it, guide it, insist that it maintain the standards that are at the core of what we do. This includes using the right hardware and software, education, joining a national certifying organization that establishes a best practice, and adhering to it. 

How we embrace, it will determine its effect on our industry – DISRUPTIVE VS. DESTRUCTIVE. 


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