A court reporter’s fingers must work fast and furiously—and accurately—at all times. The ability to listen to information and then transcribe it onto a 20- to 25-key machine that produces what looks more like Greek to most people in virtually real-time is no easy task.
Individual school requirements
There are multiple levels of certifications for court reporters with different requirements for each. Some are those required for graduation from an approved court reporter school. Most schools hold a transcription speed of 225 words per minute as the standard for receiving their certification and graduating. For these schools, even though 225 words per minute is the amount required for the successful completion of the course, they often aim for students to actually produce 240 words per minute.
Speed alone, however, is not the only measuring stick for approved certification for a court reporter. Accuracy must be high at all times. In addition to the basic speed requirement, court reporting students are expected to yield a minimum 95 percent accuracy rate.
National Court Reporters Association certification levels
The field of court reporting, like many others, has its own professional association that provides guidelines and continuing education to the professionals in that field. A large percentage of court reporters seek certification from the National Court Reporters Association (NCRA) in addition to their court reporting school diploma. This certification is a way for them to let potential employers or clients know that they take their profession seriously and are committed to providing the best results possible.
There are three basic levels of court reporter’s certifications provided by the NCRA:
- Registered Professional Reporter (RPR)
- Registered Merit Reporter (RMR)
- Registered Diplomate Reporter (RDR)
The RPR is the first level of NCRA certification that can be attained and requires the passing of both a written skills exam and a transcription test. For the written exam, students must score above a 70 percent combined result from three areas—technology, court reporting practices and professional practices.
The transcription test identifies specific speeds that must be attained for different skills. These are known as literary, jury charge and testimony or question and answer. Reporters attempting to achieve their RPR status must test at a minimum of 180, 200 and 225 word per minute, respectively, for these three categories. The test is divided into different segments and applicants have a total of 75 minutes to transcribe their notes from each leg of the test. A 95 percent accurate rate is required at all steps.
Testing for the RMR involves only the transcription test and requires reporters to achieve a minimum of 200, 240 and 260 words per minute, respectively, for the three test categories (literary, jury charge and testimony or question and answer). The given time for transcription and the minimum accuracy rate is the same for the RMR as for the RDR.
Candidates applying to receive their RDR must pass only a written skills exam, the categories of which are the same as for the RPR but the focus of the exam is slightly different. For the RPR, 22 percent of the test focuses on technology, 62 percent on reporting practices and 16 percent on professional practices. For the RDR exam, the ratios are adjusted to 17 percent on technology, 53 percent on court reporting practices and 30 percent on professional practices. This allows the test to delve deeper in more complex areas.
Court reporting school basics
Most court reporting courses are able to be completed in three years. Students must learn a variety of information and skills, including computer-aided transcription, court procedures and legal and medical terminology.
In addition to paying for court reporting schools, most reporters purchase their own equipment. Such equipment requires a definite commitment and can cost up to $10,000. The cost of equipment coupled with the three-year road to graduation make it a must that a person be truly committed to court reporting before embarking on this career path.
No margin for error
Whether from a trial or a deposition, a legal transcript is a critical document and the recording must be accurate and prompt at all times. When a person’s fate can literally be hanging on a court decision, there is no room for sloppy court reporting. Hence, the very stringent requirements and in-depth process for attaining a diploma and all subsequent certifications are understandable. Anyone who has had their day in court appreciates the diligence of a good court reporter.