by Sam Overton
Everyone knows that there is a shortage of water in California, but the majority may not be aware of the lack of court reporters currently in the state. According to Kimberly Shaw, a local court reporter working in Bakersfield, “A reporter working in the court is actually in the courtroom and takes down testimony of everything that is said the entire time the Judge has you on the record. You are writing down what everybody says and then can, later on produce a transcript of it.” Mrs. Shaw certainly knows what she’s talking about when it comes to court reporting. Not only has she been working as a reporter for almost 27 years, she is also married to Gary Shaw, a Program Manager at WESTEC, a partner of Taft and Bakersfield College. WESTEC specializes in vocational training and offers degrees for court reporters.
The National Court Reporters Association (NCRA) projected around 5,500 new jobs for court reporters as of September 8, 2014. That is around 5,000 jobs that need certified court reporters that are going unfilled, and the numbers have only grown since then. The NCRA has even gone on to state that “court reporter jobs available in the U.S. with the greatest demand occurring in California, Texas, Illinois, and New York.” That means that this state stands at the top of the list with a large amount of its job positions unfilled throughout the whole of the state. When asked about why this shortage has occurred, Mrs. Shaw says that “The average age of a court reporter is approaching 50, and most of them are nearing their retirement.” This means that what little reporters we have right now, they are nearing retirement. This means that soon they will be gone, leaving the courts filled with recording devices.
Recordings have been used in courtrooms for several years now as a way to bypass the use of a court reporter. This allows everything that is said in the courtroom to be recorded and stored electronically for later listening. Although some might think that this is just the “evolution” of our society (after all, one of society’s biggest fears is not being able to work because a robot can do what we can, better than we can), but in reality, it’s a detriment to our current judicial system. When asked about the recording system in courtrooms today, Mr. Shaw was vehemently against them, saying that reporters are “more accurate” when it comes to what they write while electronic recordings are “unreliable” due to technical difficulties that can cause “inaccurate transcripts.” With the decrease of new reporters in the state, the use of recordings has become a common practice and one that is not exactly fool proof. So, what can we do to help the justice system that we rely on so heavily?
There is a school right here in Bakersfield, California. The school that Mr. Shaw is an instructor at is WESTEC. The school helps to train and teach new court reporters to meet the qualifications and prepare them for certification to be a professional in the world of court reporting. He boasts that his school has a 100% job rate for students who graduate as well as most of his students being hired within the first week after graduating. At the same time, the school networks with other businesses that need court reporters to alert them of upcoming graduates so that they can hire them as soon as they are out of school. If you are thinking of becoming a court reporter or possibly unsure about your career path, consider this as your profession. Consider yourself someone who is desperately needed by the justice system to help ensure that it runs smoothly.