Reporting for Duty: Skills Court Reporters Need to Know
Court reporting is a job that involves a specialized skill set.
Like most positions, most of the task-based duties can (and will) be taught as part of the required education. However, certain personality-based traits are necessary for success. If those traits aren’t an inherent part of your personality, and you’re not interested in cultivating them, court reporting may not be the right fit for you.
Although at first glance the court reporter’s role may not seem all that important in the larger production of legal proceedings, their job is actually incredibly important to the process. They capture history in the making through the spoken word and create a record of an event that has significant importance to the people involved.
The most successful and sought-after court reporters work hard to develop or refine certain character traits and skills to perform consistently as a professional. People who are naturally inclined toward the following traits will have an easier transition, but anyone with passion and perseverance can adopt the following:
- Discretion: As a court reporter, you’re often privy to the most interesting, explicit, entertaining, devastating, and most important, confidential details of fascinating situations several times a day. As a social being, it’s hard not to turn your work gossip into cocktail party fodder, but as a professional, it’s imperative that you honor the confidentiality of your clients. Don’t forget that professionalism is more important than popularity.
- Objectivity: Although it may be human nature to assign blame and make character judgments, a good court reporter must be impartial and objective. Your duty is to report proceedings in a professional capacity and accurately detail what goes on. Becoming emotionally involved or distracted by a case will only do more harm than good.
- Composure: There’s a certain degree of mental fortitude required as a court reporter. You will be exposed to evidence, testimony, and media that is both graphic and disturbing and you have to be able to carry on with your job – and your life – with composure. To carry out the work with accuracy and diligence, you’ll have to leave your emotions outside of the courtroom and be capable of mentally stepping away from whatever you witnessed at work when you go home.
- Organized: You must be early and prepared for every single case, no excuses or exceptions. And five minutes early isn’t early enough – anything could happen to transform a five-minute head start into a fifteen-minute delay. Mornings must be planned to the minute, with every possible issue (from clothing choices to equipment failure to traffic) accounted for in order to be perfectly prepared as proceedings begin. Being a court reporter requires attention to detail, both on and off the clock.
- Diligence: As with any new skill, becoming a court reporter requires ongoing effort. You have to be the kind of professional who perseveres and consistently works towards the goal of self-improvement. Whether it’s practicing grammar, transcription, or the stenograph machine, there’s always room for personal and professional growth, and you should value any opportunity to do so.
By the book
The items listed above are mostly character traits, and you’ll be more of a natural fit for the job if you already embody those qualities, however, with willingness and a conscious effort, you can practice those values and still excel.
There are also task-based skills that can be mastered with education, training, and practice. A court reporter always needs to improve upon:
- Business etiquette: This is true for any line of work, but decorum is especially important in legal settings. Dress professionally, understand how to introduce yourself and others, and maintain professional conversation and composure.
- Language skills: As a court reporter, you must produce a written transcript, so your grammar, spelling, and punctuation skills are vital to your success. You have to be able to hear what someone is saying and quickly transcribe it with few typos and proper punctuation in order to be successful. Quick thinking, good listening, and a solid understanding of language is
- Customer service: As with any other industry, good customer service is key to getting repeat business and establishing trust. If you can anticipate the needs of your clients, arrive on time, and provide accurate transcripts, you’ll be well on your way to building good working relationships.
- Shorthand writing skills: Writing machine shorthand is a specialized skill that requires some degree of talent for learning it. Higher levels of certification are a great way to increase your skills, as they require more knowledge and the ability to write at higher speeds accurately.
Court reporting is rewarding work if you’re ready, willing, and able to foster the skills necessary to go beyond certification and into the courtroom. If you’re interested in learning more, read more about what prospective court reporters should know on the Boss Reporting blog.