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A court reporter or court stenographer, formerly referred to as a stenotype operator, shorthand reporter, or maybe even a law reporter, is a person whose occupation is to capture the live testimony in proceedings using a stenographic machine and transforming same into an official certified transcript by nature of their training, certification, and usually licensure. This can include courtroom hearings and trials, depositions, sworn statements, and more. Court reporting agencies primarily serve as production houses, and their clients include private law firms, sometimes local or state and federal government agencies, trade associations, meeting planners, and nonprofits.
The court reporter in some states is a notary by virtue of their state licensing, and a notary public is authorized to administer oaths to witnesses and who certifies that his or her transcript of the proceedings is a verbatim account of what was said, unlike a court recorder, who only operates recording machinery and sends the audio files for transcription over the internet. Many states require a court reporter to hold a certification obtained through the National Court Reporters Association or the National Verbatim Reporters Association, although some require their own state-specific licensing or certification. It has been determined the public is best served through a licensed individual accountable to the state in which they work.
It typically takes anywhere from two to four years to learn the basic skills to become a stenographic court reporter. Applicants first learn to use the keyboard, which takes the most amount of time, and heavy academic training is also required. Training to learn the basic skills to become a voice writer reporter typically takes six to nine months at the minimum. To become realtime proficient in voice writing can take years to pass certification. Candidates usually attend specialized certificate courses at private business schools, or sometimes associate's or bachelor's degree programs at accredited colleges or universities. Distance learning and online training courses are also available for both methods. After additional on-the-job training and experience, many court reporters then move on to real-time reporting.
Most states require that court reporters obtain a license via examination before being allowed to practice in that respective state, which ensures accountability to the state versus a corporation. Examinations include writing speed tests at 180 wpm, 200 wpm and 225 wpm, and a written examination to demonstrate proficiency in English, grammar, medical terminology, legal terminology, courtroom decorum, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 30, court reporting procedure and ethics.
Licensed court reporters are required to attend yearly continuing education courses of at least 10 hours in order to maintain active licensure.
There are two national stenographic court reporting associations in the United States: The National Court Reporters Association (NCRA), the National Verbatim Reporters Association (NVRA). For court recorders who operate machinery, there is The American Association of Electronic Reporters and Transcribers (AAERT). Both the NCRA and NVRA require a minimum speed of 225 words per minute to qualify for certification. AAERT requires 90 percent accuracy on transcripts, and both reporters and transcribers must pass both a written and practical examination. Most of the country's highly skilled stenographic reporters tend to join either the NCRA or NVRA. Anyone can join the fee-based AAERT.
The NCRA offers the title Registered Professional Reporter (RPR) to those who pass a four-part examination, including a 3-part skills exam and a written exam, and participate in continuing education programs. The NVRA offers the title Certified Verbatim Reporter (CVR) to those who pass a four-part examination, including both a skills and written exam, and participate in continuing education programs.
A reporter may obtain additional prestigious certifications that demonstrate an even higher level of competency such as Registered Merit Reporter (RMR), Certified Real-time Reporter (CRR), Certified Realtime Captioner (CRC), or Certificate of Merit (CM), Certified Broadcast Captioner (CBC), and Certified CART Provider (CCP) through the NCRA. However, both NCRA and NVRA associations offer equivalent examinations to test reporters for speed and competency on their method of reporting. Further certifications are granted by both associations to court reporters demonstrating skills as broadcast captioners and CART providers.
The Canadian Court Reporter John M. Weir (CVR) could voice-write 350 words per minute during legal hearings. American Stenographic Court Reporter Mark Kislingbury is the fastest court reporter. In 2004, he secured the honor in the Guinness World Record by writing 360 words per minute on his stenographic machine.
The AAERT offers electronic recorders and transcribers three certifications: certified electronic recorder (CER), certified electronic transcriber (CET), and certified electronic recorder and transcriber (CERT) for setup and use of recording equipment. Transcription, however, is not performed by the court recorder in most cases.
The International Alliance of Professional Reporters and Transcribers (IAPRT.org) is a member-based not-for-profit consortium engaged in the ongoing development of digital court recording and transcription, and guiding public and private court recording paraprofessionals worldwide toward the common goal of producing as much of a verbatim and verifiable record as possible given the limits of even modern-day recording equipment.
Required skills of a stenographic court reporter are excellent command of the language being spoken, attention to detail, exceptional hearing, and the ability to focus for long periods at a time. The most highly skilled court reporters can provide real-time transcription and have significant earning potential, with salaries up to six figures possible in some areas.
