Court reporting is a stable profession that allows qualified members to earn a good wage. But with so many variables influencing the pay scale, it can be difficult for court reporters to determine if they’re being paid what they’re worth.
According to the Bureau of Labor statistics, in 2012, the median salary for a court reporter was $48,160. At the same time, the bottom 10 percent of earners were making $24,790 or less and the top 10 percent of earners were making $90,530 or more.
This is a massive difference.
So what places you on this broad spectrum and how can you get to the top?
Type of Employment
If you stick to working in the legal profession, there are two primary types of employment: official court reporter and freelance court reporter (you can also work in captioning, but that is beyond the scope of this article).
Official Court Reporters
Official court reporters work in the same place day to day and are generally provided with the tools and software needed to do their work. They are paid on salary, but are also paid a page rate for the transcripts they produce (both salary and transcript fees are set for you by your employer).
The highest paid official positions are in the federal court. You can expect to make from $64,278 up to $73,920, depending on your experience.
Freelance Court Reporters
Freelance court reporters can set their own fees and hours, and they tend to work in different physical spaces day to day depending on the jobs they book.
While freelancers set their own rates, they usually work within a standard. For example, deposition appearance fees for jobs under four hours generally range from $50 to $75. For a full day, the fee is usually $100 to $150. And for other proceedings like arbitrations, court hearings, board meetings, etc., you can charge much more.
Freelance court reporters also need to consider the costs of running their own business. While official court reporters have everything provided, freelancers need to purchase all of the software and equipment they need to work. The startup cost is about $7000, but will vary greatly depending if you buy new, what brands you buy, etc.
Additionally, freelancers need to consider costs like self-employment tax, insurance, transportation, other office supplies, not getting compensated for time off, etc. However, the ability to control your fees and hours means you can still earn a good living as a freelance court reporter if you put in the work.
Where you live will have a big impact on your earning potential as a court reporter. Relocation isn’t always possible, but if you’re in a position where you can move to create the career you want, there are a few things to keep in mind.
The first thing to consider is which states have the highest wages in your field. A 2011 study from the Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests that Oregon offers the highest wages for court reporters, with an average of $85,670. New York, Maine, and Colorado are also high on this list.
The second consideration is the actual demand for court reporters in the region. There’s no point moving for high court reporter wages if the market is already flooded in the region. States with dense populations like California, Florida, and New York usually have consistently high demand.
The third consideration is the cost of living in the region you want to live. If a state or town has a particularly low cost of living, making $50,000 there could create a better quality of life than earning $60,000 somewhere else. For example, the cheapest city to live in in 2018 is McAllen, Texas, which is 23.9% below the US average cost of living.
Skills, Certifications, and Experience
What you bring to the table will have a large impact on your earning potential. Unfortunately, gaining experience will just take time, but there are other things you can do to show off your skills in the meantime.
Taking certification tests like Certified Shorthand Reporter (CSR), Registered Professional Reporter (RPR), and Certified Realtime Reporter (CRR) will show your dedication and prove a certain level of proficiency.
Court reporters own the work they produce, and every party who wishes to use that work must pay for each page they wish to access. The average ‘per page’ price for a transcript is $2.50 to $6.50, but it can be much higher for the top court reporters in the profession.
These fees add up quickly. As one Canadian court reporter noted in an interview with the Globe and Mail, “That’s where the real money is made. It’s in the transcript fees, not the hourly rate. She also stated that the top 5 court reporters in her agency make well over $100,000.
No matter where you stand on the pay scale today, there are ways to move yourself to the top. Be dedicated, learn everything you can, and make strategic decisions that prove your worth as a court reporter. Good luck!
Now we want to hear from you! Are you working on ways to improve your earning potential as a court reporter?
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