Stenographer and Court Reporter Jobs and Careers

The basic job of a court reporter is to take down everything that is said in depositions, public hearings, trials and other proceedings. Some court reporters do closed-captioning for television and movies, and some work in law offices, while others become medical transcriptionists. Court reporters have to be very proficient with the computer technologies of their trade. They must have strong English skills and an advanced vocabulary in the areas they are working in. As a court reporter you will be required to sit and concentrate for long periods of time.

Government Jobs for Court Reporters

About one-third of court reporters work for the state or federal government in civil/criminal trials and hearings. State and federal court reporters are government employees, and receive a salary and benefits from the government. Freelance court reporters make up the rest, working as contractors through legal agencies. Freelancers are hired by lawyers for pretrial proceedings. To obtain a job in the state or federal government a court reporter many times needs to have 2 years of experience as a freelancer.

Because court reporters are considered officers of the court, they need to pass the Notary Public test. They are responsible for swearing in the witness who is going to testify. They take down every single word that is said, and if people are speaking unintelligibly, they need to interrupt and ask that person to repeat themselves. State and federal stenographers are not required to make a transcript unless requested. In that case, they get paid extra to create a transcript.

Stenographer Freelance Careers

A freelance stenographer is required to make a transcript of the proceedings. Most freelancers have their steno writer connected to their laptop, and what they type on the machine is translated into words on the laptop. They will later then proofread it and create a transcript. Most freelance court reporters are paid a flat rate per page; this can vary widely from $2.50 per page to $6.50 per page, dependent upon the turnaround time required by the lawyers. Freelance court reporters rarely work in the courtroom, but get assignments from their agencies and travel to various locations. This is not a traditional 9-5 job; most freelance jobs will start at 10 a.m. and can go for 2-10 hours. Freelance stenographers do not have to work five days a week, and can choose the jobs they go to. The job is not finished once they leave, though a transcript will need to be written and sent to the agency. The deadline for the transcripts depends upon how quickly the attorney needs them back.

A court reporter uses a short-hand machine known as a steno writer. It allows the stenographer to use an abbreviated alphabet and groups of letters to stand for different phrases. There are strokes for common sayings like "did there come a time" or "I don't remember," and there are designations to show who is speaking. This is then transcribed into a written format and proofread. Most stenographers have a software program for their computers that will transcribe it automatically. This will still need to be proofread for accuracy. To become NCRA certified, a court reporter will need to pass a speed test on their stenography machine. The minimum speed is between 225 words per minute and 250 words per minute. Licensed court reporters are required to attend continuing education courses to maintain their licensure.

Job Prospects for Court Reporters

Job opportunities for a court reporter tend to be in urban areas and a freelance reporter will need to be willing to travel to a variety of locations. It is a job that requires a high degree of self discipline and attention to detail. Because of the difficulty of the speed tests, there is a high drop-out rate of students, but the demand for court reporters is high. The field is expected to grow by 18-25% by the year 2018. The average salary is between $25,000 and $75,000 per year, but due to the large backlogs and high overtime pay, salaries can be much higher.