Ballpark Estimate: $5,250 to $28,000+
When we think of court reporters, most of us think of someone typing on a strange-looking machine, in the front of a courtroom. But a degree or certificate in court reporting, and “machine shorthand expertise,” opens up an exciting and surprisingly varied selection of career choices – working in a courtroom is just one of them.
Methods of Court Reporting
Stenographic reporting is the most common method of court reporting, and the one we are most familiar with. Court reporters use a stenotype machine that looks like a small typewriter and has only 22 keys. The stenotype machine allows reporters to press one or more keys simultaneously to produce symbols that represent sounds, words, or phrases. The symbols are electronically translated and displayed as text in a process called Computer-Aided Transcription (CAT). When the stenotype machine is linked to computers, CAT makes real-time captioning possible.
Electronic reporting is when the court reporter uses audio equipment (analog or digital) to record what is said, while carefully monitoring the proceedings. The reporter takes detailed notes to identify speakers, and describe gestures of all parties involved. The court reporter also checks for clarity of the report. After the proceeding has ended, the reporter prepares a detailed transcript.
Voice writing is when the court reporter speaks directly into a specialized microphone called a Voice Silencer or Stenomask. The stenomask is usually handheld, and covers the court reporter’s mouth so his or her voice can’t be heard. The reporter repeats everything that is said, as well as describing gestures and emotional reactions of the judge, witnesses, lawyers, and jury. Depending on the tenomask capabilities, the reporter’s voice is either recorded for later transcription, or is digitally translated into text by a computer speech-recognition process which then produces real-time streaming text. This text can appear on a monitor, television, or computer in the courtroom. When used at sports or breaking news events, this process is used to stream text on televisions nationwide or around the world. However, limitations in voice recognition software sometimes make voice writing problematic. The technique is not allowed in courtrooms in some states (Visit the National Verbatim Reporters Association website for more information.)
Communication Access Real-time Translation (CART)
CART is a more personalized version of real time captioning that court reporters use when working with deaf or hearing-impaired students and clients. CART reporters are able to provide real-time translation as well as transcripts at the end of the session – a service that becomes invaluable in a classroom setting. In other situations, many CART reporters work remotely, using telephone and Internet connections to relay data.
In 2006, more than half of the 19,000 court reporters in the nation worked for state and local governments, usually in courts, legislatures, and agency work. Others worked for court reporting agencies in a freelance capacity. Court reporters commonly work in law, government, medicine, business, and education.
Court reporters skilled in CAT can also choose to work for hospitals or law offices doing medical or legal transcription. Insurance companies and other businesses often require CAT expertise for input of large amounts of data, and for cyber-conferencing. Government agencies employ court reporters at federal, state and local levels.
However, new technology in the field of court reporting has opened up many other career opportunities. While real-time transcriptions and captioning are used in courtrooms to make the proceedings available to hearing-impaired judges, jurors, lawyers, and audience members, the technology is also used in closed-captioning for live television broadcasts of news, court proceedings, emergency situations, sports events, and other programs. Many television broadcasting stations include closed-captioning for hearing impaired viewers. Closed-caption experts are also essential for jobs in radio and in classrooms.
Anywhere that dictation and immediate transcription is needed, a court reporter’s skills are used. Depositions in a law office, dictation in a hospital, transcripts from a conference call or a business meeting are all examples of situations where these specialized skills and equipment are required.
Across the United States, there are only about 150 community colleges, vocational schools, or technical schools that offer court reporter training. The National Court Reporters Association (NCRA) has approved 80 of these schools. It is up to you to carefully research your school before you apply and pay your first year’s tuition. This especially applies to online court reporting schools. Find out how many students have successfully graduated from the school’s Court Reporter program. Ask to email or call former students to get their opinions. Find out how graduates did in their job searches, and how many are actually working right now. If the school is reluctant to give you this information, look at different court reporting school.
To apply for court reporter school, students must have graduated from high school or from a GED program. Your court reporter education will start with honing your English reading and writing skills, learning about the stenotyping equipment, and learning medical and legal terminology. Training will also depend on the kind of court reporting you plan to do. Training to become a voice writer takes approximately 9 months, plus 2 years or more to actually become proficient in real-time voice writing. It typeically takes takes 2.5 to 3 years to become a real-time stenotypist. A lot depends on how much you practice and how long it takes you to work your stenotyping speed from 0 wpm when you start to 225 wpm when you graduate. Skilled court reporters can record 220 to 240 words per minute – faster than most people normally speak.
- Tuition, Community College, Associate’s Degree: $18,000 to $27,000
- Tuition, Community College, Certification: $7,800 to $19,600
- Tuition, Court Reporting School, Academy, or Institute: $3,600 to $7,500
- Tuition, Court Reporting School, Online: $4,500 to 27,000, depending on degree
You will have to purchase a Steno Writer and a computer, but for purposes of this article, computer costs are omitted.
- Stenograph SRT 400 Steno Writer: $600 (used) to $1,500 (new)
State Exam and Licensing
Each state has its own licensing requirements, but most states require that you take a test administered by a state board of examiners, to be awarded state certification. In some states, you may be required to become a notary public.
The National Court Reporters Association offers membership and testing so its members can gain more certification. Each level of certification requires more education and better skills, but will probably mean higher income in the long run.
- NCRA Membership dues (student rate):$65
- NCRA Written Knowledge Test (student rate): $175 (registration fee)
- NCRA Skills Test (student rate): $125 (registration fee)
VThe National Verbatim Reporters Association (NVRA) offers three certifications to voice writers: Certified Verbatim Reporter (CVR), Certificate of Merit (CM), and Real-Time Verbatim Reporter (RVR). Because the testing standards for these certifications are so high, the tests are usually accepted in lieu of state licensing in states where voice writing is permitted.
- NVRA Membership dues (student rate): $100
- Fees and dates for certification available to members only
What Will You Earn?
As of September 2009, the median annual income for court reporters was between $35,800 and $65,000. The top 10% were earning around $80,000 a year.
Career opportunities for court reporters are predicted to be excellent. Thanks to the technological advances in the field, there are many more jobs available to those with top skills and credentials. In particular, demand for transcriptionists and real-time captioning will be high. In addition, fewer people are entering the field, making job hunting that much more rewarding.