What Does a Court Reporter Do?
Court reporters create word-for-word transcriptions at trials, depositions, administrative hearings, and other legal proceedings. Some court reporters provide captioning for television and real-time translation for deaf or hard-of-hearing people at public events, in business meetings, and in classrooms.
Court reporters typically do the following:
- Attend depositions, hearings, proceedings, and other events that require written transcripts
- Capture spoken dialogue with specialized equipment, including stenography machines, video and audio recording devices, and covered microphones
- Report speakers’ identification, gestures, and actions
- Read or play back all or a portion of the proceedings upon request from the judge
- Ask speakers to clarify inaudible or unclear statements or testimony
- Review the notes they have taken, including the names of speakers and any technical terminology
- Provide copies of transcripts and recordings to the courts, counsels, and parties involved
- Transcribe television or movie dialogue to help deaf or hard-of-hearing viewers
- Provide real-time translation in classes and other public forums for the deaf or hard-of-hearing population
Court reporters create word-for-word transcripts of speeches, conversations, legal proceedings, meetings, or other events.
Court reporters play a critical role in legal proceedings, which require an exact record of what was said. They are responsible for producing a complete, accurate, and secure legal transcript of courtroom proceedings, witnesses’ testimonies, and depositions.
Court reporters in the legal setting also help judges and lawyers by capturing, organizing, and producing the official record of the proceedings. The official record allows users to efficiently search for important information contained in the transcript. Court reporters also index and catalog exhibits used during court proceedings.
Some court reporters, however, do not work in the legal setting or in courtrooms. These reporters primarily serve people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing by transcribing speech to text as the speech occurs.
The following are examples of types of court reporters who do not work in a legal setting:
Broadcast captioners are court reporters who provide captions for television programs (called closed captions). These reporters transcribe dialogue onto television monitors to help deaf or hard-of-hearing viewers or others viewing television programs in public places. Some broadcast captioners may translate dialogue in real time during broadcasts; others may caption during the postproduction of a program.
Communication access real-time translation (CART) providers are court reporters who work primarily with deaf or hard-of-hearing people in a variety of settings. They assist clients during board meetings, doctors’ appointments, and any other events in which real-time translation is needed. For example, CART providers may caption the dialogue of high school and college classes and provide an immediate transcript to students with hearing problems or who are learning English as a second language.
Although some court reporters may accompany their clients to events, many broadcast captioners and CART providers work remotely. An Internet or phone connection allows them to hear and type without having to be in the room.
Court reporters who work with deaf or hard-of-hearing people turn speech into text. For information on workers who help deaf or hard-of-hearing people through sign language, cued speech, or other spoken or gestural means, see the profile on interpreters and translators.
Court reporters may use different methods for recording speech, such as stenotype machine recording, steno mask recording, and electronic recording.
Court reporters use stenotype machines to record dialogue as it is spoken. Stenotype machines work like keyboards, but create words through key combinations rather than single characters, allowing court reporters to keep up with fast-moving dialogue.
Key combinations entered on a stenotype machine are recorded in a computer program. The program uses computer-assisted transcription to translate the key combinations into the words and phrases they represent, creating real-time, readable text. The court reporter then reviews the text for accuracy and corrects spelling and grammatical errors.
Court reporters also may use steno masks to transcribe speech. Court reporters who use steno masks speak directly into a covered microphone, recording dialogue and reporting gestures and actions. Because the microphone is covered, others cannot hear what the reporter is saying. The recording is sometimes converted by computerized voice-recognition software into a transcript that the court reporter reviews for accuracy, spelling, and grammar.
For both stenotype machine recording and steno mask recording, court reporters must create, maintain, and continuously update an online dictionary that the computer software uses to transcribe the key presses or voice recordings into text. For example, court reporters may put in the names of people involved in a court case, or the specific words or technical jargon typically used in that type of legal proceeding.
Court reporters also may use digital recorders in their job. Digital recording creates an audio or video record rather than a written transcript. Court reporters who use digital recorders operate and monitor the recording equipment. They also take notes to identify the speakers and provide context for the recording. In some cases, court reporters use the audio recording to create a written transcript.
How much does a Court Reporter Earn?
The median annual wage for court reporters was $57,150 in May 2018. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $28,150, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $104,460.
In May 2018, the median annual wages for court reporters in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:
|State government, excluding education and hospitals||$66,430|
|Local government, excluding education and hospitals||60,450|
|Business support services||46,020|
Freelance court reporters are paid for their time, but can also sell their transcripts per page for an additional profit.
Court reporters who work in a court setting typically work full time recording events and preparing transcripts. Freelance reporters have more flexibility in setting their work schedules.
How to Become a Court Reporter
Many community colleges and technical institutes offer post secondary certificate programs for court reporters. Court reporters typically receive a few weeks of on-the-job training. Many states require court reporters who work in legal settings to be licensed by a state or certified by a professional association.
Many court reporters receive formal education at community colleges or technical institutes, which have different programs that lead to either a certificate or an associate’s degree in court reporting. Either degree will qualify applicants for many entry-level positions. Certification programs prepare students to pass the licensing exams and typing-speed tests required by most states and employers.
Most court reporting programs include courses in English grammar and phonetics, legal procedures, and legal terminology. Students also practice preparing transcripts to improve the speed and accuracy of their work.
Some schools also offer training in the use of different transcription machines, such as stenotype machines or steno masks.
Graduating from a court reporting program can take between 2 and 5 years.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
Many states require court reporters who work in legal settings to be licensed or certified by a professional association. Licensing requirements vary by state and by method of court reporting.
The National Court Reporters Association (NCRA) offers certification for court reporters, broadcast captioners, and communication access real-time translation (CART) providers. Currently, about half of states accept or use the Registered Professional Reporter (RPR) certification in place of a state certification or licensing exam.
Digital and voice reporters may obtain certification through the American Association of Electronic Reporters and Transcribers (AAERT), which offers the Certified Electronic Reporter (CER) and Certified Electronic Transcriber (CET) designations.
Voice reporters also may obtain certification through the National Verbatim Reporters Association (NVRA). As with the RPR designation, some states with certification or licensing requirements will accept the NVRA designation in place of a state license.
Certification through the NCRA, AAERT, and NVRA all require the successful completion of a written test, as well as a skills test in which applicants must type, record, or transcribe a minimum number of words per minute with a high level of accuracy.
In addition, all associations require court reporters to obtain a certain amount of continuing education credits in order to renew their certification.
For more information on certification, exams, and continuing education requirements, visit the specific association’s website. State licensing and continuing education requirements can be found by visiting the state association’s or state judicial agency’s website.
After completing their formal program, court reporters must undergo a few weeks of on-the-job training. This typically includes training on the specific types of equipment and more technical terminology that may be used during complex medical or legal proceedings.
Concentration. Court reporters must concentrate for long periods. They must remain focused on the dialogue they are recording, even in the presence of auditory distractions.
Detail oriented. Court reporters must produce error-free work because they create transcripts that serve as legal records.
Listening skills. Court reporters must give their full attention to speakers and capture every word that is said.
Writing skills. Court reporters need a good command of grammar, vocabulary, and punctuation.