Recent news that the Brown College of Court Reporting would be shutting down its program after nearly 50 years was indeed a shock, at least until you consider that the list of court reporting programs that have closed their doors over the past two decades is much longer than the list of programs that now exist.
There is little doubt that marketplace perception played a significant role to seal the fate of many court reporting programs. However incorrect, the notion that stenographic court reporters were an anachronism in an era dominated by technology kept some prospective students away from what would have been rewarding careers if they could have completed court reporting school. But technology played another role. The advent of the Internet in the early 1990s suddenly gave would-be students and their parents easy access to information on any and all subjects. People could do their homework and could learn at the outset that fewer than one in ten stenography students become court reporters.
That same statistic makes it implausible for the recruitment of new stenographers to be the primary approach for filling the widening gap between the supply and the demand for court reporters. We estimate that gap will grow to be more than 11,000 by 2023. Extrapolating the one in ten figure means schools would need to recruit more than 110,000 new stenography students to meet marketplace demand, this when schools collectively have no more than 2,500 enrolled students. To put it another way, at a time when the need for court reporters is an all-time high, enrollment in stenography schools is at an all-time low and about 45 times less than it would be necessary to fill the marketplace gap.
This seems like an important point to emphasize this: Stenographers are a vital component to the speech-to-text industry and STTI stands solidly behind efforts by groups such as Project Steno in recruiting more stenography students – the more stenographers the better. However, the magnitude of the shortage means it simply is not realistic that such recruitment efforts could have anything more than a small impact on the overall supply gap. They nonetheless should continue.
We likewise know that 11,000 new qualified court reporters won’t just walk through the front door just because firms and courts embrace digital reporting and voice writing. It will take a sustained, integrated awareness and recruitment campaign that promotes court reporting as a multi-technology career –stenography, digital reporting, voice writing, and using other technologies as they prove capable of the exacting standards of the legal environment.
As opposed to stenography, we’re told that approximately 80 percent of voice writers are successful in completing court reporting programs, typically in nine months rather than the two-plus years it takes for stenographers to emerge from school. For digital reporting students, we’re told completion is up to 90 percent and such training can take place in as little as two months.
Some people will want to heave a brick through a window at the suggestion that someone could be trained to work as a court reporter in two months. To them I say, brick hurling will get us nowhere. Instead, let’s have a constructive, holistic conversation about the future of court reporting education.
- What should the baseline qualifications be for anyone who carries the term “court reporter?”
- How should such judgments be made and by whom?
- How do you design common elements of training programs that can apply to different technologies?
These are just some of the questions that in need of a strategic-level discussion that includes educators, firms, practitioners, as well as the consumers of speech-to-text services. And that is part of the rationale behind the formation of the Speech to Text Institute.
No doubt, some of the answers are out there already and need to be applied across the various technologies/methods. Some current standards might be too restrictive, serving as unrealistic barriers that are not reflective of the skills that are necessary to work in the field.
Here’s another thought I had. If, as an industry, we begin to promote court reporting education as having three potential tracks—stenography, voice writing, digital reporting—we then have the ability to tell prospective students that there is up to a 90 percent chance that they will emerge from training as court reporters. Not only will this give the industry the best shot at filling the marketplace gap with qualified professionals, I believe that, given the option to offset an otherwise 90 percent failure rate, it will encourage more students not just to explore court reporting, but to explore stenography as the technology they learn to capture the record.