Well, I’m finally home from my VITAC training. It was a tad cold up in Pennsylvania for this Florida girl, but I did get to see some flurries and that made everything all right. My equipment came and I’ve been in training for the past few weeks. I’m so excited, I can’t wait till I can be on air!
This profession is so diverse. Most people think all court reporters do is sit in court all day. While that’s true for official reporters, there’s so much more that can be done if you’re a court reporting graduate. After graduation, you could work as a freelance court reporter like I did for 11 years. I reported hearings, trials, depositions, city council meetings, adoptions, and even a animal shelter hearing to determine whether a dog should be euthanized. I definitely didn’t get bored. I was somewhere different almost everyday.
Or if you’d rather not work in the legal field, you could use your skills and be a broadcast captioner. You know those words that scroll on the bottom of the television? Most people don’t realize it, but court reporters (captioners) are the ones who make that possible. Instead of what we take down becoming a written transcript, our work is sent out live in all its glory (mistakes and all) for the whole world to see. Captioners have to be highly skilled, perhaps more so than their court reporting counterparts because there’s no chance to correct anything before it’s sent over the waves. We have to be over 99% accurate, so it’s a tough job. Most captioners can work from home, which means no commute. Basically, I like to think of captioning as a great way to get paid to watch TV.
Still, others don’t care for the legal field, nor do they really want to stay at home all day captioning television shows. The answer for those people is providing CART services. This is also another highly specialized subsection of court reporting. CART providers write in realtime what is being taught in the classroom for deaf or hard of hearing studetns, whether it be middle school, high school, or college. A CART provider’s machine is hooked up to the student’s computer, and the student can then read what is being said as it’s being said in class. In that sense, it’s a bit like captioning, but the provider is in the same room with the student instead of being at home. As a CART provider, you can feel good knowing you’re helping individuals learn and participate in classes in a much more meaningful way, and you can learn a lot of diverse things by all the classes you’ll be sitting through.
Now you know the possibilities of a career in reporting and you’re thinking this might be just the career for you. There’s actually a shortage of reporters to fill any of the different jobs I’ve told you about earlier. The National Court Reporters Association states that in less than four years, 5,500 openings for court reporters will go unfilled because there’s no new reporters coming into the profession to take the place of those who are retiring. So if you start court reporting school and if you make it to graduation, you’re practically guaranteed a job.
Notice I say the word if. I’m not trying to discourage anyone for pursuing reporting, but court reporting school isn’t like other vocational schools. It’s hard and intense. Your successful graduation won’t depend on how well the instructors teach you the material. Your success will depend on your commitment to the process.
That said, I have put together a list of things you should know before you plunk down the money to attend school, both the good and the bad. I’ve listed the bad first, because, well, I want to give you something to look forward to. So stick it out and you’ll be rewarded at the end. 🙂
What you Need to Know before Starting Court Reporting School, the Negative
Scary statistic, right? It is, but don’t let it deter you from starting the court reporting school. Learning steno (machine shorthand) is difficult in and of itself, not to mention that the required speed necessary to graduate the program is 225 words per minute. For some students, the steno language just doesn’t make sense to them. Others understand it, but just can’t get the speed they need. Of course, as in any other school, students drop out because of purely unrelated personal reasons.
How do you know you’ll be the 10 percent who will actually make it through? Well, there’s no way you can know before you start, but there are certain talents that you may possess that lends itself well to reporting. Musicians, particularly pianists, tend to take to the machine. People who are good with languages also seem to do well in the reporting field.
But even if you’re not a musician or a linguist, don’t count out court reporting school. If reporting is a career you truly want to pursue, then go for it. If you’re full of dedication and determination to becoming a reporter, there’s no traits that will get you through school successfully better than those two.
Most college programs have a set graduation date. When you start in year 20XX, you know if you take a certain number of classes per semester, in two to four years you’ll be walking down that aisle to accept your diploma. Court reporting school? Not so much.
In reporting school, there’s no set timetable to graduation. Graduation depends entirely on how quickly you can work your way through speed. After learning steno theory, students begin speed classes. Students spend most of the day in class writing on their machines as the instructor dictates material to them. Once you test out of a speed class, you go to the next higher speed, and so on, until finally passing the 225 wpm tests.
