July 16, 2011

OPEN LETTER TO A POTENTIAL COURT REPORTING STUDENT

My friend asked me to email her friend who is looking into the possibility of jumping into the CR field.  She needed info on what a CR training involves, what to expect, etc.  This was my email to her, a potential CR student.  Hoping this blog post will help any other potential CR students out there!
Hi.

My name is Christine, I'm a court reporting student, and our mutual friend gave me your email addy.  She told me that you're interested in a career as a court reporter (CR) and you needed some info before moving forward.  I am so happy to provide any help I can give! :)

Court reporting is a GREAT career...but it is NOT cut out for everyone.  You need to have discipline in practicing on the steno machine to eventually reach 225 WPM.  A great proficiency in English and punctuation wouldn't hurt you either!

There are many schools out there that will charge SO MUCH for your training, ESPECIALLY the private colleges out there (Bryan College in LA or South Coast College in OC, for example).  I myself attend Downey Adult School (DAS), which is very low in tuition -- $745 per quarter for steno and $145 per academic class...compared to literally thousands of dollars per month at other schools.  There is an even cheaper program than DAS, which is Tri-Community in Covina (don't know the exact rates, but last I checked it was cheaper than DAS).

If you cannot drive out to Downey or Covina, there is also the option of training via online courses.  DAS has an online course -- $549 per quarter.  I tried it for about 1 week, and I myself didn't like the quality of the training.  I had something to compare it too, which is SimplySteno.com.  I HIGHLY recommend this online speed-building course, BUT they do NOT take Theory students...ONLY speed-building students.  The cost is $610 for 3 months, $920 for 6 months, and $1,550 for 12 months (you get a discount if you bring in multiple students to start the program with you).

Theory is the first thing you learn at court reporting training.  Theory is basically how you "write" (it's not called typing) on your steno machine.  Theory takes usually 6 months or so, depending on the individual.

And that is an IMPORTANT factor about the CR process: it's all up to the INDIVIDUAL!  There are some out there who are "naturals" and can get done with the whole program in 18 months!  Then there are those out there that, because of whatever circumstance (job, family, health issues, or plain old laziness) take 10 years to get out of school!  Yes, TEN YEARS!  So the beauty (and the beast) to court reporting is that YOU GO AT YOUR OWN PACE...and that is WHATEVER pace YOU set up.  You have FULL control.

Once you pass your Theory, there are the speed-building classes.  Most programs are organized in 20 WPM increments...so that would be 40 WPM, 60 WPM, 80 WPM...and all the way up to 225 WPM.  The CSR (certified shorthand reporter) exam in California is a 10-minute live 4-voice Q&A (testimony) panel at 200 WPM.  If you want to work in California, you MUST pass the CSR exam.  If you want to work at another state, you need to check and see what their state requirements are, if any.  Some states do not have any type of license requirement and you only need to be proficient at writing up to 200 WPM.

Along with building speed, there are "plateaus" that ALL students go through.  Some students will only get snagged in a speed level for 3 months or so...while others stay stuck for 1 year!  Again, it really depends on YOU and what YOU do to PUSH YOURSELF out of that plateau.  Some people may be just plain too busy or distracted to give their best and fullest attention to the CR program...but that is REALLY what you NEED to do.  If you can go full-time into the CR training and TRULY dedicate yourself to finishing fast and well, then you CAN and WILL do it!  (I have always gone to school part-time up until April of this year.  I got married and my husband allowed me to quit my job in order for me to dedicate all my working hours to school.  Now that I have, I am progressing faster than ever before!  If you can go full-time, DO IT!!!)

To pass a speed level (depending on which program, of course) usually means you need to pass 1 literary (or congressional) test, 1 jury charge test, and 1 Q&A (testimony) test...all in the same speed level at 95% accuracy or better.  At DAS some of these tests you must pass are at 97.5% accuracy...which is a lot harder than 95% (the error limit is pretty substantial).

Besides building speed, you need to also get your academic classes done, which are English, Vocabulary, Medical Terminology, Legal Terminology, Depo/Court Procedures, and Transcript Preparation (hoping I'm not missing anything).  These are regular sit-in classes (without your steno machine), but some schools offer these classes online.  At DAS I know we have Vocabulary and either or both Medical and Legal Terminology as online courses.

