What is Court Reporting?
Making a choice of careers is one of the most important decisions you will ever make, and it is important that you get the correct facts about that career.
Well, what exactly is court reporting? So many people have a misconception of what court reporters are and what they do. “It’s that person in the courtroom…” is the response I hear most of the time. Actually, only about 20 percent of the judicial reporters work in the courtroom; others are freelance reporters. Court reporting offers you a challenging and in-demand career with a future that is very rewarding, both psychologically and financially.
Court reporters write from 225 words per minute — equal to 45 wpm on a conventional typewriter — on a “steno” machine, with some reporters writing over 280 words per minute. The design of the keyboard enables us to write syllables, words, and entire phrases in one stroke on the steno machine instead of one letter at a time as on a typewriter. Court reporters work in state and federal courtrooms, taking down the testimony in trials and hearings; take depositions, meetings, conventions; work as closed captioners for television; work as CART providers for the hearing impaired; work for the U.S. Senate and House; also entertainment reporting, Webcast reporting, medical transcription, law enforcement transcription.
Traditionally known as “stenographer,” court reporter has become the commonly used title for verbatim reporting of the spoken word using the stenotype machine. Almost all court reporting professionals today use computer-aided transcription, also known as CAT. Using CAT in realtime provides instant translation of stenotype notes into English to the computer or television screen. With interactive realtime, attorneys may instantly access the record on his or her laptop computer. Along with the advancement of realtime technology capabilities in our field, we have been afforded many opportunities to branch into specialized fields.
Judicial reporting utilizes the duties of official and freelance reporters working in the litigation field for judges, attorneys, insurance companies, and other businesses. Both types of reporting positions use realtime during proceedings, whether in court, depositions, hearings, or board meetings. They also provide a range of services including uncertified rough draft transcripts, compressed transcripts, indices, concordance, and ASCII disks.
- Official reporters are officers of the court, employed in federal court, trial level of state courts, county, probate and family courts, as well as grand jury investigations, and local court administrative bodies. They may also work for a legislative or state governmental body. In contrast to state court reporters, federal court reporters usually work for different judges, rotating from court to court in more of a pool system. An official reporter for the state court system usually works exclusively for one judge, reporting all civil and criminal cases assigned to that judge. They are usually salaried employees and work a nine-to-five schedule. Transcript rates for officials are clearly set in each state’s statutes; therefore, they cannot overcharge for transcripts.
In addition, many official reporters have set up their own reporting agencies, since some official reporters are allowed to also work as freelance reporters.
Freelance reporters work in the field taking depositions, hearings, meetings, and other situations that require a record or transcript. Depositions comprise the majority of the work for freelance reporters. While they usually work for an agency as independent contractors, although some agencies require reporters to be employees, many are self-employed. There is a great deal of schedule flexibility as a freelance reporter. A freelance reporter is responsible for buying one’s own equipment, but since the earnings are only limited by how much one wishes to work, compensation can be very lucrative.
Most freelance reporters work out of their home and contact the agency to receive job assignments for the day or week. A great advantage is you can set your own work schedule and work the days you want. Although freelance reporters usually work in a different setting each day, with some depositions continuing several days or weeks at the same location, occasionally there are opportunities for travel to other states or countries.
CART providers specialize in the field of CART (Communications Access Realtime Translation) and captioning. CART is a step beyond broadcast captioning and steno captioning, and involves the instant translation of the spoken word into English text using a steno machine, laptop computer, and realtime software in the presence of the client, who is usually deaf, late deafened, or hearing-impaired. These services include recording lectures and classroom discussions for individuals, accompanying a client to business meetings, social events, or religious services, to name just a few. Anyone desiring to improve their reading or language skills or learning English as a second language (ESL) may also utilize their services. Compensation is usually by the hour.
When providing services in court, the CART reporter may not function as the official reporter at the same time. The CART reporter’s role is to facilitate communication and provide a complete translation of the spoken words, not just a summary, as well as environmental sound so the client knows what is happening around him. This allows the client to decide what is important.
The World Wide Web provides other opportunities for reporters and their services. Most often CART is performed in the presence of the client, but remote CART is provided from a distant location via a modem, direct or over the Internet. With the advent of online education, CART providers also provide services through the Internet and record live audio and video-streamed Webcasts. Depositions are being hosted on the Internet—i.e., a political redistricting case in Alaska that was broadcast in realtime on the Web due to the widespread interest in the case around the state and other parts of the country.
Broadcast Captioners are employed or contracted to provide captions of live and pre-recorded television programs for the deaf and hearing-impaired. Although using realtime technology, the software is slightly different and is designed to interface with the television encoders that allow the captions to appear on the television screen. Once translated into English, it is then sent to the television broadcast station and automatically encoded into what is called “line 21″ of the television broadcast signal. Captions are then viewed on televisions equipped with decoders. Unlike judicial reporting, most jobs are not transcribed into a hard-copy format.
Captioners may work from a remote location (home or office) or on site, providing both online and offline captioning. Captioners are hired by large captioning companies who specialize in closed-captioning and hire individuals as independent contractors or as employees.
Overall, No matter what specialty of court reporting one desires, the opportunities for fulfillment abound—flexibility, excellent income, interesting work, meeting people, as well as helping the deaf to hear the spoken words and fulfill their educational goals. As a court reporter, and now an owner and instructor of a court reporting school, I look forward to being a part of opening the doors to students who desire a challenging and rewarding career.