Court Reporter Jobs and Training Opportunities in Iowa

Court reporter jobs in Iowa are located virtually anywhere there is a courtroom, and that means at least every county seat, as well as the circuit court option, which would have you traveling as part of the job.

For many court reporters in Iowa, riding the circuit between small communities around the state is a way of life, taking five week shifts roaming around the picturesque countryside, accompanying a circuit court judge making the rounds to dispense justice.

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The tools of the trade are state-of-the-art, and rather than an old-school steno pad, you’ll pack a top-of-the-line stenographic machine and transcription setup along with you to make sure every single syllable is captured into the official court record.

Like other parts of the country, however, Iowa faces severe shortages of certified and capable court reporters in the coming years. According to a 2019 article in the Quad City Times, a spokesman for the Iowa Judicial Branch estimated that 64 court reporters around the state would be eligible for retirement in the next five years, six of them in the 7th Judicial district alone. The last reporter vacancy in the 7th took almost two years to fill.

That means you won’t have to worry about positions being available when you graduate from your training program.

You will have to worry about becoming officially certified to practice your trade in the state, however. The Iowa Board of Examiners of Shorthand Reporters administers examination and certification for court reporters in the state with some of the toughest standards in the nation. To earn that Certified Shorthand Reporter (CSR) designation in Iowa and hold on to it, you’ll have to follow these steps:

Get the Education You Need to Qualify for a Court Reporter Job in Iowa
Become Nationally Certified in Court Reporting
Become a Certified Shorthand Reporter in Iowa
Maintaining Your CSR Certification
Working in Iowa in Realtime Transcription

Iowa court reporters work for both independent agencies that provide services to law firms, business and government agencies, and throughout the state’s judiciary system:

  • Supreme Court in Des Moines with seven judges
  • Court of Appeals in Des Moines with nine judges
  • District Courts in eight regions representing 99 counties, including:
    • 116 authorized district judges
    • 37 quarter-time judges (working 13 weeks per year)
    • 12 juvenile judges
    • 152 part-time magistrates

As a court reporter you will be responsible for transcribing the official public record and work alongside justices, lawyers, the accused, and juries. Or you may find work in new and innovative fields like CART (Communication Access Realtime Translation) captioning, working on entertainment or real-time events to produce broadcast captions. Whatever the application, realtime reporting is a job that uses many of the same skills traditional court reporters already have, and also comes with a lot of responsibility and respectability, and a salary to match.



Step 1. Get the Education You Need to Qualify for a Court Reporter Job in Iowa

Court reporters everywhere in the nation face a specific challenge, a challenge that the fabric of our judicial system relies on them being able to meet: to quickly and accurately record the words and events of legal proceedings. The freedom and fortunes of thousands of accused criminals and litigants are at stake. Appeals and case law can hang on a single word murmured in a noisy courtroom on a sleepy afternoon.

Real-time translation demands don’t stop with the court system, either. In addition to trial and deposition work, real-time reporters are increasingly involved in ADA-required CART (Communication Access Realtime Translation) captioning work for government and the entertainment industry, as well as business stenography, capturing notes and details in important meetings and presentations.

So if you are planning to join their ranks, you will need to develop a very specific set of skills required to tune your ears to take in multiple voices, comprehend the words, and quickly record them in a standardized format.

That almost always means years of study and practice. And a formal education in the complex underpinnings of the process is the best way to start that journey.

You can find diploma, certificate, and degree-based court reporting programs online today, or even on campus at one community college in Des Moines.

An associate’s degree program will take at least two years and often includes more traditional liberal arts education alongside the specific industry-grade training in stenographic and voice writing procedures. Certificate programs can be found that compress the schedule into a shorter timeframe, covering just the fundamentals essential to stenotype skill development.

Whether you select an associate’s program or a shorter certificate, you can confirm that it delivers the kind of knowledge you need by making sure that the curriculum is aligned with the National Court Reporters Association’s (NCRA) Council on Approved Student Education (CASE) standards.

Those standards, called the General Requirements and Minimum Standards, are developed with input from the court reporting industry. Classes typically include:

  • General English and grammar skills
  • Stenotype and stenomask machine technology and operation
  • Specialized medical and legal terminology
  • Courtroom processes and procedures
  • Speedbuilding
  • Transcript formatting and production

The NCRA states that it takes 33 months on average to master the stenotype skills necessary to pass the exam required to receive certification. The association maintains a list of their approved programs here.

