How to Become a Court Reporter
Breck Record is an experienced court reporter in El Paso, Texas. He earned a Texas Certified Shorthand Reporter license and a national Registered Professional Reporter license, and he is also a Registered Merit Reporter. Breck currently works for the 243rd District Court, but he has also worked as a court reporter in federal court.
In addition to working in a courtroom, he has provided CART (Computer-Aided Realtime Translation) services for the hard of hearing, and has also worked in closed captioning for television. Breck has worked as a court reporter for the past 27 years, and he shares his knowledge with new and aspiring court reporters through his website, Facebook group, and countless online articles and videos.
What is a court reporter?
A court reporter is the guardian of the record in the court system. Court reporters are responsible for taking down the proceedings in court verbatim and, if necessary, producing a transcript of whatever proceedings any party would like reproduced. There are also freelance court reporters who are responsible for taking down the testimony of a witness in a deposition, verbatim, and producing a transcript that would be the same as if that person were testifying live in court.
In addition to those two fields of court reporting, now there are court reporters who work in closed captioning for television. There are also court reporters who work in what is called CART, which is Computer-Aided Realtime Translation. Those CART reporters work with the hard-of-hearing during meetings, or maybe with deaf students in classrooms.
What type of training is required to become a court reporter?
I attended a junior college and I took classes involving court reporting. In addition to that, I took English, medical terminology, legal terminology, political science and government courses. This is still the standard approach for most junior college court reporting programs. Most court reporters earn a two-year Associate of Applied Science degree in Court Reporting. However, some students take enough classes to learn to write fast enough to pass the state exams, and then do not complete the associate’s degree.
Why did you decide to become a court reporter?
I became a court reporter kind of as a stroke of luck, so to speak. My roommate at the time brought home a brochure about court reporting. I looked it over and it looked like something I was interested in. Back then, I thought court reporters would go to court, listen to the proceedings and then go back to the newspaper and do a report, more like a news reporter as opposed to a court reporter. However, I quickly learned what court reporters actually do. I could type fast on the typewriter, but I had no idea that I was going to have to go out and buy what is called a stenographic machine, and learn this new language. But I did buy a stenographic machine and I have been trying to perfect the language over the course of my career. So, I kind of fell into court reporting by accident.
Are there common misconceptions about your job?
I think that many people believe that a court reporter simply sits at the machine in court, or in deposition, and then goes back and just prints the transcript. That is probably the biggest misconception about what a court reporter does. We write the testimony and then we have to go back and clean it up. We may have mis-stroked a word or we may have forgotten to put in proper punctuation, and we have to go back in and clean up the transcript to make it reflect what happened at the proceedings. It is not 100 percent perfect, and I think many people think that we just go back and just print the transcript up. They don't see the amount of effort that we put into getting a transcript in its final form. If people saw what we did after hours, they would probably have more appreciation of our craft.
What is a typical day like for you?
Normally in court, there are hearings that are on the official record. We may have a trial. We may have motion hearings where one side is trying to get the other side to do something. Sometimes the judge has to intervene and tell the attorneys what to do. Some court reporters work as freelance agents. In the freelance market, there is more free time but there is also the possibility of being called in at a moment’s notice.
What are your favorite aspects of your job?
Every day is different. I never know what I am going to hear until I am in the trial. I never know what my day is going to hold; it is always different. I could do one case one day and a completely different case the next day. One may be a car accident and the next one is a business dispute. The fun thing about that for me, as a court reporter, is that I have to be an expert on the testimony that I am about to hear, but I don't know what I am about to hear. I could walk into a deposition or trial for a car accident case, which is pretty simple, and then turn around the next time and have a neurosurgeon testifying. Then I must become an expert at neurosurgery, know what is being said, and be able to write all the terminology correctly. So, every day is different. I just never know, and that is one of the exciting things about it, the unknown.
I also enjoy knowing that I can help deliver information to people through my 10 little fingers. For example, I had the pleasure of working with Billy Graham back in 1998. Because of me, people got to hear his sermon through my fingers and they were able to read on the screen. I thought that was very cool that I was responsible for getting his message to people who otherwise wouldn't be able to get his message.
What are your least favorite aspects of your job?
Currently, I am working in a court that handles mainly criminal cases. So, some of the criminal stuff is pretty bad. Most people don't go to court because they love each other. They are there because something bad has happened. That side of court is rather difficult sometimes.
Is there anything that you would have done differently while studying to become a court reporter?
I probably would have practiced more on the steno-machine. With very few exceptions to the rule, people must practice with the steno-machine to build speed and write faster and faster and faster. If I had applied myself more when I was in school, I probably could have gotten through faster. That was one thing that I would go back and do differently.
What personality traits would help someone to be successful as a court reporter?
Court reporters must be driven. You need to have the ability to communicate with your clients. You need to be a person who can get along with people. A lot of students who are in court reporting school are quite young; they are walking into a profession that includes attorneys, doctors and other educated, smart people. A young court reporter must be composed in that environment. Sometimes, we need to take control if a situation is getting heated, and speak up and stand our ground; some people can try to run over us and it is important to be able to speak up.
What personality traits would hinder someone's success as a court reporter?
Shyness is one trait that could hinder success. You can still do the job but it might be more difficult if you can't speak up. In addition, laziness is detrimental in this profession because you have to meet deadlines. Sometimes the deadlines aren't what you want them to be, but you still have to do it to service the client. So being shy and being lazy aren't going to get you very far. If you get lazy, you are going to lose business and clientele.
What advice or words of caution would you give to a student who is considering studying to become a court reporter?
Court reporting is hard. And if anyone tries to convince you otherwise, then you need to get some more advice. It is a very hard program and it is that way for a reason. People that came before us set the standard for what court reporting is. It is our duty to carry that torch that they have passed down, further into the future.
If you don't have the drive to want to improve, you are not going to make it through school and you will end up with loans that can’t repay because you can't finish. You can get through the academic side of court reporting with A's, B's, or C's. To get through the machine portion of court reporting, you must score 95 percent. I don't know of many other professions that require an A+ to progress. You can pass through law school, you can pass through accounting, you can pass through many other degree programs with a C or a B or an A. But court reporters are required to score 95 percent in order to earn certification. It is hard, and you must be driven to succeed.
*Program outcomes vary according to each institution's specific curriculum, and employment opportunities are not guaranteed.