What's it like being a court reporter?
October 9, 2006 2:53 PM   Subscribe

What's it like being a court reporter?

I'm considering becoming a certified court reporter. I've seen them at work transcribing depositions in a law office where I was employed, and it seems like a pretty decent job. However, I'm not seeing a lot of stuff online that's written by court reporters about reporting, i.e. the pay, the hours, the hassles, the perks, etc. etc. MeFites, there's gotta be a few reporters out there among you... what's it like?
posted by tumbleweedjack to Work & Money (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You should also consider (if you haven't already) CART. Captioned Audio in Real Time; it's also stenotyping, but in a very different environment and for a very different audience. Primarily, your consumers would be deaf and hard of hearing. You might be intepreting one-on-one, classes, lectures, or group meetings. There are more jobs than captioners available (at least, from my perspective as a consumer), and my understanding is that it's very personally rewarding.

If you want more information on CART, my email is in my profile.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 4:36 PM on October 9, 2006

I would imagine it's similar to being a TTY relay operator (similar to what spiff describes). It's usually demanding, occaisionally interesting, sometimes boring, and frequently voyeuristic. You're a fly on the wall whose job is to hear everything accurately.

And your wrists will be your worst enemy if you don't show them some love.
posted by sixacross at 5:00 PM on October 9, 2006

i would be interested in this too, and also what kind of schooling you got.
posted by amethysts at 5:25 PM on October 9, 2006

I don't have any first-hand accounts for you, but if you don't already know about the Department of Labor's Occupational handbook, here's their entry on court reporters.
posted by daisyace at 5:37 PM on October 9, 2006

The National Court Reporters Association site may be of interest to you. They also maintain a separate website for people interested in it as a career, here. (According to an NCRA survey, the average salary in 2004 was about $65,000.)
posted by Armitage Shanks at 5:41 PM on October 9, 2006

A forum for court reporters -- with message boards on all the ups and downs -- can be found at depoman.com.

It's a job I've considered myself. Closed captioning uses real-time transcription as well. And I guess it's a pretty hot field with lots of perks like working from home.

I looked into the educational requirements earlier this year: 2-year program with an (unbelievable) 80% drop-out rate. That's at MacCormack College here in Chicago. I guess the 225 word-per-minute requirement needed to graduate is beyond a lot of mere mortals.
posted by CMichaelCook at 5:52 PM on October 9, 2006

Addendum to my post above, for those who prefer summaries to links -- The Occupational Outlook Handbook is a really useful reference when you want detailed basics on any of hundreds of jobs. For court reporters, here are a few of the facts from the entry that match the particulars tumbleweekjack and amethysts requested, but the entry has lots more.
PAY: "... median annual earnings of $42,920 in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between $30,680 and $60,760. The lowest paid 10 percent earned less than $23,690, and the highest paid 10 percent earned more than $80,300. Median annual earnings in May 2004 were $41,070 for court reporters working in local government."
HOURS: "Many official court reporters work a standard 40-hour week. Self-employed court reporters, or freelancers, usually work flexible hours, including part time, evenings, and weekends, or they may be on call."
HASSLES: Stress from pressure to be accurate and fast. Repetitive stress injuries.
SCHOOLING: For voice writing, <1 year. For electronic reporting and transcription, learn on the job. For stenotyping, an average of 33 months. Further school and experience requirements for higher certifications also listed.
posted by daisyace at 5:54 PM on October 9, 2006

I would be loathe to undertake a career that could be replaced by technology. There is much controversy, but digital audio recording could replace court reporters.
posted by allelopath at 8:05 PM on October 9, 2006

I would be loathe to undertake a career that could be replaced by technology. There is much controversy, but digital audio recording could replace court reporters.

I suspect that accurate transcripts are useful enough that this is not the case. Even if it is, captioning (TV and CART both) will not be made obsolete by technology any time soon.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 8:38 PM on October 9, 2006

There is much controversy, but digital audio recording could replace court reporters.

Listen to this.

