Any court reporters out there?
February 25, 2010 4:22 PM   Subscribe

I am thinking about going back to school to be a court reporter. If there is anyone that is a court reporter on here, can you tell me what to expect?

What are the classes like? Or better yet, what is the actual job itself like? Thanks in advance!
posted by iabide79 to Work & Money (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not one, but I've worked with them. This is a court system with fancy technical voice recording. In non-important courtrooms, there is no reporter. Rather, an audio recording is made and if a transcript is requested, they pull the tapes and create a transcript off the tape. (not really a tape) Usually a court reporter monitors the audio and starts and stops the recording when the session starts and stops.

In other more important courtrooms, the court reporter sits in the control room and transcribes live, along with the audio recording being made. Usually where someone might need a transcript fairly soon. Depending on the court system and the cases being heard, one reporter might cover two or three courtrooms

Only in Big Time Stuff is there a reporter actually in the courtroom a-tipping and a-tapping on the magic steno machine. (Which are connected to a computer and take an electronic record automagically, as well as printing a paper copy for backup purposes.)

The skill itself looks to be fairly intense, in the learning to ride a bike kind of way. Really difficult to retrain your brain to listen to language differently and maintain the kind of focus necessary and translate that into steno typing on the fly. Lots of practice, I would imagine.

The work hours don't appear to be all that bad, but the environment seems like it can get lonely and stuffy, and it certainly appears that there is no tolerance for things like oversleeping and lateness. I believe you have to be licensed in many states.

As for actual experience in the field, I know my cousin went to school for it and hated it.
posted by gjc at 4:44 PM on February 25, 2010

I have never seen statistics on this, but I would bet that the large majority of court reporters do not have jobs with courts, but rather, work for court reporting companies that hire them out to transcribe depositions and hearings on an hourly basis.

I think it would be a very tedious job.
posted by jayder at 5:48 PM on February 25, 2010

When I was a waitress 20 years ago on the lunch shift at Steak and Ale in Hollywood, Florida, I worked with a lot of women going into court reporting. Here is what I learned from them then (the technology has of course changed since). It takes a very long time to learn the skill of transcribing while working up to a speed that permits you to capture everything said in real time. You learn it in a trade school that costs a lot of money. If you do not finish, you have nothing in the way of transferable skills, but you do have the school's bills. If you finish and set up shop, there is a fair bit of marketing of yourself you have to do (unless you get some regular gig). You could end up working for an agency but that is not where the real money is. Last, if you get repetitive motion injuries what do you do then? I kept going to college instead and often wonder where those women ended up.
posted by Prayless at 6:03 PM on February 25, 2010

I don't know any court reporters, but I used to know a lot of stenographers who worked in television captioning. (Incidentally, this is another field you might consider if you are interested in stenography).

The impression I got was that the training was pretty gruelling, and that their speed and accuracy faded quickly without regular practise - either at work or by doing steno drills in their spare time. They also spent a lot of time maintaining their custom dictionaries - basically, lists of genre-specific words and phrases with associated shortcuts.

Many had previously worked as court reporters, but had been lured to stenocaptioning by the promise of a better job market. They were very much in demand, particularly as many Western countries have passed equality legislation which mandates a gradual increase of captioning on broadcast TV. They were very well-paid and worked no more than 3-4 hours at a stretch, but their job was physically tiring and required absolute, almost trance-like concentration.

One possible risk to training as a stenographer is that eventually, voice recognition software may put you out of business. TV captioning is already moving this way - many broadcasters in the UK now use 're-speaking', where the captioner repeats what they hear to a voice recognition system trained to recognise their voice. Eventually, voice recognition technology may become reliable enough to make stenographers obsolete. I don't know whether this will affect court reporters directly, but it might result in ex-stenocaptioners flooding back into the court reporting job market.
posted by embrangled at 6:10 PM on February 25, 2010

A friend does this. The money is very good but the work is soul-crushing. Depending on which circuit you get, it could be hours and hours a day of family court with child abuse and wife beating, or people being robbed and stabbed, or mind-numbing corporate law. She generally can only stand to do it for 6-8 months at a stretch then needs a long vacation.

However, I don't think voice recognition will be put in play in court for a very long time, because transcriptions are legal documents and accuracy is paramount. My friend has to sign her name on the transcription so they can come after her if there's a problem.

Medical transcription doesn't pay as much but can be much easier to handle.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:55 PM on February 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

I used to work at a criminal court which required the proceedings to be transcribed in real time. The court reporters there spent about 45 minutes at a time in court, then were replaced by a different court reporter so that they could go back to the office to clean up typos, spelling errors etc. Like another poster wrote, I got the sense that practice is paramount to maintaining speed and accuracy. One court reporter told me that while in school, she would practice after class by transcribing the news and other television shows. Also, the court was located in a very multicultural community and the reporters sometimes had a difficult time with accents. I remember one extended case in particular which involved a murder in a Romani community and called upon a number of witnesses who spoke English in thick accents and used Romani slang. One court reporter kept having to stop proceedings to get a witness to repeat herself. All in all, I think they found the work fairly interesting and liked the job pretty well.
posted by madforplaid at 7:52 PM on February 25, 2010

A friend did this - AFAIK, much of her work ended up being in closed-captioning rather than court reporting. I think she enjoyed it and it paid well, but she ended up having to quit a few years in because she got carpal tunnel syndrome. I'm guessing this is not uncommon.
posted by lunasol at 12:02 AM on February 26, 2010

Previously. Almost word for word, in fact.
posted by dmt at 3:04 AM on February 26, 2010

I have a friend who went to stenography school, but she has found herself mostly doing CART.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:21 AM on February 26, 2010

At least in Colorado, court reporters are getting phased out, at least the realtime court reporters are. Aside from felony criminal trials, court proceedings are recorded onto a digital audio format. If one of the parties wants a transcript from the proceedings, they pay a company to transcribe the proceedings. The tippity-tap live reporters are still around for the felony proceedings, but that's a relatively small part of the court's docket. Meanwhile, the courts are pushing hard for more and more of it to be done automatically and digitally.
posted by craven_morhead at 8:23 AM on February 26, 2010

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