Court reporters all over the country transcribe momentous decisions across a huge variety of cases every day, with dramatic impact on both the lives of the parties to the case, and potentially millions of other Americans who will be affected as legal precedent evolves into caselaw as a result of these decisions.
But there’s nowhere in the country—and maybe nowhere in the world—with so much impact as the courts of the seat of federal power, Washington D.C., and there is none of them with as much gravity and importance as the Supreme Court of the United States.
Court reporting for the Supreme Court involves some unusual processes not found in other judiciaries. There are no recorded notes of court deliberations. In fact, they occur in private, with only the justices themselves in attendance.
Most of the other business of the court is conducted on paper, and later made a part of public record through the official Reporter of Decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States. This official is actually not a transcriptionist at all, but a federal appointee who acts more as an editor and publisher.
But oral arguments heard before the court are recorded and transcribed, providing a verbatim record of all the high drama of the cases being made. Since 2017, a local firm, Heritage Reporting Corporation, has been the sole contracted court reporter to the Supreme Court, and publishes same-day transcripts of arguments that have the potential to shift the course of history.
Not every D.C. court reporter will have such lofty stature, but most will see some significant and interesting work on the job since they’ll be sitting in on major agency rules and federal statutes being hashed out in real time. It’s an important place to do your best work, and the right experience and certifications will put in a position to command a healthy paycheck.
Washington D.C., like Maryland and Virginia, does not license court reporters. However, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t take a lot of training and some well-recognized credentials to work in the District’s court systems. It just means you need to meet those requirements on your own by following these steps:
|Earn a Degree or Certificate in Court Reporting|
|Earn a National Certification in Court Reporting|
|Get to Work as a Court Reporter in Washington, DC|
|Stay Connected and Keep Your Certifications Current|
Step 1. Earn a Degree or Certificate in Court Reporting
A solid educational foundation is a must if you want to become a court reporter in Washington D.C., or any other area of the country. A comprehensive court reporter program may come in the form of an associate’s degree, certificate, or professional diploma, and schools offering court reporter programs often range from community colleges to technical schools. There are also a number of excellent offerings for online court reporter programs.
The District is counted among the 37 states and jurisdictions that allow voice writers, who use a stenomask and specialized software rather than a traditional stenotype machine, to work in the courts as court reporters. Programs that specialize in stenomask training for voice writing can be completed in a handful of months, while it typically takes about three years to really master stenotype skills with the kind of speed and accuracy as the job requires.
Voice writing is actually bigger in D.C. than almost anywhere else since it’s also used in the Federal and military judicial systems, as well as the U.S. Congress.
Regardless of what type of training you choose, any respectable court reporting program will cover:
- English grammar
- Real time writing
- Legal principles
- Medical terminology
- Legal and business ethics
- CAT software for transcript preparation
- Machine shorthand
With that kind of training you can also look at getting into CART (Communication Access Realtime Translation) captioning work, whether for TV and online broadcasting, business and shareholder meetings, or, of course, congressional assemblies, intergovernmental conferences and any other type of government proceedings that require speech to be presented as text in real time for the hearing-impaired or ESL audiences.
Step 2. Earn a National Certification in Court Reporting
Although certification through the NCRA as a Registered Professional Reporter (RPR) is not a requirement to practice court reporting in Washington D.C., many professionals nevertheless achieve this designation so as to enjoy more professional opportunities. In fact, 22 states now recognize the RPR as being reciprocal to their state certification/licensing examinations.
The NVRA’s (National Verbatim Reporters Association) Certified Verbatim Reporter (CVR) certification offers another path to national recognition for stenographic recorders, and is open to candidates with training in voice writing.
The Certified Electronic Reporter (CER) from the AAERT (American Association of Electronic Reporters and Transcribers) gives a highly focused option for court reporters who want to specialize in the new wave of digital and audio recording and transcription options.
The RPR and CVR have very similar paths to earn—so similar, in fact, that getting an RPR also makes you eligible for a CVR, with only a $50 processing fee—which include a written knowledge test and a skills exam. The NCRA delivers the skills test entirely online, while the written portion is offered through Pearson VUE testing centers nationwide, while the NVRA handles both components in-person.
The written knowledge test consists of around 100 questions that are designed to assess your knowledge in professional practices, reporting practices, and current technology in the field.
