Court reporters go by a variety of job titles including court stenographer, shorthand operator, stenotype operator, and law reporter. These titles, however, all describe the same occupation. The job of a court reporter is to transcribe speech into text and create transcripts that accurately capture transpiring events. While court reporters are commonly associated with courtrooms (hence the name), they do work in other areas such as providing closed-captioning services for televisions and movies, taking notes at business meetings, and providing transcripts of speeches, legal proceedings, and public events.
What is a Court Reporter
- Use specialized equipment to record speech and make notations of gestures and actions
- Prepare official transcripts from recordings
- Edit transcripts for spelling and grammar errors
- Update stenographic dictionaries to include previously undefined names and technical terms
- Distribute copies of official transcripts and recordings to the appropriate parties
Typically court reporters specialize in a particular type of recording device. Three of the most popular are stenotype machines, digital recordings, and steno masks.
Stenotype machine: This is the most common type of recording machine court reporters use. The machine features a specially-designed keyboard that creates words using key combinations instead of individual characters. This allows the person to reach a typing speed of 225 words or more per minute which is fast enough to keep up with verbal dialogue. A computer translates the symbols into readable text that the stenographer later edits for accuracy.
Digital recordings: Instead of typing, a court report may use audio equipment to record the event while simultaneously writing notes about speakers, gestures, and actions. Afterwards, the court reporter may create a transcript of the recording to be included with the audio file.
Steno masks: This is a covered microphone that the court reporter speaks into. What the person says is captured and translated by voice-recognition software. Later, he or she will edit the transcript for accuracy, spelling, and grammar.
In today’s digital age, some court reporters work remotely using a telephone and/or Internet connection. This is most often seen in the closed-captioning industry where the person can listen to the television program or movie on a headset and submit the transcriptions instantly using a special program.
How to Become A Court Reporter-Education and Court Reporter training
To become a court reporter, you must complete an accredited program. The degree you earn will depend on the type of recording method you want to use. For those interested in using a steno mask or digital recording, a certificate can be earned in as little as 6 months. If you want to learn to use a stenotype machine, you’ll need to earn an associate’s degree, and it can take up to 4 years. Both degrees can be earned at community or technical colleges. Typical classes include English grammar and phonetics, terminology, and legal procedures. Students also receive hands-on training to enhance accuracy and speed.
Most states require court reporters to be licensed, particularly if they work in court settings. In lieu of a license, some states will accept certification by the National Court Reporters Association (NCRA) ( click here to find an accredited online court reporting school). The credential this organizations offers is called the Registered Professional Reporter (RPR) certification and requires applicants to pass a skills test with a minimum typing speed of 225 words per minute and a written exam. Certifications are also available for people pursuing digital and voice court reporting.
Certified or licensed court reporters are generally required to complete continuing education to maintain their credentials. Even with formal education and credentialing, some on-the-job training may be required. More information about licensing may be obtained from your state’s licensing department.
Detail oriented: Oftentimes, the transcripts court reporters create will be used for legal purposes. Therefore, the information must be completely error-free.
Listening skills: Workers in this field must pay close attention to what people are saying and have the ability to concentrate for long stretches of time. Frequently there will be distractions and sometimes chaos, but you must be able to ignore both to do your job properly.
Writing skills: Court reporters are required to know how to properly apply grammar, punctuation, and spelling rules.
There are two types of court reporters: those that work for an agency or business and freelancers. The majority (about 56%) of court reporters were employed by state and local governments. The second highest employer was those that provided business support services. Almost all people in this occupation worked full time hours. However, people who worked on a freelance basis had more freedom to create their work schedules. Depending on the assignment, evening and weekend hours may be required.
Court Reporter Salary
The top earners in this occupation made $91,280 per year while the lowest earned made $25,710. However, the median wage was $47,700. Freelance court reporters are paid on a per assignment basis but may also sell transcripts to generate additional income. Those that work for the government or an agency may also enjoy health insurance and paid vacation benefits.
There were approximately 22,000 people employed as court reporters in 2010. The industry is expected to grow about 14% by 2020, which is about the average for all occupations. Increased demand for court reporters may be influenced by federal legislation requiring closed-captioning for new television shows and online programming. The ever expanding senior population is also a factor in the demand for people who are able to provide Communication Access Real-Time Translation (CART) services.