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What’s the Future of Court Reporting? (Part 1)

As California courts struggle to hire enough court reporters, some see technology and the expanded use of electronic recordings as a key piece of the solution.

Closeup of a wooden gavel resting on end with an open book blurred in the background.
A growing number of Californians may be walking out of court with no official record of what went on.

That’s a problem for appeals. It could also make cross-examination difficult, says the California Trial Court Consortium. Lack of an official record could also make it harder to enforce judges’ decisions, including on restraining orders or child custody, according to SB 662, a bill introduced by state Sen. Susan Rubio that takes aim at the issue.

“[In 2023,] hundreds of thousands of litigants … will have no ability to seek meaningful review of whatever the court ordered in that proceeding, because there will be no transcript,” said Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Samantha Jessner.

Courts like Jessner’s are pinned between persistent struggles to hire enough court reporters and legal restrictions limiting alternative options for transcripts. Jessner hopes SB 662 can ease the strain by allowing wider use of electronic recording. If it passes, the bill would permit courts to use electronic recording in any civil case, so long as they first try to get a court reporter and ensure recording equipment meets approval.

Californian courts are far from the only ones struggling to retain enough court reporters, as many reach retirement and fewer enter the field. Nor are they alone in considering how far recording technologies could go toward addressing this gap.


California courts that cannot get enough reporters have traditionally had limited options. They were barred until recently from using voice writers, and court reporters are currently required to be in the same room as the judicial officers, preventing hiring any who work remotely. Courts also only may use electronic recordings in a limited set of cases.

California courts are obligated to use court reporters in juvenile and felony criminal matters. They can use electronic recordings for three situations: misdemeanors, infractions and limited civil matters where less than $25,000 is involved, Jessner said. But there’s a middle category of cases where courts are prohibited from using electronic recordings but not obligated to have reporters. As such, when the court doesn’t have enough reporters to go around, it pulls them from these hearings.

“Court reporters have left service with the court at a greater pace than we have been able to recruit and hire them,” Jessner said.

The Superior Court pulled reporters from family law and probate courtrooms last year and previously had removed them from its unlimited civil courtrooms. That could affect roughly 300,000 hearings in 2023, Jessner said.

Litigants with means can hire their own reporters, and the court is supposed to provide indigent litigants with court reporters at no cost. But courts have been struggling to fulfill this, which forces litigants to decide between proceeding without or waiting until one is available, per SB 662.


The Los Angeles Superior Court’s efforts to recruit and retain court reporters got a nearly $10 million boost in February, and it announced incentives including higher pay, bonuses and a level of school loan forgiveness.

As of October, the campaign had helped maintain court reporter staffing levels, but it had not grown them.

The retention bonuses may be helping, though, said Executive Officer/Clerk of Court David Slayton, noting of late only 11 reporters had departed during a time period where typically 30 usually leave. Plus, the courts managed to hire 11 more, offsetting some of the loss. And those newcomers all came from the private sector, which often out-competes courts for recruits. Still, both Jessner and Slayton don’t believe the court can hire its way out.

“We would love to have a physical court reporter available in every courtroom,” Slayton said. “Unfortunately, there’s not a supply of court reporters available to meet that need.”

This reflects wider trends. A 2021 California Trial Court Consortium (CTCC) survey of 41 courts found an overall 19 percent vacancy rate for full-time reporter positions. Nationally, more reporters have been retiring than entering the labor market, the CTCC says.

A combination of factors contribute to the hiring struggles.

The experts said the time and cost of attending California’s court reporting schools and the state’s difficult certification tests dissuade some people from entering the profession. California has a particularly rigorous testing procedure compared to other states, per the CTCC report, and Slayton said the last five years saw roughly 20 percent of California test-takers pass. Additionally, the profession may lose appeal to those who fear rising competition from electronic recording tech.

Those who do enter the field are in high demand, and courts like Los Angeles Superior offer six-figure salaries. Nationally, job search platform Zippia pegs the median court reporter salary as $79,000 in the government sector and at nearly $77,000 across sectors.

Still, court reporters are likely to be snapped up by the private sector, which can also offer flexible scheduling and remote work options, Slayton said.


Los Angeles Superior Court officials hope to expand use of electronic recordings to cases where there otherwise would be no record. The court already uses electronic records for certain proceedings like eviction cases.

“They’re not lesser cases in our court. And in those cases, they’re using electronic recording, and it’s working perfectly well,” Slayton said.

Jessner said the superior court’s appellate department handles about 500 cases annually where electronic recording was used, and judges have not reported issues with the transcripts’ accuracy or the recordings.

But any decisions to use technologies in place of court reporters can be controversial.

Sue Terry is a former National Court Reporters Association (NCRA) president and head of a task force focused on raising awareness of concerns about electronic recording. Speaking about the national picture, she said focus should be on recruiting, not replacing people with software, which she believes isn’t up to the task. Terry said years of stagnant salaries have been a major impediment to court hiring. Allowing remote work for court reporters would also help match talent to need, connecting professionals with areas where shortages are more acute.

The NCRA has raised accuracy and privacy concerns over electronic recordings or automatic speech-to-text tools to help prepare transcripts. Meanwhile, some courts and vendors say such tools have come a long way and can offer compelling results when reporters are unavailable — and that they may be the most practical solution to a court reporter shortage facing not just California but much of the nation.

Tomorrow, Part 2 of this series digs into what the future could look like for court reporting.
Jule Pattison-Gordon is a senior staff writer for Government Technology. She previously wrote for PYMNTS and The Bay State Banner, and holds a B.A. in creative writing from Carnegie Mellon. She’s based outside Boston.