CART vs Captioning vs Freelance vs Court

In all facets, you will most likely have the expense of CEUs (100+), NCRA membership (250), software support (600), and updating equipment. In the beginning, you’ll have all the main expenses straight out of school (10K) and when you get into realtime, whether in captioning or freelance, you can expect to pay another 1K in freelance or 3K in captioning to get the necessary software/hardware to provide realtime. Certification attempts and maintenance costs are ongoing.

The pros for all is evident. You will not get any greater pay than you will in CR. As an excellent realtime writer, you can easily make 50-70 an hour in broadcast (and up to 100 without owning your own contracts). In freelance, as a realtime writer, you can make a thousand or more per job. As a court official, you can make 70K+ for just salary, and then hundreds here and there for transcripts. The money is definitely the motivating factor for most and the most obvious. Aside from that, the job in and of itself is challenging, especially realtime, so the challenge makes it fun. You get paid to learn and to keep abreast with technology, terminology, and news.

The other CR careers are teacher, firm owner (captioning and freelance), school owner, scopist/proofer, and international reporter, but I will cover these jobs from people in them in another post.

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CART

PROS:
Pays more than captioning per hour, generally
No realtime equipment/software necessary for just one student
No certification necessary
Audience of one half the time

CONS:
Not all of it is remote (wardrobe, gas, mileage expenses), battling bad weather
Material is extremely challenging – requires highest level of proficiency
Fingerspelling is a must

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CAPTIONING

PROS:
Work from home – log on 15 minutes before you start
No parking/gas/lunch/wardrobe/mileage/UPS expenses
Shortest hours
Interesting subject matter, unlike most freelance material
The people you write were taught how to speak – material flows
No certification necessary
You’re in charge of your schedule

CONS:
Low pay potential
Phone/cable/software support bills are a must
Need a designated room for an office more than in any other
Highest level of skill necessary, no do-overs
Commercial breaks aren’t really breaks like freelance/court breaks
Some sports (football and horse racing) are extremely stroke-intensive
Hours are spread out through the day, so you can often find yourself finishing the last show late (9 pm)
Fingerspelling is a must

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FREELANCE

PROS:
Biggest pay potential of all
Interaction with attorneys and witnesses, getting to dress up, see new locations
You’re in charge of your schedule

CONS:
Getting lost on the way to a job – the most frustrating part of starting freelance
Hours never end – always have to answer calls, edit, return emails
Lots of wear and tear on your most valuable asset besides your house – your car – or high rent in the city
Having to leave and arrive 30 minutes early which is something not required for court because you know where it will be every time – there are plenty of hours where you’re just waiting (through lunch and before depos)
Lots of walking and driving to locations, extremely inconvenient in winter/rain
No clear lunch breaks, lunch breaks can go two hours or can be non-existant
Some jobs stretch past 8 pm, and some jobs are dailies which will require you up all night after writing all day
Lots of expenses that come in – parking, gas, wardrobe, realtime equipment, scopists/proofers
Certification is a must in most states, and without realtime ability, good pay (100K) is unlikely
Late attorneys/witnesses are not uncommon, cancelled jobs or no-show witnesses also
Coordinating with proofers/scopists and having to find good/stable ones
Mailing out exhibits, filling out the stickers, and filling out all required paperwork (cover pages, job orders, exhibit sheets) is a job in and of itself
Tax time is the worst in freelance – keeping all your payments and write-offs straight
The least amount of writing on your machine when compared with captioning and court – though changes when you become realtime and hire a scopist
Feast or famine – though not really applicable for realtime writers or reporters near busy cities
Having to watch attorneys share your transcript instead of order, which is legal
Trying to remember various page formats or specific rules from different firms like what pages they require with each job, how they want everything delivered
The MOST likely to experience tech issues when providing realtime as you’re moving from location to location with different setups

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COURT

PROS:
Staff you know well
Always know where you’ll park, when you need to leave the house, where you should rent/buy
Attorneys show up on time and treat you with respect
Judge can interrupt them to slow down or take a break and just generally look out for you
Consistent paychecks, and usually pretty high compared to the average freelancer
Excellent benefits, retirement in 20 years
Your own office in the courthouse where you can leave your things, edit, and keep a mini fridge

CONS:
State cutbacks leave government jobs unstable and ER as a possibility out of desperation
9-5 job, and more if you’re on a big case and have lots of editing
Lots of competition – many people like the stability of court
Long hours writing – probably the most of any of these categories
Most positions now require a CRR – ongoing certification costs
Coordinating with proofers/scopists and having to find good/stable ones

8 thoughts on “CART vs Captioning vs Freelance vs Court

    • Thank you! Court reporting is a great career. Worth even five years of school, even though most make it out well before then.

  1. Hi! I’m thinking about going to MK Academy online. I attended a school 20 years ago (43 yrs old now) and passed my Q&A 200 tests, and also tested out of literary and jury charge. Long story short, I had 3 beautiful children and stayed home to raise them and homeschool them, and I didn’t pursue court reporting. I want to work from home for certain. I’m wondering how hard it is to obtain a job in captioning… I know you have to be great at realtime, so assuming I obtained that skill (probably really hard to do at my age now), am I grasping at straws to think I can get a good job at my age, right out of school, with no experience? What is the REAL hourly income doing this? Also, you said you do radio. Do you do live radio? What opportunities are there for that kind of work? I love to listen to news podcasts, as well as alternative health podcasts! Are there ways to make a good living transcribing those? Also, what are your thoughts on learning mark’s theory after having learned a different theory so many years ago. The one I learned was Stenograph’s Computer Compatible Theory…with lots more briefs and phrases thrown in. Thanks for your time! I know I’ve thrown a lot of questions at you. I’m just not sure what course of action to take and if my expectations are real!

    • Hey LD,
      It’s never too late to learn a new theory, add in briefs, or go back to school! Your prior experience will be a great advantage. Going on campus is better than online, but sometimes online is the only realistic option. I would try online first and see if it works for you. If you can hold yourself accountable and push yourself hard, it will work.

      It is easy to get a captioning job right out of school because captioning is the most short-staffed of all the arenas of court reporting. Then freelance. Getting a court job out of school, even certified nationally, is very rare, and getting one that pays well is near impossible without experience and certifications; however, there are high-speed students who already captioning (as captioning firms are desperate).

      To give you reference, I pointed a good friend of mine into various captioning companies straight out of school two years ago. He was just 20. Last year, he made over 90K, and all he does is CART and captioning.

      As for radio work, radio pays more than captioning, but less than CART. A lot of captioners do both CART and captioning, but with CART, you have to be okay with leaving the house sometimes (for a student or for a business meeting). There is very little opportunity in radio because the jobs are limited (only national channels require transcripts), but if you network at conventions and write very well, anything is possible, even working at the White House! Networking, quality writing, and showing professionalism online and in real life, those are the three biggest traits to get you anywhere you want to go.

  2. Does getting certification from NCRA for captioning and CART providing require all the academics testing too: legal, medical? Thanks

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