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A Court Reporter vs. a Stenographer

A Court Reporter vs. a Stenographer on

What’s the difference and what are their roles?

One role that is often overlooked in a hearing or trial is the court reporter or stenographer (sometimes called a transcriptionist). Perhaps you’ve watched a trial on TV or been in a courtroom and seen someone “typing” on a small machine off in the corner. Maybe you’ve even noticed the person in a fictional television show. So, what exactly does a court reporter or stenographer do? Are the two jobs the same and is one preferred over the other?

We’d like to clear up some of the confusion and explain the essential role they both play in our legal system.

A court reporter and stenographer defined

According to, “The terms court reporter and stenographer are often used interchangeably, although there are actually several differences between the two. In general, both occupations provide verbatim transcription services to transform spoken dialog into written legal documents.”

In other words, both people must transcribe – word-for-word – any discussion that happens in court, during a meeting, or deposition. The transcript becomes the legal record so it must be recorded accurately and completely. Once a transcript is finished, it is given to the court and will become public record. Often, the transcription takes place in real time, with the court reporter or stenographer sitting in the room. However, sometimes the proceedings are recorded and written out later. Most transcriptions are created using a stenotype machine that has shorthand codes, which are used to create a complete document. Another option is to use a stenomask, which allows the person to speak into a microphone and record what is being said.

The difference between a court reporter and a stenographer

The biggest difference between the two jobs is the amount of schooling needed. A court reporter requires 2-4 years of formal schooling. They must also pass an official exam and become licensed or certified, depending on the state. By contrast, becoming a stenographer only requires about 6 months of training.

The extra education and license for court reporters means they are able to perform other duties beyond transcription in court. They might offer closed-caption services for hearing-impaired individuals, notary services, or perform other administrative tasks. Some court reporters will often do legal research, assist attorneys or judges, and administer oaths to witnesses in court. There are even employment opportunities outside of a courtroom, including freelance work on a case-by-case basis, working for a law firm or television network.

Reasons to choose one over the other

So now that you understand the difference, the question is…which one do you need for a particular job? According to Transcription Experts, “If an audio or video recording needs to be transcribed into a text document, use a qualified court transcriptionist. A court reporter is used if someone needs to be present at a deposition, hearing, arbitration, trial, or other legal proceeding to record live and read back if necessary.”

Cost might also be a factor. A stenographer (or transcriptionist) is generally less expensive, charging by the minute only. Court reporting often comes with more fees, including appearance fees and per page fees.

Still unsure if you need a court reporter or stenographer? Perhaps we can help. At Boss Certified Realtime Reporting, we’ve been providing nationwide court reporting services for trials, depositions, mediations and more since 1995. If you’d like help or more information, you can call us at 954-467-6867 or complete our contact form to let us know how we can assist.