The Plight of Federal Court Reporters - A Boon to the Freelance Reporter

Below is a direct copy of the current president of USCRA, the United States Court Reporters Association, Shirley Hall's letter to their membership posted on, for public viewing. Yes, our world is changing. The big time losers will be the in-court court reporters who is salaried, with benefits, and forever until you die pensions.

If the Feds are running scared, then for sure every state court in-court salaried civil servant will be running right behind the Feds, if not surpassing them.

But this is all good news for we freelance agencies. Established regional and national reporting agencies will soon enough be entering bids to report trials and hearings. Do the depos, the arbitrations and now the state and federal trials! Talk about continuity of the record.

If we stenos and voice writers do not take on this challenge as they present themselves to us, then for sure every word will eventually be recorded and transcribed by DAR technologies.

If you are freelance business owner, you need to write to every court administrator in your sphere of influence letting them know that you are very interested in bidding on opportunities when their courthouse decides to go 100% freelancing.

Now the open letter to USCRA membership

Shirley Hall, USCRA President
United States Court Reporters Association


Yes, I'm talking to YOU!!

It is time for you to step up and protect the job of the Federal Official Court Reporter. I am not talking about you doing what you have to do to keep your job until you retire. I'm talking about you working as hard as you have ever worked so that federal reporters remain an important and vital part of today's and tomorrow's courthouse staff. How?

By providing good realtime and excellent service to every judicial officer and member of their staff; by providing the same high quality service to support personnel such as translators and probation and pretrial officers; and by supporting USCRA, your organization, in our efforts to show the Judicial Conference our true value.

Think back to the day you found out you were going to be a Federal Official Court Reporter. Seriously, take a few minutes to sit quietly and to remember the very instant you got the call.

Remember the intense pride that you felt knowing you were going to be working with the crème de la crème: With judges, appointed by the President himself, who would value you and your talents; with renowned counsel and heads of law firms who were protecting their clients' business interests and helping the economy grow; and with impassioned defense counsel who were fighting for Americans' inalienable rights under the Constitution. This is the job you aspired to, the pinnacle of reporting success that proved you had made it and were worthy.

Do you still have that pride? Or do you walk into the courtroom without knowing what cases will be heard that day? Do you give your judge realtime without the slightest bit of preparation such as entering speakers' and witnesses' names? Do you say to yourself, "Oh, they'll be able to read through the untranslates?"

Do you edit transcripts but not proofread them? Do you refuse to invest in yourself and your career by not updating your writer, computer and software? Do you refuse to learn technology? Worst of all, do you refuse to provide the services that are absolutely essential in today's electronic communications environment? If you answered yes to any of these questions, now is the time to ask if you are still worthy of being a Federal Official Court Reporter.

We are in a dire battle to maintain our professional careers.

Gone are the days when you could tell the administration how you were going to do your job.

Gone are the days when you could look to your judge to protect you. Gone are the days when you could rely on the federal courts to guarantee you a position for as long as you wanted to work.

To say things have changed is the epitome of an understatement.

The legal system itself has changed drastically. Court proceedings are no longer being heard on a daily basis. Instead arbitrations, mediations, and master-led mini trials have diverted cases away from the courts. Written motions practice has increased while oral argument has steadily diminished. While the number of Article III judges, senior judges, and magistrates has grown, the writing we do for any one individual has generally decreased.

And what has happened to court reporting while this has occurred? It has moved right into the computer age and kept pace with technology bringing along with it the demands of education, expense, and skill building that have been placed upon us to ensure unparalleled service to the Bench, the Bar, and the general public.

Those who use our services and realize the value of a verbatim transcript and/or immediate translation of the spoken word are grateful and we, in turn, feel a deep sense of accomplishment and satisfaction in contributing to the fair and unbiased administration of justice.

But there are many more people who never come into contact with the third branch of government and who have no appreciation of the role we play. Consequently, we become a target when there is a downturn in the economy and when the government's purse strings draw tighter.

