Court reporters play an integral role in the legal system by creating accurate recordings and transcripts of legal proceedings, such as trials and hearings. Fingers flying, a court reporter documents everything that is said by attorneys, judges, defendants, plaintiffs and the jury, using a stenographic machine that has just 22 keys. The stenotype machine combines sounds, words and phrases into symbols that are recorded on narrow strips of paper, which are later converted into English by a computer. This process is called computer-aided transcription and is the most common form of court reporting.
Other court reporters specialize in electronic reporting and use sensitive audio equipment to record legal proceedings. Another, less common, form of court reporting is voice writing, wherein the reporter repeats spoken testimony, as well as gestures and emotional reactions, using a voice silencer to record what is being said without allowing it to be heard by others in the courtroom. Written transcripts are usually a requirement of both of these forms of court reporting.
Court reporting degrees and educational requirements
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, it takes an average of 33 months of study to become a stenographic court reporter. Voice writers usually take a year to learn the basics, the BLS reports, and it takes about an additional year of work experience to master the intricacies of real-time, voice reporting.
Classes common to court reporting programs include the following:
- Theory of court reporting
- Court reporting English
- Speed building
- Reporting technologies and procedures
- Principles of speech
- Machine shorthand
Additional requirements set forth by programs certified through the National Court Reporters Association include the ability to accurately capture 225 words per minute--no small feat. Many states require licensure from their state boards of court reporting, as well as 10 or more hours of additional training per calendar year. Court reporters should be accurate, detail-oriented and have excellent listening skills, as well as knowledge of complex legal and medical terminology.
Online degrees in court reporting
Online law and criminal justice degrees vary in length, but programs culminating in an associate degree typically take about 120 weeks to complete, since they are coupled with general education classes. A stenograph machine is a requirement of most online degrees in court reporting; some programs help students by offering discounted, used equipment.
Online programs typically blend interactive lectures and instructional materials on machine shorthand to guide students on a preset educational path. Often broken down into weekly assignments, instruction usually includes speed-building drills, recorded faculty lectures and skill development classes. These materials are available for use 24 hours a day, although students usually interact with faculty during normal, daytime class hours. Expect to spend four to 15 hours per week completing online assignments, the College of Court Reporting says.
There were more than 18,000 court reporters working in the U.S. in 2010, the BLS reports. Median annual wages were $47,700; the top 10 percent of court reporters made over $91,280. In many parts of the U.S., jobs outnumber the pool of available, certified court reporters, the BLS says. Overall job prospects are good; they are even better for people who are certified, and those trained in broadcast captioning, webcasting or providing communication services for the deaf and hard-of-hearing.
Court reporting at a glance
- Salary: Median annual wage, $47,700 (BLS, 2010)
- Education: Three-quarters of court reporters earned an associate degrees, O*Net Online reports
- Outlook: Job prospects are best for court reporters with training in captioning or webcasting