Court reporters are an essential part of the judicial process. They are the people who record court proceedings word for word, including notating gestures and physical actions as well as speech. Without skilled court reporters making accurate reports, the jury’s job would be much more difficult and appeals would be practically impossible. As such, court reporters are always in demand and are compensated quite well for their services. If you’re looking to become a court reporter, you’ve chosen a good career.
How to become a court reporter varies from state to state, but there are some constants. First, there are a few prerequisites applicants are required to meet even before beginning the process. It almost goes without saying that court reporters must speak, read, and write English fluently, as that is the language in which court proceedings take place. Good spelling and grammar are necessary as well. In addition, applicants must have a reasonable typing speed (at least a few words per minute above the national average of 41 wpm is preferred) or be willing to put in extra work to improve their typing speed, as one of the most essential skills for being a court reporter is the ability to type quickly and accurately.
If you meet these prerequisites, the next step is finding a court reporting education program. Again, these programs vary between states, but all of them focus on two main areas: stenography and court procedure. Stenography centers around the use of a stenotype, which is a typewriter adapted for speed. Stenographs require specialized training to use, as their keyboards are entirely different from conventional typewriters or computers. Stenotype keyboards don’t have every letter on them; rather, they contain a number of consonants that stenographers press individually or in combinations to represent certain sounds. The way stenotypes are configured allows stenographers to write entire words in one or two keystrokes (called chords, because the stenographer presses multiple keys in a single stroke in the same way a pianist can). This significantly reduces the time it takes to produce copy, although the resulting report is written in what might appear to be gibberish to someone who doesn’t have stenography training. Thus, in addition to training prospective court reporters to use a stenotype, court reporting education also trains them to read stenography and convert it back into readable American English. The other part of the court reporting education program simply covers common court procedures and how to format a legal document, ensuring that any court report produced is accurate and follows established convention.
It is worth noting that, in addition to the normal costs of admission for court reporting programs, you will be required to purchase a stenotype and often to purchase or rent a model computerized writer. These costs can sometimes be prohibitive, but you will need a stenotype for real reporting anyway.
Once you successfully graduate from court reporting education, you must then take a court reporter licensing exam. Although some of the content on these exams varies by state, examinees are required to achieve a stenography rate of 180 wpm for literary shorthand, 200 wpm for jury instruction, and 225 wpm for testimony and Q&A. Not to worry, however: this is often the requirement to graduate from an education program, so as long as you maintain your skills between graduation and the licensing exam, you should be completely fine.
After passing the licensing exam and meeting the standards set by your state, you will officially be able to work as a court reporter! You will be qualified to join the lucrative and reliable field of court reporting.
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