The basic job of a court reporter, also called a court stenographer, is to transcribe spoken or recorded speech into writing to produce official legal transcripts. If you concentrate well, pay attention to details and consider yourself a fast typist, you may want to look into court reporting as a career.
Because of the technology available today, court reporters can use a variety of different methods to do their work. The oldest method is the stenograph machine, which is a specialized keyboard that allows users to type written speech extremely quickly using shorthand. Many court reporters still use this. A second option, however, is voice writing, where the court reporter dictates the proceedings into a recording device and uses voice recognition software to create a written record of the events in realtime.
Court reporters can receive training at a vocational or technical school, which is usually a 1-2 year process. The National Court Reporters Association website has an excellent list of schools that offer high quality court stenography programs. This list includes schools in California, Florida, Illinois, New York, Ohio and many other states, as well as a list of schools that offer online programs.
Most court reporter educational programs will include training in both stenograph machine transcription and voice writing software. Some may focus on one or the other, in which case you will have to decide which kind of transcribing most interests you. Since these programs are vocational in nature, much of the training consists of practicing on the machines, rather than classroom lectures.
There are a few required classes that are less hands-on. Classes on the English language are required, to create and measure proficiency in basic rules of grammar, spelling, capitalization and punctuation. Court reporters will need to become familiar with legal terminology. If the school offers a general transcription certificate, rather than specializing in court reporting, the English and transcription classes may be shared with students pursuing a medical transcription certificate. While aspiring court reporters will take legal terminology classes, however, these other students may take classes on medical terminology. Many schools require all students to take both classes to allow for more job opportunities.
By the time you have finished all your training and received your certificate, you should be aware of the requirements for court reporters for your state. Not all states require licensing to be a court reporter, but many do. Some states also require court reporters to be notaries. Once all state-specific requirements are fulfilled, you can begin job hunting.
The National Court Reporters Association website is the best resource for finding a job. The site shows transcribing and captioning jobs available all over the country. Many of these jobs are at private law firms, but there are also available jobs at colleges, freelance agencies, and deposition businesses.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the annual wage for court reporters was $47,700 in May 2010. The job outlook is positive, especially in areas like closed captioning. More and more businesses are required to offer closed captioning for disabled customers, including sports stadiums, online broadcasters, and movie theaters. Those who are certified in transcription, whether medical or legal, will do well in these jobs.