Court reporting has turned into one of those careers nobody knows much about. It seems people thought that court reporters would become obsolete during the technology age of our time. But, the truth is, court reporters are in more demand than ever and across the country, there is a shortage of them to the point that our federal government is giving schools money to do more recruitment.
In case you didn’t know what a court reporter does, here’s the low-down. A court reporter or stenographer is someone takes down a verbatim record using a shorthand / steno machine at rates of up to 225 wpm. They work in courtrooms as official reporters taking down all the testimony on that little, funny looking machine. They also are portable and can take down depositions at law offices for civil cases. They are typically referred to as Deposition/ Freelance Reporters. Stenographers are also the ones who do the closed-capitoning you see at the top or bottom of your television screen when you put in on mute. They are actually typing all live events as they are happening. They also do those live webcasts you see transcripts of when you go online. Phew! This field is very vast in options, and if you get bored in one field, you can try going into another without having to go back and obtain a new skill–you already have it.
So how does one end up typing at 225 words per minute? Well, first you have to attend a court reporting school where they teach you shorthand theories and help you build your speed. You do not need to know how to type on a regular keyboard, however, it can’t hurt to have that extra dexterity that knowing how to type can give you. Schools are all over the country and the most reputable ones are featured on the National Court Reporters Association website (ncraonline.org). These school have gone through a special approval process by the NCRA and are generally the best ones to attend in order to get your certification.
Did you just say “certification”? Yes, I did. In many states, not all, it is a requirement that upon completing school, you must be certified by the state in order to take jobs as a court reporter. California is one of these states. Even though there is a national certification examination that is given through the NCRA, called the RPR, it isn’t enough for California. They want you to be certified by the state. Other states have an examination but, it is optional, like New York. You can take jobs as a stenographer right out of school without having to be certified. The examinations typically consist of three parts: one is transcribing your notes that you just typed at 200 words per minute into a readable transcript. One is on your english and grammar and another is on terminology.
But, first things first, you need to get through school. What is required and how long will it take? Typically, this is where the tricky part is. It’s essentially up to you how long it will take you to get through court reporting school. It can take between 2-5 years going full-time, depending on what school you go to and in what state. The school schedules vary from place to place but usually include speed building or theory classes and one or two academic classes that include English, Medical and Legal Terminology, Courtroom Procedures, Anatomy and others. There is also an internship requirement as well learning how to use the Court Reporting software. Some schools offer an Associate’s degree others only offer an certificate. Graduation is contingent on you passing transcription tests at 225 WPM doing four-voice testimony, jury charge, and a literary passage. Most schools are on a quarterly or semester system and typically cost approximately $3000 per term. Each year will end up costing you about $12000 plus the cost of books and the cost of a student manual machine. Don’t rent, just buy one. You can find them on Ebay or some schools will sell them to you for about $450. Ebay has them for less than $150.
Yikes! That’s expensive. Can I get financial aid? You sure can. You can borrow money from the Federal government just as you would if you were going to college. Stafford Loans, Private Loans, Pell Grants and other state aid is available.
Your investment in court reporting school is more than just the cost of tuition and books. It also includes purchasing the right equipment. Earlier, I said that you can get a student manual machine for around $150 on Ebay but, after you get into higher speeds, the manual machine won’t cut it anymore and you will need to invest in getting your professional writer/machine at this time. One of the most innovative and highly recommended machines is called the Stenura 8000 XL. This is made by the top company in the Stenography business called Stenograph. This machine is the most widely used in the field and the going cost right now for a brand new one is approximately $4100. You can get a pre-owned one for about $3300. You will also need the CaseCATalyst software. They have a student version available for approximate $500. But the professional version can run anywhere from $3600 to $4300 which includes Audio sync that enables writers to record testimony without having to use a tape recorder. Also, you will need to invest in a brand new laptop every two years or so. You will have to bring it will you on all of your jobs along with you realtime cables that allow you to plug into the attorney’s labtops so they can see what you are writing as you write it. A new laptop will cost you anywhere from $1400-$3000 depending on high tech you wanna be. So, your start up costs in this business will run you approximately $10000. Hey, you are starting your own business, you can consult with an accountant (which by the way you will need as a freelancer) about tax deductions. You might be able to recover part or all of this cost come tax time.
According to the Journal of Court Reporting, reporters nationally earn an average of $54,900 a year. Over 17% of reporters in the United States earn $75,000 to $100,000.
Reporters are well paid because they provide to the market a crucial service that is in high demand. Today, computer technology enables reporters to produce quality transcripts at speeds never before imagined. For deposition reporters, quicker transcription time means more hours for actual reporting, hence more money. You can make as much as or as little as you want. Depending on your availibilty and turnaround for jobs. The key is transcript rates, which you get paid by the page anywhere from $2-4. In a place like New York City, it is pretty common to hear court reporters starting out making anywhere from $70,000 to $150,000 a year freelancing. The demand is high and there are just not enough people who can acquire and do this skill.
Is this going to be obsolete? Nope. The need for verbatim reporters is high. Voice recording has been found to not be as accurate and it is important that testimony be exact. Also, the need for closed-captioning writers is very high as well. You can work from home but you need special software for this. You will also need some experience in the field as a freelancer before attempting this. The Federal Government wants all live events to be available in closed-captioning by 2006. Which means, jobs in this field will go up over 300%.
Sounds great and all, doesn’t it? Well, sure but this takes a lot of hard work. To really acquire this skill you have to work at it. I can compare it most to training to be an Olympic swimmer. Not all of us have the talent to do, but even if you do have it, you still have to work like you never have before to get there. Court reporting school is a full-time job. You are in school every day from 8 or 9 am to 1 or 2pm. Plus, you have academic classes and you need to practice on your machine daily. All this hard work can pay off. If you don’t give up, you can make it to the finish line. However, if it was so easy, and everyone could do it, do you really think it would pay so well? Hardly, but it is one of the only careers you can make a lot of money in and still take the whole summer off if you want or work only 3 days a week and still make $60k-$70k a year. Keep in mind, not all cities and states are equal and pay ranges depending on what part of the country you are in. Either way, this career can afford you to have a decent lifestyle and see if you can find any unemployed court reporters out there looking for work..good luck trying.