Addressing court reporting shortage, school expands niche
By: Adina Genn February 23, 2022
A nationwide court reporting shortage is driving up demand for stenographers, industry experts say.
Court reporters provide a variety of skills, including the delivery of word-for-word transcriptions at trials, depositions and other legal proceedings. In this field, median pay is $61,660 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but it is possible to earn six figures or more, according to experts.
Harriet Brenner-Gettleman, owner of Realtime Center for Learning, a professional court-reporting school in Garden City, said the court reporter shortage has been exacerbated by COVID.
“Since 2020 and the onset of the pandemic, many seasoned court reporters have retired, not wanting to deal with COVID or the technology that has evolved in order to facilitate the taking of depositions and court trials,” Brenner-Gettleman told LIBN.
During the early days of the pandemic’s lockdown, Brenner-Gettleman redesigned the center’s program and received approval from the New York State Education Department to be classified as a distance learning program. After moving the program online for current students, Brenner-Gettleman is now opening enrollment for new students for a term beginning in April.
Brenner-Gettleman had considered retiring, but recognized a need to move forward with continuing the program virtually. This way, students can access the program from anywhere across the country. Here, Brenner-Gettleman saw a niche, noting that only 16 states and Canada have schools offering court reporting programs that are listed on the National Court Reporters Association website.
The demand for stenographic court reporters has “reached a crisis within the legal profession,” she said, and there’s a “need to reach out to the public to make them aware of the current opportunities to become professional stenographic court reporters.”
That sentiment has been confirmed by published reports, including Law360 and other news outlets.
“This is the best time to become a court reporter in the last 30 years,” Dominick Tursi, president of the New York State Court Reporters Association, said about the shortage in an email to LIBN.
Back in 2014, the National Court Reporting Association commissioned a study from Ducker Worldwide to conduct an industry outlook. The study found that while there were 32,000 court reporters in the United States in 2013, that number was expected to dip in 2023. Now, the NCRA is in the stages of conducting another industry outlook report this year, a spokesperson for the association told LIBN.
And it seems amid COVID, that new industry study is warranted.
Brenner-Gettleman said that court reporting agencies tell her that there are not enough freelance court reporters available to cover all their jobs, which is what prompted her to expand her program.
In revamping the school, “I partnered with a graduate of my school who is currently working as a freelance reporter to adapt our program to this online platform,” Brenner-Gettleman said. That partner, Christine DeRosa, is savvy in Zoom technology, and is now serving as the school’s chief operating officer.
Court reporter starting salaries in the region usually range between $40,000 and $50,000 for those who finish the program, Brenner-Gettleman said. Initially, they typically freelance for a court-reporting agency that sends them out on assignment where a deposition may be held, perhaps at a law firm or courthouse, or even via a virtual platform as many depositions during the pandemic are held on Zoom.
With several years of experience, court reporters can find work at the courts with a beginning salary of $75,000, Brenner-Gettleman said. Skilled freelancers can make between $90,000 and $100,000, “and some make way over that,” she said, referring to those who are retained for high profile assignments.
As an occupation, court reporting was considered by Forbes as one of the best career options that do not require a traditional four-year degree. At Realtime, the program comprises 24 units, and students can learn at their own pace, with a minimum of three units completed per quarter. This is followed by an internship.
With DeRosa as COO, Brenner-Gettleman sees new opportunities for the school, and the industry.
“Our collaboration will give the profession an additional resource to get highly trained realtime reporters,” Brenner-Gettleman said.