Court reporters play a crucial role in legal proceedings. They transcribe hearings, depositions, and trials to create a written record of courtroom communications. Court reporters usually work in courts or legislatures, and many are self-employed. These professionals earned a median annual salary of $61,660 as of May 2020 — substantially higher than the national median wage of $41,950 for all workers.
Some court reporters earn legal studies bachelor's degrees. However, most complete their education and training through postsecondary certificates or associate degree programs at community colleges or technical schools.
This page explores how to become a court reporter, including education and experience requirements. We also cover what court reporters do, common workplaces, and career outlook data.
What Does a Court Reporter Do?
Court reporters make word-for-word transcriptions of legal proceedings like trials, hearings, arbitrations, and depositions. This ensures an accurate, complete textual record of all courtroom events. Court reporters use digital recording devices, stenography machines, and steno masks to capture oral statements in the courtroom. These professionals also document the gestures and identifications of the people speaking.
Court reporters also read legal proceedings out loud, review notes for accuracy, provide copies of transcripts, and ask speakers to clarify speech for their records. Court reporters interact with lawyers, law firm staff, judges, defendants, and plaintiffs. Many court reporters are self-employed and hired by law firms on a project-by-project basis.
Court reporters use digital recording devices, stenography machines, and steno masks to capture oral statements in the courtroom.
The terms "court transcriber" and "stenographer" are often used interchangeably with "court reporter." Court reporters, court transcribers, and stenographers all create transcriptions of legal proceedings.
However, court reporters need more education, must earn licensure or certification depending on the state, and can perform higher-level duties than court transcribers or stenographers. For example, some court reporters may offer notary services, administer oaths in court, and perform legal research.
Court reporting may appeal to people with excellent communication skills and a knack for details. Below, we describe important skills that help court reporters thrive.
Key Soft Skills
Listening Skills: Court reporters need excellent listening skills to accurately hear and document speech. If they mishear something and document it incorrectly, this can lead to mistakes in the legal record.
Detail-Oriented: Court reporters must pay close attention to their work to produce error-free, complete transcripts that become legal records. One small mistake can change the meaning of a statement.
Punctuality: Court reporters need to report to court at specific times. A late court reporter can delay an entire legal proceeding, inconveniencing judges, attorneys, and juries.
Key Hard Skills
Grammar and Proofreading: Court reporters need a firm grasp of the English language and its grammar and punctuation rules. Excellent proofreading skills ensure flawless transcriptions.
Stenography: These professionals must type at least 225 words per minute to pass a certification or licensing exam for the profession.
Legal Procedures and Terminology: Court reporters often work in legal settings, so they need to understand legal procedures and common terminologies.
A Day in the Life of a Stenographer
A court reporter's typical day varies depending on employer, position, and area of reporting. Responsibilities may include transcribing speech during legal proceedings, using digital recording devices and stenography machines, and giving copies of transcriptions to the people involved.
A typical day for a court reporter may look like:
- Prepare for a trial
- Get to courtroom early and set up stenography machine
- Document the speech, identifications, gestures, and actions of people in the legal proceeding
- Ask for clarification of inaudible testimony
- Read back portions of the transcription
- Trial ends, return to the office
- Proofread the day's transcriptions and make corrections as needed
- Send copies of the day's transcription to the people involved, including lawyers, judges, and plaintiffs
- Complete part of a continuing education workshop to fulfill state licensing requirements
Court Reporter Salary and Career Outlook
Court reporters earn competitive pay. The median annual salary for court reporters and simultaneous captioners was $61,660 as of May 2020. This exceeds the national median salary for all occupations by $20,000. Factors influencing salary include education, experience, specialization, and location.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a slower-than-average 3% job growth rate for court reporters from 2020-2030. Increased use of digital recording technology and state and local government budgetary constraints contribute to this job outlook. Jobs are likely to open when workers retire or change careers.
The median annual salary for court reporters and simultaneous captioners was $61,660 as of May 2020.
Demand for court reporters may grow more in areas outside of the law. For example, medical organizations need transcribers to increase accessibility for deaf individuals and people with hearing challenges.
Median Annual Salary: $61,660
Next Steps on the Career Path
Court reporters can advance or translate their skills to other careers as they gain work experience, complete further education, and add professional certifications. Some court reporters may use their legal knowledge to become paralegals, law assistants, or legal secretaries.
