Introduction to Court Reporting & Paralegal Degrees

This degree prepares students to work as stenographers and voice recording court reporters (also known as voice writers). Both of these positions are quickly growing, and the technology boom allows many to take advantage of these jobs from home. Not only can you work within the legal community, but you can provide communications for people with hearing loss, become an independent contractor, or run your own reporting firm.

Learn About Court Reporting Degrees

The court reporting degree is usually a two-year program available through online schools, trade schools, and community colleges. Much of the court reporting and transcribing that goes on now is done remotely, with audio files sent to a court reporter via email.

What Does a Court Reporter Do?

Simply put, a court reporter transcribes everything that’s said in court. Entry-level court reporters often start out as stenographers, which requires knowing a special type of shorthand. This shorthand method allows a court reporter to type up to 225 words per minute due to the symbols and abbreviations involved. The goal here is to record everything that’s said in court in a more general manner, and the context of the transcript may not be verbatim. With more experience, court reporters go on to become a voice court reporter, where everything is recorded verbatim. This may be done in a live court session, but is more often done after court through an audio recording of what transpired in court. It is a very fast-paced job, and audio files handed over to court reporters usually require immediate turnaround. Court reporters must maintain a 98 percent accuracy rate on their transcripts.

How to Find a Court Reporting Program

Rules and regulations for court reports are maintained by the National Court Reporters Association (NCRA). Students can check their website for information on programs that meet their requirements. The American Association of Electronic Reporters and Transcribers (AAERT) certifies stenographers and court reporters. There are many court reporting programs online and through community colleges. Online programs are ideal for those who are working full time or part time, or have other obligations. This allows a student to work when he or she has the time to devote to the program. Students participating in a program part time will take longer than the estimated two years to complete their degree, so the more courses that a student can take in a given semester, the quicker the coursework can be completed.

What is it Like to Work as Court Reporter?

While the notion of court reporting may seem easy, it is a difficult job, and the turnover rate for this industry is very high. A limited number of those who finish court reporting programs will make this their career for a lifetime. More often, people work as court reporters for a small duration of time until they become burned out or find a new career path. For those who understand the business and gain experience, it can become a very rewarding career with sizeable pay. Because of technology, much of the court reporting that was once done in a court room can now be done at home with the proper computer program and equipment. This opens career opportunities for stay-at-home parents or those who cannot be on their feet for work due to medical reasons, among others. It is a great opportunity to have a rewarding career that can potentially be done from home.

What Else Do I Need to Work as Court Reporter?

Several states require court reporters to also be notaries, allowing them to administer oaths to witnesses in court. This also gives the court reporter the ability to certify their own transcripts, confirming the work is verbatim and what occurred in the court room. To become a notary is a short process that involves a workshop at a community college or in a conference room. These events are held regularly throughout the year, and there are no prerequisites to apply to become a notary. There are several types of fees involved to become a notary, so keep this in mind when you’re researching costs and budgeting to become a court reporter. Check with your state’s website for requirements for court reporters; not all states require this.

Are There Prerequisites for Court Reporting Programs?

Some court reporting programs require a high school diploma or GED. It’s expected for students to read and write efficiently, and if they cannot, they will not be able to keep up with the class. Most programs do not keep up with students on an individual basis. Students are expected to complete assignments on time, interact with students online if required, and pass tests. There is normally very little interaction between instructors and students with an online court reporting program. Students should be very disciplined and understand the time required to successfully complete a two-year degree, even if it is completed remotely.

Do I Need Separate Certification to Work as Voice Reporter?

There are three different types of licenses available for voice reporters. All three are administered by the National Verbatim Reporters Association (NVRA). Their certifications are:

  • Real-time verbatim reporter
  • Certificate of merit
  • Certified verbatim reporter

All three are essentially the same thing, and a student only has to be certified in one to work as a voice reporter.

How Do Stenographers Transcribe Material?

Stenographers operate using shorthand. There are a series of symbols or letters that may represent a noise, phrase, or title used in court. All of this shorthand later must be transcribed verbatim by the court reporter. Stenographers are also required to edit all transcripts and ensure the proper names and places referenced in court.

What is Voice Writing?

Voice writers are usually more advanced than stenographers, although their pay is often the same. The court reporter repeats each word said in court into a stenomask, which is a handheld mask, that’s equipped with a microphone. He or she is responsible for every word, sound, and motion that takes place in the court room. Voice writers are also expected to capture the emotion in a person’s voice or any emotional outbursts or reactions in court. At a later time, the court reporter transcribes this voice writing into text, where it can be referenced for future use.

What is Electronic Reporting?

Electronic reporting is the area of court reporting that has experienced the most growth in recent years. Audio equipment records everything that goes on in the court room, and a court reporter transcribes this material at a later date. The court report is often briefed prior to transcribing an electronic audio file, to give them a sense of the people in the room. Electronic reporting is often completed by freelance court reporters who work from home. This is also an area where backlogs create additional work for court reports who are on staff or work freelance. Often there are several extra hours of material to transcribe. Because the turnover rate for court reporters is so high, there are often not enough of them to be in every court room. These backlogged electronic recordings are then given to court reporters as overtime work. The vast majority of court reporters work overtime on a regular basis, whether they are staff or freelance.

What is a Stenocaptioner?

Those well-versed in stenography and voice reporting may seek work as a stenocaptioner. These are the people who work for television stations and networks creating the closed captioning for the hearing impaired. Stenocaptioners may caption TV shows, films, sporting events, news, and weather. Stenocaptioners are often on-call because of breaking news that may require someone to perform these duties at a moment’s notice.

How Much Does a Court Reporter Earn?

On average, court reporters make about $51,000 per year. Reports on wages earned by court reporters vary widely, and that’s likely because of the large amount of overtime worked. Both stenographers and voice writers are needed in many markets. Stenographers are more often preferred, but because there are so few qualified for these positions, voice writers are widely accepted to fill the spots. Many courts and companies prefer a court reporter to be hired on a contract basis. This prevents the employer from providing health insurance or other benefits to the court reporter, but also allows the court reporter to take on an unusually large number of hours each week. This is still more affordable for most companies than having a court reporter on staff. Because of the mass backlog of electronic audio files of court proceedings, many courts simply keep these files on record versus having them transcribed. Court reporters are now earning residual wages with work that they produced and is later used by judges and lawyers.

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