In the United States, the Bureau of Labor Statistics continues to report a positive job outlook for stenographic court reporters. Median annual salary in 2010 was listed at $47,700 per year. The top 10 percent of court reporters earned more than $91,280. In May 2012, Forbes listed "stenographic court reporter" as one of the best jobs that does not require a four-year degree. As of 2015, the median annual salary for a court reporter was $50,000. The actual amount can vary depending on whether the court reporter works in an in-court capacity as an "official" reporter or as a reporter of pre-trial discovery (depositions). Additionally, pay can vary based on whether the original and/or a copy of the transcript is ordered by any of the parties to the action. The growth rate of the profession was projected to be 2% to 3%, which is lower than the average of 7%, but the demand has remained high due to a national rise in litigation overall..
As of 2012, Maryland employed the most court reporters, while New York has the highest average salary. Some states have experienced budget cuts in recent years that have reduced the number of state-funded court reporters. This has resulted in law firms hiring stenographic court reporters directly, as they are independent contractors, to ensure proceedings are verbatim. Unfortunately, COCRA is now defunct.
In England the salary range in 2014 for free court reporters vary, with realtime reporters earning $512.59 a day.
Digital recordings often operated by court clerks or AAERT members does not provide for instant play back or review of portions of the recording with ease. A Certified Realtime Reporter (CRR) and a Certified Broadcast Captioner (CBC) offer the ability to show live transcription of the spoken record by captioning what is said to display it on a screen in real time, and as the latter is a stenographic court reporter, they can provide instant read back of testimony unlike a recording.
Many stenographic court reporters work as freelance reporters or independent contractors in depositions and other situations that require an official legal transcript, such as arbitration hearings or other formal proceedings. "CART" providers, computer-aided real-time transcription, also often provide real-time services for public events, religious services, webcasts, and educational services. Stenographic or stenomask court reporting most often allow for a quality transcript produced on an hourly, daily, expedited or standard turnaround.
Stenographic court reporters working as broadcast captioners often contract with or by television producers and stations to provide real-time closed captioning of live programs for the hearing-impaired.
One difference between voice writing court reporters and stenographic court reporters is the method of making the record. The goal of a stenographer is to write verbatim what attorneys, witnesses, and others are saying in a proceeding when the parties are "on the record." The goal of a voice writer is to dictate verbatim what attorneys, witnesses, and others are saying in a proceeding. Though the methods of taking down the record are different, the role and duty requirements of the court reporter are the same. These skills of court reporters are primarily measured through certification exams and licensing, which is what protects litigants and the public.
The training on a stenograph machine requires the person to pass writing speed tests of up to 225 words a minute on their machine in the United States, as set forth by the National Court Reporters Association (NCRA) in the United States. Only a small percentage of court reporting students per year are able to reach this lofty goal, but with NCRA's "A to Z Steno" program and virtual classrooms around the country, the number of stenographic court reporters is on the rise.
The training with voice writing equipment or stenomask requires the person to pass dictation speed tests of up to 225 words a minute in the United States, as set forth by the National Verbatim Reporters Association (NVRA). A voice writer dictates the proceedings into a stenomask connected to a computer, and using voice recognition software, voice writers are able to create realtime transcripts, which means that a transcript is being created on the spot by the voice writer. Many voice writers offer their services as CART (Communication Access Realtime Translation) providers to deaf individuals or individuals with hearing deficiencies. In addition, voice writers can work as broadcast captioners though stenographically trained reporters are preferred.
Multi-channel, digital audio allows for isolated playback of channels during transcription. This allows transcribers to listen from different vantage points when playing back the audio. This multi-channel feature especially helps during moments of extraneous noise such as laughter, shouting, coughing and sneezing, but it is still deemed inferior to having a stenographic reporter during the proceedings. The American Association of Electronic Recorders and Transcribers (AAERT) certifies recorders and transcribers. AAERT certified recorders are trained to attempt to monitor the recording continuously during a proceeding and create simple notes, or a log, which are individually time-stamped. The time-stamps correspond with the location on the digital recording for playback either upon request during a proceeding or at a later time. The log notes provide any authorized person the opportunity to search and identify any segment of the proceeding they wish to review. Some courts train clerks or other court personnel to operate the digital recording equipment. While court systems benefit from the income from these systems directly, the equipment is maintained by outside vendors and staff cannot repair malfunctioning equipment even if aware of the problem. Courtroom monitors are responsible for listening to the recording through headphones while the proceeding occurs. However there is no way to ensure recording quality.