Court reporters — often referred to as stenographers or short hand reporters — are the professionals called upon to ensure that all spoken words and gestures of a proceeding are recorded to produce an accurate transcript. These courtroom professionals, who are often referred to as guardians of the record, must be impartial, responsible, and reliable, and they must be properly educated, trained, and certified to expertly perform their job.
With outstanding employment and salary potential, it’s no wonder many are pursuing careers in court reporting and stenography. But before embarking on a career as a court reporter, candidates must complete a comprehensive program in court reporting, and, in many states, satisfy requirements for licensure or certification.
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Here’s how to kick start a career in court reporting:
1. Choose a Career Path
There are a number of paths within the field of court reporting, so it is important to find a path of interest before beginning a court reporter program.
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Although all court reporter programs have the same, basic structure as to prepare students for state licensure and/or professional certification, some schools divide their court reporter programs in a number of ways to best prepare students for specific areas of court reporting, while others provide a more comprehensive approach to court reporting.
For example, some schools provide a broad stroke approach, which allows students to study a number of areas within the profession, including:
- Judicial reporting: Taking records of court proceedings, depositions, and administrative hearings
- Closed/Broadcast captioning: Providing live feeds to a broadcast network
- CART (Communications Access Realtime Reporting): Specialized services for deaf and hard-of-hearing people
Other programs may separate court reporter programs by:
- Court reporting/Stenography: The stenography method utilizes a computer and a stenotype machine for closed/broadcast captioning, judicial reporting, and CART.
- Court reporting/Voice writing: Involves speaking into a stenomask device that feeds the reporter’s voice into specialized voice recognition and translation software on a laptop computer.
2. Prepare for the Court Reporter Program
Students of court reporter programs must purchase their own manual stenotype machine, which usually costs between $100 and $250. Most schools do not endorse paperless writers, as it is important to learn to read paper notes.
Students are then often required to rent or purchase a model computerized writer for CAT classes. Purchasing a new computerized writer may cost upwards of $2,000, while used models can be purchased for as little as $400. Given the cost of computerized writers, many students choose to rent these models. Software for the computerized writers may also cost an additional $100 to $500.
Individuals should also be prepared to take entrance exams prior to being accepted into a court reporter program. Entrance exams are usually in typing and English, and students should have an excellent grasp of the English language before applying to a court reporter program.
3. Complete a Court Reporting Program
The path to a court reporting career is rather standard in terms of education. Specifically, individuals must complete a recognized court reporting program. However, where this education is obtained may differ, as court reporting programs are available in a number of institutions, from community colleges to dedicated court reporter schools. A court reporting program may therefore result in an associate’s degree or professional diploma or certificate, depending on the institution in which the program is located.
It is common for court reporting programs to be quite flexible, with many institutions offering a number of online courses and day and evening classes to accommodate today’s busy lifestyles. Some programs, particularly in dedicated court reporter schools and technical schools, even offer combination court reporting programs that include online academics with hands-on speed classes taken on-site.
What does not vary, however, is the education received from these institutions. Because court reporting programs prepare students to achieve state licensure and/or professional certification, they must contain a similar curriculum, and students must be able to achieve a minimum skills standard for machine shorthand which, according to the National Court Reporters Association, is
- Literary at 180 wpm
- Jury charge at 200 wpm
- Testimony/Q&A at 225 wpm
The bulk of court reporting programs deals with shorthand – or rather the mastery of it. As such, a minimum accuracy must be achieved in machine shorthand, which is usually 97 percent. Most programs also require students to achieve a minimum, average grade in both speed-building classes and coursework.
In addition to teaching students court reporting skills through the use of a stenography machine and often computer-aided real-time technology, court reporting programs are designed to provide a comprehensive education in:
- English grammar, punctuation and spelling
- Medical and legal terminology
- Legal studies
- Transcript procedures
Many programs culminate in an apprenticeship, which provides students with practical, real-life training and preparation.
4. Meet State Licensing Requirements
Depending on the state in which one practices court reporting, a state license may be required. Most states that require licensing either have their own court reporting examinations, which consist of both a written examination and a skill test, and many accept the Certified Verbatim Reporter’s examination (CVR) through the National Verbatim Reporters Association or the Registered Professional Reporter (RPR) designation through the National Court Reporters Association in lieu of state exams.
Even states in which no licensing requirements exist, it is common to find many employers seeking the RPR designation, which is the entry-level designation for the National Court Reporters Association.