Court Reporting & Stenography
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A court reporter’s income depends on a variety of factors. Location, work hours, and type of employment are the most significant variables that determine the amount of money they can earn. Directly related to these factors are the person's skills, such as certifications held, services offered, and experience.
Considering a Career in Court Reporting
Before people embark on training for a new career, they like to have an idea of what kind of money they can expect to make. Court reporting is a career that is somewhat mysterious in terms of income because of the many variables that come into play. It is generally assumed that all court reporters make a lot of money, but that is not necessarily the case. A very good income, however, is well within reach for any court reporter who is willing to work hard and develop his or her skills.
As discussed in the article “What is Court Reporting?,” employment options for someone trained as a court reporter exist beyond the courtroom. Learning these skills can be a lucrative and rewarding career choice with above-average job security. As with any work, though, much of the success that comes from it is directly related to the amount of dedication that is put into it. If you are willing to commit to the challenge, court reporting can present unique employment opportunities.
Looking Closely at the Salary for Official Court Reporters
Official court reporters generally work in the same courtroom with the same judge on a daily basis. These court reporters have regular work hours and provide court reporting services while court is in session. An office or work station is usually supplied for official court reporters, and many of them are provided with equipment and software necessary to perform their duties.
The income for an official court reporter is based on a regular salary and transcript fees. The salary is usually a set amount determined by the authority over pay rates for court personnel. Transcript fees are also a set amount per page, but the number of pages one will actually transcribe depends on the number of appeals or transcript requests that are received.
The highest paying official court reporter jobs are found in the federal courts. As indicated by the United States Courts 2012 Court Reporters’ Rates of Pay table, the base rate of pay ranges from $64,278 up to $73,920. Salaries vary by location and certifications held. The lowest paying federal court position is in the Indianapolis-Anderson-Columbus area at $73,714. Obtaining merit and realtime certification will raise that salary to $84,771. The highest paying federal court position is in the San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland area with a starting level at $86,872, which raises to $99,903 with certifications. These salary figures do not include the transcript fees that also come with these positions. Per page rates for transcript fees can range from $2.50 to $6.50 or more per page, depending on the jurisdiction and turnaround time required for the transcript.
Most state courts do not pay as much as federal courts, but these positions do have the same types of benefits. Salary amounts differ in every jurisdiction, but almost all of them offer incentives to court reporters who earn certifications. Good indications of court reporter salaries can be found in the employment opportunities listed on the website for the National Court Reporters Association (NCRA). An officialship for the Superior Court of Delaware pays $44,693 to $59,591 annually, depending on experience and certification. The Ninth Circuit Court in Florida lists positions with salaries ranging from $53,991 to $59,460 per year. As with federal officialships, transcript fees are earned in addition to the base salary. These fees are usually set by state statute and vary by jurisdiction. Transcript fees for South Dakota are set at $3.00 per page for the original transcript and $0.40 per page for copies.
Looking Closely at the Salary for Freelance Court Reporters
When considering the income made by freelance court reporters, it is important to keep in mind the various expenses related to being an independent contractor. Costs such as self-employment taxes, health and disability insurance, fuel, office supplies, and equipment purchase and maintenance are the responsibility of the freelancer. Though the schedule of a freelancer is somewhat flexible, there are no paid sick days, holidays, or vacation days. There is no compensation for the time a reporter spends preparing for a job that may or may not go forward. In spite of these extra expenses, however, freelance court reporters can earn a very good living for themselves and their families.
Rates for freelancer court reporters vary significantly from state to state and reporter to reporter. The appearance fee and page rate are the two main components that make up what a freelancer charges for services. Other items which can contribute to the total invoice are realtime services, condensed transcripts, word indexes, digital copies, and the processing of exhibits.
The appearance fee charged by a freelance court reporter is generally based on the type of proceeding to be taken. Deposition appearance fees usually range from $50 to $75 for four hours or less, or what is referred to as a “half day.” For a deposition lasting over four hours, or a “full day,” the appearance fee is $100 to $150. Proceedings such as court hearings, arbitrations, and board meetings can have appearance fees ranging from $195 to $395 or more. If a freelancer is scheduled and shows up for a job, he or she is paid the appearance fee whether the job goes forward or not.
