Court Reporting: An Under-Marketed Profession

It’s clear why we need doctors, dentists, teachers, and researchers. But what about the professions that don’t get the spotlight? What about the jobs that require amazing mental processing skills that are often overlooked and, at times, many don’t even know exist? Here at Planet Depos we ARE such a career path: court reporting.

While I am not a court reporter, my career as a marketer in the litigation support industry goes hand in hand with the need to make known such a skill and career path. This distinguished industry does not get the attention it deserves. Along with lawyers, court reporters are the lifeblood of our business!

Throughout this post, we will take a look at the basics of court reporting and the career outlook, and in an upcoming blog, some insights from court reporters themselves on why they love the calling they have followed. Who knows…maybe it will give you the desire to pursue this career or encourage someone you know who would be a good fit!

What is a court reporter?

A court reporter, also known as a stenographer or shorthand reporter, transcribes the spoken word/testimony at court hearings, depositions, trials, arbitrations, or any official proceedings. While there are several types of tools and technology used to record, the primary method is a steno machine, a word processor with a modified 22-button keyboard, upon which words are “written” phonetically.

Why is the profession so important?

When I think of court reporting and its impact on society, my brain automatically goes to the ride at Disney’s EPCOT. Inside the giant ball, riders are taken along on a ride of the history of the world. One of the very first things seen is an ancient Phoenician recording history in shorthand. It just goes to show how important court reporters are to recording history not just within the confines of legal proceedings, but the world! Talk about performing a public service!

Court reporters are an integral part of the legal process. They are responsible for recording and preparing verbatim transcripts of proceedings to be used by attorneys, judges and litigants. Court reporters also serve the deaf and hard-of hearing communities by providing realtime captions for live television programs, as well as one-on-one personalized services in educational and public environments.

How long is a court reporting program?

Typically, court reporting schools are 2 – or 3-year programs, but at times it can take as long as 3 to 5 years to complete the course, and is highly dependent on the amount of effort put into developing the skill set to become a reporter. Check out the list of certified schools and programs  on file with the National Court Reporters Association (NCRA) to find the right fit for you!

Is certification required?

In some states, certification is required; in others, not.  The most recognized certifications are those offered through the NCRA, beginning with the entry-level Registered Professional Reporter, requiring 95% accuracy at 225 words per minute, and also including the advanced Registered Merit Reporter certification, requiring 95% accuracy at 260 words per minute.

What personality traits and/or interests do court reporters typically possess?

  • The court reporter’s primary responsibility is to record the spoken word as quickly and as accurately as possible, so it’s important to have a passion for words and strong language skills.
  • Discipline, a strong worth ethic and a quest for knowledge are three key traits among successful court reporters.
  • Court reporting requires a high level of technical performance, so an interest in cutting-edge technology is a plus.
  • If you’re a procrastinator, then court reporting is probably not the direction for you. Great court reporters thrive under time and deadline pressures.
  • Clearly, reporters must be exceptional listeners and have the ability to concentrate for long periods of time. Accuracy and attention to detail may impact a case and, ultimately, a life.
  • History has shown that playing a musical instrument, particularly the piano, is another commonality in successful court reporters.

What is the earning potential of a court reporter?

Just as anything else in life, what you get out of something is a product of the effort you put into it! As of September 2014, the average starting salary for a court reporter was $43,000; however, reporters who have invested in continuing education, advanced certification, and cutting-edge technology typically earn well into six-figure salaries.

It is also important to remember that there are different types of jobs for those who master the skills required to become a court reporter. A freelance court reporter is an independent court reporter or one who works for a court reporting firm whose work is primarily recording testimony taken in the discovery part of a case (depositions), as well as meetings, arbitrations and hearings. An official court reporter is typically hired by a court system and works inside the courtroom. Did you ever notice on television the court reporter recording the proceedings of Congress or reporting the State of the Union address by the President of the United States?  This is yet another opportunity for those who have the brains and the stamina to make it through court reporting school and to take their career to the greatest heights! And speaking of television, do you know how closed captions are generated?  The captions for all live programming are generated by the amazing talents of a court reporter!

What is the career outlook?

In September of 2014 it was estimated that there were approximately 32,000 court reporters in the United States. However, because the workforce is aging, 15% are expected to retire within the next 5-10 years. That’s 4,800 reporters! From 2015-2018, statisticians have gauged a need for about 5,500 new reporters. The areas that are seeing the greatest demand are California, Texas, Illinois, New York and Washington DC.

There has long been speculation that technology will take over the court reporter’s job, but until a machine can produce a verbatim transcript with 100% accuracy, with two or more people speaking at once (possibly with foreign accents!)  AND be able to ignore side conversations, the profession is here to stay!

Stay tuned for my next blog that will include testimonials from court reporters on the reasons why they love their jobs.

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