How Does Court Reporter Work?

How Does Court Reporter Work?

Court reporters play a crucial role in the legal system by creating verbatim transcripts of legal proceedings such as trials, depositions, hearings, arbitration meetings, and other events. The accuracy and completeness of these transcripts are vital for providing a record for appeals, legal research, case preparation, and more.

However, being a court reporter involves much more than just “typing what is said.” It is a demanding career that requires skills in technology, language, writing, and the ability to work under pressure. This article will provide insights into the work of court reporters with easy-to-understand tips for those interested in the field or learning more about it.

A Day in the Life

A typical day for a court reporter varies greatly depending on their role and employment. However, some common events in a court reporter’s schedule include:

  • Attending Legal Proceedings: Court reporters spend much of their time in courtrooms, hearing rooms, deposition suites, conference rooms, and other venues to record legal proceedings. They may work trials, depositions, hearings, meetings, or other events.
  • Operating Recording Technology: Court reporters use different methods to capture spoken words, such as stenotype machines, voice recording devices, and computer-aided transcription. This involves operating technology to create the verbatim record.
  • Producing Transcripts: After proceedings, court reporters produce word-for-word transcripts of everything said. This involves transcribing their shorthand notes or recordings, reviewing transcripts for accuracy, formatting transcripts, and delivering final certified copies.
  • Managing Workload: Court reporters who work independently manage their own schedules, billing, equipment, records, deadlines, and relationships with clients. Building a freelance court reporting business involves marketing, networking, managing finances, and developing services.

Education and Skills

Becoming a court reporter requires extensive training and education to build specialized skills. Key areas court reporters need expertise include:

Stenotype Shorthand

Most court reporters use a stenotype machine to press keys in combinations that represent phonetic sounds, words, or phrases. This shorthand method allows reporters to capture over 200 words per minute. Extensive training is needed to learn this new language and reach high speeds.

Legal Terminology

Understanding legal terms, concepts, procedures, Latin phrases, medical language, industry jargon, names, and more is vital for accurate transcripts. Court reporters build this knowledge over years.


Court reporters utilize complex technology daily like stenotype machines, computer-aided transcription software, video and audio recording devices, realtime software, and more. Mastering this technology is required.

Writing and Grammar

Creating accurate, clear, properly formatted transcripts involves excellent writing skills and impeccable grammar, punctuation, and spelling.

Working Under Pressure

The fast pace of legal proceedings combined with the demands of technology and accuracy require an ability to produce perfect transcripts even in high stress.

How Court Reporters Capture the Record

There are three main methods court reporters use to capture the verbatim record before producing official transcripts.

Stenotype Machine Shorthand

  • Uses a stenotype machine with 22 keys representing phonetic sounds to press multiple keys at once in combinations that form words or phrases
  • Allows speeds over 200 wpm capturing every word said
  • Notes are recorded onto a paper tape or digital file
  • Translation software converts the shorthand into English text

Electronic Recording

  • Uses digital audio or video recording devices to record legal proceedings
  • Allows reporters to go back and listen to create transcripts
  • Provides a backup if the reporter misses anything said

Voice Writing

  • Reporter repeats verbatim what is said into a voice silencer containing a microphone
  • Audio files are sent to support staff to transcribe or use voice recognition software
  • No shorthand or typing skills needed

How Court Reporters Produce Transcripts

After legal proceedings, court reporters follow several steps to generate final official transcripts:

  • Transcribe: Listen to electronic recordings or read shorthand notes translating them into English sentences
  • Review and Edit: Thoroughly review entire transcripts multiple times to confirm accuracy and clarity, edit as needed
  • Certify: Add a signed certification statement affirming transcripts are true and correct
  • Format: Format transcripts following court rules and guidelines, insert exhibit labels, add word index if needed
  • Deliver: Provide certified final transcripts to ordering attorneys, courts, parties in paper and/or electronic formats

Types of Court Reporters

There are several career paths in court reporting depending on the work environment and role.

Official Court Reporters

Work directly for the courts producing transcripts of trials, hearings, and other proceedings. They work in courtrooms and maintain part-time or full-time positions with excellent job security and benefits.

Freelance Reporters

Also called stenographers, work independently. They provide services to attorneys or the public rather than the courts, allowing flexible schedules. Freelance court reporters travel to locations to cover depositions, meetings, conferences and more across the country.

Broadcast Captioners

Create realtime captions for television broadcasts or web streams to display text on screen for deaf or hard-of-hearing viewers. Work is usually part-time with irregular hours and requires realtime skills.

CART Providers

Use realtime technology to translate the spoken word instantly into text displayed on a computer screen. Clients are deaf or hard-of-hearing students and professionals who rely on CART captioning in classrooms and meetings.

