The life and times of a court reporter

By Deanna Cabinian

Angela Herrell loves her job as a court reporter. She spends most of her day in a courtroom typing away on a steno machine.

“I like it because I have always had an interest in the law, but never wanted to be an attorney. This way, I can listen to everything and still be involved, but in a different way,” Herrell said.

Herrell is an official court reporter at the DeKalb County Courthouse.

The duties of an official court reporter are to record and transcribe court proceedings into written form.

“You basically type every word as it is being said in court verbatim in a form of shorthand called steno,” Herrell said.

Since DeKalb is a small county, it only employs two court reporters. Herrell works in felony court. There also are traffic, civil and family courts, which the other court reporter oversees for the most part, although Herrell transcribes tapes from these courtrooms as well.

There are three other areas of court reporting besides official court reporting. These areas include freelance court reporting, Communications Access Realtime Reporting (CART) and closed captioning.

CART reporting is where a court reporter assists those who are deaf and hard of hearing. Herrell did this for students at the University of Iowa.

“I would sit in a classroom with them and they would sit next to me as I wrote down what the teacher and students were saying,” she said. “And it would translate into English in real time on my laptop screen so the students could read every word being said.”

The last type of court reporting is closed captioning. Because they type so quickly, court reporters are usually behind the closed captioning on television.

But getting into the field requires more than just quick fingers.

To become a court reporter one has to enroll in a court-reporting program. It is a two or four-year program, depending on the school.

Herrell graduated from Quest College in Iowa with an Associate of Applied Science degree in Court Reporting. To graduate, she had to pass many speed tests.

To work as a court reporter in Illinois, one also must pass the Certified Shorthand Reporter test (CSR), which consists of a speed test and a written test on punctuation, word usage, spelling, grammar and questions pertaining to the field of court reporting.

Herrell said she became a court reporter because of the money.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Web site, the median annual earnings of court reporters in 2000 was $39,660. Members of the National Court Reporters Association, which Herrell is a member of, average more than $60,000 a year.