Becoming a proficient court reporter is a solid choice for a career. Not only is the job outlook on a steady rise due to the increased demand for stenography services, but it comes with numerous opportunities to work freelance as an employee of the criminal justice system or in the entertainment sector by providing broadcast captioning services.

As the demand for this expertise continues to outpace the workforce that possesses this particular skillset, the wages remain on an upward trajectory, which is great news for anyone who wants to join the profession.

This guide provides the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions that revolve around how to be a court reporter.

court reporter

How Does Court Reporting Work?

Court reporters or stenographers, as they are sometimes called, create word-for-word written recordings of legal proceedings. If you’ve previously attended court hearings, trials, or legislative meetings (or have at least seen them on TV), you might have noticed a lady or gentleman seated at the corner typing away at a machine that looks like a weird typewriter (hey millennials!).

Well, that individual is a court reporter. Court reporting records everything in verbatim so that interested parties, who in this case could be the judge, jury, lawyers, plaintiffs, defendants, witnesses, or any other parties present during legal proceedings, have a detailed account of what was said during the proceedings.

What Is a Scopist for Court Reporter?

Once a court reporter completes recording legal proceedings using a stenotype machine, a scopist is responsible for transforming this rough shorthand into English. They ensure that it is properly researched, punctuated, and formatted. They check to see that all the terms and names are spelled correctly, hence why the “research” part of the job is important.

Professional scopists often used specialized software to translate stenotype to written English. However, they still have to go through the text manually to ensure that everything is translated correctly and rectify any errors that may be present. They then hand over the translated transcript back to the original stenographer for one final check to make sure everything is up to par.

What Is an Official Court Reporter?

This is a professional employed by the court to generate a word-for-word account of court proceedings. They use various techniques to generate these transcripts, some of which include stenography, shorthand, or voice writing. While some individuals work on a freelance basis, an official court reporter is typically employed on a full-time role at the courts.

Is Court Reporting a Dying Career?

Surprisingly – no. You may have noticed at some point that courts around the country were replacing court reporters with audio and video recording devices to cut budgets. Besides, with speech-to-text software gaining momentum, you might as well do away with court reporting altogether, right? Wrong.

empty court image

Some unprecedented challenges came with it. For starters, attrition became all too common in low-volume court proceedings. Next, transcribers, who were then hired to generate transcripts of the audio recordings, turned out to be more expensive compared to using court reporters from the get-go.

So, while it was a noble effort by some courts to replace these professionals with technology, it proved quite difficult to do. Many of the ones that relied on audio and video capture reverted to using court reporters instead.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the job outlook for court reporters estimates a 7% growth rate, which is considered “faster than average.”

Are There Still Court Reporters?

Yes, they still exist. What you’ll find even more surprising is that the demand for these professionals is higher than it’s ever been. This old job isn’t going anywhere, anytime soon, which is great news for anyone thinking about pursuing a career in court reporting.

What Machine Does a Court Reporter Use?

Remember the typewriter-looking machine mentioned earlier? That’s the stenograph machine that court reporters use to record court proceedings in real-time. You’re probably thinking – well, that’s impossible; no one can type that fast. And you would be right.

That’s because these machines don’t have regular QWERTY keyboards that you’ll find on conventional… well… keyboards. They have fewer keys and work by pressing multiple ones simultaneously, like you would a piano, to generate whole words, phrases, and syllables with a single hand movement.

court reporter

How Does the Court Reporter Machine Work?

Have you ever seen a concert pianist in action? Have you ever observed their hand motion when they press multiple keys together? Those are essentially the same movements stenographers used on stenotype machine keyboards. These have considerably fewer keys than your run-of-the-mill computer kind.

When these keys are pressed simultaneously using a technique referred to as “stroking” or “chording,” they spell out entire words, phrases, and syllables in shorthand. This text is then translated into written English by software or a human scopist.

How Does Court Reporter Typewriter Work?

A court reporter typewriter is also called a stenograph, stenotype, steno writer, steno machine, a stenotype machine, or a shorthand machine. Unlike conventional keyboards, it has far fewer keys and is designed to generate verbatim recordings of court proceedings in real-time.

black typewriter image

However, rather than press each of the keys one at a time to type out whole words, a courter reporter typewriter makes use of a technique called “chording” where multiple keys are pressed simultaneously with a single hand movement to produce entire words, phrases or syllables at high speeds and with exceptional accuracy.

How Fast Do Court Reporters Type?

