Court reporters play an important role in courtrooms and at every type of meeting where spoken words must be captured and preserved in the form of a written transcript. They take verbatim reports of speeches, conversations, legal proceedings, meetings, and other events. They charged with the responsibility of ensuring a complete, accurate, and secure legal record. In addition to preparing these records, court reporters also may assist judges and trial attorneys by organizing and searching for information in the official record or making suggestions to judges and attorneys regarding courtroom administration and procedure.
Court reporters use two main methods: stenotyping and voice writing. Stenotypists use a stenotype machine that allows them to press multiple keys at a time to record combinations of letters representing sounds, words, or phrases. These symbols are recorded onto computer disks and translated into text by computer-aided transcription. Voice writing involves speaking directly into a stenomask – a hand-held mask with a microphone and voice silencer.
Court reporters must have speed and accuracy, as well as excellent listening skills. They must have good English grammar, vocabulary, and punctuation skills. They need to be aware of business practices and current events, as well as the correct spelling of names of people, places, and events that may be mentioned during their proceedings. Those who work in courtrooms need to have a working knowledge of legal terminology and criminal and appellate procedure. They must be able to operate computer hardware and software applications. Voice writers must learn to listen and speak at the same time and very quickly.
In 2002, court reporters earned a median annual salary of $41,550. Earnings ranged from the lowest 10%, who earned less than $23,120, to the highest 10%, who earned more than $73,440. Earnings varied depending on type of job, experience of the reporter, level of certification, and the region of the country.
Training and Education
Court reporters have varied degrees of training, depending on the type of reporting they choose to learn. Voice writers can complete their training in less than a year, while stenotypists require an average of 33 months of training. 160 postsecondary vocational and technical schools and colleges offer programs, and 82 of those have been approved by the National Court Reporters Association (NCRA). In order to qualify for graduation from NCRA-approved programs, students must be able to capture a minimum of 225 words per minute, the same requirement for Federal government jobs.
Different States have various requirements for court reporters. Some require them to be notary publics, while others require the Certified Court Reporter (CCR) designation. The NCRA offers the entry-level designation of Registered Professional Reporter (RPR), a voluntary designation requiring a four-part examination and participation in mandatory continuing education programs. Additional certifications are offered, such as Registered Merit Reporter (RMR) or Registered Diplomate Reporter (RDR), the highest certification offered. Some States require voice writers to pass a test and obtain a State license.
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In 2002, court reporters held about 18,000 jobs. 60% worked for State and local governments, and most of the remainder worked for court reporting agencies. 11% were self-employed.
Between 2002 and 2012, the number of court reporters is expected to increase about as fast as the average. Demand will continue for accurate transcription of court proceedings and pretrial depositions, and for the creation of captions for live or prerecorded television. Few people are entering the profession, creating good to excellent job opportunities for those looking for jobs.