Court reporters create verbatim transcripts of legal proceedings using a variety of assistive technology from stenotype machines, where information is typed in using a special type of shorthand, to steno mask machines where they whisper into a covered microphone. The goal is to create a word-for-word record of the proceedings that will be transcribed for the use of judges, lawyers and others involved in the proceedings.
In an age where a college education can mean nearly insurmountable debt and the job market is mediocre at best, court reporting is one career choice that is both affordable and in demand. A precise, accurate record of legal proceedings is a vital part of the justice system so there will always be a need for court reporters to ensure those records exist. Here are six reasons to consider a career as a court reporter.
- Less Time in School: The educational requirements for court reporting and stenography typically take two years to complete and culminate in a certificate or an associate’s degree, depending on the program. Training in steno mask use and voice captioning are generally six-month certificate programs. Additional licensure may be required by some states, but in most cases, students can expect to be in the workforce in as little as two years. Less time in school means fewer loans to repay.
- Lower Tuition Costs: It’s no secret that today’s college graduates are shouldering heavy student loan debt from the cost of obtaining a four-year degree. College Board’s Trends in Higher Education provided data for 2016-17 on the cost of two-year programs vs. four-year programs. According to their data, the average tuition for public two-year in-district colleges is $3,520 compared to $9,650 for public four-year in-state colleges. Based on this information, a two-year associate’s degree could cost over $3,000 less per year than a traditional four-year degree.
- Higher Income Potential: Court reporters can expect to earn a median annual wage of $49,500 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Freelance court reporters earn more because they can charge a per-page fee to fulfill paper transcript requests. Very few four-year degree recipients can expect to enter the workforce at such a high salary.
- Better Job Stability: A 2014 independent study by the National Court Reporters Association has predicted a nationwide shortage of court reporters beginning in 2018. The study cites the fact that most of the current court reporters will be approaching retirement age at that time. This means that a large number of positions should be available for new graduates of court reporting programs. In fact, the same report indicates that in the next 16 years as much as 70 percent of current court reporters will retire, most of whom held their jobs for over 25 years.
- Flexible Work Schedule: Court reporters have a variety of work options. Some are employed full-time to work at a specific location and for a specific court or judge. They even have their own office from which to transcribe their work. Other full-time court reporters travel to other courthouses in other locations to perform their duties. However, there is also the option to freelance which opens up a whole new set of opportunities. Freelance court reporters may also provide services to law firms, corporations, and governments on an as-needed basis. Often, freelancers work out of their home and have the ability to work as little or as often as they wish.
- Solid Job Security: Court reporters don’t just work in legal settings. They also work as broadcast captioners and as CART (Communication Access Real-Time Translation) providers. Broadcast captioners provide closed captions for television programs, while CART providers assist hearing impaired clients in live settings such as doctor’s appointments, board meetings, classrooms and so forth. If one door closes, another is waiting to be opened for court reporters.
As long as the judicial system exists, there will be a need for court reporters.