If you've ever served as a juror or watched courtroom drama on television, chances are you've seen a court stenographer. Typically referred to as a court reporter, the stenographer makes a verbatim record of legal proceedings on a Stenograph machine and prepares necessary transcripts according to statutory guidelines. As "guardians of the record," court reporters are impartial players in the legal system and provide an essential service to judges, attorneys and litigants.

Research the profession. Court reporting can be a rewarding profession, but it's not for everyone. Contact your local courthouse or freelance reporting firm and make arrangements to shadow a working reporter. Get a feel for the duties. Court reporting is a demanding profession. Be sure you have the discipline, flexibility and commitment necessary to meet the rigorous demands of a reporting career.

Locate a school. Accredited court reporting programs can be found in every state. Many technical colleges offer a 2-year Associate's degree in court reporting. Contact the National Court Reporters Association (NCRA) for a listing of accredited programs. There are some online programs available. Be aware, some online programs offer steno classes only and may not be accredited. An accredited program offers an array of classes to prepare students for the working world.

Be a dedicated student. Reporting school is hard, and the attrition rate can be high. Students will learn to write a minimum of 225 words per minute to graduate, and speed building is full of ups and downs. When learning steno theory, set up a daily practice schedule and stick to it. If your instructor recommends 2 to 3 hours per day of practice outside of the classroom, do it. While steno writing will be your biggest challenge, don't give your other classes short shrift. You will need top-notch English skills and a thorough understanding of transcript preparation and the ethical and legal responsibilities of a stenographer.

Sign up for a mentor. When building writing speed, it is common for reporting students to get stuck at a speed. When this happens, graduation may sometimes seem like an impossible goal. To avoid getting discouraged, contact your state court reporting association and request a mentor in your area. A working reporter can give you practical tips, support you through any rough patches and be a valuable lead upon graduation.

Become certified. As you near and surpass your graduation requirements, sign up for the Registered Professional Reporter (RPR) examination. Exams are given twice a year at technical colleges across the country. The RPR exam consists of a 100-question written test and three speed legs at up to 225 words per minute. The legs may be passed separately, but the same fee will be required for each sitting. While certification is not required for graduation, many employers will only hire certified reporters.

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