Later as you reach your higher speeds, you will need to take time out to do some observation hours and intern hours with official and deposition reporters.  This is the fun stuff really.  It just takes time, and that's hard to do, especially if you're working.  At DAS the requirement is 10 observation hours, 25 intern hours with an official reporter, and 25 intern hours with a deposition reporter.

So Theory, speed-building (including the plateaus), academic classes, and observation and internship hours are all in the package of any NCRA (National Court Reporters Association)-approved court reporting school you attend.  The majority of our training is, of course, speed-building up to 225 WPM.

If you want to do the bare minimum (for whatever reason), you could take Theory with a brick-and-mortar CR school or an online CR program such as CRAH (Court Reporting & Captioning From Home), then speed-build on your own at home all the way up to 225 WPM.  There are LOTS of speed-building DVD's and programs you could purchase WITHOUT ever having to pay a tuition.  If you decide to do this route (and you still live in California and want to work in California), you would then take the RPR (Registered Professional Reporter) exam, pass this...and then be eligible to take the CSR exam for California...then you're able to work in California as a licensed CSR...and you obtained TWO licenses in the meantime, instead of only 1.

Here are some links to some speed-building material you can purchase for use at home:

Also, I think it is VERY important to stay motivated, driven, and POSITIVE throughout your CR education...if you decide to pursue this.  Here are some links to some helpful forums where working reporters and students gather to ask and answer questions, share tips, and foster community.

Lastly, let me tell you about some options you have as a licensed court reporter.

You can work as an official reporter in the courtroom.  In LA County you could earn a GREAT salary with GREAT benefits.  On top of your employee salary (about $60K and more), you get paid for the transcripts you produce plus any copies of it.  The going rate for transcript pages is around $4 per page.  If you have people buying several copies, that all adds up...since usually transcripts that are purchased are in the hundreds of pages. Just this week I heard you can make up to $100K in transcript fees alone in preliminary hearings, and $200K in transcript fees alone in long-cause cases...and this is ON TOP of your employee salary and benefits!  You also get even more money if attorneys order an expedited transcript, have expert witness testimony (which is very dense material), or have hook-ups for attorneys to stream realtime on their laptops as you write on your steno machine (about $200 per attorney realtime hook-up).  It's NOT rare for court reporters to make $100K and more at court.  It depends though on which division you work at. 

You can work as a deposition reporter with 1 or several court reporting agencies.  You decide your own schedule, what type of cases you are willing to report, and how far you are willing to drive.  Note, however, that the depo reporters that make the big bucks are the ones that do not say "no" to any case, take the very hard cases, work M-F, drive anywhere, and are ready to take any last minute jobs they can handle.  A CR friend told me that on her 2nd year working as a depo reporter, she made $80K...but she also did the above.  However, this same CR friend of mine made $10K on 1 job alone as well!  She said that is pretty rare...and the more frequent cases of sky rocketing pay is up to $7K on 1 job alone...which is NOT bad!

Regarding official and deposition work, as a CR you can also hire a scopist and/or proofreader to look over your transcripts before submission.  A scopist is a person who reads steno notes, goes over your transcript, and basically polishes it up.  A proofreader does the same things, however, does not read steno notes.  Some CR's use none, 1, or both.  The going rate is $1+ per page for scopists and it increases based on what type of job it is (expedite, expert witness testimony, lots of audio where you need to listen to the audio recording several times, etc.).  I'm not sure of how much proofreaders get paid, but I'm pretty sure it's less than scopists (maybe $0.75 per page).

CR's that make the most money out there ($150K to $200K) are the ones that are, first of all, at the TOP of their field (they're like the Navy Seal 6 in the military, haha!), and second of all, they use scopists and/or proofers.  These CR's rely on scopists/proofers to help finish their transcript ASAP and into the clients' hands.  This way the CR doesn't have to do it themselves and can be busy taking even more jobs out there!  Everyone gets paid (CR's, scopists, and proofers)...clients get their transcripts...all is well! :)

You can work as a CART provider who is a CR that serves the deaf or hard-of-hearing community as they go to their college classes, doctor appointments, or anything like that.  You bring your steno machine with you, sit by your client, and produce realtime notes on your laptop for your client to read, so they are able to participate in the class or appointment.  There is no transcript that you produce.  You just email your steno notes (converted to English using your CR software) to your client at the end of the day.  Some CR's like this field because they are helping people instantaneously and/or they don't want to deal with transcripts.

