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No matter how heated or emotional a trial gets, count on one person in the courtroom to maintain near-perfect composure. Court reporters must accurately record every single word spoken and produce a written record of the proceedings -- so their concentration has to be top notch.
Though their numbers are somewhat small (there were 21,500 court reporters in 2008, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics), they nonetheless play a key role in the legal system. Their services are also required in many types of government agencies, and increasingly they work outside government, providing captioning for television, meetings, conferences or university lectures, to name just a few examples.
What they do
So how do court reporters do it, capturing every single word? The most traditional method is stenography, which to the outside observer looks like really fast typing. In fact, the court reporter is using a stenotype machine, which allows him or her to capture whole words at once by pressing multiple keys. On the machines used today, a computer interprets the keystrokes instantly, and the words appear on a monitor. Real-time captioning (of television programs or trials, for example) works in a similar manner, by connecting the stenotype machine to computers that aid in broadcasting.
Stenography is the most common method for court reporters, but there are others. In electronic reporting, a court reporter makes an audio recording of the trial or other event, taking notes about who is speaking and other details, and later transcribes it. In voice writing, the court reporter verbally repeats every word spoken in the courtroom (or other venue), speaking into a mask equipped with a silencer. This method has become faster and easier in recent years thanks to speech-recognition software.
What they need
Training for court reporters depends on the reporting method they use. The most intensive training is required for stenographic court reporters, who typically study for nearly three years. A range of technical and vocational schools offer programs, some of which are certified by the National Court Reporters Association, or NCRA. Voice writing has less formal requirements, as does electronic reporting, which most practitioners learn on the job.
In addition to training, some states require court reporters to become licensed. In a few cases, professional certification can lead to a state license. However, most certification is voluntary, though the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that certified court reporters have the best job prospects. Certifications are available from a wide range of organizations, including the NCRA, the United States Court Reporters Association and the American Association of Electronic Reporters and Transcribers.
What they earn
Court reporters nationally earn an average $50,619, with the 25th percentile at $34,769 and the 75th percentile at $63,467, according to CBSalary.com.
Employment of court reporters is projected to jump 18 percent between 2008 and 2018, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That's much faster than the average for all occupations combined, which is around 11 percent.
Even though court reporters will continue to see demand from local, state and federal governments, tight budgets will likely mean modest job growth in the public sector. Greater demand will come from private industry, where webcasting and closed captioning for television are becoming increasingly common.
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