Job: Court reporter
Role: The role of a court reporter is to produce accurate written records of what is said and presented during legal proceedings, hearings, tribunals, political procedures, and so on.
Although the stenotype machine – a specialized shorthand typewriter that allows trained users to "type" at the speed of human speech – is losing ground to digital recording technologies, even the equipment that has come to replace it still requires the services of a court reporter.
"You're looking at about $7,000 worth of equipment that they need to maintain and make sure is in good working order at all times," said Kimberley Stewart, president of the Canadian Centre for Verbatim Studies and chief executive officer of ASAP Reporting Services, an agency with offices in Toronto and Ottawa .
Ms. Stewart said it is the court reporter's responsibility to familiarize himself or herself with the case before the proceedings begin, and arrive half an hour early to ensure that all recording devices and microphones are functional and capable of keeping accurate records.
While some court reporters are still employed to keep accurate records of court proceedings as they happen – typically referred to as real-time court reporters – others are hired to make notes and citations to supplement digital recordings, including accurate spelling of names, case numbers, charges and case law. Court reporters can also provide the closed captions on live broadcasts and recorded shows.
Salary: The salary of a court reporter will vary, based on geography and employer. Ms. Stewart says that a skilled court reporter can earn a starting salary of $40,000 in the first year, while seasoned court reporters can earn more than $60,000.
"Our top five reporters make well over [$100,000 a year], she said, adding that court reporters typically work sporadic and inconsistent hours, earning about $20 to $25 an hour in addition to a transcript fee. "That's where the real money is made. It's in the transcript fees, not the hourly rate."
Ms. Stewart explained that court reporters are typically paid $1.50 per party per page for live transcription, and an additional minimum of $3.50 a page to produce a full transcript, though the total fee could reach as high as $15 per page for expedited service. For instance, the live transcription of a 100-page document that is later distributed to lawyers on both sides of a court case would earn a court reporter a minimum of $650.
Education: There are only two schools in Canada that are registered with the National Court Reporters Association; the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, which offers a two-year diploma in captioning and court reporting, and the Canadian Centre for Verbatim Studies in Toronto. CCVS offers a court reporting diploma, which requires students to type 160 words per minute, as well as a real-time court reporting diploma, which requires graduates to type 225 words a minute.
"A real-time reporter needs to type at a minimum of 225 words per minute," Ms. Stewart said. "They're not typing on a QWERTY keyboard; they're using a specialized machine that is based on phonetics called a steno machine, and it's got 21 keys on it. … It's like learning a new language."
Job prospects: There is currently a shortage of court reporters in Canada, and the gap is only expected to grow. According to Ms. Stewart, the average age of court reporters in Canada is about 55, and there aren't nearly enough young court reporters being trained in Canada today to replace retirees.
"There's definitely a need, because crime hasn't decreased, court cases are always going on, our society has become more litigious – that's not going to change," said Gloria Scheerer, the president of Clearly Spoken Inc., a Kitchener-based reporting and transcription services company, adding that she is currently struggling to fill a number of job openings.
Challenges: Both Ms. Scheerer and Ms. Stewart point to the hours as the greatest challenge for court reporters. That is because legal proceedings are often unpredictable, and court reporters are sometimes asked to produce transcripts on short notice, requiring them to work evenings and weekends.
"One of the challenges of court reporting is that you can go in on a Monday morning being told that they want the transcript in 10 days, and at the end of the day the lawyer says to you, 'Oh, by the way, I need that tomorrow,'" Ms. Scheerer said. "These legal proceedings deal with deadlines, and they're deadlines that can't be moved."
Why they do it: Court reporters enjoy working in a fascinating environment that provides the opportunity to meet all different kinds of people and explore a wide variety of legal situations.
"As a court reporter, in a five-day period, you could do five different jobs," said Ms. Stewart, adding that they could move from an immigration case at the Federal Court of Canada one day to a cross examination involving a corporate takeover the next to a medical disciplinary hearing the day after that.
Ms. Stewart adds that there are also travel opportunities for court reporters, as foreign cases involving Canadians often require the services of Canadian court reporters.
"We had someone in Berlin last week, and we've sent people as far away as Japan," she said. "If it's a Canadian case, they want a Canadian reporter there. I've travelled to over 30 countries myself for court reporting, so you can take that job anywhere in the world."
Misconceptions: Ms. Scheerer says most people assume that all court reporters work on steno machines and produce real-time court reporting, which is not the case. Many court reporters are in charge of managing and maintaining digital voice recording equipment and software while providing annotations and supplementary information that can be transcribed later.
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