A court reporter (a.k.a. a stenographer or verbatim reporter) is tasked with recording and preparing a complete, word-for-word account of judicial proceedings or other events where a detailed record is required.
Court reporters use their knowledge and speed of stenography to take down verbatim notes or use the latest transcription software to create a complete and grammatically correct record for future reference.
Stenography is also known as shorthand. This is a symbolic way of recording speech, whereby you can basically record whole words and phrases using a small number of symbols. Don’t worry! You won’t be trying to write everything down word for word in plain English using a pen. After all, your handwriting would be all over the place and you’d certainly get through your fair share of biros.
You also won’t be typing using a standard computer keyboard or typewriter. You would set the keys on fire for sure! Indeed, you can put away your copy of Mavis Beacon Typing! After all, in order to make it as a court reporter you will need to be trained in how to use a specialised piece of kit, known as a ‘stenotype’ or shorthand machine.
Speech normally needs to be recorded at a speed of at least 150 words per minute (wpm). I bet that puts your 50 wpm typing speed into perspective, doesn’t it?!
This transcribing is sometimes done in real-time, using the appropriate stenographical methods. However, technological advances have changed this convention and it is now possible for proceedings to be recorded in their entirety and transcribed at a later stage.
Salary & benefits
Court reporters based in London and other large metropolitan areas are usually paid higher salaries (between £18,000 and £28,000), while people based in other locations can earn salaries in the range of £12,000 and £20,000 per annum.
Experienced court reporters can earn salaries between £25,000 and £50,000. However, the amount is usually based upon your amount of work experience, your level of expertise and your reputation within judicial circles.
Court reporters follow the same nine-to-five schedules as court proceedings. However, in cases where records are required on an emergency basis, reporters may need to put in extra hours. They are usually paid well for these periods of overtime though!
Except for having excellent English language and grammar skills, an incredibly fast typing speed and professional experience of using shorthand, there are no mandatory requirements for people looking to become a court reporter.
Understandably though, it’s usually necessary for candidates to have undertaken extensive shorthand training and to have an expert command of using traditional stenotype machines, computers and transcription software.
Training & progression
The concept of employer-sponsored training does not exist in this profession. However, large agencies may provide on-the-job training in some cases. For the most part, career progression is largely self-motivated and dependent on experience, performance and proficiency.
Another viable option is to move into a related legal profession. For instance, you could become a paralegal or a law costs draftsman. Alternatively, you could set up your own court reporters agency.