Court reporters play an important role in the daily functioning of the American court system. They serve as the recorders of all that transpires in the courtroom and provide the evidence for decisions rendered by the judge and jury. The court reporter is responsible for all the documentation handled and reviewed during the course of a trial. Some duties of a court reporter are to record and transcribe courtroom transcriptions, testimonies, and judicial orders. Other communications are recorded through electronic means covering verbal communication between the judge and jury.
The availability of online and distance learning programs in Court Reporting from accredited colleges and universities makes it possible for students in all situations to obtain their desired college degree while continuing to maintain their professional lives at work and at their personal lives at home.
Online and distance learning college degree programs in Court Reporting are designed to provide enrolled students with the specialized skills needed to enter this profession. Students will gain a broad base of information about many specific aspects of the justice system, as well as an education in business and current events. Students will be trained to listen accurately and to speak articulately, while also developing strong writing, grammar, punctuation, and voice-recording skills. Students enrolled in a Court Reporting degree program will also be expected to develop a solid base of knowledge about computer technology, stenography equipment, voice-recognition equipment, and software capabilities.
A well-run courtroom is a result of a collaborative effort among the court's many employees. The court reporter is essential to the well-being and credibility of our nation's legal system. Those who decide to become court reporters should take pride their profession, ensuring that their professional performance reflects the trust and accountability necessary for the American legal system to be a success.
Many students report that the arrangement of an online or distance learning Court Reporting degree program allows them to proceed at their own pace and to learn specialized technical information more effectively. Technology has not only helped to make court reporting education more accessible, but it also plays a vital role in each workday of a court reporting professional. Advancements in technology enable today's court reporters to achieve greater effectiveness in their jobs by using the latest tools available. Technological advancements in the field also challenge future court reporters to master the use of state of the art recording equipment.
Court reporters have a high level of responsibility. The coursework of an online or distance learning college degree program in Court Reporting equips students to deal with the challenges of the court reporting profession. The course of study a student undertakes in order to become a successful court reporter involves in-depth examinations of legal procedures, legal terminology, the English language, listening and speaking practices, and courtroom etiquette and established custom.
The listening skills of a court reporter must be highly developed. Court reporters must also have flawless grammar and punctuation skills, as well as a large vocabulary. Court reporters are trained to be able to listen and speak at the same time, while still managing to describe other less prominent activities scattered about the courtroom or other work environment. The current events and business knowledge of a court reporter must be kept up-to-date, as must their knowledge of legal terms and legal procedures. Court reporters must also be excellent spellers and must be able to retain the names of people and places and the sequences of particular events. Court reporters must also be constantly updating their knowledge of and comfort level with new technologies and computerized stenography equipment.
A student who enrolls in a court reporting degree program will receive training that is designed specifically for the type of reporting in which the student is interested. Voice writers, for instance, may be trained for professional work in less than a year. A stenotypist may need to receive over two years of training before being prepared to enter the professional field.
About 82 of the 160 vocational schools and colleges that offer Court Reporting degree programs have been approved by the National Court Reporters Association (NCRA). All of these NCRA-approved programs offer courses in realtime reporting and in stenotype computer-aided transcription procedures. Likewise, all of these NCRA-approved programs, in conjunction with the Federal government, require graduates to achieve a typing speed of 225 words per minute.
Integral to a successful career in court reporting are clear and concise keyboard skills. Some courses covered in a Court Reporting degree program include:
Dictation Speed building
Computer Motorized Shorthand
Foundations of Language and Writing
Grammar and Punctuation
Courtroom Transcript Preparation
Vocabulary and Usage
Computerized Machine Shorthand
The use of Computer Aided Transcription or CAT is one of the first skills taught to court reporting students. Successful court reporting students will also develop a high typing speed. During most Court Reporting degree programs, typing speed is recorded daily and students move on to the next level of difficulty as their ability demonstrates.
A court reporter is exposed to a variety of legal proceedings. The nature of the courtroom activity a court reporter must work with depends upon the jurisdiction of the court in which he or she is working. An individual working as a court reporter may discover that he or she wishes to pursue work as a paralegal or an attorney. Court reporters often find that their work experience has prepared them for various kinds of legal work.
One of the most appealing aspects of court reporting are the independence such a career provides.