Pretty darn fast. The current record is held by Mark Kislingbury, who, in 2004, became the fastest court reporter after transcribing 360 words in a minute with 97.23% accuracy. Experienced stenographers can reach typing speeds of up to 300 words a minute. If you’re just starting in your career and want to be hired as a court reporter, the minimum typing speed threshold you need to reach 200 words per minute.

fast typist

Do Court Reporters Type Every Word?

No, they don’t. Regardless of how fast you can type on a conventional keyboard, this technique would never work in a real-world courtroom setting. Remember, court reporters have to type out everything that’s being said in real-time. So, they have to adopt shorthand to do this.

So they use a technique called “stroking” or “chording” where they press multiple keys simultaneously to represent entire words, phrases, and syllables. These are then translated into written English that anyone can understand.

Do Court Reporters Use Proofreaders?

It’s happened to the best of us. You type out an email which seems okay at the time. Only for you to review it later and realize that you didn’t spot a typo that changed the entire meaning of the text. Psychologist Tom Stafford who is an expert at typos, explains that the process of trying to convey meaning through text is a high-level task for your brain. So, to focus on this, it generalizes simple things like completing entire words or phrases – evn whn thy look like ths.

This is the whole reason why court reporters use proofreaders. When proofreading your work, you already know the meaning you’re trying to convey. So, it’s easy to miss errors, typos, or missing parts of sentences since your brain already has the complete version.

A court reporter has to run their transcripts by a proofreader to correct mistakes before submitting the final document to the court.


Is It Hard to Become a Court Reporter?

It’s not hard to learn, but it does take a lot of practice to train your brain to instantly hit the keys every time you hear a sound. It also takes lots of practice to get your typing speeds up to 200 words per minute. But, with enough dedication, you’ll master the skill in a few months.

What Qualifications Do You Need to Become a Court Reporter?

If you’re considering a career in this field here’s how to do it:

  1. Enroll in and complete a post-secondary court reporting program that trains you in a specific form of transcription. This can lead to a certificate or an associate degree that takes two years on average to complete.
  1. Get licensure, which may require you to sit for and pass a state board-administered exam to become a notary public and/or a Certified Court Reporter.
  1. Get certified by professional bodies like the National Court Reporters Association or the National Verbatim Reporters Association.
  1. Get professional experience by seeking employment in government courts or court reporting agencies. You can also work for broadcast production companies by providing captioning services.
  1. Fulfill continuing education requirements as stipulated by state boards and other certification bodies.
court reporter

What Degree Is Required to Become a Court Reporter?

You need a post-secondary education certificate in a specific form of transcription or earn an associate degree in the same field.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Court Reporter?

Post-secondary certificate court reporting programs take about six months to complete, while associate degree programs take two years to complete. You’ll also need to factor in the time it takes to obtain licensure and other professional certifications, which may take between three to six additional months.

How Long Is Court Reporting School?

It takes six months or two years, depending on whether you’re taking a post-secondary certificate program or working towards earning an associate degree.

How to Become a Freelance Court Reporter

freelancer working image

If you don’t intend to work in a legal setting, you can always find work as a freelance court reporter by providing broadcast captioning services for television programs, working with Communication Access Real-Time Translation (CART) service providers, or any other general freelance work that requires transcription services.

To become a freelance court reporter, you need to:

  1. Complete a post-secondary court reporting program that trains you in a specific form of transcription. This will earn you a certificate or an associate degree.
  1. Get licensure by sitting for and passing a state board-administered exam to become a notary public and/or a Certified Court Reporter.
  1. Get certified by professional bodies like the National Verbatim Reporters Association or the National Court Reporters Association.
  1. Find freelance work online, court reporting agencies, or from broadcast production companies.
  1. Fulfill continuing education requirements as stipulated by state boards and other certification bodies.

Is Court Reporting School Hard?

The learning process is quite straightforward. But, like with all things, it will take a lot of practice to type at real-time speech speeds of more than 200 words per minute.

How Much Does Court Reporting School Cost?

Online court reporting programs typically cost anywhere between $4,000 and $12,000. Associate degree programs cost anywhere between $1,800 and $12,000/year. If you enroll in a state college or university, it might cost anywhere between $5,000 and $23,000/year.

court reporter

How Much Does a Court Reporter Get Paid?

According to data, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for court reporters is $57,100/year. This translates to around $27.48/hour.

Is Court Reporting a Good Career?

Yes, it is. If the data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics is anything to go by, the job outlook for court reporting indicates a 7% growth rate in employment opportunities by the year 2028. This is a faster-than-average rate, which means that the demand for people with this skill is on an upward trajectory.

Leave a Reply