What Does it Mean to Study Court Reporting?
Court reporters play an important role in the daily functioning of the American court system. They serve as the recorders of all that transpires in the courtroom, most importantly decisions rendered by the judge and jury. The court reporter is responsible for all the documentation handled and reviewed during the course of a trial. The court reporter records and transcribes courtroom transcriptions, testimonies, and judicial orders. Court reporters have to understand legal terms and stay up to date on current events and legal procedures. They must also have excellent English language abilities and must be able to retain the names of people, places and sequences of events.
A well-run courtroom is a result of a collaborative effort among the court’s many employees. The court reporter is essential to the well-being and credibility of our nation’s legal system. Those who decide to become court reporters should take pride in their profession, ensuring that their professional performance reflects the trust and accountability necessary for the American legal system to be a success.
Types of Court Reporting Degrees
Court reporting sounds simple on paper, but in practice it requires an enormous amount of concentration and attention to detail, making it more difficult than it sounds. Online criminal justice degree programs in court reporting are designed to help students become familiar with the specialized skills needed for this profession, such as:
- Knowledge of the justice system
- Listening skills
- Verbal communication skills
- Understanding of writing, transcription, grammar and punctuation
- Familiarity with computer technology, stenography equipment, voice-recognition equipment, etc.
Online college classes in court reporting can help students to learn specialized technical information at their own pace. Technology has not only helped to make court reporting education more accessible, but it also plays a role in the court reporter’s workplace, where recording equipment is likely to play a prominent part in the court reporter’s duties.
Court Reporting Degree Programs
About 82 of the 160 vocational schools and colleges that offer court reporting programs have been approved by the National Court Reporters Association (NCRA). All of these NCRA-approved programs offer courses in real-time reporting and in stenotype computer-aided transcription procedures. In conjunction with the federal government, these NCRA-approved programs also require graduates to achieve a typing speed of 225 words per minute on stenography equipment.
Court Reporting Coursework
Court reporters have a high level of responsibility. Career training equips students to deal with the challenges of the profession; coursework includes in-depth examinations of legal procedures, legal terminology, the English language, listening and speaking practices, and courtroom etiquette and established custom.
The use of Computer Aided Transcription (CAT) is one of the first skills taught to court reporting students. Successful students will also develop a high typing speed; during most court reporting degree programs, typing speed is recorded daily and students move on to the next level of difficulty as their ability demonstrates.
What Can You Do With a College Degree in Court Reporting?
Court Reporting Jobs
A court reporter is exposed to a variety of legal proceedings. The nature of the courtroom activity depends upon the jurisdiction of the court in which he or she is working. After a few years, a court reporter may wish to train for a career as a paralegal or attorney. Court reporters often find that their work experience has prepared them for various kinds of legal work.
Court reporters may work in a variety of physical environments, such as an attorney’s office, a convention, or a courtroom. As a freelancer, he or she may work from home. Most court reporters work a regular 40-hour week, though freelance or self-employed court reporters may have a more flexible or odd schedule that could include weekend, evening, or on-call hours.
Court Reporting Job Duties
Official court reporters are employed by the government, on a regular salary, and generally report to a single judge. Freelance reporters work as independent contractors, either on their own or with court reporting firms, and will go where they are needed at any given time. Hay Management Consultants conducted a survey and identified four different levels of court reporting:
- The entry-level reporter, who takes and transcribes the court record, under supervision
- Has a state or national certificate
- The experienced reporter, who can help court officials compile information during trial
- The seasoned reporter, who uses the information s/he records to assist court officials during trial
The different functions of a court reporter fall into several categories. The Hay study also composed a list of job duties that court reporters might be asked to perform:
- Precise, real-time captioning in courtrooms outfitted with computer monitors
- Use of computer technology to code and cross-reference the court record
- Training and supervision in the use of computers and software for entering and accessing information
- Supporting the judge and attorneys with clerical procedures
- Hiring and instructing support staff and volunteers in appropriate methods for office tasks and reviewing court transcripts
- Purchasing equipment and supplies as needed
- Keeping a steady and exact inventory of courtroom supplies
- Monitoring transcript traffic
- Keeping an accurate financial log
Court Reporter Salary Ranges
Because of their knowledge base and seniority, official court reporters hold the highest level of responsibility and compensation. Median salaries in 2010 ranged from $35,880 at the lower percentile to $71,090 at the higher, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Transcript fees are separate and can vary depending on the workload. In some cases, courts will furnish their reporters with software and equipment and at other times reporters are responsible for their own materials. These individuals often employ scopists, who edit the transcripts using the steno theory when the reporter is busy with ongoing caseloads.
