Courtroom Stenographer Careers: Job Description & Salary Info

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What are the pros and cons of a career as a courtroom stenographer? Get career information, training requirements, and salary statistics to see if becoming a courtroom stenographer is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Courtroom Stenographer Career

Courtroom stenographers record and transcribe all information at courtroom hearings and public events. Read about the pros and cons of this career to see if it's for you.

Pros of a Career in Courtroom Stenography
Potential for full-time employment*
Strong opportunities for freelance work, which can allow you the freedom to set your own schedule*
Median annual salary of $49,860*
Only a technical school or community college education is usually required*
Job outlook is expected to grow on par with the national average for the 2012-2022 decade*

Cons of a Career in Courtroom Stenography/Reporting
Must sit for extended periods of time*
Positions may be replaced with advanced digital technology over time*
Responsible for accurate processing of a lot of important information, which can be stressful*
May require licensing and/or certification*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Essential Career Information

Job Duties

Becoming a courtroom stenographer does not necessarily mean your entire career will be spent in a courtroom. You may also create written copies of court proceedings, edit transcripts, and check on proper names and terminology used during courtroom proceedings. Some jobs involve captioning for the hearing-impaired and transcribing various types of events. Many stenographers choose an area of specialization outside of the courtroom, such as creating transcripts for governments, businesses, or hospitals.

Salary and Career Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for court reporters in 2014 was $49,860 ( The mean annual salary for those working in federal courtrooms was $57,030; local government court reporters fared slightly better at $58,270.

Employment of courtroom stenographers is expected to increase 10% during the 2012-2022 decade, which is in the average job growth range. Although many governments are replacing stenographers in the courtroom with Digital Audio Recording (DAR) technology, stenographers will still be needed to process and edit transcriptions of the recorded proceedings. Stenographers with training in the use of Communication Access Real-Time Translation (CART) will be in demand during this decade, according to the BLS.

Education and Training Requirements

Most employers require that you complete a technical program in courtroom stenography or court reporting before you can begin your career. These programs, often offered at community colleges or technical schools, are typically associate degree programs that take around two years to complete. There are also certificate programs in this field, which can take around a year to complete. In a training program, you will learn how to use stenography machines, edit and record transcriptions and also learn how to master various methods of stenography. Common skills learned through these programs include:

  • Machine shorthand
  • Dictation and transcription speed
  • Real-time reporting
  • Common terminology used in courtrooms and medical practices
  • Recording jury instructions

Licensing & Certification

Depending on the state, you may be required to obtain licensing before you begin your career. Some states allow you to obtain certification from the National Court Reporters Association (NCRA) in place of taking a licensing exam. Keeping your licensing or certification current often requires obtaining continuing education credits. NCRA certification is available in a variety of specialties including:

  • Real-time reporter
  • CART specialist
  • Legal video specialist
  • Diplomat reporter

Job Postings from Real Employers

Most employers are looking for court reporters with formal training in court reporting and many prefer applicants who have professional certification. Many employers will require you to undergo additional training once you're hired to familiarize you with their reporting procedures. The following job ads were posted in April and May of 2012:

  • The North Carolina Supreme Court was seeking an experienced court reporter who could work full-time in a courtroom setting for hearings and trials. This position required extensive certifications outside of basic stenography/reporting education. The applicant must be able to transcribe using stenography machines and voice recordings.
  • South Dakota was looking for a state court reporter who had a high school diploma and who had successfully completed a court reporting educational program. Preference would be given to candidates who possessed certification and a pay increase would be available to those who were certified in real-time reporting.
  • A county in California sought a reporter who could provide verbatim reports of court and grand jury proceedings. Requirements included state certification as a shorthand reporter and at least one year of experience. The successful applicant would need to provide their own transcription equipment for this position.

How to Make Your Skills Stand out

In order to make your skills stand out to potential employers, you will need to have completed a courtroom reporting degree program, remain up-to-date on certification through the NCRA and also be skilled at all applicable equipment used in the industry. You will also need a sharp understanding of legal and government systems and how they operate. Strong communication, writing and listening skills are also imperative to success in this career. You will need dexterity, attention to detail and the ability to finish projects under deadlines.

Other Careers to Consider

If you do not feel that a career as a courtroom stenographer is right for you, you may want to consider becoming a translator/interpreter for the hearing-impaired. Often, stenographers also work in this specialty as there many similarities between the careers. The BLS reported that the average salary for translators/interpreters in 2011 was around $51,000, which was slightly lower than the salary of a stenographer. It should be noted however, that the employment growth for this industry is expected to grow much faster than the national average at 42% between 2010 and 2020.

Another potential career to consider is a medical transcriptionist. While the educational requirements are similar for this position, the pay is significantly lower than the average salary of a stenographer at around $34,000 in 2011. The BLS also reported that the projected employment growth for this profession was expected to be only around 6% over the 2010-2020 decade, which is much slower than that of courtroom stenographers.