Each student goes through speed at their own pace, which is why there’s no way to accurately predict a graduation date. Some students will zoom through speed in months. Others can languish there for years. Usually, though, most students graduate in two to four years, with some finishing earlier or later than that.
When I was getting close to graduating, I had sticker shock when I found out exactly how much I’d need to begin working as a court reporter. I was lucky because my father agreed to cosign on my loan. I knew others at school that couldn’t afford to buy their equipment and had to work at a restaurant after they graduated to save up.
To be a working reporter, here’s a short list of what you’ll need:
- A professional steno writer $5,995
- Software 3,995
- Laptop 799
- Prof. Certification Fees 410 (some states require reporters to be certified before they can work)
- Printer 199
- Notary 100 (price varies on your state)
Also, if you’re leaning towards official court work and are willing to relocate, some circuits will provide everything at no cost.
A used writer is generally half the price of a new one. Some companies even have new graduate discounts and payment programs. A few software companies have special prices for new graduates as well. Search eBay, Stenosearch, and the sales and you can get most of your equipment for a fraction of the $12,000.
So don’t look at the startup costs and dismiss court reporting. It’s an investment in your future in a long and rewarding career that pays very well.
Now, the Positive Side
4. Your Schedule can be Very Flexible. This is actually one of the reasons why I chose this career. My son was young, and I wanted to be able to take off for vacations, field trips, etc. It was so rewarding to be able to make time for my son and family. We’ve been on some cool vacations, some of which he still raves about. (And he’s grown!)
Bear in mind, flexibility only applies to the freelancing arena. Officials who work in courthouses work everyday business hours. For most freelancers, you’re considered an independent contractor, which means you can work when you want. It’s a power you need to use carefully, though. A reporting firm will do back flips over a reporter that is good and reliable. Taking off at the last minute and often can make things dicey. As long as you let them know a week or two ahead (excluding emergencies, of course) and do your job properly and meet deadlines things will be great.
5. Your Income Potential is only Limited by You. Any field in court reporting can be very lucrative. If you’re dedicated to improving your skills and staying current technologically, life as a reporter can be good.
An experienced freelance reporter who specializes in realtime, broadcast captioners, officials, and CART providers all can make upwards of $100,000. Of course, depending on where you live in the US will affect your income. Some locations simply pay more. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in 2012, the median income for a court reporter was $48,160.
A Reporting Career is Worth the Trouble it Takes to Get Through School
Yeah, I know there was one more bad than good, so don’t literally weigh the bad and the good. Remember, there’s a good and bad side to any career out there. You have to be the one to decide which one is right for you.
Now, go and make an informed decision and hopefully you’ll be joining the exclusive rank of court reporter graduate in a few years!
Good article. I’m a working reporter (38 years) and CART captioner who is going to speak at a career day later this week. I’m sharing the link to your article for those who think they really might be interested in CR/captioning. I think you covered things to consider very well. Thanks.
Oh, wow, thanks so much! I hope the career day goes well and you get lots of interested potential students!
After 38 years, how are your wrists and body?
I haven’t been writing 38 years, only about 15.
After graduating, what were the best resources for finding employment?
It’s usually a requirement for graduation to do a certain number of intern hours at a court reporting agency, court, etc. That’s how most of us got our jobs. One firm I interned with offered me a job and I started as soon as I graduated. A good idea, too, is to write a letter to prospective agencies, kind of like a CV, and send them out. Also call and ask if they are open to hiring you right out of school. There’s a major shortage, so it’s pretty easy to land a job. Courts are a whole different ballgame though, they usually want you to have a certain amount of experience before hiring, but sometimes they will state if they’re accepting beginners.
I appreciate you mentioning that there is no set timetable or date that you can expect to graduate court reporting school. My wife loves writing and has considered going back to school to do court reporting. If I were an attorney or someone that needed court reporting, I’d consider hiring someone that has experience in addition to a diploma.
It’s awesome that court reporters can also do broadcast captioning. My son is interested in being a court reporter. I’ll share this information with him so that he knows what else he could do with that skill set.
Hi, I’ve been a paralegal for over 25 years and am in my mid 50s. Do you feel I’d be too old to do this?
