Court Reporting & Stenography
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Like the profession of medical doctors is somewhat blanketed under the same title, people who provide services for converting speech to text are all called “court reporters.” In the same way as medical providers, most court reporters receive similar training to acquire basic skills, but, after training has been completed, there can be quite a difference in job function.
Official Court Reporter
Most people can immediately recognize the court reporter in a courtroom setting. Known as an “official court reporter,” these people generally work with one judge in one courtroom every day. Their tasks include taking down all court proceedings on the record, which can include short hearings lasting less than ten minutes all the way through to trials lasting for many months.
Official court reporters are employees of the jurisdiction in which they serve. They have regular office hours and employee benefits.
Freelance Court Reporter
Unless a person has been involved in a lawsuit and has had to provide testimony prior to a trial, he or she is probably not very familiar with the role of a freelance court reporter. Though they make up the greatest majority of court reporters, their work as independent contractors is not widely seen by the public.
Freelance court reporters are hired on a per-job basis. Law offices contact either an individual court reporter or a court reporting firm and schedule the services that are needed. For the most part, these services include making a record of deposition testimony. This is testimony taken from a witness in a case during the time period called “discovery.” Attorneys use deposition testimony to determine how they are going to proceed with a case. Other services which freelance court reporters are hired to provide are making records of statements under oath and examinations under oath.
Because district courts and municipal courts are generally small and do not require the services of a full-time official court reporter, freelance court reporters will be hired to cover these types of hearings when necessary. Usually it is the attorney for the defendant who hires the court reporter. The attorney does this to protect his or her client’s interest in the case by preserving the record of the lower court’s ruling, especially when there is significant anticipation of an appeal to be filed in a higher court.
Many times a freelance court reporter will be hired by an agency or a board to provide services at public hearings and public meetings. Though these governmental agencies are not considered courts of law, decisions that are made by them based on what takes place at public hearings or meetings are definitely matters that can cause members of the public to pursue litigation. The comments made at public hearings are not sworn testimony, but they are given very high consideration by the representatives of agencies who are tasked with making decisions that will affect members of the community.
Freelance court reporters are usually self-employed and are considered independent contractors. They do have a somewhat flexible schedule, in that they can choose to accept or not accept certain assignments. However, freelancers tend to work long, late hours, as well as weekends, to keep up with the demands of the job.
Broadcast Captioner/Webcast Captioner
Broadcast captioners and webcast captioners are trained in basically the same way as judicial court reporters. These people, however, use their skills to provide speech-to-text translation for the deaf and hard of hearing. Primarily working for video programming distributors, captioners use their court reporting skills to transcribe the audio information being broadcast over television or the Internet. Working through phone lines, captioners input the audio they hear into their stenotype machines, which results in that input being decoded and captions being displayed at the bottom of the screen on a television receiving the signal from the programming distributor. For an overview of this career and others, also read "What is Court Reporting?".
Similar to official and freelance court reporters, broadcast captioners and webcast captioners work as both employees and independent contractors. Generally captioners are assigned specific hours during which they are expected to provide services. In addition to covering their required hours, captioners can also choose other hours to work as well.
CART Services Provider
The majority of court reporting students just beginning training have probably never heard of Communication Access Realtime Translation, or CART. Unless you have a family member or friend who is deaf or hard of hearing, CART services would not really show up on your personal radar. For the people who use these services, however, they are life-changing.
One of the main functions of a CART services provider is to assist students who are deaf or hard of hearing. The CART provider is a realtime court reporter who is assigned to work with a student by attending classes and providing the student with a speech-to-text translation of what is being said in the classroom. Obviously this service allows the student to actively participate in a way that had never been possible prior to CART. Programs, meetings, and other activities administered by state and local governments are also situations through which members of the community who are deaf or hard of hearing are benefitting from CART services.
CART providers work as employees and independent contractors. There are companies who employ realtime court reporters to provide CART services for their clients. Many times an educational institution will hire freelance court reporters to provide CART services through its disability support services department.
Written by Suzanne Lee, CCR on 10/2/2012 Suzanne has been a court reporter and worked in legal communities for over 18 years.
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