How to Become a Court Stenographer in 5 Steps

Explore the career requirements for court stenographers. Get the facts about education, salary, and potential job growth to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Legal Transcriptionist degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does a Court Stenographer Do?

A court stenographer, also called a court reporter, is a skilled worker who uses a stenography machine to create a record of court testimonies, depositions, committee meetings, legislative sessions and other live proceedings. They must be able to type fast and accurately, and some may additionally have to use audio or video recording equipment. The following chart provides an overview about this career.

Degree Required Certificate, Associate's degree
Field of Study Court reporting, live captioning
Licensing or Certification Some states require court stenographers to be certified, some states require court reporters to be notary public, professional certification may be preferred by employers
Job Growth (2014-2024)* 2%
Median Annual Salary (2015)* $49,500

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

What Is a Court Stenographer?

As a court stenographer, you create a verbatim written record of legal proceedings. After creating a written record, you translate your code into plain text and then format the text to indicate who is speaking. Your other duties include verifying the accuracy of your work against audio recordings, filing transcripts with the court clerk, and providing copies to lawyers, judges and the public per request.

Step 1: Earn a High School Diploma

Admission to any court stenographer program requires a high school diploma or G.E.D. It's unlikely that you can start preparing in high school, because high school-level courses that prepare you work in the field are rare. However, typing or business classes can help you begin building your typing speed for later adaptation to stenography technology.

Step 2: Complete an Associate's Degree Program

You typically need 33 months to become a court stenographer. Many community colleges and technical schools offer extended associate's degree programs in court stenography that last three years rather than two. Programs train you to use computer-aided transcription and stenography machines that cover legal terminology, medical terminology, courtroom procedures and the American legal system. Most programs will help you reach transcription speeds of 200-225 words per minute.

Step 3: Obtain a License

No uniform state licensing standard is in place for court stenographers. In some states, you need to pass an exam to obtain the Certified Court Reporter credential, while other states require you to be a notary public. States that permit the use of voice recorder transcription allow you to substitute certification by the National Verbatim Reporters Association (NVRA) in place of a license. NVRA certifications for voice writers include the Certified Verbatim Reporter, Certificate of Merit and Real-Time Verbatim Reporter.

Step 4: Obtain a Job

State governments, local governments and court reporting agencies are your most likely employers, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov). Non-legal captioning is expected to be a major job growth area. In 2015, about 17,670 people were employed as court stenographers. From 2014-2024, employment was projected to rise 2%. The BLS reports that the median annual salary was $49,500 in 2015.

Step 5: Obtain Certification

You can obtain certifications from at least two trade organizations, the United States Court Reporters Association (USCRA) and the National Court Reporters Association (NCRA). USCRA offers the Federal Certified Realtime Reporter designation (FCRR). The FCRR exam consists of a 5-minute dictation test at 180-200 words per minute. You need to be a member of USCRA but not necessarily a federal court stenographer to be eligible.

Three credentials are available from the NCRA, the Registered Professional Reporter (RPR), the Registered Merit Reporter (RMR) and the Registered Diplomate Reporter (RDR). The RPR certification exam consists of a written test containing 105 multiple-choice questions and three practical skills tests. You need to be a member of the NCRA and accumulate three continuing education credits over a 3-year period to maintain RPR status.

The RMR and RDR are higher-level designations. The RMR also consists of a written test and three skills tests. To be eligible, you must hold the RPR and be a member of the NCRA for three years. The RDR exam consists only of a written test. You need to have been an NCRA member for six years and hold RMR status to be eligible for the RDR.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

As court stenographers are in the business of transcription, careers in the medical field may also suit them or anyone interested in this type of work. Medical transcriptionists work with physician writings, medical charts, and other documents. Their job usually involves understanding more jargonish language. Most of these workers need to earn a postsecondary certificate, but associate's degree programs are available. General interpreters and translators are also types of reporters, though the former is concerned with spoken language and the latter with written language. They both require bachelor's degrees.

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