Court reporters create verbatim transcripts of speeches, conversations, legal proceedings, meetings, and other events. Sometimes written accounts of spoken words are necessary for correspondence, records, or legal proof, and court reporters provide those accounts. They play a critical role not only in judicial proceedings, but also at every meeting where the spoken word must be preserved as a written transcript. They are responsible for ensuring a complete, accurate, and secure legal record. Court reporters provide closed-captioning and realtime translating services to the deaf and hard-of-hearing community.
There are several methods of court reporting. The most common method is called stenographic. Using a stenotype machine, stenotypists document all statements made in official proceedings. The machine allows them to press multiple keys at once to record combinations of letters representing sounds, words, or phrases. These symbols are electronically recorded and then translated and displayed as text in a process called computer-aided transcription (CAT). In realtime court reporting, the stenotype machine is linked to computers for realtime captioning, often of television programs. As the reporter keys in the symbols, the spoken words instantly appear as text on the screen.
Another method of court reporting is voice writing. Using the voice-writing method, a court reporter speaks directly into a voice silencer – a hand-held mask containing a microphone. As the reporter repeats the testimony into the recorder, the mask prevents the reporter from being heard during testimony. Voice writers record everything that is said by judges, witnesses, attorneys, and other parties to a proceeding and prepares transcripts afterwards. There are voice writing schools that teach voice steno theory for voice recognition technology.
Court reporters are responsible for a number of duties both before and after transcribing events. They must create and maintain the computer dictionary that they use to translate their keystroke codes or voice files into written text. They may customize their dictionary with parts of words, entire words, or terminology specific to the proceeding, program, or event they plan to report. After documenting proceedings, reporters must edit the computer-generated translation for accuracy and correctness. All reporters are responsible for accurate identification of proper names and places. Reporters usually prepare written transcripts, make copies, and provide transcripts to courts, counsel, and parties. They may, under certain circumstances, provide transcripts to the public on request. Court reporters also develop procedures for easy storage and retrieval of all stenographic notes, voice files, or audio recordings in paper or digital format.
Although many court reporters record official proceedings in the courtroom, others work outside the courts. For example, court reporters may be called upon to take down depositions, arbitrations, sworn witness statements, public hearings, or as requested by government agencies at all levels, from the U.S. Congress to State and local governing bodies.
A version of the captioning process that allows reporters to provide more personalized services for deaf and hard-of-hearing people is Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART). CART reporters often work with hard-of-hearing students and people who are learning English as a second language, captioning high school and college classes and providing transcripts at the end of the sessions. CART reporters also accompany deaf clients to events, including conventions, doctor appointments, or wherever communication access is needed. CART providers increasingly furnish this service remotely, as an Internet or phone connection allows for immediate communication access regardless of location.
The majority of court reporters work in comfortable settings, such as offices of attorneys, courtrooms, legislatures, and conventions. An increasing number of court reporters work from home-based offices as independent contractors, or freelancers.
Work in this occupation presents few hazards, although sitting in the same position for long periods can be tiring, and workers can suffer wrist, back, neck, or eye strain. Workers also risk repetitive stress injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome. In addition, the pressure to be accurate and fast can be stressful.
Education and Training
The amount of training required to become a court reporter varies with the type of reporting chosen. It usually takes less than a year to become a novice voice writer, although it takes at least two years to become proficient at realtime voice writing. The average length of time it takes to become a realtime stenotypist is 33 months.
Georgia requires that all court reporters be certified. Georgia no longer administers certification testing. Therefore, candidates must pass one of the national certification exams either through NVRA or NCRA, and then request reciprocity by the Georgia Board of Court Reporting.
In addition to possessing speed and accuracy, court reporters must have excellent listening skills and hearing, extensive vocabulary, and punctuation skills. They must be aware of business practices and current events as well as the correct spelling of names of people, places and events that may be mentioned in the work environment. For those who work in courtrooms, an expert knowledge of legal terminology, criminal and appellate procedure, and courtroom procedures in all levels of the judicial system is essential. Because capturing proceedings requires the use of computerized stenography or speech recognition equipment, court reporters must be knowledgeable about computer hardware and software applications. Voice writers must learn to listen and speak simultaneously and very quickly and quietly, while also identifying speakers in the courtroom or deposition room.
Certification and Advancement
Once reciprocity is granted by the Georgia Board of Court Reporting, court reporters will then be certified to practice court reporting in the state of Georgia and will receive the C.C.R. designation.
The National Verbatim Reporters Association (NVRA) confers the entry-level designation Certified Verbatim Reporter (CVR) upon those who pass a four-part examination. A court reporter may obtain additional certifications through NVRA that demonstrate higher levels of experience and competency, such as CVR – Certified Verbatim Reporter, CVR-CM – Certified Verbatim Reporter-Certificate of Merit, RVR – Realtime Verbatim Reporter, RBC – Registered Broadcast Captioner, RCP – Registered CART Provider, NSC – National Speed Champion.
The National Court Reporters Association confers the entry-level designation Registered Professional Reporter (RPR) upon those who pass a four-part examination. A court reporter may obtain additional certifications through NCRA that demonstrate higher levels of experience and competency, such as Registered Merit Reporter (RMR) or Registered Diplomate Reporter (RDR). The NCRA also offers the designations Certified Realtime Reporter (CRR), Certified Broadcast Captioner (CBC), and Certified CART Provider (CCP), designed primarily for those who caption media programs or assist people who are deaf.
For information about careers, training, and certification in court reporting contact:
- Georgia Certified Court Reporters Association: P.O. Box 871042, Stone Mountain, GA 30087-0003
- Georgia Board of Court Reporting: 244 Washington Street, SW, Suite 300, Atlanta, GA 30334
- National Court Reporters Association: 8224 Old Courthouse Rd., Vienna, VA 22182
- National Verbatim Reporters Association: 207 Third Ave., Hattiesburg, MS 39401
- United States Court Reporters Association: 4731 N. Western Ave., Chicago, IL 60625-2012