The options for professionals entering the court reporting field continue to be plentiful. Income varies depending on the type of court reporting job and on the individual’s experience. 2014 numbers from the BLS report a median annual salary of $49,860, but freelancers may be able to bring in much higher incomes depending on schedule and jurisdiction. Unlike many professionals in other fields, court reporters have the option of creating their own schedules. A court reporter’s income is only limited by how much he or she wishes to work. Official court reporters earn a salary and a per page fee, while freelance court reporters are paid per job and receive a per-page fee for their transcripts.
A court reporter’s earnings vary according to the type of reporting, his or her job experience, type of and level of certification and geographic location. It is common for court reporters on salary to do freelance court reporting, transcription, or captioning work on the side for additional income.
Court Reporting Career Outlook
Though the profession may seem vulnerable to replacement by tapes or other types of electronic communication, nothing can replace human observation and reporting. Court reporters can offer instant feedback to the judge or the attorneys. Tapes cannot fulfill this function. Appeals courts will not review videotaped testimony. Computerized voice dictation systems cannot record at the same speed as human recognition. An isolated, mechanized recording device cannot replace the presence of an accountable representative of the court’s record of work.
The need for court reporters will not diminish any time in the near future. In fact, employment opportunities for court reporters are projected to grow during the next seven years. At the same time, fewer and fewer students are studying court reporting and entering the professional field. For this reason, court reporting job opportunities are plentiful for those who have the correct education, training, and certification.
An obstacle that some court reporters might face is the existence of budgetary constraints that may limit the ability of courts at local, state, and federal levels to make new hires. Court reporters perform a task that is essential to the successful operation of a courtroom, however, that being the production of readable textual recordings of court proceedings, as well as the production of legal transcripts and writings for publication or public consumption.
Some court reporters choose to advance their careers to enter administrative and management positions, consulting positions, and teaching positions. The demand for professionals with court reporting skills is also heightened by the increased need for television captioning and for other real-time translating processes that are designed to aid the deaf and hard of hearing population. According to federal law, all new and emerging television programs must be captioned. Deaf students at colleges and universities have the opportunity to ask that their classes and lectures be translated in real time. Though the skills required for real-time translation and captioning are non-traditional in the world of court reporting, court reporters are generally able to transfer the skills required. Some court reporters receive education specifically designed for the development of real-time translation and captioning skills.
The Future of Court Reporting
Graduates joining the court reporting profession vary in gender and ethnicity. The job is appropriate for many women who enjoy the flexible schedule and the ability to structure work around family. The government has made a concerted effort to encourage minority participation in court reporting, especially in urban areas where minority representation in the court may help to ease potential tension in the courtroom. While there continues to a shortage of traditional court reporting schools, the number of accredited online degree programs is increasing.
Court Reporting Certification and Licensure
Requirements for practicing court reporters vary by state. While in some states court reporters must also be notary publics, other states require court reporters to pass a state certification test.
The state certification tests also vary slightly. The exam in California, for instance, is extensive, and consists of an English test, a dictation or transcription test, and a legal and medical technology test. The test is taken over a period of two days and is offered twice a year. Fewer than half of those who take the test pass all three sections the first time.
Those court reporters who are able to pass a four-part test and also take part in continuing education may receive Registered Professional Reporter status, a designation that distinguishes its carrier in the professional field. Other certificates, such as the Registered Merit Reporter and the Registered Diplomate Reporter designations, also announce a distinguished level of skill and ability. To achieve the Registered Diplomate Reporter certification, court reporters must have held Registered Merit Reporter status for five years, or must hold a bachelor’s degree in court reporting and have achieved four years of Registered Merit Reporter status. Court reporters may also pursue the title of Certified Realtime Reporter, Certified Broadcast Captioner, or Certified CART Provider. All of these designations are offered by the National Court Reporters Association.
In some states, court reporters specializing in voice writing must pass a test to achieve state licensure. Voice writers may earn the national certifications of Certified Verbatim Reporter, Certificate of Merit, and Realtime Verbatim Reporter. These certificates are offered by the National Verbatim Reporters Association and may make their holders eligible for state licensure. In order to achieve the Certified Verbatim Reporter certification, reporters must pass a written exam that covers topics such as spelling, punctuation, grammar, and legal terminology. In addition to the written exam, reporters must also pass dictation and transcription tests that measure speed and accuracy. Certified Verbatim Reporter certification is required in order to be eligible for the Certificate of Merit, which tests for even higher levels of speed and accuracy. The Realtime Verbatim reporter certification exam is designed to measure realtime transcription skills. Certification holders are required to continue their education in the field in order to keep the certification.
- “23-2091 Court Reporters,” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2014, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes232091
- “Court Reporters,” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outloook Handbook, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/court-reporters