Court reporting is essentially the profession of recording the speech that occurs in legal or other proceedings and producing a corresponding written transcript. This is a broad field that includes more than just court related work, involving speech transcription techniques and technologies used in a variety of settings. Court reporting is a fairly well paid profession that is expected to see increasing demand in coming years.
There are three main branches of court reporting that are mainly based on differing voice transcription methods. They are as follows:
Voice writing involves using technology in which a court reporter, seated in court or some other voice transcription situation and able to directly hear what is being said, speaks into a voice silencer with a microphone. This voice silencer, which looks like a kind of mask, keeps the court reporter’s voice from being heard and disturbing the proceedings, and the microphone housed in it records the court reporter repeating what he or she hears and sees taking place. The reporter does not only record the words being spoken, but also other descriptive information such as physical gestures, facial expressions, and emotional reactions. Later on all of this information is transcribed and a text account of the proceedings is produced from the voice written data.
This method is a common one and is the more traditional one owing to the fact that the technology is oldest. Today’s stenotype machines are electronic, while those of the past were analog or mechanical. Using this technique, a court reporter types the words he or she hears into a stenotype machine, which is a finger keyed machine in which combinations of buttons represent sounds or words. Typing speech that someone hears is much faster with such a machine than with, for instance, an ordinary typewriter (or computer) keyboard.
After being typed in, the data can be output as text or electronically stored and transcribed later. A technological process called Computer Aided Transcription (CAT) allows the stenographic symbols typed in to be translated and displayed as text.
Electronic reporting requires the least training of the three main techniques, and simply records proceedings and events using various types of audio equipment. The main function of a reporter using this technology is to monitor the performance of the equipment to make sure it is recording speech accurately and make notes as the event progresses to clarify the nature of what is occurring. Later, the recording along with the notes are used by electronic reporters or transcribers (these latter are sometimes considered a slightly different job specialty than court reporting per se) to produce the written transcript.
Professionals using all of these methods are responsible not only for the initial recording of speech and other events, but for its final emergence as a coherent and readable report of what has taken place.
In general, court reporters work in indoor environments and often for fairly long hours. As noted above, this profession does not deal only with court reporting. Though attending court proceedings and creating written transcripts of them is one large area of the field, the transcriptions methods are also used in some of the following settings:
Court reporters may be employed in creating transcripts of government proceedings such as legislative sessions, speeches, and a variety of meetings.
A wide variety of business related meetings and spoken addresses need to be recorded and transferred to text format.
Professional conventions are also a common area in which court reporters work.
Live television with closed captioning for the hearing impaired uses court reporters to create the captions as the televised events unfold. Professionals in this area of the industry are often known as live captioners.
Any speech that needs to be transcribed may be covered by a court reporter.
Law offices often need to document legal agreements or discussions and thus use court reporters. For this reason (as well as for their courtroom work), some states require court reporters to also be notary publics.
Court reporters may use their skills to give personal assistance to hearing impaired students and others (such as people for whom English is not their first language) and help them to cope with important daily activities. These professionals often use a system known as Communication Access Real-time Translation (CART).
As one might expect in the digital age, much court reporting is currently being done remotely, with professionals handling the recording and transmission of captioning of various meetings and spoken proceedings entirely online. These individuals oversee the sending of web captioning and audio visual data from business meetings and other events out to the computer terminals of individuals at remote locations.
Both training and certification for court reporting (and related professions) are somewhat variable, both by geographical area and based on the type of court reporting one is studying. The most study intensive is stenography, which often takes close to three years to learn. Next is voice writing, which is often learned in programs of two years or sometimes less. Finally, electronic reporting is usually learned on the job under the tutelage of individuals already experienced in the use of the audio equipment being used.
Educational programs in court reporting can be found at a variety of vocational schools and technical or academic colleges. The main accrediting body for these programs is the National Court Reporters Association (NCRA). Not all programs are accredited, but accredited programs uphold a standard and certain norms (such as being able to capture 225 words per minute) that are expected in the industry and required in government reporting and transcription work.
Some states require court reporters to be licensed in order to practice, while others do not. Similarly, some states allow voice writing as a method while others accept only stenographic or other methods. Requirements for licensing may be successful completion of a test given by some state organization or by the National Verbatim Reporters Association. The latter gives national certifications with three designations: Certified Verbatim Reporter (CVR), Certificate of Merit (CM), and Real-Time Verbatim Reporter (RVR), all of which deal with voice writing.
The Salaries earned by court reporters and related professionals are usually quite competitive. Without getting too far into specifics (which will be dealt with in other blog posts on this site), it’s fair to say that a salary of around $50k annually is fairly standard, though starting salaries will probably be somewhat lower.
The court reporter profession is expected to grow in coming years. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics makes a prediction of an 18 percent job demand increase between 2008 and 2018. This is a faster demand growth than the average for US professions in general.
As you can see, what is generally known as court reporting is a highly varied field that deals with many situations and proceedings that require recording and captioning of the spoken word and other data. While fast paced and possibly high pressure, it is a lucrative and interesting type of work that offers many possibilities for advancement and diversification for those willing to take the time necessary to master the necessary skills.