Digital Court Reporter Program Addresses Workforce Gap

Digital Court Reporter Program Addresses Workforce Gap

Graduates continue to be in high demand

| By: Daley-Hinkens, Carmelyn M

It started with a high school field trip to the Winnebago County Courthouse. While Alexis Gutierrez’s classmates watched a court case unfold in front of them, Alexis was distracted by something else.

“My attention was immediately drawn to the court reporter,” Alexis explains. “I wanted to know what she was doing, how she was doing it and what she was typing.”

Alexis never forgot that experience. A few years after high school, she decided to return to school to learn stenography. As she researched schools online, the Digital Court Reporter (DCR) program at Fox Valley Technical College kept appearing in her search. It captured her attention.

“The digital aspect of this role felt forward-thinking to me. We’re taught in school that technology will advance and we have to adjust. I thought, ‘this is me adjusting by going back to school to be a digital court reporter,’” Alexis says.

FVTC launched the 28-credit Digital Court Reporter program in the fall of 2019. Fully online and financial-aid eligible, the technical diploma program can be completed in one year and covers everything from legal fundamentals and terminology to transcription and digital audio reporting techniques.

Eva Walsh, Digital Court Reporter instructor, says this career path makes sense for someone interested in law and legal proceedings. “They should have a curiosity in criminology, psychology and legal research. They should also be comfortable with technology and recording software and hardware, and also feel confident problem-solving potential technical issues.”

FVTC is the only technical college in Wisconsin to offer a DCR technical diploma. The college added the program to address a gap in the workforce because of a surge in stenographer retirements. Occasionally, courts throughout Wisconsin have had to cancel court calendars because there were not enough court reporters to capture an official record of the proceedings.

To help remedy the shortage, the Wisconsin Court System recently created a hub office for DCRs. The hubs are currently located in Madison, Waukesha and Menasha and allow for DCRs to remotely take the record in courtrooms around the state. At each hub, the DCR connects to a county’s server and with the judge via videoconferencing. The DCR obtains the case calendar and prepares the recording equipment and software for recording.  When court begins, the reporter takes the record by confidence-monitoring the audio recording and creating log notes. DCRs mostly work out of the hubs but do travel around the state to take the record in person for jury trials.

Alexis works at the Menasha hub which opened in the spring of 2022. The Menasha hub currently has seven DCRs on staff but expects to continue to expand quickly.

“The court reporter shortage is not just a statewide problem. It’s projected that nationwide we could have a gap of more than 11,000 court reporters by the end of 2023,” explains Jon Bellows, district court administrator for the 4th Judicial District in Oshkosh. The idea of a statewide pool originated in his district and Jon hired FVTC’s first graduate of the DCR program in 2020. “We’ve had a good experience hiring graduates from this program. People with strong English and typing skills should definitely consider this career.”

Now, as Alexis approaches one year in her position, she’s become a huge advocate for Fox Valley Tech’s Digital Court Reporting program. She hopes others may one day join her at the Menasha hub.

“It’s a career that I fell into and I fell in love with,” Alexis says. “I tell people this program is a hidden gem. If you’re interested in the law and court proceedings but want to stay behind the scenes, this is a perfect way to do what you love.”

The Wisconsin Court system is one of the top employers of Digital Court Reporters

Starting salary $44,532