Court Reporting’s Alphabet Soup: What Do Those Letters Mean?

As an attorney, paralegal, or legal assistant seeking the services of a court reporting professional, have you ever wondered what all those letters following a court reporter’s name mean? They’re professional certifications, the “alphabet soup of court reporting,” and they hold the key to finding the right court reporter for your next deposition, hearing, or meeting.

Millions of corporate dollars and often the very lives of litigants turn on the outcome of legal disputes. With so much at stake, the importance of selecting a court reporter with the skill to accurately capture and preserve the record of legal proceedings cannot be overstated.

Will you require a traditional stenographer or will a voice writer meet your requirements? Does your litigation strategy demand a real-time stream of proceedings as they occur? Will expedited delivery of the final transcript from an all-day deposition be needed? If you know what you need, the lexicon of court reporter certifications can make you an informed buyer of court reporting services.

The need to have a working knowledge of certifications is even more important for lawyers working in states that do not license court reporters or mandate certifications. There, the lawyer’s knowledge and good judgment alone will dictate whether a court reporter is up to the task.

Methods of Preserving the Record 

There are three methods of capturing the spoken word: stenography, voice writing, and digital recording. Stenographic court reporters are most prevalent, followed by voice writers and digital reporters.

The stenographic reporter uses the steno machine with which attorneys are most familiar. The steno machine has evolved into a high-powered computer that, when paired with a skilled steno reporter, has the capability to deliver text instantaneously with a high degree of accuracy. The steno reporter uses highly customized CAT (computer-aided transcription) software to format, edit, and deliver the final transcript. 

Voice writers use their voice to create a text file by respeaking a live event into a microphone or an enclosed speech silencing mask that then uses a commercial speech recognition engine to process their analog speech to create formatted text output either as the event occurs or at a later time. Some voice writers also engage CAT software to increase efficiency. 

Stenographic reporters and voice writers are each capable of providing “real-time reporting,” though this level of service requires additional training and experience. Whereas the standard delivery time for a transcript is eight to ten business days, a skilled real-time reporter can produce an instantaneous voice-to-text transcript to participants in the same room or by a secure Internet connection.

A digital reporter uses a customized computer to capture an audio recording that is later transcribed. The advancements in digital audio, speech recognition, and artificial intelligence technology along with speech diarization have improved this method of capture. However, stenographic and voice reporters are best prepared to yield the highest level of accuracy in speech-to-text delivery. 

Stenographic, voice, and digital reporters all have national certifying bodies. Some states also maintain licensure and certification boards. As mentioned above, not all states regulate the court reporting industry. If you are scheduling proceedings in locations outside of your ordinary area of practice, be sure to inquire about the local certifications needed and methods used — and engage accordingly. 

No matter the method, the level of certification and professionalism is critically important. All court reporters should be skilled and confident in management of the proceedings when marking exhibits, controlling the tempo of speech, clarifying unique terms, and utilizing technology.

Certifying Bodies

There are three primary certifying bodies within the court reporting profession: 

  • National Court Reporters Association (NCRA) offers nationally recognized professional certifications for stenographic reporters and legal videographers. There are multiple levels of certification based on speed and skills, accuracy, length of time in the profession, and a written knowledge exam.
  • National Verbatim Reporters Association (NVRA) primarily certifies voice writers but also offers stenographic certification. NVRA has multiple certification levels with both practical and written knowledge testing required for each level.
  • American Association of Electronic Recorders and Transcribers (AAERT) certifies digital court reporters. A written exam is required to gain certification. There is no skills component to AAERT’s certification process. 

Of great importance with all certifications is the requirement for Continuing Education Units (CEUs). Staying up-to-date on applicable technology advancements, changes to legal policies and procedures, and current events keeps everyone on the cutting edge. Continually seeking self-improvement lends to the quality of the deliverable. The rapid shift from in-person to remote depositions during the pandemic is a perfect example of why continuing education is critical. 

New to the certifying body landscape is the Speech to Text Institute (STTI), whose mission is to set standards of competence, professionalism, and service. However, they do not currently provide certification of any method of capture. 

What Do Those Letters Mean?

