[co-authors: Original Post By Brittany Davies & Updated by Julia Alicandri]
Some unsung professions simply don’t get the spotlight they deserve. It’s obvious that we need talented doctors, dentists, and teachers. But there are other indispensable professionals who have amazing mental processing skills in essential positions. A court reporting career showcases those stars. Planet Depos offers an incredible path in court reporting.
Along with lawyers and paralegals, court reporters are the lifeblood of the legal discovery and depositions business. It is a role that is essential to the legal process, and it is catastrophic that it isn’t marketed enough to young adults choosing their career path. We aim to shed a light on the basics of court reporting and the court reporter career outlook. We hope to inspire and locate the talent to pursue this career, or encourage another excellent fit.
What is a court reporter?
A court reporter, sometimes known as a stenographer or shorthand reporter, transcribes the spoken word/testimony at court hearings, depositions, trials, arbitrations, or any official proceeding. While there are several types of tools and technology used to make the record, the primary method today is a steno machine, a word processor with a modified 22-button keyboard, upon which words are “written” phonetically.
A certified court reporter must be able to write at, minimally, a 95% accuracy rate at 225 words per minute, though higher level certifications require rates of up to 260 words per minute. Elite court reporters can offer a service known as realtime, where their record is streamed as it is created to laptops and tablets in the room.
Often court reporters will take work outside the courtroom, providing captioning services at events, for broadcast TV, or even radio broadcasts for the hearing-impaired. Court reporters working in closed captioning often provide realtime captioning for corporate events, live concerts, sporting events, and conventions.
Why are court reporters so important?
Think of court reporting and its impact on society. At Disney’s EPCOT, there is a ride called Spaceship Earth, which takes riders through the history of civilization. One of the very first things seen is an ancient Phoenician recording history in shorthand. From early civilization to now, recording history has been essential to building society.
Court reporters are an integral part of the legal process. They are responsible for recording and preparing verbatim transcripts of proceedings to be used by attorneys, judges, and litigants. Court reporters also serve the deaf and hard-of-hearing communities by providing realtime captions for live television programs, as well as one-on-one personalized services in educational and public environments.
How long is a court reporting program?
Typically, court reporting schools are 2- or 3-year programs, but it can take up to 3 to 5 years to complete the court reporter training coursework. It is highly dependent on the amount of effort put into developing the skill set to become a reporter.
Check out the list of certified schools and programs on file with the National Court Reporters Association (NCRA) to find the right fit for you!
Is certification required for a court reporting career?
In some states, certification is required; in others, not. The most recognized certifications are those offered through the NCRA. The entry-level Registered Professional Reporter (RPR) requires passing a skills test with 95% accuracy at 225 words per minute. There is also the advanced Registered Merit Reporter (RMR) certification, which requires 95% accuracy at 260 words per minute. According to the NCRA, the highest level of certification available is the Registered Diplomate Reporter (RDR). The Diplomate Reporter differentiates the advanced, veteran reporters as the elite in the profession.
What personality traits and/or interests do court reporters typically possess?
- The court reporter’s primary responsibility is to record the spoken word as quickly and as accurately as possible, so it’s important to have a passion for words and strong language skills.
- Discipline, a strong work ethic, and a quest for knowledge are three key traits among successful court reporters.
- Court reporting requires a high level of technical performance, so an interest in cutting edge technology is a plus.
- If you’re a procrastinator, then court reporting is probably not the direction for you. Great court reporters thrive under time and deadline pressures.
- Reporters must be exceptional listeners and can concentrate for long periods of time. Accuracy and attention to detail may impact a case and, ultimately, a life.
- History has shown that playing a musical instrument, particularly the piano, is another commonality in successful court reporters.
How much does a court reporter make?
Just as anything else in life, what you get out of something is the product of the effort you put into it! Court reporting is no different, and salaries can range depending on your situation. Many reporters work as independent contractors at their own pace, taking jobs to match their lifestyle. Other reporters work in fulltime positions within the court system.
As of April 2019, the average annual salary for a court reporter was $56,865, with an average range of $41,029 – $74,428. Reporters who have invested in continuing education, advanced certification, and cutting-edge technology typically earn $100,000+.
What types of court reporters are there?
Again, it is important to remember that there are different types of jobs for those who master the skills required to become a court reporter. A freelance court reporter is an independent contractor, or one who works for one or more court reporting agencies. Their work primarily consists of recording testimony taken in the discovery phase of a case (depositions), as well as meetings, arbitrations, and hearings.
An official court reporter is typically hired by a court system and works inside the courtroom. These reporters are generally fulltime employees of the court and work regular hours. Have you ever watched Parks & Recreation? Ethel Beavers is an official court reporter who utilizes a steno machine in her job.
Interested in politics? Have you ever noticed the person recording the proceedings of Congress, or reporting the State of the Union address by the President of the United States on television? These are yet other opportunities for those who have the brains and stamina to make it through court reporting school and to take their career to the greatest heights!
And speaking of television, do you know how closed captions are generated for live programs such as the news? The captions for all live programming are generated by the amazing talents of a court reporter.
What is the court reporting career outlook?
In a word: Strong. There is a critical shortage of stenographic reporters across the nation. In 2013, the NCRA commissioned a report on the impact of the shortage to the profession and to the industry. The Court Reporting Industry Outlook Report, published by Ducker Worldwide, concluded that the demand for court reporters would exceed the supply within five years (2018); that nationwide, an additional 5,500 stenographic reporters would be needed to fill the void. The profession fell woefully short on meeting the demand and many stenographic schools closed, resulting in fewer enrollees, and fewer professionals entering the field. These numbers also do not consider the number that have and will continue to retire.
Due to the necessity of court reporters in legal proceedings, it’s a profession that is at its prime to enter. Large metropolitan areas are in desperate need for new professionals, and agencies will often move you to locations with more jobs than you could ever hope to cover. The areas that are seeing the greatest demand for new reporters are California, Texas, Illinois, New York, and Washington, D.C.
There has long been speculation that technology will take over the court reporter’s job. Many courts and court reporting agencies are implementing new technology, such as digital reporters, to fill the deficit of stenographic reporters. These new technologies are unable to provide many elite services that experienced stenographic reporters deliver, such as realtime. Stenographic reporters are, and will be, an essential piece in the legal landscape. The profession is here to stay and joining now can provide you with a fascinating career for the rest of your life.