I always say you’re never too old to do something if you really love it and are dedicated to learning. That said, there are some things to think about. How much longer are you wanting to work before you retire? The initial start up costs can be high. Some courts do provide everything but the machine for you. Do you have the time to devote to learning? For some people writing on the machine comes easily, others have to practice everyday to build up speed so setting aside a couple hours’ worth of practicing a day would be important. Just a few things to consider, but if it’s something you’d always wanted to try I say go for it. 🙂
I’m a teacher looking for a career change. I don’t want to experience a big pay cut, how do you think starting pay looks per year?
It’s hard to say. It depends on your location, although I’m not sure right now how much that plays into it with depositions being mostly remote. I’ve been out of the reporting game since 2014. My first year out I think I made in the 40,000-45,000 range maybe? And it went up probably 20,000 or so from there until I quit reporting and switched to captioning. As a captioner I make more than that I ever did as a reporter, but that’s with 11 years’ of reporting experience and 6 years’ of captioning experience. These are rough estimates by memory, so don’t hold me to them 🙂
Thank you for this article! It’s awesome. I am going to be starting steno school soon but I need a writer. Do I have to start with a student writer and then progress to a pro model or would it be fine to buy a Luminex to start school with? I’m wondering why there are “student” machines vs pro machines. Thanks for your help!
Hi there! I’m so excited that you’ve decided to join the world of Stenography! My usual advice to those just starting school is to go with a student model, preferably a good used one if you can find them. It’s a sad statistic, but well over half of students who start court reporting school will drop out. I’m not saying that you won’t finish, but often when people get into it, they realize this career isn’t for them.
A new Luminex costs close to $6000, and you can find student machines for under $1000, sometimes less than that. The Luminex has a lot of memory for storing notes and audio from jobs as backup. The student version has little memory because it is hooked up to a computer and it translates there and there’s no need for backup. In fact, a lot of captioners use student models because they just have to be connected to the computer to caption. My backup machine is a student model.
If you want a new student model and can afford the $1600 price tag, I say go for it. I think Stenograph may even have a rent to own option for students, so you may want to check in on that. If you need to be more cost conscious, search ebay for used steno writers. They’re usually in really great shape because students are selling theirs because they dropped out, are upgrading, or professionals are retiring or wanting to buy a new machine. I bought my back up Wave writer off of ebay for around $500.
Hope this helps!
A young lady recently asked me about court reporting as a profession. I shared my experience and stories with her but I’m certain your article would be something she’d enjoy reading. I’ll be forwarding a link to her today. Thank you for the nice article.
This is pretty interesting to read! I currently work at a nonprofit in a city jail, and have previous captioning experience (3 years using Dragon software at a call center). I have played classical piano my whole life. However, I have never once considered court reporting as a career. I recently stumbled across this idea and it struck me how perfect this sounds given my experience. This would be a second career for me, in my early 30s, but I’m excited to give this a shot. I already work with the courts so it would be somewhat related to my current field still. I found a program near me that rents out the equipment to students too. My only worry is the dropout rate seems so high! Is it really that challenging to learn? I am a hard worker and have earned honors in my prior degrees, I hope this wouldn’t be impossibly difficult to learn.
Hi there! Yes, the dropout rate really is that high. A lot of students drop out during theory, when they’re learning how to write on the machine. They realize this isn’t for them, not what they thought it would be. Others drop out when they hit walls in gaining speed. Sometimes you can be stuck at a speed for months. I’ve known some that were stuck in one speed for a year. It’s also what you put into it. If you practice or if you’re a natural, you usually will get through those plateaus. It is difficult, but I think if you’re highly motivated and perseverant, it can take you a long way and you can become a court reporter.
I really appreciate and enjoyed your article. I currently have been a digital court reporter for the past 3 years and I really love it and think its the Career industry I want to invest my time, money, and energy into building a fulfilling career. I’ve decided to graduate from a digital court reporter to a Professional Stenographer just this past week and have already signed up for the Steno Bootcamp intro free class so that I can be eligible for some scholarships and get a head start. I’m super excited to get started right away and am hoping that my experience as a digital court reporter and already having 3 years experience in professional court rooms and now via zoom for depositions and hearings will give me an advantage to be in that 10% that graduates and immediately after continues learning by obtaining all the certifications available. I’m about to turn 35 next week, and although I already have 2 Associate Degrees, I’ve still not felt like I would ever find a career path right for me….UNTIL NOW! I’m soo excited for what the future holds and am truly confident I will work harder than ever before to accomplish this goal; bc I’ve already witnessed first hand how rewarding the industry is.