Court Reporters can earn up to 100,000 if they elect to work large amounts of court time
Individuals can train themselves at home through accredited distance and e-learning college and university degree programs
Rural areas and large cities have court reporter shortages so graduates have a choice of locations
A freelance career in court reporting provides job security and the ability to be home with your family when needed
Court reporters may work in a variety of physical environments, such as an attorney's office, a convention, or a courtroom. If the court reporter is a freelance court reporter, he or she may work from home or from home offices.
Most court reporters work a regular 40-hour week, though freelance or self-employed court reporters may have a more flexible or odd schedule that could include weekend, evening, or on-call hours.
Some court reporters develop physical problems in their backs, necks, eyes, and wrists, due to sitting in one place for many hours, and due to the constant speed typing.
The National Court Reporters Foundation released a study in 1997 detailing the difference between an official court reporter and a freelance court reporter:
An official court reporter:
Possesses a degree from a court reporting school
Has a state or national certificate
Has employee status from working in a state court
Reports to a specific Judge
A freelance court reporter:
Has a degree from a court reporting school
Is an independent contractor
Works in a firm with 11 court reporters, nine of whom are contractors
Receives job assignments from the owner of a court reporting firm
The different functions of a court reporter fall into several categories. Hay Management Consultants conducted a survey and identified four different levels of court reporting:
The entry-level reporter who is able to take and transcribe the record under supervision
The skilled reporter who has the speed and knowledge to record complex cases accurately
The experienced reporter who is able to assist court officials with the compiling of information during trial
The seasoned reporter who is able to use the information recorded to help court officials during trial
The Hay Management Consultants study also composed a list of job duties that court reporters are able to perform:
Accurate and real time captioning in courtrooms that are equipped with computer monitors
Application of computer technology to code and cross-reference the official record
Instruction and guidance in the use of computer technology
Instruction and guidance in the use of computer equipment and software programs to access information from the official record
Assistance to judge and counsel regarding administrative and procedural matters
Administrative and overhead responsibilities also fall under the responsibility of a court reporter. These responsibilities may include:
Hiring and training support staff and others to help with office tasks and reviewing court transcripts
Purchasing equipment and supplies as courtroom needs change on a daily basis
Keeping a constant and accurate inventory
Monitoring transcript traffic
Keeping a correct log of financial records. Because of their knowledge base and seniority, official court reporters hold the highest level of responsibility and compensation. Salaries can range from entry-level positions starting at $30,000 to senior-level positions at $75,000. Transcript fees are separate and can vary depending on the workload. In some cases courts will furnish their reporters with software and equipment and at other times reporters are responsible for their own materials. These individuals often employ scopists who edit the transcripts using the steno theory when the reporter is busy with ongoing caseloads.
Salary Information for Careers in Court Reporting
The options for professionals entering the court reporting field continue to be plentiful. According to Bestfutures.com, salaries are quite competitive. Income varies depending on the type of court reporting job and on the individual's experience. A recent survey indicated that the average annual income for a Court Reporter was $ 61,000. Unlike many professionals in other fields, court reporters have the option of creating their own schedules. A court reporter's income is only limited by how much he or she wishes to work. The earnings of a court reporter vary depending on the type of position he or she holds. Official court reporters earn a salary and a per page fee, while freelance court reporters are paid per job and receive a per page fee for their transcripts.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the average annual salary for court reporters in 2002 was $41,550. Annual salaries ranged between more than $73,440 and less than $23,120.
The earnings of a court reporter vary according to the type of reporting, the court reporter's job experience, the court reporter's type of and level of certification, and geographic location. It is common for court reporters on salary to do freelance court reporting, transcription, or captioning work on the side for additional income. Court reporters are paid on an hourly basis or on a salary. The method of payment is different for each kind of court reporting specialty.
The government has a vested interest in supporting current court reporters and encouraging future generations to become court reporters. Though the profession of court reporting may seem vulnerable to being replaced by tapes or other types of electronic communication, nothing can replace human observation and reporting. It is possible for information recorded on tapes to be erroneous and unfixable. Court reporters can offer instant feedback to the Judge or the attorneys. Tapes cannot fulfill this function. Appeals courts will not review videotaped testimony. Computerized voice dictation systems cannot record at the same speed as human recognition. An isolated mechanized recording device cannot replace the presence of an accountable representative of the court's record of work. The need for Court Reporters will not diminish any time in the near future.
