The shortage of qualified and certified court reporters nationwide is nothing new. In fact, anybody working in the judicial system who has been paying attention saw this coming for a long time now. But the disruption to the judicial process in the court system in South Carolina as proceedings are delayed when there isn’t a reporter available has reached critical levels.
According to a 2018 article in the Post and Courier, more than a quarter of the court reporter positions in the South Carolina Judicial Department are vacant. Only 94 reporters were working in family and circuit courts statewide, forcing hearings to be cancelled that sometimes last for an entire day, creating even further scheduling disruptions as other important court cases have to be bumped.
While it’s just an inconvenience in divorce cases, those delays could have important real-world consequences in abuse and neglect cases, which sometimes require judicial protective orders to prevent further abuse.
It’s led to increasing stress on the reporters who remain on the job as well, forcing them to work through lunch and on weekends in order to remain caught up on transcripts.
Even as court reporting college programs have closed up shop, however, new online options are appearing to help bridge the gap.
Even without formal state licensing or certification, you will still need to get formal training and experience in order to become qualified to work as a court reporter in South Carolina’s judicial system:
Step 1. Earn an Associate’s Degree or Diploma in Court Reporting
Official court reporter is the title given to those working in a standard reporting capacity in the state judiciary, keeping records during hearings and normal court proceedings. Those working in the state capital to keep the official record of the state’s law makers in action are referred to as legislative court reporters.
To find work as an official court reporter for South Carolina state courts, you will need formal training from a program approved by the judiciary, or by holding certification from one of two nationally-recognized certifying agencies, either the National Association of Court Reporters (NCRA) or the National Verbatim Reporters Association (NVRA). Earning one of these exam-based certifications requires that same level of training, so it demonstrates that you not only have the required education, but also that you’ve proven proficiency and knowledge through a testing process.
It all starts with the right training, so your first step along the path to a career in court reporting should be to earn an associate’s degree, diploma or certificate from an accredited community college, technical school, or specialized court reporter training program. These kinds of programs award credentials that include:
- Associates in Court Reporting
- Associates in Technical Court Reporting
- Associates in Technical Stenography
- Certificate in Court Reporting Technology
As you might expect, the full associate’s programs cover a wide range of court-reporting and related knowledge, including courses in:
- General English and Grammar
- Reporting Technology and keyboarding
- Court Processes and Procedures
They will usually take about two years to complete, whether you attend an online or in-person program. As the number of colleges offering these degrees continue to shrink in the U.S., online programs are becoming both more common and more widely accepted.
Diploma and certificate programs may be both shorter and more tightly focused on a particular type of reporting, whether it’s realtime keyboard transcription, electronic recording, or voice transcription.
Step 2. Take the Registered Professional Reporter (RPR) or Certified Verbatim Reporter (CVR) Exam, or an Exam Administered Through the Courts
Although with the right training and some professional experience it’s possible to apply for and secure a position as an official court reporter, the more common path to a position in South Carolina is to become certified.
The two certification options are:
- The National Court Reporters Association’s Registered Professional Reporter (RPR
- The National Verbatim Recorders Association’s Certified Verbatim Reporter (CVR)
The process for obtaining both certifications are quite similar; each requires that you pass a multiple-choice, written knowledge test covering aspects of the profession such as:
- Technology and Innovation
- Industry Practices
- Professionalism and Ethics
The RPR written tests are delivered in coordination with Pearson VUE at test centers all over the country.
Most importantly, you’ll have to take a skills test online that demonstrates your dictation and typing skills in three areas, consisting of pre-recorded mock trial proceedings that you will transcribe and then edit to produce a final transcript. You’ll be tested to ensure you meet the standard for minimum typing speeds during the initial typing phase for each of the three components:
- Literary Material (180 wpm)
- Jury Charges (200 wpm)
- Question & Answer Testimony (224 wpm)
In the final transcription, you’ll need to meet the 95 percent standard:
These certifications demonstrate that you have the skills and abilities necessary to perform the job either as a direct employee of the courts or as a freelance reporter. More importantly, they are accepted outright as qualification by the state court system for official court reporter jobs, allowing you to skip the mandatory tests otherwise required.
If you haven’t passed the RPR or CVR skills tests, you can expect to take one that’s very similar administered directly through the court that’s considering you for the position.
You may also consider becoming a Certified Electronic Reporter (CER). Offered by the AAERT (American Association of Electronic Reporters and Transcribers), this designation is not accepted by the state court system, but may help you out with private transcription firms or in other, related business positions.
Step 3. Gain Experience and Find Employment as a Court Reporter in South Carolina
South Carolina official court reporters will have to either hold an RPR or CVR or a college degree in the field to even be considered for employment.
Additionally, the state requires experience in the field, so you’ll probably be starting off working at a private agency at least initially. You may find work with any of the firms here that contract with the law offices and businesses that need legal transcription services. A few of the top employers of court reporters in South Carolina are:
- Southern Reporting
- William Roberts, Jr. & Associates
When you have the relevant experience you can then apply to any of the South Carolina courts:
- South Carolina Supreme Court
- South Carolina Family Court
- South Carolina Circuit Court
- South Carolina Court of Appeals
But plenty of reporters stick with their positions outside the courtroom, working either with outside legal professionals or in newer kinds of positions such as CART (Communication Access Realtime Translation) captioning, which offers hearing impaired viewers instant translation of television programs, live presentations, conferences, and other events.
Step 4. Maintain Your Skills Through Continuing Education
Continuing education requirements must be met in order to maintain certification with either the NCRA and the NVRA. In order to maintain licensure with the NCRA, it is necessary to earn at least 3 continuing education units (30 hours) every 3 years. There are a variety of ways to earn the credits, and they do not have to all be earned at the same time. In order to maintain your certification with the NVRA you must earn 20 continuing education credits every 2 years.
Membership in either organization will enable you to keep up with news relating to court reporting in South Carolina and nationally.
Also, it is a good idea to join the South Carolina Court Reporters Association, the state advocacy organization for the profession. You’ll find networking, continuing education, and advocacy opportunities available as well as keeping your finger on the pulse of the latest developments in real-time transcription.
South Carolina Court Reporting Salary
Around 130 court reporters were employed across South Carolina in 2019 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Bureau doesn’t have a breakdown on their precise locations, or on the average salaries in the state. But according to Salary.com, the median pay for reporters was $54,293 as of early 2020. Although slightly lower than the national average for court reporters, that’s still better than the state overall average of $44,380.
And as it’s only the average, you have the option to improve your pay by earning more advanced certifications and becoming more highly specialized. Salary.com shows the very best reporters in the state earning more than $86,000 per year.
Annual Salaries For Court Reporters in South Carolina
- Median – $54,293
- More experienced – $71,062
- Certified and experienced – $86,330
*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.
All salary and employment data accessed June 2020.