Court Reporter Law & Legal Definition


Court reporters typically take verbatim reports of speeches, conversations, legal proceedings, meetings, and other events when written accounts of spoken words are necessary for correspondence, records, or legal proof. Although many court reporters record official proceedings in the courtroom, others work outside the courtroom. For example, they may take depositions for attorneys in offices and document proceedings of meetings, conventions, and other private activities. Still others capture the proceedings taking place in government agencies at all levels, from the U.S. Congress to State and local governing bodies. Court reporters, both stenotypists and voice writers, who specialize in captioning live television programming for people with hearing loss are commonly known as stenocaptioners. They work for television networks or cable stations, captioning news, emergency broadcasts, sporting events, and other programming.

There are two main methods of court reporting: stenotyping and voice writing. Using a stenotype machine, stenotypists document all statements made in official proceedings. The machine allows them to press multiple keys at a time to record combinations of letters representing sounds, words, or phrases. These symbols are then recorded on computer disks or CD-ROM, which are then translated and displayed as text in a process called computer-aided transcription. In all cases, accuracy is crucial because there is only one person creating an official transcript. In a judicial setting, for example, appeals often depend on the court reporter’s transcript. Stenotype machines used for realtime captioning are linked directly to the computer. As the reporter keys in the symbols, they instantly appear as text on the screen. This process, called communications access realtime translation (CART), is used in courts, in classrooms, at meetings, and for closed captioning for the hearing-impaired on television.

The other method of court reporting is called voice writing. Using the voice-writing method, a court reporter speaks directly into a stenomask—a hand-held mask containing a microphone with a voice silencer. As the reporter repeats the testimony into the recorder, the mask and silencer prevent the reporter from being heard during testimony. Voice writers record everything that is said by judges, witnesses, attorneys, and other parties to a proceeding, including gestures and emotional reactions. 

Some states require court reporters to be notary publics. Others require the certified court reporter (CCR) designation, for which a reporter must pass a State certification test administered by a board of examiners. The NCRA confers the entry-level designation “registered professional reporter” (RPR) upon those who pass a four-part examination and participate in mandatory continuing education programs. Although voluntary, the designation is recognized as a mark of distinction in the field. A reporter may obtain additional certifications that demonstrate higher levels of competency, such as “registered merit reporter” (RMR) or “registered diplomate reporter” (RDR). The RDR is the highest level of certification available to court reporters. In order to receive the designation, a court reporter must either have 5 consecutive years of experience as an RMR or be an RMR and hold a 4-year baccalaureate degree.