In fact, employment opportunities for court reporters is projected to enjoy growth during the next seven years. The need for accurate courtroom transcriptions will not be exhausted. The demand for professionals with court reporting skills will be heightened by the increased need for television captioning and for other realtime translating processes that are designed to aid the deaf population.
According to Federal law, all new and emerging television programs must be captioned by 2006. Deaf students at colleges and universities have the opportunity to ask that their classes and lectures be translated in realtime. Though the skills required to fulfill realtime translation and captioning needs are non-traditional in the world of court reporting, court reporters are generally able to transfer the skills required during more traditional court reporting training to fulfill these needs. Some court reporters receive education specifically designed for the development of realtime translation and captioning skills.
Fewer and fewer students are studying court reporting and entering the professional field. For this reason, court reporting job opportunities are plentiful for those who have the correct education, training, and certification.
An obstacle that some court reporters might face is the existence of budgetary constraints that may limit the ability of courts at local, State, and Federal levels to expand, develop, update, and to make new hires. Court reporters perform a task that is essential to the successful operation of a courtroom, however, and will continue to be in demand for the production of readable textual recordings of court proceedings, as well as for the production of legal transcripts and writings for publication or public consumption.
Some court reporters choose to advance their careers to enter administrative and management positions, consulting positions, and teaching positions.
The future of court reporting
Graduates joining the court reporting profession vary in gender and ethnicity. The job is appropriate for many women who enjoy the flexible schedule and the ability to structure work around family. The government has made a concerted effort to encourage minority participation in court reporting, especially in urban areas where minority representation in the court may help to ease potential tension in the courtroom. While there continues to a shortage of traditional court reporting schools, the number of accredited online and distance learning court reporting degree programs is increasing.
Pervasive misperceptions about the court reporting profession need to be dispelled in order to encourage students to enter the field. The profession is generally seen as being boring, low paying, and antiquated. It is an ongoing challenge in the field to reveal these generalizations as being untrue. Students should be made aware of the many positive aspects of the court reporting profession when considering a future career and enrollment in an accredited distance learning or online college degree program.
The requirements that a Court Reporting graduate must have to enter the professional field of court reporting vary from state to state. While in some states court reporters must also be notary publics, other states require court reporters to pass a State certification test.
The State certification tests also vary slightly from state to state. The exam in California, for instance, is extensive, and consists of an English test, a dictation or transcription test, and a legal and medical technology test. The test is taken over a period of two days and is offered twice a year. Less than half of those who take the test pass all three sections the first time.
Those court reporters who are able to pass a four-part test and also take part in continuing education may receive Registered Professional Reporter status, a designation that distinguishes its carrier in the professional field. Other certificates, such as the Registered Merit Reporter and the Registered Diplomate Reporter certificates also announce a distinguished level of skill and ability. To achieve the Registered Diplomate Reporter certification, court reporters must have held Registered Merit Reporter status for five years, or must hold a bachelor's degree in court reporting and have achieved four years of Registered Merit Reporter status.
Court reporters may also become Certified Realtime Reporters, Certified Broadcast Captioners, or Certified CART Providers. All of these designations are offered by the National Court Reporters Association and exist to announce particular abilities in the process of converting speech into writing with speed and accuracy.
In some states, court reporters specializing in voice writing must pass a test to achieve State licensure. Voice writers may earn the national certifications of Certified Verbatim Reporter, Certificate of Merit, and Realtime Verbatim Reporter. These certificates are offered by the National Verbatim Reporters Association and may make their holders eligible for State licensure. In order to achieve the Certified Verbatim Reporter certification, reporters must pass a written exam that covers topics such as spelling, punctuation, grammar, and legal terminology, among others. In addition to the written exam, reporters must also pass dictation and transcription tests that measure speed and accuracy. Certified Verbatim Reporter certification is required in order to be eligible for the Certificate of Merit, which tests for even higher levels of speed and accuracy. The Realtime Verbatim reporter certification exam is designed to measure realtime transcription skills. Certification holders are required to continue their education in the field in order to keep the certification.
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