What Does A Court Reporter Do?

"Everything about the US legal system is fascinating to me, and I definitely am interested in a criminal justice career. I don’t want to be a lawyer, though. The hours would drive me crazy, and it would just be a huge amount of responsibility and stress. Being a judge would be even worse. I want to be involved with court hearings, though. I was wondering if maybe some kind of auxiliary role like court reporter would suit me. Do you know what a court reporter does? Maybe I could handle that."

asked by Ryan from Atlantic City, NJ

The main task of court reporters is to transcribe everything that is said during court hearings and administrative proceedings. They are usually hired by the courts and legislatures of both local and state governments. Through the use of stenography machines and other types of equipment, they record what is said in these hearings word-for-word. Aside from capturing the dialogue, court reporters also include descriptions of the names, gestures and actions of the speakers while the proceedings are going on.

The job of court reporters is very important because they are tasked with recording with completeness and accuracy what is said by lawyers, judges, witnesses, members of the jury, the accuser and the accused during a legal proceeding. Since their transcript is going to be part of the official record, they have to reproduce all the details without mistakes. To ensure that they have the correct recording, court reporters may have to request the speakers to clarify what they said.

Court reporters are nifty with stenotype machines which allow them to record the dialogue even if it is rapidly-spoken. Stenotype machines don’t have as many keys as the alphanumeric keyboard commonly used in laptops and desktops. Instead the stenographer—another name for court reporter—can press multiple keys at the same time in order to record entire words and phrases. These key combinations are then fed into a computer program which translates these into actual words and phrases. It is the job of the court reporter to review the transcription produced by the computer program to ensure that it is accurate. If there are spelling and grammatical mistakes, the court reporter corrects them before making the final copy.

Aside from steno machines, court reporters may also transcribe using steno masks. This is a device which allows them to record everything that is said in court by repeating what the speaker says into the steno mask. This mask is so designed that the court reporter can speak into it without the others hearing and thus, won’t interfere with the proceedings. The mask will only record the court reporter’s voice and not that of the other speakers in the room. The steno mask is connected to a speech recognition system that basically produces a transcript of the recording. The court reporter then checks the transcript to ensure that it is accurate and grammatically correct.

Aside from steno machines and steno masks, court reporters may also record the events in the courtroom using a digital recorder. Instead of transcribing while the dialogue is taking place, they operate and monitor the equipment which produces an audio or video account of the proceedings. Some court reporters would later use the audio recording to produce a text transcript of the hearings.

Court reporters always have to be alert while they are on duty. This is because the judge may ask them to read or play a part of the dialogue or strike out what was said from the official record. After the hearing, they have to prepare the final transcripts and provide copies to everyone directly involved in the case.

Although court reporters typically work in courts and legislatures, there are also court reporters that don’t transcribe legal proceedings. Instead, they provide services to those who have hearing problems. They are technically called broadcast captioners and Communication Access Real-Time Translation (CART) providers. Broadcast captioners transcribe the dialogue of TV programs into the TV monitors. These transcriptions are called closed captions and allow those who are deaf and hard-of-hearing to follow the dialogue in a television program.

CART providers may be considered as real-time translators for the deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals. They go with their clients to meetings, medical appointments and other events to ensure that their clients understand what is going on and can communicate their views. Both CART providers and broadcast captioners don’t necessarily have to physically be with their clients. They may do their work from home or the company’s headquarters by harnessing the power of Internet. It should be noted that court reporters who help the deaf and hard-of-hearing by transcribing the spoken word to text are differentiated from interpreters and translators. The latter assists those with hearing difficulties by mainly utilizing sign language and gestures.

Court reporters who are employed by courts and other legal settings are usually required by states to have a license or certification. This usually requires a certificate or associate’s degree in court reporting. In addition, court reporters must also pass typing speed tests in order to get their license.

Court reporters, broadcast captioners and CART providers can obtain certification as a Registered Professional Reporter (RPR) from the National Court Reporters Association. There are now 22 states that accept the RPR certification in lieu of their own state licensure. Online training and continuing education classes are a requirement for all RPR certification holders so they can keep their certification.

Meanwhile, the American Association of Electronic Reporters and Transcribers provides certification for digital and voice reporters. They would need to pass a written exam as well as a skill test to become a Certified Electronic Reporter or Certified Electronic Transcriber. In addition, the National Verbatim Reporters Association also provides certification for voice reporters.

When court reporters first get hired, they typically undergo a short-term training on the job. They are taught technical terminology used in legal proceedings as well as additional skills that they can use for their work. In order to succeed at what they do, court reporters need to possess the ability to concentrate for long periods of time. They also need to be perfectionists when it comes to producing very precise records since these are legal and official documents. To make this possible, they need to be good listeners so that each word said is captured. They also need to have a very good grasp of the English language so that when they review transcriptions, they can correct typographical and grammatical errors. They also need to be comfortable sitting for long periods of time since hearings often takes hours to finish.

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