The Ultimate Guide:

How to Become a Court Reporter

The reality for anyone entering the workforce today is that a college education alone can’t prepare you for a great career the way it did in the past. Last year, more than 2.8 million university graduates went looking for work despite the bleak employment outlook. As a result, around 40 percent of millennials ended up unemployed and the average graduate carried $33,000 in student loan debt.

In 2017, the American economy still suffers from a job quality problem. America added 76,000 jobs in retail shops and restaurants at the beginning of the year. There was also a slight uptick in factory jobs. The problem is that these are primarily low-skill jobs for equally low pay. Few, if any, come with the promise of a professional career or serious growth potential. It’s no wonder that so many young people have dropped out of the job market entirely to work for themselves.

The most creative job seekers found work by finding their own path and avoiding the crowds. They sought out specialized training for careers, like court reporting, as an alternative to the pricey four-year college experience. Sarah Nageotte, president of the National Court Reporters Association (NCRA), said that 15 percent of the industry is reaching the retirement age while new laws are proliferating. The legal profession is depending on the emergence of a new generation of court reporters.

“There is going to be a demand, and a need, for at least 5,500 new positions over the next three to five years,” Nagotte said. In some parts of the country, court reporters without a college degree are seeing offers of $100,000 or more plus benefits. In addition, court reporters can make the kind of connections with lawyers, judges and consultants in professional services that will become invaluable no matter what they want to achieve in life.

This Ultimate Guide will present you with all the facts on what court reporters actually do on a daily basis, their current average salaries, what subjects are covered in court reporting programs and where to go if you want to learn more. From there on, the ball is in your court.

What Does a Court Reporter Do?

A court reporter’s first responsibility is creating a permanent record of everything that is spoken. Reporters are responsible for capturing and transcribing everything that was said by all parties involved so there is a permanent record that can be referenced in the future. These verbatim transcripts are shared by both defendants and plaintiffs before entering case law. The famous impartiality of court reporters is what has earned them the title “Guardians of the Record.”

That’s more than just a title. The official record helps safeguard the public’s confidence in the mechanics of the legal process. Whenever the losing side in a case wants to exercise the right to appeal, the official record will be what future judges and litigators use to evaluate the legitimacy of their claims. Attorneys scrutinize the transcripts of depositions during the discovery phase of trial preparation.

Who Hires the Court Reporter?

In most cases, the judicial branch of government at the federal, state and local levels hire court reporters as direct employees of the court. Court reporters are independent contractors that may be employed by the litigants’ legal counsel to take down verbatim transcripts at depositions, arbitrations and board meetings.

Beyond that, court reporters are often sought out for their accuracy and focus for documenting special events, such as award presentations, sports announcements, and written versions of translated speeches, government Q&A sessions and the negotiated decisions of corporate boards.

Many have gone on to work for captioning services in the entertainment field or to provide support for the hearing impaired. The NCRA estimated that more than 70 percent of America’s 50,000-plus court reporters are currently performing additional work outside the courtroom.

How Much Does the Average Court Reporter Earn?

A search for “court reporter” on Salary.com will provide you with the most up-to-date information on court reporter median salaries by state. As of January 2017, the national average was $54,665, with the majority filing salary information in the range of $39,442 to $71,549.

Looking at the bigger picture, salaries based on experience and skill ranged from the low of $27,047 at the bottom 10th percentile to $86,921 at the 90th percentile. This means that a small percentage of court reporters are earning well over six figures.

Best Places to Find a Work as a Court Reporter

Here are the top 10 cities offering the greatest number of well-paying jobs for court reporters:

  • New York
  • Los Angeles, CA
  • Chicago, IL
  • Houston
  • Philadelphia
  • Phoenix
  • San Antonio, TX
  • San Diego, CA
  • Dallas, TX
  • San Jose, CA

Prerequisites Before Becoming a Court Reporter

Fortunately, the specialized nature of court reporting means that there are not many prerequisites that you have to meet before you start training. Most of what you need will be covered by the program. What matters is that you must:

  • Speak, read and write English fluently
  • Dedicate yourself to becoming an expert in spelling and English grammar
  • Apply self-discipline for extended periods of intense concentration
  • Type at or above the national average of 41 wpm and be eager to put in the extra work required to improve your speed

Most of the skills you will need can be taught. What has to come from the inside, however, is a dedication to staying impartial and professional no matter what is said during emotionally charged statements. Everyone is equal under the law and court reporters must faithfully record their statements for the legal system to function properly.

