It takes two years or more of court reporter training to qualify to take the California license exam. Court reporter training consists of machine shorthand theory, speed building, legal and medical terminology, English punctuation and grammar, computer skills, professional procedures, plus a period of internship.
The Court Reporters Board under the California Department of Consumer Affairs regulates and licenses court reporters. Qualified applicants are given a two-day test, which is part written knowledge and part machine writing performance. The performance portion is dictated by four live speakers at 200 words per minute for 15 minutes. Applicants must successfully transcribe this dictation with a minimum of 97.5% accuracy. Those who pass the exam are then licensed as Certified Shorthand Reporters or CSRs.
The official court reporter is responsible for writing everything that is said in court. This is called verbatim reporting.
When the court reporter cannot hear or understand what is said, he or she is required to interrupt so the verbatim record may be preserved. Spellings of unusual names or words are collected to prepare a transcript. When a read-back of proceedings is requested, the court reporter must search through his or her notes and read the appropriate excerpts. When a paper transcription of the proceedings is ordered, the reporter will edit and certify a computerized printout.
The final transcript takes about as long to make as the original proceedings in court took. The cost of producing a transcript is borne by the party or parties ordering it. The reporter’s original notes are stored either on a master computer server or on paper for five years or longer.
The original version of the verbatim record is called the court reporter’s stenotype “notes.” These notes are written using one of several machine shorthand systems, which each reporter has customized to suit his or her personal writing and listening style. The reporter builds an electronic list of each stenotype outline used and its English equivalent, which is called the reporter’s “dictionary.” Special court reporting software uses this dictionary to translate the steno outlines to English words.
The reporter writes his or her notes on a computerized machine “writer.” This writer can produce an instant translation of the proceedings (just like closed-captioning on TV) by passing the notes through the reporter’s dictionary and sending it to a computer. This is called real-time reporting. Real-time is used for reference by judges, attorneys, parties to an action, witnesses, and especially hearing-impaired persons.