Court reporters create verbatim transcripts, and besides being responsible for the preparation and protection of legal records, many court reporters assist trial attorneys and judges by searching for and organizing information in official records or by suggesting courtroom procedure and administration. They also provide real-time translating and closed-captioning services for the hard-of-hearing and deaf community.
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The most common method of court reporting that court reporters use is stenographic. This machine enables them to press multiple keys at once that are electronically recorded, translated and displayed as text in a process called computer-aided transcription. Court reporters also use a method called electronic reporting in which they record court proceedings and later produce a written transcript from the recording. Some court reporters use voice writing, a method that silences their voice as they repeat the words spoken at the hearing into a recorder until a written copy is produced later.
Court Reporter Job Summary
- Court reporters with certification should have excellent job prospects.
- Employment growth will be spurred by the demand for real-time broadcast captioning and translating.
- Licensing requirements vary by state, and training to become a court reporter varies by specialization.
Work Environment for Court Reporters
Most court reporters work in comfortable settings, such as courtrooms, attorney’s offices, conventions and legislatures. Increasingly, freelance or independent contracting court reporters are working from home-based offices. Many official court reporters work regular 40-hour workweeks, and they sometimes work extra hours at home preparing transcripts. Self-employed, or freelance court reporters, normally work flexible hours including evenings, weekends or part time.
Those court reporters who work outside the courtroom may specialize in captioning live television programming for those with hearing loss. They work for cable stations, television networks, emergency broadcasts, sporting events, captioning news and other programming, and they usually work in television broadcasting newsrooms.
Sitting for long periods of time in the same position can cause back, neck, wrist or neck strain. In addition, carpal tunnel syndrome or other repetitive stress injuries can occur. Court reporters sometimes experience job stress caused by the necessity for accuracy and speed.
Court Reporter Education, Training and Licensing
The amount of training time for court reporters depends on the type of reporting chosen. A novice voice writer may find an entry-level job with less than a year of training, whereas it takes at least two years to become proficient at real-time voice writing. Some court reporters learn their skills on the job, such as electronic reporters and transcribers. To become a real-time stenographic court reporter usually requires approximately 33 months of training. Around 100 postsecondary vocational and technical schools and colleges offer court reporter training programs. More than 60 programs are certified by the National Court Reporters Association (NCRA), and all of these offer stenotype computer-aided transcription and real-time reporting courses. Both the federal government and NCRA-certified programs require students to capture a minimum of 225 words per minute.
On-the-job training is common for electronic court reporters as they work with trainers and observe skilled electronic transcribers perform procedures. Employers often have vendors train court reporters on court electronic transcribers at the time that the company purchases the equipment.
State licensure is required by some states for voice writers, who have a choice of three national certifications available to them. Court reporters who earn these certificates are eligible for licensure in states where the voice method of court reporting is permitted. Some states also require court reporters to be notary publics while others require them to pass a state test administered by a board of examiners to earn the Certified Court Reporter (CCR) designation.
Candidates hoping to enter the field of court reporting should have excellent listening skills and hearing, good English vocabulary, punctuation and grammar. Those working in courtrooms should be familiar with legal terminology and criminal and appellate procedure. Knowledge of computer hardware and software applications is also essential.
Employment Figures, Job Outlook and Salary Information
Court reporters held about 18,780 jobs in May 2009, according to research published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Most court reporters worked in business support services with almost as many employed by local government. A few worked for the federal or state government and employment services.
The BLS expects employment in this field to grow 18% between 2008 and 2018, which is faster than the average for all occupations. This growth will be spurred by the continuing need for court reporting in courts and pretrial depositions as well as the increasing demand for captions for live television and the need to provide other real-time broadcast captioning and translating services for the hard-of-hearing and deaf.
The BLS reported in May 2009 that the median annual salary for court reporters was $47,810. The middle 50% of court reporters earned between $34,710 and $67,420, while the bottom 10% earned $25,410 or less. The top 10% earned around $89,240 or more per year.