You can work as a broadcast closed captionist either at the TV station or from home.  The captions you see at the bottom of your screen are being produced realtime by CR's somewhere in the USA.  Currently you don't need a license to work as a CART provider or a broadcast closed captionist, BUT you also need to be VERY fast and VERY accurate on your steno machine.  Speeds are up to 240 WPM and accuracy rate is at 98%.  If you can do that, then there should be no reason why you do not have your license.

To start off as a working reporter, most CR's upgrade their student steno machine writer (usually a manual or an older version), which can cost $5K and more, depending on which model you choose.  You can choose do buy your upgraded machine during school or after you graduate.  (NOTE: You can buy used manual and older version steno machine writers anywhere from $100 to $2K on Acculaw, eBay, or Craigslist).  You will also need to buy your upgraded CAT (computer-aided transcription) software, which translates your steno notes into English.  The going rate is $5K and the most used brands are Case Catalyst and Eclipse.

So wow...that's what I have to say about the CR career...at least all that I know of it to date. :) Oh, let me add another thing: I also DO KNOW that I ABSOLUTELY LOVE my soon-to-be profession.  I LOVE the prestige of having a skill that not many have (or know about!).  I LOVE the flexibility of the job if you want to work as a depo reporter, CART provider, or even broadcast closed captionist (the flexibility is great for parents!).  I LOVE the fact that working as an official reporter, I am playing a crucial role in the justice system.  I LOVE the fact that working as a CART provider or broadcast closed captionist, I am helping the deaf or hard-or-hearing community.  I LOVE the fact that the pay is more than awesome, dependent on how much I want to work.  Yes, CR's can and do make good money...but they also really do EARN that good money!  

It is NOT easy getting through CR school and graduating.  95% (or more!) of students who start the CR training...quit. :( But if you CHOOSE to not quit and CHOOSE to truly want this CR career...you CAN have it!  Job security is so there!!!  There is a SHORTAGE of CR's...and we will NOT be replaced by electronic recording devices anytime soon.  If anything, technology HELPS us court reporters since we can now work anywhere in the world and produce our work live via realtime.  Technology only helps our cause...if we continue to hold the bar of CR's and their skills to the high level it deserves.

Again, if you really want it, you CAN have it!  All the best to you!!! :)

Sincerely,
Christine

28 comments:

Aly said...

LOVED this letter that you wrote to her. I think you did it perfectly. :)

Steno Nerd (AKA Christine) said...

Thanks, Aly!

CONGRATS on passing your 180 Q&A! You're soooooooo close to the finishing line! :D

Julie said...

Wow, very well said. I chanced upon your blog through CSRNation. I was looking online for someone, in a totally unrelated field, whose namesake happens to be a court reporter in the US. Coincidentally, I am looking into starting court reporting school in Canada! :) What are the odds!?!

After reading some of your posts, I thought that perhaps I should email you and ask a few questions about court reporting... until I saw this open letter you wrote to a friend of a friend. Anyway, I'd like to thank you for being so thorough in explaining about the court reporting field. Clearly, you'll make a great court reporter someday soon! When do you finish, by the way?

I look forward to starting my own journey in September. I'm feeling very apprehensive and there are days when I think that perhaps I shouldn't do it at all. I have 2 young children and it's going to be extremely difficult having to juggle everything, but my husband is very supportive and thinks/knows that I can do it. It's funny how sometimes, other people have more confidence in you than you do in yourself.

Steno Nerd (AKA Christine) said...

Hi, Julie!

Thanks for stopping by! I'm exciting with you that you'll be starting CR school soon! You can DEFINITELY do it... especially with a great support system like your husband and others!

I finish sometime next year, GOD-willing! Almost done... YAY!:D

Mark Ritz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sheila olson said...

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Mike Flower said...

Thanks for sharing such an important and encouraging letter. We provide court reporting services in and around Mexico City

Mark Reitz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mark Reitz said...

Thanks Steno Nerd for this post. Know more about court repoters located in miami, Florida

celine sanderson said...