Beside traditional stenotype machine reporting, there is also voicewriting, which is used almost as widely these days in courts and other settings. Voicewriting is a procedure that uses a special microphone and noise-reducing headset called a stenomask together with specialized voice recognition software that allows court reporters to verbally process courtroom proceedings. It’s a skill that can be learned faster, but  unfortunately, to date, it’s not allowed for official court reporting purposes in Iowa, although you may find some non-legal work where you can put it to use.



Step 2. Become Nationally Certified in Court Reporting

Certification can be one of the most confusing aspects of becoming a professional court reporter. There are dozens of different certifications available, at different levels, in different specializations, from different agencies.

Because Iowa has its own certification process, it’s not strictly necessary to pick up a national certification along the way. If you do, however, you’ll not only have a shortcut to becoming a CSR in Iowa, but also gain a valuable nationally recognized credential in the process.

The most widely sought and most commonly required is the NCRA’s Registered Professional Reporter (RPR). In Iowa, if you hold an RPR in good standing, you can skip the state skills test for your CSR. While the RPR can be taken and passed using voice writing software, it’s usually associated with traditional stenotype machine skills.

The NVRA (National Verbatim Reporters Association) offers the Certified Verbatim Reporter (CVR) credential, which is more oriented toward voice writers, though it can be taken with stenotype equipment. The NVRA is more oriented toward voice writing in general and you may be more comfortable obtaining the CVR if that’s your specialty.

Both certifications have almost identical testing requirements, each broken into two segments:

  • Skills Test – Establishing your actual transcription skills, you will listen to five minutes each of recorded audio in three different formats that demand different speed standards. After the real-time transcription process, you are given 75 minutes to produce a complete and corrected transcript that is 95 percent or better accurate in:
    • Technical Q&A at 180 words per minute
    • Non-technical Q&A at 225 words per minute
    • Non-technical multi-voice at 200 words per minute
  • Written Test – This segment evaluates your knowledge in a multiple-choice test of approximately 100 questions and a minimum passing score of 70 percent or better that cover topics such as:
    • Stenographic technology and innovation
    • Industry practices and general English knowledge
    • Professional standards and ethics

The NCRA offers their skills test online, and holds the written knowledge tests in coordination with Pearson VUE testing centers nationwide. NVRA tests are all conducted in person as arranged through the agency.

Other certifications are available dealing with other specializations:

CART (Communication Access Realtime Translation) is a fast-expanding field that is all about delivering real-time captioning for live events and broadcasts – everything from football games to corporate shareholder meetings and government press conferences are required to offer this service, so many transcription jobs are emerging with media companies, government, and traditional business.

Digital and Audio Recording services are another cutting edge reporting process that are increasingly being used in pre-trial depositions around the country. Some court systems are beginning to integrate the technology as well, creating an official digital record from which written transcripts can later be created on demand. The American Association of Electronic Reporters and Transcribers (AAERT) offers two certifications covering these new skillsets:

  • Certified Electronic Reporter (CER)
  • Certified Electronic Transcriber (CET)

These certifications also rely on a basic online, multiple-choice knowledge exam, each lasting two hours and requiring a score of 80 percent to pass. The CET adds a practical exam that requires producing an actual transcript from a digital recording, accomplished within 150 minutes and at a 98 percent accuracy rate. AAERT membership is required to take the exams, which is $125 per year for individuals.



Step 3. Become a Certified Shorthand Reporter in Iowa

Whether you picked up a national certification or not, your next step will be to pass the state Certified Shorthand Reporter examination, sponsored by the Iowa Board of Examiners of Shorthand Reporters (BESR).

To be eligible to take this exam you’ll have to meet at least ONE of the following requirements:

  • Have taken a court reporting course and attained a speed of at least 200 words per minute
  • Have two years of previous experience as a court reporter
  • Graduate from a court reporter school that is approved by the National Court Reporters Association (NCRA)

There are two parts to the Iowa examination; everyone must take and pass the written portion. That portion of the exam is offered throughout the year, in the Iowa Judicial Branch Building in the State Capitol Complex in Des Moines. The test covers subjects such as the statutory duties of court reporters in Iowa, general court procedure, and correct English usage. You’ll have to pass it with a 70 percent or better.

