Court reporters are the unsung heroes of the legal world. They are essential to keeping our legal system moving, and even in the digital age, they are a necessary part of legal proceedings of every type. So what do court reporters do, and what’s it like to work as a court reporter?
A court reporter’s primary job is to create a perfect written record of everything that happens in a courtroom during a particular legal proceeding. They also may work with audio recordings and text-to-speech software to ensure both are accurate, although those aren’t any substitute for live transcriptions.
You might wonder why courts don’t just make an audio recording of all proceedings: the answer is that audio recordings are never sufficient. It’s too easy for the audio to miss something important if a speaker is too quiet, or for an errant door slam or cough to obscure an important moment.
Court reporters also frequently do transcriptions in the evenings or on weekends. They may be present for certain legal proceedings that occur outside of the courtroom itself, such as taking remote depositions. Many court reporters not only work for the court during trials, but also as independent contractors in producing transcripts.
Skills and education
It goes without saying that court reporters need to be sticklers for accuracy and have an eye for detail. You must be highly organized so you can manage several different trials, transcripts, and deadlines at once. You also need to be an excellent typist and have advanced grammar skills if you wish to pursue a career in this field.
That being said, getting into a court reporting program does not require a bachelor’s or other advanced degree, and court reporting training and certification programs are widely available and highly flexible. This makes court reporting a job that’s accessible to most people.
In certain states like Florida, there is currently no state license for court reporters. But that may soon change, as the legislature has authorized the creation of a new Florida Court Reporter Certification Board. For court reporters in Fort Lauderdale and around the state, passing the certification is a way to get ahead in the profession.
A day in the life
As an employee of the court: As a court reporter, your day might start early when working on trials. As soon as you get up, you’ll get the final transcripts from the day before which proofreaders have been working on all night. These have to be sent to the relevant attorneys before you get to the courtroom early — typically by 8:00 or 8:30 a.m.
You’ll set up your specialized stenotype typewriter in the courtroom and work for seven to nine hours, depending on the case. There may or may not be a lunch break, and even during the breaks, you’ll be meeting with lawyers to go over spellings and determine if you’ve gotten the right words for specific items like medications or geographic locations.
Once the trial day is over, you’ll head home to work on the transcripts, usually sharing this duty with a team that helps to ensure that the day’s transcripts are ready to go by the next morning.
And while all this might sound like a lot — and it is — a court reporter isn’t always working a trial.
When you aren’t working a trial, you’ll have a more normal nine-to-five workday and can spend it resting, improving yourself with your professional development, or taking on other freelance transcription work.
As a freelance contractor: Some court reporters work officially as officers of the courts while others work entirely as freelance contractors. If you choose to freelance, you’ll be able to take trials or cases on your own schedule. This means you set your own hours, but it also means that your cash flow is less regular.
If you work freelance, you can expect to have periods when you are extremely busy — often working well into the night and on the weekends — followed by plenty of down time. If this sounds like a routine you could see yourself doing for a living, then a career in court reporting might be for you.