Today we have survived the first round of budget cuts due to sequestration, but not wholly intact.

Vacant positions are not being filled, our funding has been moved from a designation of essential to non-essential, and in some districts reporters are being directed to perform duties in the Clerk's Office as a cost-cutting measure.

The AO's Policy and Strategic Initiatives Office has been charged with presenting to the Judicial Conference by the end of this year a formula to reduce the current one-to-one reporter-to-judge allocation to as low a figure as they believe is viable.

And do you know the basis for this formula? Our AO forms, the forms that do not include the actual responsibilities we carry, the work we perform, and the hours we commit to fulfill our obligations.

USCRA is conducting a survey in order to obtain a true and honest picture of our contributions to the court. Please click on the link and participate. Your future depends on your participation. It is time for all of us to work together. If we do not, we will all fail in the end.

I urge you once more to recall why you became a Federal Official Court Reporter, to feel the pride, to support your organization, and to rekindle your desire to make this, our job, once more the pinnacle of court reporting success.

Shirley Hall, USCRA President

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I live in Florida, where firms do have contracts for court work.  I am not so sure that is a good thing.  It contributes to "too many hands in the pot".  It contributes, yes, to contract, watered down wages.  I'm pretty sure the higher quality independent female workers (for nice wording here) don't work for watered down prices.  It's a sad day when they are making more money and have better money making skills than a realtime reporter.

As you all know, I am not realtime and I am not in the upper crust in reporting.  But I have a degree in business.  I try to think like a businesswoman.  I see how no one is served by contract firms taking over and contracting or cheapening our rates. 

I grew up in Flint.  Although their demands were out of control, unions did serve a purpose back in the 70's.  It was all about what the employee could contribute to the corporation.  Today it is all about how cheap the corporation can get a worker.

This article was too dang long to read.  Fortunately, I like to write more than I like to read.  :)

Mary Jo,

Competitiveness amongst honest vendors for court reporting services will address in all good time the naysayers. The trend is more outsourcing and less overhead. This is a fact of life in the 21st century. We all have to get used to it. Those that do not, move aside. Those that get on the bandwagon early will benefit from the fruits of their labor.

I believe my wording was supposed to be upper crest, a time period when people were born into a certain class of people and stayed there (there was no moving out of it), such as kings, pesants, merrymen, etc.

Because of technologies intruding on past traditions, no matter what vocation or profession we are in, and obviously we court reporters as is clearly evident, are not immune to replacement and obviously the NCRA or state associations are totally impotent to stop change. They are nothing more than one a year get togethers to mix with friends and press the flesh with business associates encouraging business our way. But that's it. Anything else is window dressing that you can see on the Internet by vendors demonstrating their technologies. As far as general education and specific tutoring, we can find it on the Internet. The dynamics of our business has been turned inside out. And more change is coming. The regional firms and national firms are here to stay. You can choose to be Bruce Willis in his Die Hard movies, but rest assured only very few will survive trying to hold on to past glories and tradition. As judges you know retire and younger generations come in to replace them, slowly our traditions will become a memory. This does not mean that in this business world we cannot improvise and improvise we shall do several times before we are totally eliminated.

That will not be for quite some time to come.

Only the brave and daring who know their future will be able to stay in the transcribing business as the "reporting" phase fades into the annals of recorded history.

Governments and courthouses are looking for a better deal. Less overhead. That overhead includes salaries, benefits and blood sucking pensions. They know that competent regional and national reporting firms can do the very same job as civil servants.

This is the bright side for we freelance reporters. I see a vertical market for the enlightened business owner. Do not wait for what others are going to do. Put your ear close to the rail and know your environment and start writing letters and handing out promotions to courthouse personnel who will some day soon be considering going bare allowing the litigants to hire their own court reporters. Be in the winners circle. Not in the bleachers wondering why your book of business shrank.


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