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Are You Court Reporter Caliber?

The lucrative salary of a court reporter draws many students to this field.  The required schooling to become one is not very long considering the amount of money you can make in this field.  Don’t let this fool you into thinking that this is an easy field to learn and work in.  With an average dropout rate of 80%, you need to understand what is involved in becoming licensed as a stenographer.  Once you have all the facts you can decide if you have what it takes to become a court reporter.

 Some personal qualities you should have when considering a career in the stenography field include: strong English grammar skills, a compelling interest in the legal field, superior resource skills, strong computer and keyboarding skills, keen listening skills, good hand-eye coordination, ability to sit for long periods of time, self disciplined, and an attention to detail.

We will start with the stenography programs you will need to choose from.  The time it takes to complete a stenography program depends upon the rate in which a student can increase their typing speed on the stenograph machine. The training on a stenograph machine requires the person to pass typing speed tests of 225 words per minute; as set forth by the National Court Reporters Association (NCRA).  There are only a small percentage of court reporting students per year that are able to do this.  The training with voice writing equipment requires the student to pass dictation speed tests of up to 250 words per minute in the United States; again this is a standard set by the NCRA. The most common degree awarded for court reporting training is an Associate in Applied Science (A.A.S) degree.  A large portion of the curriculum will involve machine shorthand speedbuilding lab courses; 55 credit hours out of 125 credit hours needed for certification.  As your speed increases you will move up to the next course level.  The speeds start around 80 to 100 words per minute and finish with a successful speed of 225 words per minute.  You will also take Theory; this is a type of language used for your stenograph machine.  Words are written on the steno machine by sound, syllable, and spelling.  Instead of typing each letter of a word, stenographers will type a word in one stroke using the theory or shorthand they have learned.  Other courses you will need to take include: basic English, English for court reporters, legal terminology, medical terminology, and court procedures.  You will need to either rent or purchase a steno machine, the type or brand is usually decided by the school.  Practicing in your free time is going to be necessary to improve your typing speed. This training is a big investment, and it is something you really have to be dedicated about.  The average student takes 33 months to complete their stenography training. 

Once you have completed the training you will need to pass a state or national examination.  One nationally recognized certification exam is given by the NCRA, it is called the Registered Professional Reporter (RPR) examination.  You will also need to pass the Notary Public exam to practice as a court reporter. 

Many people think of the court reporters they see in criminal trials on TV.  In fact the majority of reporters work as freelance court reporters.  This means they work as an independent contractor through agencies.  Court reporters that work in the state and federal government court system are the reporters you think of from television.  They make up a small percentage of working reporters and cannot be employed by the government until they have worked as a freelance reporter for at least 2 years.   Freelance reporters do not receive benefits from an employer and must pay taxes on a quarterly basis.  They are paid by the page on the transcripts they deliver to the agency or client. 

While the salary for a court reporter is very lucrative, one must be very self disciplined and organized to succeed as one.  You might work one day for a few hours and another day you could be in a hearing from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. and still have to finish the transcript at home afterwards.  You will usually have 2 weeks to get the transcripts done and into the attorney’s hands.

This is not a career for the weak hearted, but if you feel you have what it takes, it can be a very rewarding and secure career choice to be a court reporter.

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