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A Day in the Life of a Court Reporter

The O.J. Simpson trial recorded over 12,000 pages of transcripts that reporters waited by the courtroom door for each night. None of the information would have been recorded without the court reporter. A court reporter’s responsibility is to accurately record who says what and when at trials, during depositions, and any time someone feels words being spoken are important enough to hire an accurate transcriber. In a career that requires little emotional commitment for good pay, court reporters find their lives divided into two non-interlocking segments: work and other. “It is a good career to be able to do other things,” mentioned one court reporter/actor. Most professionals work through agencies that act as clearinghouses for able, certified court reporters. Court reporting is a learnable skill requiring coordination, concentration, and study. Court reporters need strong grammatical skills and lots of patience. “Awareness is the most important thing about this career,” a fifteen-year court-reporting veteran told us. Frequently, the exact words you type in are crucial to the decision rendered in a given case. A court reporter is responsible for certifying that what has been entered, is, to the best of his abilities, an accurate representation of what took place before him. Unqualified court reporters usually lose all referrals with the first or second incident that arises from carelessness. Because of this high standard of performance and the natural isolation (only one court reporter is in the court room at any given time), significant pressures are placed on court reporters. Of the 25 percent who leave the profession between the first and second years, most cite “stress” as a major factor in their decision. At its best, a reporter told us, “You go into a zone where you’re not concentrating anymore and the words are going straight from your ears through your fingers and onto your disk.” This near Zen-like experience was mentioned by several of our respondents as the most pleasant and rewarding of job features. At its worst, the career places not only mental demands but physical ones on people in the field. The incidence of repetitive motion disorders, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, in this career is second only to those found in word-processing departments. For a court reporter, the inability to use her hands or fingers translates into an inability to work. Since most court reporters work as agents of a larger service, they are responsible for their own health care costs and bear the full burden of any work-precluding injuries. “I can’t even play touch football,” lamented one reporter new to the field, “I’m scared I’ll break a finger.” Since there is no true hierarchy in this profession, and therefore advancement is not an issue, little if any politics enter the daily routine.

Paying Your Dues

Only about a third of the 300 schools and colleges that offer court reporting programs (either two or four years) are accredited by the National Court Reporters Association, one of whose requirements is to teach computer-aided transcription, so be careful which school you attend. If you can study on your own and pass the rigorous Court Reporting Exams, then a degree from one of these institutions is helpful, but not required. Some states demand that court reporters be notary publics, and others demand that they pass additional state-specific certification tests, such as the Certified Court Reporter (CCR) test or the Registered Professional Reporter (RPR) two-part exam. Specialization for such designations as medical transcriber and court transcriber may require additional training and sphere-specific certification. The requirements for employment by the federal government stipulate that court reporters transcribe at least 175 words per minute; private firms often require a minimum of 225 words per minute.

Present and Future

Accurate transcription of historical events has taken place since the first formalized “trials” of ancient Greece. These historiographies were originally written after the completion of the trial at the request of the ruler who wanted history to record the verdict (just or unjust), as proof of his enlightened wisdom. With the modern advocacy system in the United States which required trials open to the public, a more formal means of recordkeeping was established with the use of court reporters. Court reporters have become part of the technical revolution that is sweeping America’s courtrooms. Once punched into tape, then typed into common 8-1/2- by 11-inch form in a back room (delaying the receipt of transcripts by up to two days), court transcripts are now recorded on computer disks used to store input text, thus allowing them to become available within hours. Real-time transcripts are expected to become more common as courtrooms are wired for simultaneous data transfer. The occupation will remain stable and constant (with significant opportunities available for those in entry-level positions) until voice-recognition software has become more refined-most likely not for another forty to fifty years, by current estimates.

Quality of Life

PRESENT AND FUTURE

The court reporter is just getting up to speed for the first few years, continuing with on-the-job training and learning the trade, the different agencies, and the style of each judge or court.

FIVE YEARS OUT

While the career doesn’t change much from one year to the next, the reporter’s increasing knowledge of the different courtroom styles gets him more frequent assignments.

TEN YEARS OUT

Employment is fairly secure at this stage, and wages are high due to demand for experienced personnel. Aside from frequent complaints of repetitive strain disorders, job satisfaction is generally high.


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