Why Court Reporters Are Essential

There are several key reasons why court reporters provide an invaluable service:

Ensure Accurate Records

Court reporters create verbatim transcripts of legal proceedings that serve as official records of what was said. Their accurate documentation is essential for appeals, research, and informing judicial rulings.

Provide Impartiality

As neutral third parties, court reporters avoid bias or opinions. Judges and attorneys rely on the objectivity of certified transcripts.

Save Time and Money

Attorneys save expenses by avoiding technical failures or missing information. Court reporters work faster and more affordably than recording systems.

Capture Critical Details

Court reporters are trained to distinguish speakers, insert vital notations, and document nonverbal behaviors that automated technology misses.

Enhance Accessibility

Services like CART and broadcast captioning expand access to information for those with hearing loss.

Challenges for Court Reporters

Despite high demand, court reporting faces challenges impacting the number of working reporters today, including:

Declining Enrollment

Fewer people enter court reporting schools today, failing to keep pace with demand. Limited awareness of careers, perceptions of difficulty, and competition from other fields contribute.

High Attrition

The difficulty of court reporting education leads many students to drop out. Extensive practice reaching speeds over 200 wpm dissuades some students.

Health Issues

Repetitive strain injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome may develop from long periods typing. Back pain, eye strain, and other issues require preventative care.


Freelance reporters lack coworkers and may feel isolated. Staying current with technology and building professional connections is vital for success.

Best Practices for Court Reporters

There are several beneficial habits court reporters should implement:

Continuing Education

Ongoing training keeps skills sharp. Attend conventions and seminars, read industry magazines, listen to recordings in specialty areas, join groups.

Watch Posture and Ergonomics

Use ergonomic equipment and chairs. Take regular breaks. Stretch wrists and fingers. Maintain good posture and positioning to prevent strain.

Backup Data

Use external hard drives, cloud storage, tape drives and other methods to backup important data like dictionaries, transcripts, and calendars to prevent losing work.

Review Transcripts Thoroughly

Meticulously review transcripts multiple times over days prior to certifying to ensure total accuracy. Use text-to-speech tools to catch errors.

Build Connections

Develop relationships with officials, attorneys, reporters, groups, and mentors. Communicate regularly. Network to find job leads and gain knowledge.

How to Become a Court Reporter

If starting a career in court reporting sounds appealing, here are key steps to get underway:

Learn About the Field

Thoroughly research the court reporter profession before enrolling in schooling. Understand roles, technology, challenges, and career paths through articles, career fairs, court visits, and talking to working reporters.

Choose Training

Select an accredited court reporting program at a community college, technical school, or online institution. Programs take 2-4 years involving classes, speedbuilding, and internships. Consider specialty areas.

Purchase Equipment

Invest in a stenotype machine, laptop, CAT software, and other gear. Rent equipment first to test products and configure settings. Build realtime skills for more opportunities.

Gain Experience

Complete internships during school to build confidence. Seek mentors. Practice in mock trials. Join groups to network with working reporters.

Earn Certifications

After graduation, become certified in your state through examinations. Obtain the nationally recognized Registered Professional Reporter (RPR) credential.

Market Services

Create a portfolio website showcasing work samples, client testimonials, services, and credentials. Network consistently. Advertise services strategically to courts, firms, agencies and online.

Frequently Asked Questions

How fast do you need to type to be a court reporter?

Court reporters must type extremely fast using specialized shorthand on stenotype machines. Speeds of 225 words per minute are typically required with some reporters reaching 260 wpm or above.

Do you have to go to school to become a court reporter?

Yes, formal training is required through court reporting schools earning an associate or bachelor’s degree, which takes 2-4 years. Programs teach realtime skills on stenotype machines, legal terminology, technology, writing, and more.

What is the average pay for court reporters?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual pay for court reporters is $63,000 nationally. However, many court reporters earn over $100,000 annually depending on speed and experience.

Can court reporters work from home?

Many freelance court reporters work remotely from home when not traveling to locations to cover legal proceedings. They handle scheduling, billing, editing, and other administrative work tasks from home offices.

How long does it take to become a court reporter?

The full training process typically takes a minimum of 2 years in associate degree programs at community colleges. Bachelor’s degree programs take 4 years. Building speed to reach at least 200 wpm takes significant practice over months. Gaining certification and job experience extends the timeline.


Court reporters provide an invaluable service that is both challenging and rewarding. As the guardians of the record, they utilize specialized skills in language, writing, and technology to produce verbatim transcripts that are relied upon by judges, attorneys, litigants, researchers, and the public.

While court reporting education is intensive, those able to achieve certification have excellent career prospects and job security. By implementing best practices and connecting with working professionals, new court reporters can gain practical insights to begin a successful career recording legal history every day.

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