LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — There are growing concerns that a shortage of court reporters could slow down legal proceedings in Arkansas.
"I think It's in the public's best interest to make sure we do everything we can to combat this issue," Heather Pierce, director of the Arkansas Court Reporting Academy (ARCRA), said.
Court reporters capture the words spoken under oath during a court or deposition proceeding. They then prepare verbatim transcripts of the record.
"I take my job very seriously, and I'm proud of what I do," Pierce said. "It's a very important part of the legal system and making sure that everything is done right and fair."
According to Pierce, the COVID-19 pandemic has amplified an existing court reporter shortage in the Natural State.
"There for awhile there were things shut down, so that added to that, or having to get things continued because you didn't have a court reporter available," she said.
Pierce fears the situation could get worse as courts start to see medical, employment and other cases brought on by COVID-19 — and as existing court reporters retire.
"I honestly wasn't even aware of the profession," Allison Rasmusson, a recent ARCRA graduate, said.
Rasmusson, who lives in Fayetteville, completed the academy's 19-week online course and passed her certification test in 2020.
"During my downtime, I was able to get a lot done and work at my own pace," she said.
She now works as a freelance court reporter.
"You can decide how much or how little you work in a week," Rasmusson said.
Zoom depositions have also become more common during the pandemic, Pierce said — providing added flexibility and employment options for stenographers.
"There's a high demand for that right now," she said. "I've talked to attorneys that say they're having to get things continued even just because they can't find enough court reporters to take down the record for Zoom depositions."
The median annual salary for court reporters is $60,130, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
"We want young people to know that you can have a very successful and respectable career in this, and you don't have to go to college for four years," Pierce said.
"I wish I had found this right when I graduated [high school], Rasmusson said. But I'm very thankful to have found it now. It's a perfect fit."
In addition to the voice writing method, ARCRA also offers an advanced course in the real-time method, which allows for immediate voice-to-text translation using advanced software.