Court Reporter

The Job and What's Involved

Court reporters, also known as verbatim reporters, stenographers or shorthand writers, make word-for-word (verbatim) records of court proceedings using machine shorthand or traditional shorthand.

As a court reporter, you would use a Palantype or Stenotype stenograph machine, which types whole words and phrases with a single keyboard stroke. The keyboard is linked to a computer-aided transcription (CAT) system, which displays the shorthand notes immediately as English text. You could expect to reach speeds of over 200 words a minute.

Your day-to-day tasks would involve:

  • Attending court hearings.
  • Using machine shorthand to take down a complete word-for-word account of the evidence, the judgements and speeches.
  • Reading back recorded passages in court if necessary.
  • Transcribing the day's notes after the court session.
  • Checking the notes for accuracy.
  • Correcting grammar, adding any missing words and editing the text to produce a final transcript that keeps the original sense.
  • Sending a copy to the judge for approval before making the final record.

In some cases, courts use a real-time system, which displays notes on a large screen or a network of computer monitors as the proceedings happen.

You would work long days when in court. Court sessions are usually between 10am and 4.30pm, Monday to Friday, but you must be there before court begins, and you would often transcribe your work in the evening after the court session has finished.

Most of your time would be spent in court, which involves sitting for long periods. You may also work at home or at an office base when producing transcripts.

You are usually expected to buy your own stenograph machine and laptop computer. You may have to travel between different courts, taking your equipment with you.

Reporters often work freelance and income varies according to the number of days they work. Freelance reporters can earn anywhere between £40 and £300 a day, depending on the nature of the work.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Your keyboard skills are usually more important than your formal qualifications, although in practice most court reporters are qualified to at least A level standard. Employers will expect you to have a high standard of English spelling and grammar.

It is not essential to know traditional shorthand before you begin to learn machine shorthand, but it can be an advantage.

You would typically work freelance for firms that hold contracts with the Ministry of Justice to provide reporting services to the Crown Courts and the courts of appeal in England and Wales.

There is a shortage of suitably qualified reporters.

Education and Training

To be approved to work as a court reporter in the crown courts of England and Wales, you must be regarded as competent by the British Institute of Verbatim Reporters (BIVR). For this, you must:

  • Learn written or machine shorthand.
  • Gain experience as a trainee court reporter.
  • Reach a machine shorthand speed of at least 180 words a minute (wpm).

You would start by taking a course in machine shorthand by distance learning. Training takes around two years. See the British Institute of Verbatim Reporters (BIVR) or Sorene Court Reporting & Training Services websites for training details.

Most firms expect you to have a shorthand speed of 160 to 180 wpm when you start work. You will need a speed of at least 200 words a minute for real-time reporting.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

You can apply to become an associate of the BIVR once you have reached a shorthand speed of 180 wpm. You will then be given a practical test, and after this you will become provisionally accredited and able to work on your own in court.

After three years' experience in court, you can apply for full membership of the BIVR.

As a qualified member of the BIVR, you could choose to take further training to become an accredited Verbatim Speech to Text (STT) Reporter, taking notes for the benefit of deaf or hearing-impaired people in various settings such as courts of law, meetings, lectures and conferences.

For this, you could take a Deaf Awareness course, followed by the CACDP Level 3 Certificate for Language Service Professionals Working with Deaf and Deafblind People (Verbatim Speech to Text Reporting). See the Signature (formerly CACDP) website for more information.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A court reporter needs

  • Excellent listening skills.
  • The ability to work quickly and accurately.
  • A high standard of English.
  • Good computer keyboard skills.
  • Confidence and a clear speaking voice.
  • Patience and concentration.
  • An interest in law.
  • The ability to work to strict deadlines.

Your Long Term Prospects

Efficient, experienced court reporters may be able to use their skills in other areas such as corporate business meetings, lectures and conferences.

Get Further Information

British Institute of Verbatim Reporters (BIVR)

Signature, Mersey House, Mandale Business Park,
Belmont, Durham DH1 1TH
Tel: 0191 383 1155
Textphone: 0191 383 7915

Ministry of Justice, 6th Floor, Temple Court,
35 Bull Street, Birmingham, B4 6WF
Tel: 0121 250 6350

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