The skills exam includes listening and speed testing in five minute blocks each of simulated, recorded categories for:
- Literary at 180 wpm
- Jury charge at 200 wpm
- Testimony/Q&A at 225 wpm
After the listening and recording portion is complete, you will be given 75 minutes to transcribe your notes into a final, production-ready transcript. You must achieve at least 95 percent accuracy to pass each leg.
Costs for testing vary between the two agencies, and you can realize a substantial savings if you become a member before registering for the exams:
- NVRA – $150
- NCRA – $120 / $95 for members / $77 for students
- NVRA – $125
- NCRA – $220 / $195 for members / $160 for students
With such a heavy presence of federal courts, D.C. is also a place where it can make a lot of sense to earn your Federal Certified Realtime Reporter credential. Offered exclusively by the United States Court Reporters Association, the FCRR is required for most federal court reporting positions. It’s a straightforward test that requires only five minutes of dictation taken at 200 words per minute, in a two-voice Q&A format taken directly from real federal court transcripts. The test is offered in person and only twice per year at USCRA conventions. The cost is $150 for a single shot and $250 for two. Only USCRA members are eligible, and membership costs $150 per year.
Step 3. Get to Work as a Court Reporter in Washington, DC
Employment opportunities abound in Washington D.C., from its court system to its many private court reporting agencies to the many federal courts in the area. Of course, the District is a bit of an odd duck in American jurisprudence, as even the local court system is federal to a certain extent, with local judges being presidentially appointed and Senatorially confirmed for their positions. The District court system consists only of a Superior court and Court of Appeals, without duplicating the more complex arrangements found in other states.
The complexity here comes from the massive federal judicial system. The seat of the United States Supreme Court, the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals, the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, Tax Court, and numerous other legal venues for government, you’ll find plenty of positions open to FCRR holders.
There are also a lot of related legal and governmental actions happening around the distract constantly that require stenographic support. Many local court reporting agencies are hiring for reporters to take on everything from legislative hearings to CART (Communication Access Realtime Translation) captioning for video presentations.
Private sector employers include:
- Alderson Court Reporting, Washington D.C.
- Toby Feldman Inc., Washington D.C.
- Planet Depos, Washington D.C.
- Capital Reporting, Washington D.C., Virginia, Maryland
Step 4. Stay Connected and Keep Your Certifications Current
As a newly certified court reporter, you might feel you have learned everything you need to know and proven it through testing. But the reality is that court reporting is a field that is constantly and rapidly evolving, and you’ll need to stay on top of the latest developments if you want to stay relevant—and continue to command top dollar from Washington D.C. employers.
As a member of the USCRA, NVRA, or NCRA, you’ll have a built-in network to stay plugged in to current happenings and legislative concerns that affect your profession. You’ll also find that they are terrific venues for building continuing education credits in the latest developments in the field.
The RPR will require you to meet continuing education requirements for renewal every three years, while the CVR is renewed every two years. You’ll find all the guidance you need through those respective organizations.
District of Columbia Court Reporting Salary
The District may be lawyer-heavy, but the overall size is quite small, and that’s reflected in a limited number of court reporting positions. Around 110 work in the city as of 2016, and the Department of Employment services sees that number as remaining fairly flat through 2026. There are, however, opportunities for employment that arise through turnover, which amount to about ten positions per year.
Salary data published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics includes surrounding areas of Virginia, Maryland, and West Virginia, which may make the numbers listed below slightly lower than what you will find in the District proper. As you can see, however, regardless of where you are located, you can significantly boost your salary potential with additional certifications and experience in the field.
Annual Salaries For Court Reporters in the District of Columbia Region
Washington D.C. (Also includes surrounding cities in VA/MD/WV including Arlington and Alexandria)
- Median – $53,880
- More experienced – $61,540
- Certified and experienced – $77,010
Hourly Wages For Court Reporters in the District of Columbia Region
Washington D.C. (Also includes surrounding cities in VA/MD/WV including Arlington and Alexandria)
- Median – $25.91
- More experienced – $29.59
- Certified and experienced – $37.02
*Salary and employment data compiled by the United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics in May of 2019. Figures represent accumulated data for all employment sectors in which court reporters work. BLS salary data represents state and MSA (metropolitan statistical area) average and median earnings for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries.
2019 job growth projections from the District of Columbia Department of Employment Services are aggregated through the U.S. Department of Labor-Sponsored resource, Projections Central. Employment conditions in your area may vary.
All salary and employment data accessed June 2020.