Court Reporting Degrees and Certification Programs

Not all states require court reporters to be licensed. Most of those that do will accept a national level certification instead of a state license. The NCRA provides certification as a Registered Professional Reporter (RPR), which is accepted in 22 states. Some states accept the RPR, but the candidate must also take a state written exam.

Beyond the RPR, some states accept other certifications from organizations like the National Verbatim Reporters Association (NVRA) or the American Association of Electronic Reporters and Transcribers (AAERT).

Some states do not accept national certifications but require a passing grade on their own certification exams. Those states include: Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas.

States that do not have any court reporter certification requirements, or where certification is voluntary, are:

States that do not have any court reporter certification requirements, or where certification is voluntary, are: Alaska, Colorado, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming, Florida, Indiana, Nebraska, New York, South Carolina and Virginia.

These laws can change unexpectedly, so make sure you research the latest information on state certification requirements for the region where you intend to practice.

Exam Scores Required for RPR Certification

To achieve certification as an RPR, you must pass a written exam and an online skills test. The written portion of the test is administered through Pearson VUE testing centers, which are located all over the country.

The online skills test measures your stenography skills in:

  • Literary at 180 wpm
  • Jury Charge at 200 wpm
  • Testimony/Q&A at 225 wpm

Transcription is required at every step. You must be able to transcribe your notes within 75 minutes and achieve 95 percent accuracy in reporting.

The written portion includes 115 multiple-choice questions in the areas of:

  • Technology: 22 percent
  • Reporting practices: 62 percent
  • Professional practices: 16 percent

You must reach a score of at least 70 percent to pass.

What You'll Learn in a Court Reporting Program

Each class has its own unique approach to education, but they typically cover the following areas of knowledge:

classes for court reporters

  • Master class in English spelling and grammar
  • Communications skills
  • The most commonly used legal and medical terms
  • Machine vs. manual shorthand

  • The basics of the US legal system
  • Elements of electronic reporting
  • Captioning software and technology
  • How to prepare transcripts for legal firms
  • Essential procedures in court reporting

Court Reporting Programs: Classroom vs. Online

Classroom

Pros: Some students need a great deal of support from professors and other students. The classroom provides instant feedback and a structured approach to learning. Many students feel that a requirement to show up at a specific place and time keeps them more accountable and more closely approximates the environment of a court reporter in the real world.

Cons: The time demands and expense of attending a classroom are too demanding for many people making the transition to court reporting. Classroom learning can be too rigid in skimming over some lessons and devoting too much time to others in order to keep the entire class on schedule.

Online

Pros: The freedom to take classes at any time, from home or on the road, is the primary appeal of online coursework. In many cases, the online tuition can be much less expensive because the school does not have as many expenses in providing the training. Online classes can be paused and repeated as much as necessary until certain skills are mastered. It takes self-discipline to finish online classes, but that is precisely what is required to excel at court reporting also.

Cons: Some students find that online classes provide too much freedom. They do not fully simulate the normal working environment of a courtroom where there is no pause button. The routine of showing up to a classroom and answering to a professor for your work is exactly what some students need to learn. Some online students say they miss the interpersonal factors of working directly with a teacher and other students. It’s difficult to network with other court reporters and gain their unique knowledge when you are primarily working alone.

What Happens After Graduation

Once you successfully graduate from a course in court reporting, whether in class or online, the next step is reviewing your state’s legislation on court reporter licensing.

You may need to take an exam. Although some of the content on these exams varies by state, examinees are required to achieve a stenography rate of 180 wpm for literary shorthand, 200 wpm for jury instruction, and 225 wpm for testimony and Q&A.

After passing the licensing exam and meeting the standards set by your state, you will officially be able to work as a court reporter.

Outlook for Court Reporting

Court reporting is a field with a growing demand, high salary potential and access to a powerful professional network. There are many pathways that a candidate can take to become a court reporter, both in classroom and online. When you finish your training as a court reporter, you have the chance to work directly for the Judiciary at the federal, state or local level. 

Many court reporters choose to work for themselves or for private firms like Magna Legal Services, which provides end-to-end legal support for law firms, corporations and governmental agencies. Magna Legal Services stands out as one of the nation’s largest legal support firms, with demonstrated expertise in court reporting as well as a full suite of in-house legal services like jury research, litigation graphics and trial presentation consulting. Courts will always need Guardians of the Record, and the communications skills of court reporters are becoming more valuable by the day.

Interested in working for Magna Legal Services?

We now offer a court reporter recruitment form on our website!

Apply Now