Law, as a profession, relies heavily on record-keeping. Without careful records of courtroom proceedings, the justice system would have a much more difficult time ensuring that court cases were handled fairly. It’s also hard to set legal precedents and build upon them without careful records of previous cases. For this reason, court reporters play a vital role in the legal system.
A court reporter’s job is to diligently transcribe everything that happens in the courtroom. They also provide word-for-word transcriptions and broadcast captioning for public speaking events and other similar situations. For example, they might take a transcript of a political address.
Court reporters are also used commonly to provide information to people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Instead of communicating through sign language, the reporter will provide a written transcript to the deaf person, who can then respond through text. This is completed through a Communication Access Real-Time Translation (CART) system, which enables deaf people to communicate freely with people over the phone or in person through text thanks to the services of the reporter.
What is Being a Court Reporter Like?
The process of recording a transcription is fairly straightforward, but it requires meticulous work. A reporter will set up a microphone or other device to record spoken dialogue while in a court room or other setting. They will then take notes on gesture and other non-verbal cues in addition to who’s speaking at the time and how various names and technical terms are spelled.
After everything has been recorded, the reporter will complete a word-for-word written transcript of everything that happened. This transcript will be proofread for errors and then archived or distributed as necessary.
Some reporters handle this differently as the situation requires. For example, they may use a stenotype machine to record dialogue as it’s spoken. The machine enables them to type more quickly than they would on a regular keyboard as it’s designed to record words through a few keystrokes rather than individual letters. People who use a stenotype machine are called stenographers.
Court reporters make a median annual wage of around $47,700, and some can earn more than $91,000 per year for certain types of work according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics. Reporters usually either work for a specific employer or offer freelance services, which have more flexibility in scheduling and pay.
How to Become a Court Reporter
Court reporters need excellent listening, comprehension and typing skills. The ability to concentrate on multiple things at once is imperative to this particular career. You’ll also need to be able to type quickly and accurately and have a high proficiency with technical devices necessary to complete your job. A good grasp of spelling, grammar and vocabulary is also a necessity.
In order to become a court reporter, you’ll need to pursue education at a community college, technical institute or other university. You don’t always need to complete an entire degree program in order to begin work. Instead, some people and take a course and complete a certification at the end of it. Depending on the type of technology and transcription techniques you’ll use, your training may take a longer or shorter time.
Training programs can vary from a six-month training session to a four-year degree depending on your area of specialization and what type of transcribing you plan to do. In addition to classes to teach you about recording and transcribing dialogue, you’ll need to study English and communication. You’ll also need to learn about law in order to work in a courtroom setting, and you may be required to pass a proficiency or licensing exam to work in certain state courts. And, you’ll be required to complete on-the-job training for most employers after being hired.
The National Court Reporters Association (NCRA) provides certification services for court reporters. The test includes a written exam and practical skill test which requires, among other things, for the reporter to type at 225 words per minute. Currently, 22 states utilize the NCRA certification rather than their own state licensing procedures. Other states will have different requirements, so check whether your employer uses the NCRA or not prior to applying so you’ll know whether you’re qualified.
Becoming a court reporter allows you to play a vital role in legal proceedings, political actions and other events. In some ways, you are literally helping to write history for future generations. If this idea excites you, being a court reporter might be the ideal job for you. Once you choose a specialization, it will be easier to pursue the appropriate education and start finding jobs that will suit your specific interests and needs.