These professionals may also pursue careers outside of law, like broadcast captioners and communication access real-time translation providers.
Where Can I Work as a Court Transcriber?
Top-employing industries for court reporters include state and local government and business support services. Many court reporters are self-employed and take project-based work from law firms and other companies. The most common work environments for court reporters are courts and legislatures. These professionals also work in offices.
Location affects the number and types of court reporter job opportunities. Top-employing states for this profession include California, Florida, New York, and Texas. The top-paying states for court reporters include New York, California, Washington, and Texas.
Metro areas employing the most court reporters include New York-Newark-Jersey City, Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, and Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach. Top-paying metro areas include San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, and Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington.
Consider location when applying for court reporter jobs. How might relocating for this career affect other parts of your life? Individuals who plan to relocate should also factor in cost of living.
How to Become a Court Reporter
Court reporters must earn certificates or associate degrees in court reporting, which usually take 2-3 years to complete. Most court reporting education programs include transcription equipment training and classes in legal terminology and proceedings.
Court reporters must earn certificates or associate degrees in court reporting, which usually take 2-3 years to complete.
After completing a formal court reporter training program, a prospective court reporter must earn a state-issued license or certification from a national professional organization. Completing a license or certification demonstrates your court reporting skills and knowledge.
The list below outlines typical court reporter requirements.
- Research and apply for court reporting programs
- Enroll in a court reporting certificate or associate degree program
- Gain experience using transcription equipment
- Apply for state licensure or certification through a professional organization
- Pass the state licensing or certification test
- Apply for court reporter jobs
- Receive on-the-job training in equipment and terminology specific to your type of court reporting
- Complete continuing education credits to maintain your license or certification
Court Reporter Requirements in Education
Entry-level court reporter requirements typically include a postsecondary certificate or associate degree. Court reporter programs cover legal procedures, English grammar, and legal terms, generally spanning 2-3 years. These programs also teach learners to use stenography and digital recording equipment.
Associate degrees may offer better career opportunities and salary potential than certificates. Associate programs can also make it easier for learners to continue their education. Some court reporters may hold bachelor's degrees in law-related fields. This can open the door to job opportunities with greater responsibilities, such as legal research.
Learn more about degree programs for court reporters:
Court Reporter Certification Requirements
Court reporter requirements in many states include state licensure or certification from a professional organization. Earning a professional certification can also provide advancement in the field and help you stand out from the competition.
The National Court Reporters Association (NCRA), American Association of Electronic Reporters and Transcribers (AAERT), and National Verbatim Reporters Association (NVRA) offer court reporter certifications.
Most court reporters must complete continuing education to renew their licenses or certifications.
- Registered Professional Reporter: NCRA offers this credential, which about half of states accept in place of a state licensing exam.
- Certified Electronic Reporter: AAERT features this credential for court reporters. It includes a written exam with a digital focus.
- Certified Electronic Transcriber: AAERT also delivers this court transcriber credential. The certification requires a written exam with a digital focus.
- Certified Verbatim Reporter: NVRA offers this certification. To maintain the designation, a court reporter must complete 20 hours of continuing education every two years.
Required Experience for Court Reporters
Required experience for court reporters varies depending on your state's licensing rules and the type of reporting you plan to work in.
A court reporter must pass a written and skills test to receive a state license or certification from a national organization. The skills test ensures they can accurately type a minimum number of words per minute. Practical court reporter training while in school varies but typically covers transcription equipment like stenotype machines, digital recording devices, and steno masks.
After completing a formal education program and receiving a license or certification, a court reporter usually receives on-the-job training covering the legal terminology and equipment relevant to their specific type of reporting.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes. Stenographers earn above-average compensation. PayScale reported an average annual salary of $58,960 for stenographers as of September 2021. The median annual court reporter salary was $61,660 as of May 2020, according to the BLS.
People often use the terms "court reporter" and "court transcriber" interchangeably, but they are not identical. Both professionals transcribe speech. However, court transcribers use recorded audio files to create transcriptions, while court reporters transcribe speech during live legal proceedings.
Court transcribers must type quickly. The Association for Court Reporters and Captioners reports that court reporters can type 225 words per minute when creating transcriptions from the spoken word.
Court reporters often complete postsecondary certificates or associate programs at community colleges and technical schools. Students learn to use transcription equipment and take courses in legal terminology and procedures. These programs typically take 2-3 years.
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