I’ve seen a lot of other articles or advice from professional stenographers recommending I get a mentor right away, any suggestions on how to begin going about that?
Lastly, what are your favorite professional groups, associations, websites, magazines/books, etc that you would recommend especially ones I can begin Now before I begin the actual program?
Thanks for sharing and Thanks in advance if you get around to recommending some things! I can’t wait to join the team and feel like now is the best time to invest my time/energy into expanding my path from digital to steno with the COVID backups and lack of new graduates. I’m all ears and always appreciate of any other tips or experiences you can share!
I’m glad to see your excitement, I can really feel it over here! 🙂 Having a mentor is a great asset. I wish I’d had someone when I was first starting out. The NCRA has a mentorship program. Just email email@example.com to request to be placed with a mentor. State what field you are thinking about going in, if you have any (reporting, captiong, etc). As far as profressional groups, there are a ton on Facebook. Search NCRA, court reporting, captioning groups and request to join. I learned a lot about captioning this way before I ever switched. I hope this helps. Reach out if you have any more questions 🙂
Hi! I’m 16 and I’m interested in being a court reporter.Can i ask you, what course should i take after high school to become one?
Hi! I’m 16 and I’m really interested in court reporting.What course i need to take after high school to become one?
Hello there! To be a reporter, you need to go to a court reporting school. There aren’t many brick and mortar schools left, but if you go to the NCRA website, you can find a list of those still around. If none are near you, there are online options now. Two I know of is Court Reporting at Home and Mark Kislingbury’s Academy (which also does in person as well.) I hope these help, and good luck!
I am currently thinking about pursuing a career in court reporting and stumbled on this article while looking to see if this career would be right for me. I am just scared about taking the jump and doing it. I have previous issues with schooling, and the dropout rate you mention scares me. I am afraid of starting something and not finishing… again. I am currently work in HR in a correctional facility and want a change of pace. I never thought about all the other job opportunities Stenography gives you. I only thought it is primarily used in the court system. I am self-taught on the piano, guitar and have played clarinet for 10+ years, so from the musical standpoint and all the other points you made, I think I would enjoy it. What other advice would you give someone that is on the fence, like me?
Hi there Morgan! I’m glad you’re looking into stenography as a career, you can do so many things with it. I totally understand the hesitancy about starting school. If I had known about the high dropout rate, it probably would have given me pause before I started. I think it’s a concern a lot of people have, so the NCRA (National Court Reporters Asso.) has put together a free online program to give people a free introduction to what you’d learn in school so they can make the decision if it’s for them.
It’s called the A to Z Program. It’s a hybrid self-paced 6 week course, where you’ll do some learning on your own as well as with a live instructor. You’ll learn the alphabet in steno and how to write on the machine. I haven’t personally looked into it too much, so I can’t say in detail how it is. But it’s a free resource, and definitely something to look into. Take a look Discover Steno A to Z.
Really interesting article. Thank you! I was wondering how the future looks for stenography, court reporters and captioning and such considering we can now have automatically generated captions. While those are not without mistakes, the tech is getting better and better. Is it worth pursuing that career if things go towards automation in the future?
On another note, what happens, if you can’t understand someone because of their accent or they speak so quietly and your voice recording doesn’t help either?
Yes, I would still get into stenography as a career. There is AI captions, and yes they’re getting better, they’re not as good as a person. In court, if there’s background noise, garbled voices, etc, AI or a recording can’t differentiate or ask to repeat. In captioning, there are problems as well with accents, etc.
As to your other question, when I was a baby reporter I learned really quick that if I didn’t hear something, my backup recording didn’t hear it either and I needed to speak up and ask to repeat. I remember once I had a witness who had a really thick accent and every answer she gave I was asking her what she said. After a few questions, I started thinking the attorneys are going to get aggravated at me so I stopped and just decided to get as much as I could. Imagine my surprise when the attorney asked the witness to repeat herself, so it wasn’t just me who couldn’t understand. Never be afraid to speak up.
When you’re captioning though, you don’t have the luxury of asking for the speaker to repeat themselves, so in that case you just have to do the best you can and piece it together to make it make sense for the reader. For CART, sometimes I’ll put (unintelligible), (thick accent), etc. so the deaf or HOH consumer will know.