You do not have to take the second part of the test, a skills evaluation, if you are in good standing with the NCRA and hold the Registered Professional Reporter (RPR) Certification. Otherwise, you’ll find the test offered twice a year on the second Saturday in March and September. There is a $200 application fee for each test, due at least 30 days before the exam.

The skills test consists of the following one-minute segments which you must pass with at least 95 percent accuracy:

  • Technical Q&A at 180 words per minute
  • Non-technical Q&A at 225 words per minute
  • Non-technical multi-voice at 200 words per minute

The Board also recognizes reciprocal certification. If you are a veteran or hold a valid reporting license in good standing with another state, you may be able to be certified via reciprocity. Like RPR-holders, you are still required to take and pass the Iowa written exam, however. And the licensing standards in the state where you hold current certification must be substantially similar to the RPR requirements.



Step 4. Maintaining Your CSR Certification

Earning your certifications was just the first step in becoming a court reporter or transcriptionist. Once you have them, you have to put in the time and effort to keep them up. In a constantly evolving profession like real-time transcription, keeping your skills current is vital to your employment and salary prospects. Mandatory continuing education requirements for certifications will ensure you stay at the top level of the profession.

Fortunately, the requirements for each of the major certifications outlined above break down to almost exactly the same amount of time to stay current: ten hours per year (10 hours is equal to 1 Continuing Education Unit (CEU)):

  • RPR – Three credits every three years
  • CVR – Twenty hours every two years
  • CRC – Three credits every three years
  • CER/CET – Three credits every three years

Each agency also has different validity requirements for what constitutes an acceptable continuing education course; check their websites for details.

You will need to keep up the same pace to maintain your CSR, with a 30-hour (3 units) continuing education requirement every three years. Each year you will be required to complete the following by September 1st in order to renew your CSR Certification with the Iowa BESR:

  • Renewal application
  • $85 renewal fee
  • Continuing education form

Continuing education can be courses, workshops, or seminars that are integrally related to the field of court reporting and contribute directly to your professional competency. You can usually find courses accepted by both BESR and the NCRA or other agencies and count them against both requirements.



Step 5. Working in Iowa in Realtime Transcription

Court reporter jobs in Iowa are located virtually anywhere there is a courtroom, and that means at least every county seat, as well as the circuit court option that will have you traveling as part of the job. As you begin your job search you may consider joining a professional organization such as the Iowa Court Reporters Association (ICRA) where you can find information about:

  • Continuing education opportunities
  • Job announcements
  • Legislation affecting the court reporter profession
  • Colleague support and networking opportunities
  • Additional information about certification
  • Awesome events like Stenopalooza

You can also search for CSRs through the judiciary registrar to find out who your colleagues are. Some of the biggest court reporter employers in Iowa are:

Court reporters in Iowa have other options that extend far beyond just the legal system today. Whether offered through court reporting agencies or working directly for business or government employers, CART (Communication Access Realtime Translation) captioning work is exploding due to ADA accommodation requirements requiring that live presentations, sports broadcasts, and other shows be captioned in real time for hard-of-hearing or ESL audiences. You’ll find long-term job security in the field with demand increasing for talented real-time transcriptionists.



Iowa Court Reporting Salary

It might surprise you to learn that Iowa has one of the highest concentrations of court reporters for its population level in the entire United States. The state is fourth overall in that category according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the Des Moines area alone ranks second in the nation in metro regions.

Salaries come in closer to the mid-range through most of the state, but with a low cost of living, you’ll find that they feel pretty generous. Moreover, and unusually, court reporting salaries are fairly flat across the state. That means a small-town court reporter can make nearly as much as one located in the bright lights of Des Moines. In fact, on the national level, this makes rural Iowa among the best places for high-paying work in non-metro regions, with Southeast Iowa ranking third overall for top pay rates at an average of $63,800 per year.

Annual Salaries For Court Reporters in Major Iowa Metropolitan Areas

Des Moines and West Des Moines

  • Median – $77,920
  • More experienced – $77,930
  • Certified and experienced – $77,930

Hourly Wages For Court Reporters in Major Iowa Metropolitan Areas

Des Moines and West Des Moines

  • Median – $37.46
  • More experienced – $37.47
  • Certified and experienced – $37.47


*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 Iowa Division of Labor 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.

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