Become a Court Reporter

Jacque Perli is a freelance court reporter in Rapid City, SD. In this interview with JobMonkey, she describes her background, training, and how her job relates to the paralegal profession.

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Please describe your educational background.

My background consists of advanced English classes in high school and college, a love of reading, three years of college and two-and-a-half years of court reporting school. I graduated fairly quickly from court reporting school. My school was not set up on semesters, it was set up in units – you passed the unit once you completed nine tests at a certain speed with a certain accuracy. Other classes required in the court reporting curriculum included English, grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, medical and legal terminology, legal theory, transcription and of course speed building and theory.

Why did you decide to become a court reporter?

I was attending Arizona State University and working as an office administrator of a small engineering firm. The business next door was a janitorial firm. The owners were not very good in the clerical field and asked if I would do some typing and letter writing and bookwork for them on the side. They would dictate letters to me and I would take them down in Gregg shorthand and then type the correspondence. They couldn’t believe how fast I could type or take dictation – and I had a good grasp of the English language.

There was a court reporting school in Phoenix and they said I should be a court reporter. I had never heard of a court reporter before – EVER. Well, I went to the school and took an aptitude test and scored
high in all the categories, so I decided to enroll. At that time ASU’s business college (in the 1980s) was
extremely master’s level oriented and I had become disenchanted with going to school for another five years and still not being assured of the type of job I wanted. So, I thought, “we’ll give court reporting school a whirl.” I got through in a short time – passed the Superior Court test and went right to work in the freelance field – which covers proceedings of all types – Public Utilities Commission (PUC) hearings, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) hearings, public hearings, traffic court, and depositions.

Does a court reporter have much contact with paralegals?

In the offices that use paralegals as paralegals (and not as glorified secretaries!), the scheduling of depositions is usually handled by the legal secretaries, so most of my contact is with them. However, in some offices the paralegals handle the whole realm. My contact with paralegals comes in the product – do they want e-files, pdf files, scanned exhibits, hard copy exhibits, excerpts, expedited, etc.

What does a court reporter do? Is it difficult to learn?

A court reporter makes a verbatim record of proceedings. Not only does the reporter write what is said, but the reporter is also punctuating, paragraphing, making record of who leaves and enters the room, marks exhibits, makes parentheticals of discussions held off the record, breaks taken, and also writes speaker IDs. We do not editorialize – just try to memorialize.

The profession has grown with the technology available, and has been proven over and over to be the most efficient, accurate, and cost-effective method of providing a record of proceedings. If a person loves to learn, loves to read, loves language and has some finger dexterity, court reporting might be a good choice of occupation. But if you have to take time to look up the difference of sole/soul, too/to/two – this might not be a good profession for you – you’ll spend a lot of time researching instead of getting transcripts done! Because we write phonetically, we can capture any subject matter, even if we’re not familiar with it. Then, when we complete the transcript, there’s research involved to be sure we have the correct word for the context and is it spelled correctly?  mucus or mucous?

A freelance court reporter has a varied schedule – every day is different, in a different location, with different people, at a different time. You really never know how long the proceeding will be, if you will have lunch, if they will need it right away, what the subject matter will be. You may report a proceeding on engineering one day, the next day will be medical, the next day family law, the next day construction, and the next day contract law.

Do you put in long hours?


What is your favorite aspect of your job, and why? What about your least favorite?

I love the variety in this job. I have been reporting for 22 years and it seems like five. My least favorite is the variety in this job – to be more precise, the lack of consistency. The workload is not a steady 40 hours a week, some proceedings require an expedited transcript, which means you may get done at 5 p.m. and then stay up all night to get the transcript done and to the parties the next morning. Sometimes you
will show up to a proceeding that has been canceled and they’ve forgotten to let you know – and you’ve set
the whole day aside. Sometimes the witness doesn’t show up, sometimes the case is settled as you sit and
wait for a couple hours. Sometimes a proceeding that “should be done by noon” goes until 8:00 at night.
Sometimes you’ll have two weeks of depositions scheduled in a case and at the last minute they reschedule the entire two weeks for another month. My motto is:  flexibility equals sanity.

Do court reporters and paralegals have anything in common, as far as job responsibilities or educational requirements?

I think both professions require a high degree of self-motivation, an almost anal-retentiveness for details
and for doing the job right and accurately. Of course both are support staff – our jobs are to produce tools
for counsel to use to complete work for their clients. If I can give the paralegal something that helps her in her job, I want to do that. If the paralegal can help me out with perhaps odd names or difficult spellings, or let me know ahead of time this is an expedite transcript, I appreciate that as well.

Do court reporters have to be licensed or certified?

South Dakota does not require a state licensure or certification. Some states do. The court system requires proof of graduation from an accredited college for any of the officialships.

Is it easy to find employment as a court reporter?

Right now, yes. There is a tremendous shortage of qualified reporters nationwide. The dropout rate in court reporting schools is about 50 percent

What made you decide to start your own court reporting business?

I have been in the freelance field for 22 years. I’ve been on my own, done overflow for other firms on a
contract basis, and been an employee. The nature of the business in the Rapid City area is really to be
a subcontractor – so I went off on my own.

Is the demand for court reporters increasing?

I don’t have any hard facts on this, but my gut reaction is yes, considering the calls I get. It seems as if those who use any type of electronic recording equipment in lieu of a reporter are very dissatisfied with the quality and the end cost of their product. So I think there will always be a demand for the quality of work a reporter can produce.

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