A court reporter – who may also be called a court stenographer, a stenotype operator, or a shorthand reporter – is responsible for transcribing spoken or recorded speech using a transcribing machine or voice writing equipment. Although court reporting, at first glance, may seem like a rather clear-cut profession, there are, in fact, a number of specialties within this field.
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An accredited court reporter program, whether through a dedicated court reporter school or community college, prepares students to pursue any number of stenography specialties, although students interested in pursuing a specific area of court reporting may seek corresponding coursework. Teachers and advisors within court reporter programs are often helpful for recommending a particular curriculum strategy for individuals interested in a specific career path.
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Methods of Transcribing
Court reporters may be categorized by the type of transcribing they perform. The traditional type of court reporting involves recording the spoken word using a manual stenotype machine, thereby allowing these professionals to make a legal, verbatim recording of proceedings, both in and outside the courtroom.
However, with the advent of new technology, many court reporters are now able to provide realtime stenography services using a computer-based process called Communication Access Realtime Translation, or CART. Through realtime reporting, all involved parties are afforded immediate access to the transcript. In addition to courtroom settings, CART is often used for broadcast captioning and webcasting.
Inside the Courtroom
The first profession that comes to mind when many hear the title of court reporter is, as the name suggests, a stenographer in a courtroom setting. Court reporters may be hired by federal, state or local courts, and many are often assigned to work for one specific judge or court. However, perhaps just as many court reporters are hired in a freelance capacity or work for stenography companies who provide these services to the courts.
Often called official reporters and judicial court reporters, these professionals are responsible for making legal verbatim records of courtroom proceedings or other public hearings. Their job requires an excellent, working knowledge of the legal system and an understanding of legal and medical terms.
Outside of the Courtroom
Although job opportunities for court reporters are plentiful throughout the country’s court systems, there are also many opportunities outside of the courtroom for these professionals, both in employee and freelance capacities.
In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that, as of May 2012, business support services and the motion picture and video industries ranked third and fourth, only behind state and local government, for their employment of court reporters.
Broadcast Captioners – Broadcast captioners, for example, which are also often referred to as stenocaptioners, use their stenography skills to provide captions of live television programs using realtime technology. Broadcast captioners may work for production companies, cable channels, major networks, and local stations. These professionals may provide captioning for news programs, sports events, emergency broadcasts, and other programs.
CART Providers – A closely related profession is a Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) provider, who is called upon to provide personalized services and hard-of-hearing people during live events and programs.
Webcasters – Webcasting is another swiftly growing subspecialty in court reporting and stenography. Webcasters provide realtime stenography services for parties on the Internet. A company conducting web-based meetings, training seminars, and press conferences are likely to use the services of a webcaster.
In the Boardroom – Court reporters may make verbatim recordings outside of the courtroom, in business settings. For example, corporations and organizations may use stenographers to record board meetings, particularly for important events, such as shareholder votes. Law firms commonly use stenographers to record witness depositions for pending cases.
Business transcriptions are often used in the official minutes or in a company’s annual report, and many times they are kept as permanent corporate records that are reviewed by interested stakeholders and executives.
A Career as a Freelancer Court Reporter
Freelance court reporter jobs are found both in and out of the courtroom and may work on an independent basis or in a freelance capacity for court reporter agencies. Freelance court reporters are paid on a per-job basis, and their pay usually reflects the length of their transcripts. Specifically, they often charge on a per-page basis.
Just a few of the areas where freelance court reporters often find work include: municipal hearings, arbitrations, board meetings, and depositions.
In addition to working solely in a freelancing capacity, some court reporters seek part-time freelancing work outside of their full- or part-time court reporters jobs.
Many court reporters enjoy the freedom and flexibility freelancing offers them, while others prefer steady, dependable work that comes with careers in a court or private business.