Pros and Cons of a Career as a Court Transcriptionist
Court transcriptionists, also called court reporters, record and transcribe a variety of different legal proceedings, from courtroom testimony to depositions. If you're considering a career as a court transcriptionist, there are a few things you may wish to consider.
|PROS of Being a Court Transcriptionist|
|Little education required (usually just a postsecondary certificate)*|
|Freelance court transcriptionists often maintain flexible schedules and might work from home*|
|Competitive wages (court transcriptionists earned a mean salary of approximately $55,000 in 2014)*|
|Increased job opportunities due to a greater need for court captioning*|
|CONS of Being a Court Transcriptionist|
|State licensure usually required*|
|Evolving recording and transcription methods may require continual recertification*|
|High degree of speed and accuracy required*|
|Great deal of concentration needed to pick up courtroom dialogue amid possible distractions*|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Career Information for Court Transcriptionists
Court transcriptionists record and transcribe legal proceedings using a variety of different methods. Judges, lawyers and jurors often need verbatim transcripts of witness testimony to assist with deliberation or courtroom strategy. As pre-screened and licensed professionals in the legal system, court transcriptionists should have a solid working knowledge of courtroom procedures and legal terminologies.
Job Duties and Career Outlook
Court reporters can utilize stenotype machines to record meetings, depositions or courtroom proceedings. These machines use keystroke codes to facilitate real-time recording of spoken testimony or arguments. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that excellent hearing, listening skills, finger dexterity and vision are important traits for court transcriptionists (www.bls.gov). You also need to gain expertise in the particular methods of recording and transcribing, including computer-aided transcription equipment used in your particular state or legal jurisdiction.
Growing trends in court reporting include the use of voice writing technology and audio recording devices. According to the BLS, court reporters should expect an increase in employment of 10% from 2012-2022 which was about the average for all other occupations.
Many court reporters are employed by state or municipal courts, but their services are also valued by private law firms. The BLS reported a mean salary of almost $55,000 for these professionals in May 2014, which was above the nationwide average salary of approximately $47,000. Court reporters who worked for local government agencies took in the greatest average salaries, earning approximately $58,000 per year.
Education and Training Requirements
Obtaining state licensure as a court reporter generally requires the completion of a college program approved by the National Court Reporters Association (NCRA). These programs can generally be completed in 1-3 years and often award graduates with an associate's degree or certificate in court reporting. These programs can include courses on keyboarding, machine shorthand and legal dictation.
Each state has its own requirements and paths to licensure for prospective court reporters, depending upon its particular method of voice writing and recording used in courtrooms. Many states award licensure to professionals who have graduated from an NCRA-approved program and received a successful proficiency score on the NCRA's certification test.
The NCRA issues the Registered Professional Reporter (RPR) certification, which is also accepted by many state's licensure boards (www.ncra.org). The RPR certification requires you to transcribe at a minimum rate of 225 words per minute. You'll need to pass both a standardized exam and a skills test to receive the certification.
Real Job Listings for Court Transcriptionists
Court transcriptionist positions are available to those who can type at fast speeds with minimal errors. Employers generally look for applicants who have graduated from an NCRA-accepted program or hold prior transcribing and reporting experience. Here are a few job listings from March 2012, with application requirements.
- South Dakota's judicial system seeks out a court reporter who has completed an NCRA-approved shorthand program. Pay increases are available if the worker earns additional certification as a Certified Realtime Reporter.
- A Texas court district seeks a full-time court reporter with five years of experience, a high school diploma and a state shorthand certificate. Preferred qualifications include holding National Verbatim Reporters Association certifications, such as the Realtime Verbatim Reporter certification.
- A Washington D.C. court reporting firm seeks a court reporter to transcribe electronic court reports. A college degree is required. Applicants should be able to transcribe 85 words per minute.
- A California superior court district seeks official court reporters. Completion of a training or associate's degree program in court reporting is required, along with one year of professional experience. Applicants must caption at least 180 words per minute, and they must own and maintain all recording and transcription equipment.
How to Get Ahead
As evidenced in real job listings, many employers offer pay increases for professionals who seek additional certification. In addition to the NCRA, a variety of other organizations offer professional certification to reflect changing trends and technologies in voice recording and transcribing. Verbatim voice writing technologies have improved upon traditional stenographic methods in many courtrooms. The National Verbatim Reporters Association issues the Certified Verbatim Reporter (CVR) credential, as well as the Certificate of Merit and the Realtime Verbatim Reporter credential (www.nvra.org). In order to obtain your CVR title, you need to complete workshop classes, followed by a proficiency test.
The American Association of Electronic Reporters and Transcribers (AAERT) issues certifications that allow you to expand on your recording and transcribing skills (www.aaert.org). Through AAERT, you may earn a credential as a Certified Electronic Reporter or a Certified Electronic Transcriber by passing both practical and written examinations.
If you have a passion for law, but don't necessarily want a position that requires so much concentration, you could become a law clerk. Law clerks assist judges or lawyers in conducting research, filing paperwork and preparing documents. They may also provide assistance in courtroom proceedings. Many aspiring lawyers gain courtroom and legal experience as law clerks. As of May 2011, the BLS reported that law clerks earned a mean salary of almost $47,000 per year.
If you would rather work in the medical field, you might become a medical transcriptionist. This career requires you to record physicians' medical conversations and diagnoses by typing them into formal reports. You also may need to catalogue patients' medical procedures using shorthand abbreviations. The job requires you to earn a certificate or an associate's degree, but certification is usually voluntary. According to the BLS, medical transcriptions made a mean yearly salary of about $34,000 as of May 2011.