In some states the appearance fee for depositions is significantly higher than other areas because it is not customary for the attorney to order a copy of the transcript at the time the testimony is taken. If the case is settled and never goes to trial, the deposition transcript will likely not be produced. That being the case, the court reporter’s income for that job would only be from the appearance fee that is charged.
The page rate charged by a freelancer is based on the type of proceeding, the requested turnaround time for the transcript, the technical level of material covered in the proceeding, and whether or not the proceeding is videotaped.
Deposition page rates are less than the page rates a freelance court reporter charges to cover court proceedings or agency meetings. This is because deposition pages usually contain 23 to 25 lines per page, and those lines include many indentations and indications of the questions and answers. Transcripts for court proceedings and agency meetings usually range from 25 to 29 lines per page and generally consist of longer periods of uninterrupted speaking by one person. The NCRA publishes a list of Transcript Format Guidelines, but it emphasizes that these guidelines are merely suggestions when there are no clear indications of the laws, rules, or customs used for transcript page formats in a particular location.
The differences in page formats from state to state are as varied as the page rates that are charged. For a standard deposition transcript with a regular turnaround time of about eight to ten business days, the page rate ranges from $3.00 to $3.80 per page. For court proceedings and agency hearings, the range can be $3.80 to $4.80 per page. Expert testimony or video testimony can add an extra $0.25 per page. If an attorney needs a transcript expedited, the page rate can range from $4.65 to $8.15 per page, depending on the turnaround time requested.
A transcript also usually has copy sales. These sales are vital to a court reporter because they make up a significant portion of a court reporter’s income. In some states it is required that the attorney taking the deposition also purchase a copy to be supplied to the attorney on the other side. That practice certainly encourages many attorneys to only schedule depositions for the most significant witnesses in a case. If he or she is paying for a copy of the transcript to be supplied to the counsel opposite, the deposition is generally going to be very relevant and as short as possible. The practice in most states is that, if an attorney wants a copy of a deposition or other proceeding, it is up to him or her to pay the court reporter to get that copy. Page rates for copies can vary from $1.25 to $2.35 per page for depositions and $1.60 to $3.05 or more for court and agency proceedings.
Location Affects the Court Reporter’s Income Potential
Location plays a very significant part in determining the income potential for a court reporter. Rates can vary from reporter to reporter even within a particular state or town. When planning for a career in court reporting, it is a good idea to contact local court reporters in the area you would like to practice to determine the rates being charged. For a new court reporter, the rates will not be the same as those for a seasoned court reporter offering realtime services. The United States Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average annual salary was $53,710 for court reporters in 2011. If you are willing to work hard and accept assignments that develop your skills and provide you with valuable experience, a nice income is well within your reach.
Not everyone has the option to relocate. However, if relocation is something that is available for you, knowing which states have the highest paying jobs for court reporters can help you decide on where you might want to begin a new career. It is important to keep in mind the cost of living in various areas when considering a position. Generally, the job’s income, along with some conscientious budgeting, can provide for a financially-secure lifestyle. The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that in 2011 the state of Oregon had the highest wages for court reporters, averaging around $85,670. New York, Maine, Colorado, and California came in next behind Oregon, with average salaries ranging from $76,990 to $83,400.
In addition to considering the average court reporter income for a particular state, you also need to determine the type of industry in which you prefer to work. The national average court reporter salary in business support services is about $48,760. Local government employment has an average salary of $57,830, while salaries with the federal executive branch and state governments average about $55,240 to $55,680.
Rewards of a Career in Court Reporting
As explained in this article, there is no one specific answer to the question of how much a court reporter’s salary may be. Many factors and circumstances are involved in determining each court reporter’s income. A solid education and development of your skills are the first steps to be taken towards your goal of becoming a court reporter. If relocation is a possibility for you, more job opportunities are available.
Court reporting is a rewarding field that allows for continuous improvement and growth throughout your career. According to the National Court Reporters Association (NCRA), full-time salaries for court reporters average over $60,000 per year. The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists court reporter salaries in the 90th percentile at $92,400. Whether working as an official reporter, a freelancer, or a captionist, a court reporter who is willing to invest the time and effort to keep improving his or her skills will rarely be without work. Looking at all of the positive aspects the field has to offer, it is easy to consider how this goal could be the right decision for your personal life and professional career.
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