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A court reporter or court stenographer, also called stenotype operator, shorthand reporter or law reporter, is a person whose occupation is to transcribe spoken or recorded speech into written form, using machine shorthand or voice writing equipment to produce official transcripts of court hearings, depositions and other official proceedings. Court reporting companies primarily serve private law firms, local, state and federal government agencies, courts, trade associations, meeting planners and nonprofits.
The court reporter in some states is required to be a notary public who is authorized to administer oaths to witnesses, and who certifies that his or her transcript of the proceedings is a verbatim account of what was said. Many states require a court reporter to hold a certification obtained through the National Court Reporters Association, although some require their own state-specific certification.
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It typically takes anywhere from two to four years to learn the basic skills to become a stenotype court reporter. Training to learn the basic skills to become a voice writer reporter typically takes six to nine months. To become realtime proficient in voice writing takes a year to a year and a half. Candidates usually attend specialized certificate courses at private business schools, or sometimes associate's or bachelor's degree programs at accredited colleges or universities. Distance learning and online training courses are also available for both methods. After additional on-the-job training and experience, many court reporters then move on to real-time reporting.
Licensed court reporters are required to attend continuing education courses to maintain their licensure. Some states require court reporters to be notaries public in addition to being a Certified Court Reporter (CCR). There are three national court reporting associations in the United States, The National Court Reporters Association (NCRA), and the National Verbatim Reporters Association (NVRA) and the American Association of Electronic Reporters and Transcribers (AAERT). The minimum speed needed to become certified by the NCRA is 225 words per minute. The NVRA requires a minimum speed of 225 words per minute to qualify for certification. AAERT requires 98 percent accuracy on transcripts, and both reporters and transcribers must pass both a written and practical examination. Depending on the court reporting method of choice, one tends to join either the NCRA, NVRA or AAERT. The NCRA offers the title Registered Professional Reporter (RPR) to those who pass a four-part examination and participate in continuing education programs. The NVRA offers the title Certified Verbatim Reporter (CVR) to those who pass a four-part examination, including both a skills and written exam, and participate in continuing education programs. A reporter may obtain additional certifications that demonstrate higher levels of competency such as Certified Real-time Reporter (CRR) or Real-time Verbatim Reporter (RVR). Both of these associations offer equivalent examinations to test reporters for speed and competency on their method of reporting. Further certifications are granted by both associations to court reporters demonstrating skills as broadcast captioners and CART providers. The Canadian Court Reporter John M. Weir (CVR) could do 350 words per minute during legal hearings. The AAERT is the electronic court reporting and transcribing industry's professional association in the United States, founded in 1994. The AAERT offers electronic reporters and transcribers three certifications: certified electronic reporter (CER), certified electronic transcriber (CET), and certified electronic reporter and transcriber (CERT).
The International Alliance of Professional Reporters and Transcribers (IAPRT.org) is a member-based not-for-profit consortium engaged in the ongoing development of all methods of court reporting and transcription, and guiding public and private court reporting professionals worldwide toward the common goal of producing a verbatim and verifiable record. IAPRT offers on-line training and certification for members who participate in continuing education programs.
Required skills of a court reporter are excellent command of the language being spoken, attention to detail, and the ability to focus for long periods at a time. The most highly skilled court reporters can provide real-time transcription and have significant earning potential, with salaries up to six figures possible in some areas.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics continues to report a very positive job outlook for stenographic court reporters. Median pay in 2010 was listed at $47,700 per year, and a growth rate for the industry at a healthy 14%. The top 10 percent of court reporters earned $91,280.
In May 2012, Forbes listed "stenographer/court reporter" as one of the best jobs that does not require a four-year degree.
Digital recordings allow judges to instantly play back or review any portion of the recording. A Certified Realtime Reporter (CRR) and a Certified Broadcast Captioner (CBC) offer the ability to show live transcription of the spoken record by captioning what is said to display it on a screen in realtime.
Many court reporters work as freelance reporters or independent contractors outside the courtroom in depositions and other situations that require an official legal transcript, such as arbitration hearings or other formal proceedings. Court reporters also often provide realtime transcription for public events, religious services, webcasts, and educational services. Regardless of the method, stenographic, stenomask or digital, a transcript can be produced on an hourly, daily, expedited or standard turnaround.
There are differing accounts of the earnings for court reporters. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics had earnings of between $30,680 and $60,760 for the middle 50% of court reporters. Due to large backlogs and resultant high overtime pay, salaries can, however, be much higher.
One difference between voice writing court reporters and stenographic court reporters is the method of making the record. The goal of a stenographer is to stenograph verbatim what attorneys, witnesses, and others are saying in a proceeding; the goal of a voice writer is to repeat verbatim what attorneys, witnesses, and others are saying in a proceeding. Though the methods of taking down the record are different, the role and duty requirements of the court reporter are the same. These skills of court reporters are primarily measured through certification exams.
The training on a stenograph machine requires the person to pass writing speed tests of up to 225 words a minute on their machine in the United States, as set forth by the National Court Reporters Association (NCRA) in the United States. Only a small percentage of court reporting students per year are actually able to do this. The drop-out rate of stenographic court reporters is very high. The tedium of this type of job is believed to be the cause of this problem.
The training with voice writing equipment requires the person to pass dictation speed tests of up to 225 words a minute in the United States, as set forth by the National Verbatim Reporters Association (NVRA). Passing this speed is a requirement. A voice writer dictates and repeats the proceedings into a stenomask connected to a recorder, while at the same time recording the proceedings onto a different digital recording device. Afterwards, this recording is reduced to typewritten form via the use of a transcription device. Using voice recognition software, voice writers are able to offer realtime.
Multi-channel, digital audio allows for isolated playback of channels during transcription. This allows transcribers to listen from different vantage points when playing back the audio. This multi-channel feature especially helps during moments of extraneous noise such as laughter, shouting, coughing and sneezing. The American Association of Electronic Reporters and Transcribers (AAERT) certifies reporters and transcribers. AAERT certified reporters monitor the recording continuously during a proceeding, and create an extensive set of log notes which are individually time-stamped. The time-stamps correspond with the location on the digital recording for instantaneous playback, either upon request during a proceeding or at a later time. The log notes provide any authorized person the opportunity to quickly search and identify any segment of the proceeding they wish to review. Some courts train clerks or other court personnel to operate the digital recording equipment. Courtroom monitors are responsible for listening to the recording through headphones while the proceeding occurs to ensure recording quality. The digital recording method is widely used in federal courts and administrative agencies throughout the United States. Digital court reporting utilizes sophisticated recording technology with multi-channel capabilities. It is not to be confused or compared with an individual using a standalone tape or digital recorder.