LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Court reporters typically sit at the front of the courtroom typing away or talking into a mask to capture what happens and transfer it to text.
Arkansas is in the midst of an ongoing court reporter shortage, and according to experts, it could lead to further delays in the judicial system.
Heather Pierce is a certified court reporter and CEO of the Arkansas Court Reporting Academy, which trains people who to properly keep and preserve the record.
“It's a job that not many people know about because we are essentially the silent person in the courtroom,” Pierce said.
Outside of the courtroom, Pierce said she cannot stay silent about a big issue facing her profession.
“There's not enough court reporters,” she said. “Everybody's spread so thin.”
The U-S Bureau of Labor Statistics expects court reporter employment will grow about 3 percent between 2020 to 2030. That's slower than the average for all occupations, which is closer to 8 percent.
Pierce initially spoke to THV11 about the issue in February 2021. One year later, she said progress has been met with challenges brought on by COVID.
“It's still something that we're trying to stay on top of, and manage as best we can,” she said.
Circuit Judge Lee Harrod, who presides over the 16th Judicial District in north-central Arkansas, said the shortage’s impact is most evident when a court reporter needs to take a day off.
“The problem that we have is it's very difficult to find a substitute court reporter,” he said. “I know of an instance in our district where one of our court reporters was sick, and she actually had to find someone from El Dorado to cover a court in Heber Springs, Arkansas.”
The pandemic and corresponding quarantine rules further highlight the need for freelancers who can sub in, Harrod said.
“A circuit court cannot function without court reporters,” he said.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary for a court reporter is $61,660. Pierce said the job offers flexibility, and certification does not require a college degree.
The Arkansas Court Reporting Academy can be completed online in about five months. The academy is currently offering scholarships for new students.
“If you are struggling, or you're needing a new job, this is definitely something to look into,” Pierce said.
The Arkansas Board of Certified Court Reporters is working to address the shortage too. It now offers the certification test four times a year, instead of two.
In addition, Arkansas now allows nationally certified court reporters to forego the local exam.