Hey, I thought this was such a well written article! I'm looking for ways to better prepare myself for a court reporting position. What are some things you'd recommend for someone aspiring to this detailed, and helpful work?
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Jayne Westman said...

Thank you for this letter. I found it while deciding whether or not to start court reporting school.
Well, I make the leap and started court reporting school online through courtreportingathome.com (CRAH) I am sure you have heard of it.
I actually started my own blog about my journey after reading yours and a few others. I just started (5/1/14)
Thanks again.
www.seejaynesteno.com
Jayne Westman

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this open letter. As a returning student it is so encouraging to read a real life story experience. I'm going to use this as reference when times get tough. When receive my license, I will share and give back just as you did. GREAT EXAMPLE
Thanks

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cmcmullins@yahoo.com said...

Jane, how are you progressing with the CRAH Program?

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Nicole Trifari said...

I am looking into schools to become a court reporter and I am having a hard time differentiating a scam and a legitimate school where I will be able to get a job afterwards. Should the school be accredited by the NCRA? I live in New Jersey and there are not many schools around for this particular career and none of them seem to be accredited by the NCRA. Does that make a difference for the down the road job search? If it does, I will have to travel to New York City, which I am willing to do considering I only live 20 minutes away but if it not necessary for a future job I will take the course at a more convenient location. Thank you!

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Unknown said...

Hi...my name happens to be Christine and I just came across this letter. I read it as if I were the actual Christine who wrote it. I started reporting school in June 2016. I'm halfway through theory II. So far, I LOVE it. It's challenging and I like a good challenge. Reading this letter just solidified my decision to pursue this career. I've been a medical transcriptionist since I was in high school...so more than 20 years now. The hospital I worked for transitioned to digital dictation and outsourced which left me jobless. I stayed at home with my youngest child until he stared school full time. I've back in the work force now for 2 years part time. I made very good money transcribing and I wanted to make more this time around. I am still skeptical about the demand for reporters. However, everything I read online says to me that I shouldn't worry about not being able to find a position as a reporter. As I am a few weeks away from moving into my speed classes, I was looking for information on speed building. Thank you for proving links and useful materials above. Now I have a better understand of what I should expect moving forward. Again, thank you for the inspiration. Christine E

Christine Evans said...

Hi Nicole...I also live in NJ and had a difficult time finding schooling as well. I am taking online courses through Bryan University. Please keep in mind, as Christine's letter above, it is fairly costly. I am a mother of 3 and need to work so taking online courses was the best choice for me. I am able to work at my own pace and am a whole month ahead of the class. I really do think that there may be other options for us New Jersians....I needed to get started ASAP because I am fearful of losing my current job given pay cuts and transition. Hopefully by now you've been able to find schooling that works for you. Best Regards, Christine E

Christine Evans said...

Hi Nicole...I also live in NJ and had a difficult time finding schooling as well. I am taking online courses through Bryan University. Please keep in mind, as Christine's letter above, it is fairly costly. I am a mother of 3 and need to work so taking online courses was the best choice for me. I am able to work at my own pace and am a whole month ahead of the class. I really do think that there may be other options for us New Jersians....I needed to get started ASAP because I am fearful of losing my current job given pay cuts and transition. Hopefully by now you've been able to find schooling that works for you. Best Regards, Christine E

Christine Evans said...

Hi...my name happens to be Christine and I just came across this letter. I read it as if I were the actual Christine who wrote it. I started reporting school in June 2016. I'm halfway through theory II. So far, I LOVE it. It's challenging and I like a good challenge. Reading this letter just solidified my decision to pursue this career. I've been a medical transcriptionist since I was in high school...so more than 20 years now. The hospital I worked for transitioned to digital dictation and outsourced which left me jobless. I stayed at home with my youngest child until he stared school full time. I've back in the work force now for 2 years part time. I made very good money transcribing and I wanted to make more this time around. I am still skeptical about the demand for reporters. However, everything I read online says to me that I shouldn't worry about not being able to find a position as a reporter. As I am a few weeks away from moving into my speed classes, I was looking for information on speed building. Thank you for proving links and useful materials above. Now I have a better understand of what I should expect moving forward. Again, thank you for the inspiration. Christine E

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