Why Traditional Court Reporting is Becoming More Expensive

As you’ve no doubt noticed, hiring a court reporter to handle an in-person deposition is becoming increasingly expensive. Rates have risen faster than inflation and three key factors are to blame. A growing labor shortage has dogged the court reporting industry for the last decade. The Covid-19 pandemic pushed reporters out of the industry while introducing new costs and risk factors for those that remained. And many court reporters have transitioned away from offering traditional services toward remote options. 

The result: a perfect storm of the supply of court reporters not meeting demand for in-person services, which translates into ballooning costs and difficulties scheduling traditional depositions. But that’s not necessarily bad news. Litigators who feel the pinch of rising costs for traditional court reporters  can save money and keep discovery on track by turning to remote (or digital) court reporting services, which continue to grow in quality, convenience, and cost-effectiveness.  

Related: The Future of Digital Court Reporting

A Deepening Shortage of Traditional Court Reporters

According to the National Court Reporting Association (NCRA) and reporting by Law360, the U.S. had approximately 32,000 working licensed court reporters in 2013. Today, that figure is closer to 23,000, a shortfall of some 9,000 court reporters. It’s a decline the industry saw coming a decade ago, when the NCRA predicted a looming, “critical shortfall” of licensed court reporting professionals in the years to come.

Industry watchers chalk much of the shortfall up to demographic factors. The U.S. population is growing, and with it, so is the demand for legal services. But simultaneously, Baby Boomer-age court reporters are hitting retirement age, putting a dent in the labor force.

That would be a manageable problem if the court reporting industry had recruited enough replacements from the ranks of Millennials (who constitute the largest demographic cohort in U.S. history) and Gen Z. But that hasn’t happened. Enrollment in court reporting training programs has not kept up with the pace of retirements and growing demand, according to the NCRA, and court reporting schools continue to close.

Pandemic-Related Disruptions

The court reporting industry, in other words, was already facing a labor squeeze at the dawn of the 2020s. And then Covid-19 poured gas on the proverbial fire. 

It’s still too early to assess the full impact of the pandemic on the labor market as a whole. But some things are already clear about its effect on the shortage of traditional court reporting services. It indisputably accelerated the pace of retirements among aging reporters. And it forced some younger reporters out of the profession, and some agencies out of business, when litigation came to a standstill for the better part of a year. 

Those who remained in the industry confronted an altered work landscape infused with novel risks, higher costs, and myriad complications. Working as an in-person court reporter during the pandemic meant spending a full work day masked and on constant alert for potential infection risks. 

Handling documents required meticulous hand sanitizing and no small leap of faith that the other people participating in a deposition would take adequate health precautions. Anyone’s positive test or report of an exposure could cancel a deposition at a moment’s notice or sideline a reporter for a week or more. Masking and social distancing made the job of hearing and understanding lawyers and witnesses extraordinarily difficult, which led to a higher error rates in transcripts and longer turnaround times. And reporters contracted to provide services to courts, who had their own labor problems, had less time in their schedules to devote to handling depositions. 

Traditional court reporters also suffered the slings and arrows of pandemic-related supply chain and service slowdowns. Agencies struggled to book videographers who could reliably show up at a deposition in person. The commercial printing services that reporters used experienced their own labor and supply shortages that delayed transcript delivery. Office supplies and stenographic equipment became scarcer and more expensive. In virtually every respect, the cost of doing business rose, and court reporters passed the increases on to their customers in the form of higher rates.  

A Shift Toward Remote Court Reporting Solutions

The pandemic also accelerated an overall trend in the court reporting industry toward remote (or digital) court reporting services. Traditional court reporters who suddenly found themselves constrained to work from home turned to handling remote depositions and other proceedings as a way to fill their plates. And as it happened, remote transcription jobs were becoming sufficiently plentiful to offer an attractive alternative to traditional in-person reporting work. Even as the pandemic waned, some reporters decided not to go back to providing traditional services, which only deepened the shortage and pushed rates higher.

Related: How Popular Are Remote Depositions After Covid?

But that shift came with a silver lining for litigators by fueling innovations in court reporting technology that finally realized the long-awaited potential of remote depositions. Today, single-source remote court reporting platforms offer a suite of services and features that make taking depositions remotely just as productive — and far more cost effective — than a traditional in-person session. A leading remote court reporting service can: 

  • Handle the scheduling of a qualified court reporter to administer oaths and transcribe a deposition remotely
  • Implement purpose-built remote deposition software that serves as an all-in-one platform for conducting a witness examination by video from the comfort of one’s own office
  • Facilitate seamless uploading and marking of exhibits, both prior to a deposition and on-the-fly
  • Offer real time voice-to-text transcription, high-quality video capture, and synched text and video suitable for use in a courtroom
  • Give lawyers options for having private sidebar discussions with their clients in virtual breakout rooms
  • Deliver rough draft transcripts shortly after the end of the deposition
  • Provide official transcripts in any format required by a particular jurisdiction

The rates for today’s remote court reporting services compete with or beat the cost of traditional court reporting of in-person sessions. And they reliably deliver significant cost savings when you account for the conveniences of not having to travel to a deposition site and of using an all-in-one platform for scheduling, administering, conducting, and transcribing a witness examination. 

Remote Legal is an industry-leading remote court reporting service provider. We offer a single-source remote deposition platform built with the needs and priorities of today’s busy, cost-sensitive litigators in mind. Contact us today for a free demo and learn how we can help your practice control discovery costs. 

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