Court reporters are trained stenographers (people who can write using shorthand) who transcribe verbatim records of legal proceedings.
However, as many are independent contractors, they may also work outside of the field of law transcribing things like speeches, meetings, and other events as “simultaneous captioners.”
If you want to become a court reporter, you need to do more than learn shorthand and type quickly.
Court reporters hear it all: descriptions of murders, divorces, bankruptcy, white-collar crime, courtroom outbursts… the amusing and the tragic.
You must be able to must maintain your composure and remain attentive to the details of the proceeding, no matter how intense things get.
Read on to learn what a court reporter does, why they’re still essential to court proceedings, how to become a court reporter, and how much money court reporters make.
What Does a Court Reporter Do?
Court reporters do write verbatim records at legal proceedings using shorthand, not word-for-word typing. But they’re more than just excellent note-takers.
The National Court Reports Association (NCRA) refers to them as the “guardians of the judicial process” because their work ensures impartial and fully accurate records of each proceeding, which is essential when parties want to review what was said.
Much of the work of the court reporter is performed after the actual typing is done, including:
- Transcribing their shorthand to the official record
- Double-checking against recordings
- Formatting to match official requirements
- Verifying the accuracy of names
- Checking the spelling of all terms
- Organizing records and referencing them at the request of judges or lawyers
Many court reporters also work in other scenarios that require on-demand stenography, including closed-captioning for media, real-time broadcasting, or for individuals who are Deaf or hard-of-hearing.
Many court reporters are independent contractors, meaning they must also be able to manage self-employment requirements.
Are Court Reporters Still in Demand?
Court reporters are still in demand. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects the number of jobs for court reporters and simultaneous captioners to grow by 3% between 2020 and 2030.
Court reporters are active participants in proceedings and can transcribe all things said by participants who talk over one another, speak quietly, have accents, and more. Technology can’t perform these tasks exceptionally well.
Reporters are also allowed to ask people to repeat themselves to ensure the record is accurate, putting them another step above devices.
That said, using technology has become a significant part of what court reporters do, so they need some tech skills in addition to their other ones. As the NCRA puts it, “A court reporter providing real-time, which is the only proven method for immediate voice-to-text translation, allows attorneys and judges to have immediate access to the transcript…”
Modern stenography machines, for example, may use voice recognition to speed up the transcription process. Court reporters can manually clarify any problems with the transcription.
Other machines provide a real-time translation of the shorthand in which the stenographer is typing, meaning they spend less time manually translating it after the day is over.
Some machines also interface with court systems, so the record is instantly backed up and filed on servers.
Finally, technology can fail more easily than a person. One brief power outage, for instance, and everything could be lost. With people, errors can occur—but it’s easier to rectify problems like someone calling in sick or having a typo.
How to Become a Court Reporter
There are several requirements for becoming a court reporter. These include:
- Learning stenography
- Typing a minimum of 180 shorthand words per minute (actual minimum varies by state)
- Studying the subject, then passing court reporter certification exams, if applicable.
It’s harder to become a court reporter in some places than in others. Not all states require court reporters to pass exams. Of those that do, some require specific court reporter certification exams, while others accept a variety.
However, even if your state doesn’t require court reporter training or certification, undergoing these can prove dedication to your craft and make you stand out.
for Court Reporters
While court reporter certifications aren’t universally required, many states mandate them. A large number of states accept national court reporter certifications through the NCRA, National Verbatim Reporters Association (NVRA), and United States Court Reporters Association.
How long you must go to school for court reporter certification varies by the certification you want. The exam requirements and passing scores also vary.
NCRA Court Reporter Certifications
The NCRA offers several professional court reporter certifications. The one you choose depends on your career goals. They offer:
- Registered Professional Reporter (RPR): For entry-level court reporters or current reporters hoping to potentially raise pay and job opportunities
- Registered Merit Reporter (RMR): Second level skills exam for experienced court reporters; must be an NCRA member and RPR
- Registered Diplomate Reporter (RDR): Highest level certification; must already be an RMR and have five or more continuous years of NCRA membership
- Certified Realtime Reporter (CRR): Shows the ability to provide real-time, understandable reporting; must be NCRA member and RPR or higher
- Certified Realtime Captioner (CRC): Introductory certification for real-time closed captioners; must become an NCRA member to use the certification but needn’t be one to sit for the exam
- Certified Legal Video Specialist (CLVS): For those who want to work with court reporters as videographers to ensure the proceedings are correctly reported on
To maintain NCRA court reporter certification, all professionals must complete relevant continuing education courses.
NVRA Court Reporter Certifications
The National Verbatim Reporters Association (NVRA) is unique because it certifies both voice reporters and stenotype reporters.
Stenotype reporters are traditional court reporters, while voice reporters (also called voice writers) repeat testimony into stenomasks and take notes that way. The masks are created so their speech won’t interrupt proceedings.
Voice reporters’ work is often real-time, so what they say is automatically available. You may see this work occurring when watching live television with fairly accurate closed captioning, for instance.
While a stenographer’s work also involves documenting what people say in real-time, using a stenotype machine isn’t a guarantee they can create a 100% error-free document in the moment. In most cases, stenographers will process and edit the document to address any errors at the end of the day.
The NVRA offers several national court reporter certifications for traditional stenographers and voice stenographers. The ones for regular court reporters involve many of the same skills as NCRA’s certifications, while their voice ones involve other relevant training.
<h4> United States Court Reporters Association Certification </h4>
Just like lower courts, federal courts employ court reporters.
This court reporter certification isn’t always required to work as a court reporter in federal courts, but it is preferred.
How Much Do Court Reporters Make?
How much court reporters make often depends on how they’re employed and whether they’re certified.
According to the BLS, simultaneous captioners and court reporters earn a median salary of $61,660 per year ($29.64 per hour) as of 2020. Court reporter pay ranges from approximately $31,600 to $109,240, and those who work for state governments tend to make the most money.
Some court reporters are salaried employees at courthouses, but many are freelancers. This means they control how much they make because they have more freedom to accept or reject jobs.
While a court reporter certification doesn’t guarantee higher pay, having one may help with starting pay or growth potential.
Learn More About How to Become a Court Reporter
Court reporters play an essential role in the United States legal system. Their skills allow judges, lawyers, individuals, and juries to have an unbiased, verbatim record of what was said during proceedings that they can review later.
Even with how good technology has become, court reporters remain in demand because their skills have outperformed any software programs. Additionally, court reporters make about $20,000 more per year than the median wages of all occupations as of 2020.
If you’re detail-oriented, an excellent typist, willing to learn shorthand, and comfortable hearing all sorts of stories—some of which may be very hard to listen to—becoming a court reporter may be right for you.
Check out court reporting programs near you, and investigate NCRA, NVRA, and FCRR court reporter certificationoptions today.
Does working behind the scenes in the legal field appeal to you more? If so, look into earning a paralegal certificate to see if that career sounds more up your alley.
No matter which you decide on, you’ll be an integral part of keeping the American legal system going strong.