eric allen

WE’RE NOT DONE YET: Plaza College hosted an event for students in its court-reporting program June 5 discussing challenges affecting the industry, including a shortage of court reporters nationwide. Eric Allen, president of the union that represents State Supreme Court reporters, said that the problem started because it was assumed that the job would become obsolete, but new technology brought its own challenges. ‘Without that human factor, when people talk over each other, or someone has an accent—when someone goes to type from the recording, they have no one to ask ‘What did they say?’ he said.

The leader of the union that represents Court Reporters in state Supreme Court is hopeful that a decade-long shortage in the field is coming to an end.

The National Court Reporters Association has estimated that the shortage of Court Reporters will grow to 5,500 unfilled spots across the country. Eric Allen, President of the Association of Surrogates and Supreme Court Reporters, spoke to students in Plaza College’s court-reporting program June 5 about the challenges currently affecting the industry.

‘Thought They Were Goners’

He explained that the shortage has been a problem for more than 10 years. “People thought before that Court Reporters were on their way out because of technology. So there wasn’t an influx of new students,” he said, adding that lack of knowledge about the field contributed to the problem.

But relying solely on digital recording devices has created other challenges.

“There have been times when the trial went on for days and the recording device wasn’t working but no one knew it,” he said, noting that the devices were more likely to be used in the lower courts. “Without that human factor, when people talk over each other, or someone says a technical term or perhaps has an accent—when someone down the road goes to type from the recording, they have no one to ask ‘What did they say? Can you clarify that?’ ”

Charles Callahan III, president of Plaza College, called the current situation a “national emergency.”

“In some states there are problems where tape recorders were used, and say if a person is unhappy with their verdict and wants to appeal, it’s very difficult because appeals are based upon transcripts,” he said. “So they have to pay a Court Reporter to sit and listen to the tape, and that doesn’t always work out so well. People are having problems getting due process.”

225 Words a Minute

In 2017, the Queens school took over the New York Career Institute, including its court-reporting program, which trains students to type 225 words a minute.

Mr. Allen, who represents about 330 Senior Court Reporters who work in State Supreme Court parts across the five boroughs, estimated that these courts were short about 50 reporters. Overall, there were more than 250 reporters needed across the state, the NCRA estimated. (Court Reporters in the lower courts are represented by District Council 37’s Local 1070.)

Exacerbating the challenge is the fact that many Court Reporters will be eligible to retire over the next decade: their average age is over 50, according to the NCRA. Dom Tursi, who founded the Verbatim School of Court Reporting on Long Island, noted that there were five people leaving the industry for every one coming in.

But Mr. Allen, who praised Plaza College’s efforts to preserve the career track, was hopeful that the tides were beginning to turn: enrollment has recently increased at court-reporting schools after declining over the past decade, including at Plaza College. In order to take the state civil-service exam, applicants must graduate from a two-year program with a certificate and have six months of experience.

Karen Santucci, vice president of the New York State Court Reporters Association and chair of the college program, called the industry a “secret profession.”

“We are working hard to get people to know this is a wonderful profession and we need people desperately,” she said. “This is a career that just takes two years—you don’t need to go away to college for four years.”

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