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A critical shortage of court reporters in Illinois has prompted court stenographers around the state to take the creative step of offering free introductory classes to a profession for which a college degree is not required.

Beginning Wednesday, six court reporters will host sessions at the Champaign Public Library designed to give those interested an idea of what the job requires and what options they may have, assess them for success in a court-reporting program and let them get their hands on a steno machine.

“There are many trades which are now suffering from the ‘college only’ mentality that’s been preached to kids,” said Tammy Bumgarner, director of Court Reporting Services in Springfield. “That’s causing shortages in professions while simultaneously driving up wages.”

Licensed court reporters take down a verbatim record in criminal cases in Illinois to make sure that all citizens have equal access to justice, not just those who can afford to hire a court reporter, Bumgarner said.

Starting salaries with the state range from $41,000 to $51,000 per year with benefits and the potential for additional income from the production of transcripts.

“You do not need to have a college degree to be a court reporter. A person just needs to gain enough proficiency on a steno machine to pass the licensing exam,” Bumgarner said.

Bumgarner said the average age of official court reporters in Illinois is 52 and there is a need to replace more than 400 in the next 10 to 15 years.

Melissa Clagg, court-reporter supervisor in Champaign County, said four of the nine court reporters who work at the Champaign County Courthouse are now eligible for retirement.

“The job is exciting,” said Clagg, a court reporter for 35 years, 32 of them in Urbana. “People think it’s going to be taken over by voice-to-text (technology), but it will not because it needs a human element. The Supreme Court wants live court reporters, not tape recording.”

Classes locally will be held from 6 to 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 18, 24 and 30 and Oct. 7 in the Robeson Pavilion of the library at 200 W. Green St., C.Sign up is required at illinoisofficialcourtreporters.com/firststeps.

A YouTube video about the profession produced by the state can be seen below.

Reporter

Mary Schenk is a reporter covering police, courts and breaking news at The News-Gazette. Her email is mschenk@news-gazette.com, and you can follow her on Twitter (@schenk).