Court reporter shortage impacts trials, hearings

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — There is a profession right now where workers are in high demand and the median salary is $51,300.

The profession is that of a court reporter.

"I write down everything that everybody says in court," said Cindy Isaacsen, who has been a court reporter for 30 years.

Currently, the state of Kansas has 11 open positions for court reporters. The state of Missouri lists 15 openings.

Sharon Cahill is the Managing Reporter for Wyandotte County. She said Wyandotte County has a budget for 10 positions for court reporters to record what happens in county courtrooms. They are currently down three reporters.

"So, almost a third of our staff," said Cahill.

She hasn't been able to find anyone to replace the people who left those positions. That sometimes affects court dates, inconveniencing not only the people who are to be in court but also judges and attorneys.

"We have had on occasion where we've had to shift - not really postpone significantly - but instead of starting on a Monday we start on a Thursday because the reporter wasn't available until then. A couple of weeks ago, we had to have a jury trial start on a Tuesday instead of a Monday because the court reporter was not available," said Judge Wayne Lampson, the Chief Judge in Wyandotte County.

Experts say courtrooms sometimes lose court reporters to jobs like closed captioning for television, or to freelance work for firms hiring stenographers.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists several jobs one can do with their stenography skills: Court Reporter, Broadcast Captioner, and Communication access real-time translation (CART) providers. Click here for more information about those jobs. 

Isaacsen learned stenotype over the course of three years. It's a two-year program, but because she was also working full-time while learning, it took her a little longer to learn.

A stenotype machine has 22 keys, and a certified stenographer can record more than 200 words per minute. One learns the basics of the machine and how to hit certain combinations of keys to write out what they're hearing.

Jennifer Bollin just became a student in Neosho County Community College's Stenotype class. She is 41 years old and said she hadn't quite found her passion. She thinks court reporting might be it.

"It's almost too good to be true. I'm finding it difficult to believe I have truly found it," said Bollin, referring to her passion.

Chris Herndon has been a court reporter for 36 years and now teaches. She encourages anyone who thinks they might be interested to take the basic class called "A to Z Intro to Machine Shorthand." It's a free program introducing people who think they might be interested in stenography to the machine and the basic premise of how it works.

KCK Community College just added a stenotype course. The deadline to sign up for the free class was February 8, 2018, because that's the first day of class. However, they told 41 Action News they'll allow anyone interested to sign up before next Thursday night's class.

The class is in the Community Education Building in the conference room on KCK Community College's campus.

For more information, click here.

Isaacsen encourages anyone interested to try the free course, or at the very least, find a court reporter to shadow.

"You don't have the four-year debt that you would have if you went to a four-year school, but you'd also be guaranteed a job when you get out," said Isaacsen.

She made some calls for our story to help get numbers of how many openings, and just her inquiries led to a firm reaching out to try and hire her for freelance work.

"I don't need another job," wrote Isaacsen.

She hopes to inspire others to consider her line of work for their own.

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