Court Reporter

Court reporters make exact word-for-word documentations of testimonies, statements, and discussions in legal arenas such as courts, attorney's offices, and judge's chambers where written transcripts of verbal discussions are necessary or required by law. Accuracy is essential to court reporting, as juries, trial lawyers, paralegals, and other legal researchers will oftentimes refer back to testimonies, and transcripts are also essential tools in the appeals process.

Stenotyping

There are two main types of court reporting. The primary one is stenotyping, which involves the use of a stenotype machine. The stenotype machine differs greatly from an average typewriter or word processor, and allows the court reporter to press multiple keys simultaneously in order to spell a phonetic shorthand version of words or phrases in a single stroke. This technique is known as chording, as the stenotype machine resembles a compact piano more than it does an alphanumeric keyboard. Court reporting on a stenotype machine may be specific and personalized to each individual. As the system is a phonetic one, and there are only 21 letters out of 26 on an American stenotype machine, there are a variety of ways to create the same sounds. The shorthand transcripts are then passed to the editor and translator of such documents, known as a scopist. A scopist is trained in reading phonetic language, applying punctuation, and understanding legal formatting and terminology. Scopists are generally employed when a court reporter has a heavy workload and is unable to translate and proofread a final transcript. There are also computer programs that can translate the chording directly into text, which is known as computer-aided translation and can also be seen in closed captioning for television.


Voice Writing

The second method for court reporting is called voice writing. The court reporter uses a stenomask which is a hand-held mask that contains a microphone. The court reporter speaks directly into the mask, which has a silencer so as to not be heard while in use, and repeats exactly what is said throughout the testimony, including emotion and physical posturing like gesturing. The stenomask is accompanied by a speech recognition computer program to translate the spoken word into a written transcript.

Court Reporter Education

Court reporters must be trained to become stenotypists or voice writers, but can be employed freelance, contract, or full-time by agencies and legal institutions. Knowledge of legal terms and procedures, excellent listening skills, and accurate attention to detail are essential qualities of a court reporter. After initial training and certification, there are yearly seminars, workshops, conventions, and conferences for court reporters in order to keep them updated and efficient in the courtroom, and although salaries will vary with experience and location, consistent commitment to maintaining education and ethical conduct will generally increase a court reporter's income.

By Barbara Poelle           


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