NCRA’s stenographic certifications include (entry-level to highest order):

  • Registered Skilled Reporter (RSR) 
  • Registered Professional Reporter (RPR) 
  • Registered Merit Reporter (RMR) 
  • Registered Diplomate Reporter (RDR)

The entry-level RSR requires the slowest Q&A dictation speed at 200 words per minute. The dictation speed and written knowledge content increase in difficulty through the certification progression. The RDR is the highest level of certification available to stenographic court reporters and requires passing a Q&A dictation speed of 260 words per minute at the RMR level as well as a difficult written exam covering a broad scope of legal topics. The RDR designation also has a years-of-experience component. The RDR distinguishes high-level, seasoned reporters as members of the profession’s elite. 

NVRA’s voice writer certifications include: 

  • Certified Verbatim Reporter (CVR) 
  • Certificate of Merit (CM) 
  • Military Verbatim Reporter (MVR)

The complexity of the written knowledge test and the speed at which skills tests are dictated increases with each successive level of certification. Skills tests for both NCRA and NVRA certifications are administered at speeds ranging from 200 to 260 words per minute for five minutes of dictation at 95% to 96% accuracy, including all speaker designations, punctuation, and procedural events that take place during the proceeding. 

A Certified Shorthand Reporter (CSR) is a designation granted by multiple states across the country. The testing speeds and written exam requirements vary.

AAERT offers certification as a CER (Certified Electronic Reporter) or a CET (Certified Electronic Transcriber) based on a written exam only. 

Interactive Local and Remote Realtime Delivery 

If you’re seeking a stenographic reporter who is highly skilled at providing an instantaneous delivery of the spoken word to text, you will want to seek a Certified Realtime Reporter (CRR). 

A voice writer with similar skills has achieved one of the following certifications: Realtime Verbatim Reporter (RVR) or Realtime Verbatim Reporter – Master (RVR-M). 

Accessibility – CART (Communication Access Realtime Translation)

Accessibility to justice requires accommodations for people with hearing loss. A Certified Realtime Captioner (CRC) should be engaged for this service if you’re using a stenographic reporter. Registered CART Provider – Master (RCP-M) is the designation for a voice reporter. 


A Certified Legal Video Specialist (CLVS), administered by the National Court Reporters Association, holds a high level of skill and understanding of all aspects of video deposition recording, court proceedings, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and deposition best practices.

Certification vs. State Licensure

Certification is different from licensure. Just what you need, more confusion! The allowed methods and required certifications for making the record are included in each state’s statutes. Information regarding state requirements can be found on the website.

A Certified Shorthand Reporter (CSR) is a certification required to work in some locales. While some states only require certification via one of the national organizations, other states have their own certification/licensure program. A separate examination board administers both the skills and written knowledge exams required to allow reporters to work within their respective states.  Some states implement a blended system where reciprocity is granted and the reporter is issued a license to work upon proof of holding a national certification and completion of a state-specific written exam. 

To further confuse matters, some states require certification to work as an official in court while not regulating or requiring certification for the freelance market. The single requirement in such states is the need to be a notary public to administer the oath to the deponent. In states where certification is an option, questions relating to certifications held by the provider are critical to ensuring a quality record. 

Esquire requires all reporters, whether stenographic, voice, or digital, to adhere to state and federal requirements. 

Addressing the Court Reporter Shortage

There is a shortage of stenographic court reporters in the United States. There have been concerted efforts to attract and train new stenographic reporters. However, with the high level of skill and education required, combined with the rate at which stenographic reporters are retiring, this is an uphill battle. Some court reporting agencies who are striving to ensure their client’s record is given the requisite diligence have started to hire and train individuals to become certified as digital reporters.

Regardless of the method, professional certification reflects a deep commitment to acquiring and maintaining a unique skill, which ultimately leads to the highest quality of service and product to clients. Professionalism in a legal setting and attention to the detailed requirements in a legal proceeding work together to protect the integrity of the record in order to provide an unimpeachable transcript to clients. Commitment to obtaining, maintaining, and continually improving knowledge and skill levels are essential to quality. All of Esquire’s court reporters, whether stenographer, voice reporter, or digital reporter perform exactly the same duties and certify the accuracy of the testimony capture. The sanctity of the record is paramount, and it is Esquire’s desire to ensure equal access to justice for all. Esquire strives to meet its clients’ needs by assigning a court reporter who possesses the skills, knowledge, and certification required to meet and exceed client expectations.  To learn more about how you can impact the quality of the record, review this blog about Making the Record.