An Expert’s Guide for students considering pursuing a degree in court reporting, by Kimberley Neeson

What is a Court Reporter?

A court reporter uses shorthand on either a special machine called a stenotype, or a steno mask, to create a written transcript of the spoken word, most commonly in a trial court but also in business meetings. Court reporting involves making a complete and accurate record that can be used to analyze courtroom proceedings, track the developments during business negotiations or read by hearing-impaired viewers for television programs. Certification can be obtained through the National Court Reporters Association, and an associates degree in court reporting is available through online schools, trade schools and community colleges.

What to Look for in Court Reporter Programs

When looking for your ideal program, you must be sure it is NCRA-certified and offers such critical elements as an internship, courses in legal and medical terminology, speed-building labs and test preparation. The best programs will demand a rigorous curriculum of shorthand and an excellent command of word usage and spelling, as well as accuracy and the ability to handle a variety of reporting methods. Only accredited programs will guarantee that you receive the thorough education and training you need so that you will be able to compete for the top jobs.

What to Expect in Court Reporter School

The top schools will teach you styles and theory of shorthand, frequently drilling you in both speed and accuracy. The best courses will also feature a grounding in legal principles and procedures as well as terminology, along with a complete overview of courtroom procedures to suit whatever environment you might work in. You should look for accredited classes that feature extensive shorthand work every semester, an internship of at least a few weeks and the requirement that you take courses in English grammar.

The Best Court Reporter Courses for Students

Your top courses will teach you various styles and techniques of shorthand and require you to master each one while giving you the wherewithal to develop some techniques of your own. Many students cite the best classes as being those that take place outside the classroom and in the courtroom itself with a mentor, learning the ropes and making contacts. Look for court reporter programs that offer courses in law, courtroom procedures, terminology and the option to take electives that might assist with developing focus and dexterity.

Court Reporting Certificate Programs

A certificate will allow you to work in a variety of stenography jobs at the state and local level. You can earn a certification in as little as 6 months, but most programs will be closer to 18 months in duration. Choose your program from accredited colleges that are approved by the National Court Reporters Association.

Court Reporter Associates Degree

An associates degree is the most common educational qualification you can earn to become a stenographer working for the state or local government. A properly accredited program offering an AA degree will emphasize the technique and theory of shorthand on all the stenotype machines available, while also teaching you to use transcription software, courtroom procedures for civil and criminal trials at the state and federal level, and an overall survey of law. You can find accredited colleges on the website of the National Court Reporters Association, which lists programs that are NCRA-certified.

The Pros and Cons of Attending Court Reporter School Online

The option to attend online schools is still limited, but it is slowly growing. If you earn an online certificate or associates degree, you will have more flexibility and save money, but you might find that you are at a disadvantage if you are not a highly dedicated and motivated student willing to devote long, solitary hours to practicing speed and accuracy. Your online courses will often be similar to those of a traditional program, but you may be required to arrange your own internship.

How Employers View an Online Court Reporter Degree

While having an online AA might not open as many doors as a degree earned from a traditional program, you can improve your candidacy by earning your state and national certifications. Employers worry that your online training will not be as rigorous as that received in a real classroom, so you must be prepared to prove your skills, knowledge and ability, showing them that you have the speed and accuracy to do good work. An online major is still rare, but it is expected to become more common over the next decade.

Advice for Students Studying in Online Court Reporter Programs

Engaging in your own regular practice is 1 of the most important things you can do to supplement your online courses, since this is how you will build and maintain the skills to do the job. There are very few accredited online universities from which to choose, and it is important you attend 1 certified by the National Court Reporters Association. Be aware that there are fewer programs that offer online financial aid, but the programs will be less expensive than a traditional course and flexible enough to allow you to work full time as well.

The Paths for Becoming a Court Reporter

Developing your career will take some time and perseverance, even in a strong job market, so it is important to keep your mind and options open. You should expect that your first few jobs will be part time, freelance or both, and many court reporters work in a freelance capacity throughout their career. Working freelance will still enable you to receive a handsome salary once you have paid your dues and developed your skills, talent, knowledge and network, all of which is necessary to get ahead and be successful.

Court Reporter Certification

While court reporter certification is not required by all employers, it is usually necessary if you are pursuing a government job, and some states will require that you take further exams to earn a state license as well. As a fresh graduate, you should apply to take your certification exams as soon as possible because you must be accepted and then scheduled, which might take several months. Certification will not always affect your salary, but there are many jobs in the field where being certified will allow you to negotiate a higher wage.

Court Reporter Salary

Many students are drawn to a court reporter career because you can command a good wage after 2 years of education in a varied and exciting field that is especially suited to those who have a passion for law and strong language skills. There are an increasing number of jobs available, thanks in part to federal mandates that more programming be captioned, as well as businesses who need skilled stenographers to transcribe meeting minutes in real-time for meetings taking place online. The median salary is $53,000, and you can earn more with further certifications and experience.

Advice for Court Reporter Professionals

You might spend much of your career working in a freelance capacity, so it is important to build a strong network, since many jobs come via recommendation. You can also search for jobs online at the website for the National Court Reporters Association. Professional affiliations will enhance your network and credentials, as well as give you the opportunity to attend events and get involved. The salary increases as you gain experience, but you will have the most success if you have a passion for and dedication to the field.