It was early June of 2012. I was sitting in the Elmhurst, Illinois office of Stenograph CEO John Wenclawski. I’d picked the right day to visit. Stenograph was having its company picnic, so there was a barbecue taking place in the parking lot. John and I had a long conversation about the state of the court reporting industry. He had a lot of ideas.
Two weeks earlier I had begun my role as NCRA’s executive director and CEO. The week before that, I had flown to California where then-CCRA President Early Langley and I visited the Golden State College of Court Reporting, near San Francisco, before I headed south to Los Angeles for a warm welcome by the board of CALDRA. Before the month of June would expire I would visit the TCRA Convention in Fort Worth, Texas, and the FCRA Convention in Clearwater, Florida. The leaders in Texas, Florida, and California echoed the same point that I had emphasized during my final interview with the NCRA Board of Directors for the CEO job—until we put laser-type focus on supporting our schools and recruiting new court reporting, almost nothing else mattered.
Many of the people with whom I spoke went to work with us as part of a committee (VEETF) that would focus on getting more students into schools and more court reporters out into the marketplace. So much of what has transpired in the court reporting industry since then can be traced back to the work of that committee. Teaching rudimentary shorthand to large numbers of prospective students through a “massive, open-sourced, online course,” or MOOC, became the A-to-Z Program. Getting a genuine gauge of the size of the court reporting market and the opportunities within would become the Ducker Report. And I can see the spirit of both of those initiatives imbedded within Project Steno, an earnest and valiant attempt to change the game in recruiting students to court reporting school and giving them a fighting chance to emerge as court reporters.
But the idea that has generated the most traction surfaced first in my conversation that June day with John Wenclawski. In between bites of hamburger and potato salad at a picnic table in the Stenograph parking lot, John and I hatched the idea for Court Reporting Week (captioning would come later). It was all built around the idea of creating a perfect storm of information about court reporting during a single week. We talked about engaging anyone and everyone who had a stake in court reporting—court reporters, students, schools, agencies, suppliers, courts, judges, attorneys. We talked about engaging the news media, schools holding open houses, NCRA members going crazy on social media, passing resolutions acknowledging the week in state capitols. We picked February as the right time, this as high school seniors, in particular, were making decisions about their futures.
What John and I knew was that if we could get court reporters and students excited about Court Reporting Week, it would take off and it could become bigger and bigger over the years. Nine years later – eight years after the inaugural Court Reporting and Captioning Week took place – I am pleased to see that the idea didn’t just meet our expectations, but wildly exceeded them.
We counted on the energy and passion of court reporters to make Court Reporting and Captioning Week succeed. And they delivered in a massive way.
In 2014, John summoned me to Elmhurst for another conversation. By that point, Stenograph had for many years been investing in court reporting education, operating and financing three campuses of Prince Institute. It was time for Stenograph to divest from its schools, John told me. He clearly was disappointed, but likewise was hopeful that if he and I could put our heads together again, perhaps we could find a way to prevent Prince Institute from going out of business. We threw around a bunch of ideas, which included the possibility of NCRA acquiring and operate Prince Institute itself. I made a trip to Montgomery, Alabama to visit one of the Prince campuses. I drew up a business plan. I tried to build consensus for the idea. But, the numbers didn’t work. NCRA wasn’t in a position to take on such financial risk. I genuinely wished we could have pulled it off.
Alas, the years that have elapsed have further amplified the impact of the stenographer shortage that the Ducker Report put numbers around seven years ago. STTI’s extended analysis has put additional focus on what will happen beyond 2018 when the Ducker Report predicted there would be a 5,500 gap between the supply and demand for stenographers. The gap will grow to more than 11,000 in 2023 and to more than 18,000 in 2028.
The world needs more stenographers. Period. We need to support the work of Project Steno. We need to support stenography schools. And we need to squeeze as much enthusiasm we can muster during Court Reporting and Captioning Week to alert prospective students to the opportunities available through stenography and court reporting.
But we likewise can’t fool ourselves into thinking that recruitment of stenographers can solve the shortage. It won’t.
We’re all familiar with the numbers—less than 10 percent of stenography students emerge from school as court reporters. That means it would take the recruitment of more than 110,000 stenography students to fill the marketplace gap that otherwise will exist just two years from now. With national enrollment in stenography schools at no more than 2,500, the mathematics make recruiting 110,000 students not just impractical, but impossible.
How we fill the marketplace gap—how we ensure that the high standard set by stenographers for accuracy and professionalism remains the industry standard—is a conversation for next week and beyond.
This week, we celebrate stenographers and the profound and indelible impact they have made on our legal system.
For my part, beyond general acknowledgment of Court Reporters and Captioning Week, I think I’ll give John Wenclawski a call and see if I can catch him on a rare moment off the golf course. I want to make sure he remembers when and where it all began.