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Everything you need to know to get a job in the law, Part 2: The court system

Welcome to Part 2 of our series, “Everything you need to know to get a job in the law.”

In this article, we’ll be discussing a few of the key positions that keep a courthouse running smoothly. Specifically, we’ll be discussing mediators, court reporters, and court clerks.

An interesting aspect of two of these jobs – mediator and court reporter – is that they can actually be done outside the court system as well.

Mediators who work in courtroom settings are often part of non-profit organizations that provide services to litigants at a very low cost, while private mediators can charge thousands of dollars per day.

Court reporters, while a critical part of any court proceeding, can also provide private services for depositions or quasi-judicial hearings.

As noted, however, this article focuses on these jobs as they function within the court system.

That said, the court system itself is rather diverse. In the U.S., we have both state and federal courts operating within each state. Each of those court systems has both civil and criminal divisions.

State courts are also likely to have several offshoots such as family court, juvenile court, probate court, traffic court, and small claims court. Federal offshoots include tax court, maritime court, and espionage court.

As a result of all this, there are plenty of jobs to be had in a courtroom setting. Let’s dive in.


Mediators actually have a pretty cool job description. They help people resolve disputes in a more casual setting than the courtroom.

Ultimately, their job is to help people negotiate an acceptable resolution so they can avoid the time and expense of prolonged litigation.

Generally speaking, mediators do this by listening to each side’s version of the dispute, speaking with each party separately to discuss the merits and downfalls of their respective positions, and then bringing the parties back together to negotiate a settlement.

What skills do you need to be a mediator?

Almost without exception, mediators negotiate disputes between parties that are highly upset with one another. Thus, the ability to remain calm and encourage others to remain calm is a critical skill for this job.

Additionally, mediators need these above-average interpersonal skills:

  • The ability to listen to and remain empathetic to diverse points of view
  • The ability to lead groups of people through chaotic circumstances
  • The ability to persuade highly-emotional people using logic
  • A problem-solving mindset

If you’re looking at this career, consider whether you have the right temperament to deal with emotionally-charged situations every day. It’s not the right work environment for everyone.

How much schooling do you need to be a mediator?

Interestingly, the schooling one needs to act as a mediator varies wildly from state to state.

In Alaska, for example, literally anyone can act as a mediator regardless of education or training.

Contrast that with the requirements in the state of Indiana, where a civil mediator must be an attorney in good standing with the state and must have completed an additional 40 hours of mediation-specific training.

If you’re interested in becoming a mediator, the best thing to do is to look up the requirements for the state where you intend to practice. Keep in mind that if you move, the requirements in your new home state may be different.

How much do mediators make?

Perhaps due to the vastly different requirements for becoming a mediator in each state, salaries for mediators also vary from state to state. Currently, salaries range from around $60,000 per year to $100,000 per year.

Interestingly, the highest-paying state is Washington, which only requires 15 hours of training every three years in order to hold the job.

Court reporters

Court reporters (aka stenographers or recorders) are responsible for creating verbatim written records of court proceedings such as hearings or trials.

These records are incredibly important to the judicial process as they are often used by appellate courts in determining whether anything improper occurred during a trial.

Court records kept by a stenographer can also be used to impeach a witness’s testimony in a later trial; i.e., to prove that the witness said something in an earlier court proceeding that conflicts with their current testimony. That’s why it’s vital for court reporters to keep absolutely accurate records.

What skills do you need to be a court reporter?

Given that court reporters are responsible for accurately recording every single word that is spoken in a court proceeding, the ability to focus for prolonged periods of time is probably the most important skill for this professional.

Other necessary skills include language proficiency, organizational skills, time management skills, and enough assertiveness to be comfortable interrupting the proceedings if it is necessary in order to get an accurate record.

How much schooling do you need to be a court reporter?

By this point, you will not be surprised to hear that the schooling requirements for court reporters vary from state to state.

In California, for example, court reporters must complete a specific educational program that is recognized by the California Court Reporters Board and then pass several proficiency examinations.

In Texas, court reporters attend a technical school and then pass one exam.

Again, the best course of action if you’re interested in becoming a court reporter is to research the requirements specific to your state.

How much do court reporters make?

The median salary for court reporters in the United States is $55,593, with a range falling between $42,969 and $77,947.

As with any of the jobs we’ve discussed, salaries are largely dependent on location and experience.

Court clerks

Court clerks are as integral to the court system as paralegals are to the practice of law.

They have many duties within the courtroom, from swearing in witnesses to scheduling hearings. Clerks also prepare official court documents such as summonses, probation orders, and other official paperwork.

What skills do you need to be a court clerk?

As with many jobs in the law, communication is one of the critical skills needed by court clerks.

Others include critical thinking, time management, and problem solving.

Like other legal jobs in the court system, clerks deal with unpredictable people who are dealing with highly emotional situations. Consequently, the ability to remain calm in the face of chaos is also an important skill.

How much schooling do you need to be a court clerk?

Again, the amount of schooling for this position varies greatly depending on the setting and location of your job. Suffice it to say that it can’t hurt to have an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, criminal administration, or pre-law.

Also, as you work your way up through the courts to the appellate court level, many clerks are also active attorneys.

How much do court clerks make?

The median annual salary for court clerks is $41,868 but the range falls between $28,000 and $60,000.

Court system jobs — the big picture

If you have a deep interest in the administration of justice within the United States, the court system is a great place to have a front-row view of how things work.

While the salaries within the courtroom may be less than in the private sector, the experience you can gain in these jobs is invaluable and can always lead to higher-paying jobs in the future. Also, many people feel that there’s more job security in the public sector.

If none of these jobs are for you, tune in next week for our third and final article on legal jobs. We’ll discuss corporate legal careers.

Check out last week’s article about jobs at private law firms, too.


  • Jennifer Anderson

    Jennifer Anderson is the founder of Attorney To Author, where she helps legal professionals bring their book projects to life. She was a California attorney for nearly two decades before becoming a freelance writer, marketing/branding consultant, ghostwriter, and writing coach. Her upcoming book, Breaking Out of Writer's Block, Exercises and inspirations for getting the words out of your head and onto the page, is due out in September 2023.

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