Becoming a Court Reporter: Job Description & Salary Information

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A court reporter's median annual salary is around $50,000. Is it worth the training requirements? See real job descriptions and salary information to find out if becoming a court reporter is right for you.
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Becoming a Court Reporter: Pros and Cons

Court reporters create transcriptions of legal proceedings, speeches and meetings. While becoming a court reporter may be a sound career option, you need to know what to expect in order to make an informed decision.

Pros of Becoming a Court Reporter
Average job growth (10% from 2012 to 2022)*
Good salary ($50,000 as of May 2014)*
4-year degree not required (associate's or training program)**
Many job options*

Cons of Becoming a Court Reporter
Risk of carpal tunnel syndrome, eye strain and muscle strain*
Many states require licensing*
Can be stressful*
Freelance reporters may have to invest in equipment***

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **National Court Reporters Association, ***National Verbatim Reporters Association.

Career Information

Job Description

Court reporters create word-for-word written transcriptions of legal proceedings, speeches, conversations and meetings. The documents they create are the legal records of these events. A stenographic court reporter records statements with a stenotype machine, which takes down words and phrases in a type of shorthand that is later translated by computer. In electronic court reporting, the proceedings are recorded, and the reporter monitors the equipment and the recordings. Voice writing is a method in which the reporter whispers into a mask containing a microphone connected to a recorder.

The court reporter must oversee the computer transcription process. After the document is complete, the reporter must edit it for grammar and accurate identification of names and locations. They must make copies and provide information to involved parties upon request.

Career Options

The National Court Reporters Association (NCRA) says about 70% of trained court reporters don't work in courtrooms, but use their skills in related fields. They may work as broadcast captioners, using stenotype machines to caption television programs for the hearing-impaired.

Another option involves Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART). The reporter accompanies a hearing-impaired person to an event, perhaps a college class, and transcribes the proceedings.

Some reporters work as webcasters, broadcasting in-person events, such as business meetings, over the Internet. Many court reporters are freelancers who are hired by attorneys, unions, association and other groups that need transcriptions of meetings, arbitration hearings or depositions.

Job Prospects and Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted employment of court reporters to grow by 10% from 2012 to 2022, which is about as fast as average for all occupations (www.bls.gov). While there will be a demand for traditional court reporters, the BLS stated that many reporters would find their captioning skills more useful due to an increased demand for services for the deaf and hearing-impaired. Court reporters certified by a national organization would have good job opportunities, as would those who were willing to relocate to large cities or rural areas.

The BLS reported that the median salary for a court reporter was $49,860 as of May 2014, with the middle-half of reporters making somewhere between $36,000 and $71,000 a year. Court reporters working for state governments averaged $58,250, while those working for local governments earned $58,270 in 2014. Salaries by region highlighted the income disparity of this profession. Court reporters in New York averaged $88,420 annually, while reporters in Indiana averaged slightly over $35,000 a year, according to the BLS.

What Are the Requirements?

Training and Licensure Requirements

On-the-job training may be sufficient in order to operate electronic recording equipment, but for most types of court reporting, you'll need to complete a program at a court reporting school or earn an associate degree from a community college or technical school. The NCRA certifies about 60 training programs, which require that graduates be able to capture at least 225 words per minute, the standard set for employment by the federal government.

The amount of training you need depends on the type of court reporting you plan on doing. Becoming a novice court reporter takes less than a year, but count on at least two years of training to become skilled at real-time voice writing. According to the BLS, it takes around 33 months to become a stenographic reporter.

Many states require that court reporters hold licenses. Certification from the National Verbatim Reporters Association (NVRA) will fulfill the licensure requirements in some states. Certification exams include spelling, punctuation, legal and medical terminology, as well as dictation and transcription. In other states, court reporters must pass tests from a board of examiners. Some states require that court reporters be notary publics.

Useful Skills

In addition to knowledge in equipment operation, reporters must be excellent spellers, have an understanding of grammar and a familiarity with legal and medical terminology. The NCRA states that good court reporters are people who can quickly assimilate what they hear. Court reporter training programs include courses in business law and business English.

Job Postings from Real Employers

Most job postings for court reporters call for certification from one of the national court reporter associations. Many ads mention the need for confidentiality and the ability to pass a criminal background check. Here are some examples of jobs from a national court reporters association and from a popular job website that were posted in March 2012:

  • A court system in Texas, needed a certified reporter who could handle a high volume of work. Storing exhibits introduced into evidence during trials would be part of this court reporter's job, as would advising the judge on courtroom practices and management.
  • Also in Texas, a Dallas court was looking for a reporter fluent in Spanish and English. The reporter should be eager to accept new duties, the job posting noted.
  • A federal court system in Southern California needed a reporter who was Realtime certified and could produce transcripts promptly. The ad noted that proper spelling of attorney and witness names was vital, as was providing and maintaining computer equipment and a telephone.
  • A job posting for a court in South Dakota, called for an experienced reporter who had graduated from a training program. The ad noted that the reporter would receive a five percent raise upon obtaining certification and would be allowed to do freelance work outside of normal office hours.

Standing Out in the Field

While there is still a big demand for traditional court reporters at trials and depositions, the BLS stated that people with CART skills would be in demand outside of the courtroom. For example, the Americans with Disabilities Act requires that deaf and hearing-impaired students receive real-time translation at schools if desired. CART trained reporters can also work at captioning television programs for the deaf and hearing-impaired.

Certifications

Several organizations offer certification for various types of court reporters, all of which require completing training programs and passing examinations. The NCRA offers several certifications, depending on the level of skill and the specialty. The NVRA offers certification in verbatim reporting and reporters working in the federal court system can be certified through the USCRA.

Electronic court reporters can earn certification through the American Association of Electronic Reporters and Transcribers (AAERT). Many of these associations require that reporters complete continuing education courses and attend professional seminars and conventions in order to maintain their credentials.

Other Career Paths

Medical Transcriptionist

Becoming a medical transcriptionist might be a good option if you like to type and have good language skills, but don't relish the real-time pressure of courtroom transcription. You'll listen to recordings from physicians and health care professionals and transcribe them into documents for patient records. Some transcriptionists train on-the-job, but most complete 1-year certificate programs or 2-year associate's degree programs.

The median salary for a medical transcriptionist was $32,900 in May 2010, the BLS reported. Job growth in this field was expected to be around 11% from 2008 to 2018, according to the BLS, which is about average for all occupations.

Paralegal

If you enjoy the legal profession, but don't want to sit and transcribe all day, becoming a paralegal might be a sound career choice. The BLS expected employment of paralegals to grow by 28% from 2008-2018, much faster than average for other occupations. Paralegals can't give legal advice or try cases, but they do assist lawyers in many ways.

Duties may include creating documents for real estate closings, helping prepare legal arguments and obtaining affidavits. The BLS stated that earning an associate's degree is the most common way to become a paralegal. If you already hold a bachelor's degree, you can complete a certificate program in paralegal studies. Some schools offer bachelor's and master's degree programs in paralegal studies. The median salary for paralegals was $46,680 in May 2010, according to the BLS.