Judicial Court Reporting Careers




Everybody has seen a judicial court reporter, whether in person or on television.  Usually sitting near the witness stand in the courtroom, the court reporter is the person who is busily typing away on a strange-looking little machine.  Almost everyone knows what they are doing—transcribing the court proceedings—but not everyone knows just how they do the job.  It seems impossible that a person could effectively type everything that is being said by everyone in the courtroom.

The answer to that question lies in the curious device that the court reporter is using.  The little machine they type on is called a “stenotype” or “stenography” machine.  A stenotype allows the court reporter to type words phonetically, or as they sound, rather than how the words are spelled.  The use of phonetics allows them to take down the spoken word as it is being said.  Though the NCRA only requires transcription to be 225 words per minute to become certified, some court reporters can transcribe 300 words per minute and higher.  Computer-aided transcription, or CAT, is the use of software that takes the raw notes and translates those notes into English text.  This text can then be transferred into a variety of formats, including PDF and ASCII, which can then be used for possible corrections, research purposes, or further court proceedings.

These days, new technology enables court reporters to provide even faster results, even allowing the judge and attorneys to view the record on computer monitors as the trial or deposition is actually happening.  This practice, known as “realtime,” allows the judicial court reporter’s transcription to be instantly converted into English text and displayed for viewing by the parties in the courtroom.  This new form of court reporting is particularly helpful in providing assistance for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, as well as those for whom English is a second language.  Being able to read and interpret instantly what is being said in the courtroom affords these special groups with the same legal rights enjoyed by everyone else.

Though most of us think of the person quietly typing on the stenotype in a courtroom setting when we think of court reporters, they actually do have other roles to play.  Court reporters are not limited to just the courtroom.  In fact, according to the National Court Reporters Association, over 70 percent of the 50,000-plus court reporters in the United States work outside the courtroom.  These freelance court reporters provide services to individual lawyers, law firms, and other agencies requiring accurate records of depositions, sworn statements, and business meetings.  They play quite a vital role in accurately preserving the spoken word.

If you are interested in becoming a judicial court reporter, there are several options available.  There are many schools of court reporting out there—some even online—willing to teach you how to use the stenotype effectively.  These programs prepare you for working in a courtroom or for a lawyer, along with the benefits offered by both positions.

Choosing whether to focus on a courtroom setting or working with individual lawyers primarily depends on what you are looking for in your career as a judicial court reporter.  Working for a government agency, whether local, state, or federal, offers steady, reliable work, stability, and great benefits.  Working freelance for a lawyer or law firm affords more day-to-day variety, as well as room to grow an individual practice.  Whichever way you choose, someone with judicial court reporting skills will always have options when looking for a job.  In addition to regular court reporting work, the skill of operating a stenotype machine can also be used in employment related to broadcast captioning.

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