Also, I used to run budgets for some courts, including a line item for court reporters. Hit me via e-mail (in profile) if you want some anecdotal information.
posted by Ufez Jones at 8:38 PM on October 9, 2006

Here's what I can say, from second-hand experience and a lot of chatting with court reporters:

1) The pay isn't bad, but it's highly variable, especially if you're doing in-courtroom reporting. Court hearings regularly get cancelled or rescheduled at the last minute, which is problematic.

2) The "gonna get replaced by technology" argument has been around for quite a while, and some courts have replaced court reporters with digital recorders. Problem is, those courts still need to pay somebody (typically a court reporting company) if they need a transcript from the recording. And, since the person typing the transcript isn't actually in the room (making it difficult to tell who is speaking and when), the transcript isn't as good. Also, realtime court reporting (where the court reporter transcribes everything to a computer screen as it is being said) is becoming more popular, which is more demanding for the reporter, but simply can't be done with a non-human solution.

3) The hours can be pretty hectic, because you might spend all day transcribing in a courtroom, and then all night that night "cleaning up" the transcript (correcting spelling mistakes, verifying references to caselaw, etc).

4) You're typically not paid a salary - you're either a contractor or a subcontractor. This means that you're running your own business, with all the benefits and drawbacks that such an endeavor affords.
posted by gwenzel at 9:23 PM on October 9, 2006

You'd be treading in great footsteps!

Charles Dickens started out as a court reporter but hated it and soon quit to join a newspaper which he also hated. Bleak House, that indictment of the English legal system, was informed by his time as a court reporter.
posted by dmt at 3:40 AM on October 10, 2006 [1 favorite]

There is much controversy, but digital audio recording could replace court reporters.

That was the assumption 15 years ago, and realtime transcription saved them. There are some contexts in which digital audio is good enough, but anywhere that people want an instantaneous rough copy of the transcript, they're going to need a reporter. The reporter does far more than blindly transcribe every word said; they effectively act as a filter to produce the official record.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 6:24 AM on October 10, 2006

OK, I have quite a bit of experience with this. My girlfriend is in year two of court reporting school.

The pay is fantastic, $65,000 is the low end. Typically, you're not an employee, you'll either be directly contracting or subcontracting somewhere. Your hourly rate should be in the range $50-120 depending on experience. You also get paid for every transcript you sell, so the higher profile cases (whose transcripts sell more) typically pay much more.

CART is realtime. The difference between realtime and normal court reporting is this: So during a day, a court reporter types up what people are saying, and at the end of the day produces a transcript from this, the court reporter at this time can correct any mistakes she made during the day. The realtime reporter has to get everything right on ONE try! Because if it's captioning it's going out on TV screens or straight to a monitor somewhere. This is why you see mistakes in captioning on live TV, someone, somewhere is typing what they're hearing and they mistyped.

Now the bad. It's VERY VERY VERY difficult to be a court reporter. To get certified, you typically have to be able to type 200-225 words a minute, and it's not really typing as you think of it, you're typing phonetically, so it's really like learning another language and being super fluent in it, and have amazingly fast fingers.

You can expect to be in school for 2-4 years. And when you're learning 60WPM (words per minute), you don't think you'll ever be able to do it (make it to 225WPM). And perhaps you'll be like 80+ percentage of people who quit, because it's an insanely demanding skill.

You also have to buy several thousand dollars worth of equipment and software, yourself.

I'm so proud of my girlfriend for accomplishing what she has. She has a BA from a good university, and the schooling required for CR far exceeds what was required for that. She's already made it passed the point where most drop out, and still every day is difficult and she does it, she's amazing.

Now the extra bad, OK, you've passed school, certified, ready to make all that money (because the money is what draws people in, you make doctor, lawyer type money). A lot of court reporters just can't do the job day in day out, it's so difficult.

But I'll leave you on one final good note, most court reporters only work several days a week (3-4), have lots of money, take nice vacations. I'm just waiting for my sugar mama to finish her schooling :)
posted by patrickje at 12:06 PM on October 11, 2006 [2 favorites]

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