Being a New Court Reporter

I congratulate everyone who passes their state licensing and/or national court reporting tests.  I know it takes dedication, desire, and discipline.  I have been hearing lately on the down-low that some court reporting students are feeling discouraged because they hear on the outside it is tough to get on staff at a firm or even sometimes tough to get paid in what would seem to be a timely manner.

I will be honest.  Times are tough in many geographical areas around the country.  It is tough for law firms as well as court reporting firms.  Some law firms are very busy, but they are taking fewer depositions or settling before taking depositions.  I have read articles in that many clients of attorneys are choosing to go to court rather than using the arbitration process because it is so much more costly paying for an arbitration than going to court.  If there are fewer arbitrations, fewer reporters are needed to report them.

Attorneys’ clients want to save money.  They don’t have the cash flow they did in the past to fund litigation.  Word on the street is things are starting to shift, and money is becoming more available.  Cases are being filed again. 

So what does this mean for brand new court reporters who just got licensure?  I believe the old adage is still true, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”  I have written before in past blogs about being better than ever and having a great attitude.  In these modern times attitude is more important than ever, but so is being fiscally smart. 

When court reporters get out of school, many times they are not ready to be a businessperson.  Court reporters are typically independent contractors in most regions of the USA and are responsible for their taxes, for buying all of their equipment and software (about a $8,500 cost), and for knowing what they are going to make when they are out in the field.  I am constantly surprised to hear court reporters don’t know what they are making on any given day.  They don’t know the page rate they will be paid or the per diem.  They don’t know when and if they are going to get paid.  I believe the new reporters are taken advantage of more so than seasoned reporters, but I also know of court reporters who have been around for a decade or two, and they still have no clue what they are making.  The firms they work with have so many contracts and “deals” with the law firms, the court reporter in the field doesn’t know what to expect.   

In instances that the court reporters don’t know what they are being paid I fault the firms to some degree, but I also judge the court reporter.  I know it is great just to go out and report a deposition, but to then wonder two months later when to expect to be paid is sad.  I had a young reporter a couple of months ago stop by my office to chat and asked me, “When should I expect to be paid?  If I did a deposition in September, and now it is January.  Should I be paid by now?”  I am talking about the 0&1, not even a copy order.  I suggested that the young court reporter call the agency and ask.  Some people find it awkward to talk about money.  I used to be that way many years ago, and have since learned there needs to be a pleasant, matter-of-fact conversation.  Any worker wants to know how much they will be paid and when to expect payment.  Do it via email or fax – but ask the questions and get the answers.

Things are getting busier.  The young court reporter that hustles for work, dresses appropriately, has a dependable car, machine, and up-to-date CAT software, and is always available will get work.  You have to do a good job.  Like many things in life, you can’t sit back and wait for opportunity.  It takes action and energy to succeed.  You will have to “pay your dues” and probably do some crummy jobs at first.  That is the way it is in any profession.

There is court reporting work available for new reporters.  You might have to hunt it down at first.  When you are on the hunt, be a businessperson as well as a court reporter.  You will succeed.


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