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You're watching an episode of a police or legal procedural. The court case is at a pivotal moment, and a single word is at issue. The judge asks for something to be read from the record.
You're in court yourself. A lot is happening, and you hear fast-talking attorneys do battle in front of you. You spot a typist. He or she is listening carefully and typing furiously on a device that looks not quite like a typewriter.
You're reading the news. An excerpt of what was said in a high-profile court case is published in the article. There are a lot of words here, even though the small-town paper you're reading didn't have a reporter on the scene.
In each of these examples, you're witnessing—directly or indirectly—the vital work of a court reporter. But what is a court reporter, exactly? What does a court reporter do, and what sort of career is it?
What is a court reporter?
A court reporter records everything that is said in the courtroom, but this is a pretty unsatisfying answer. We're still left wondering how they do it. How can anyone type that fast?
Part of the answer comes to us in the form of the court reporter's most important tool, a stenotype.
A stenotype looks a bit like a typewriter, but even a quick glance reveals some strange differences. Letters missing, for one, and some keys are much bigger than others.
The stenotype is designed to work with a particular type of shorthand that court reporters use. The shorthand omits certain letters and focuses on phonetics. Phonetics are the sounds of language—the real basic stuff, stripped of silent letters and letters that sound the same. Some common words are shortened even further, sometimes to a single keypress. The result is a very, very fast way to type!
Court reporters know their specialized shorthand by heart and type at lightning speed to create an accurate account of what is being said in the courtroom. In the heat of the moment, they don’t need to worry about words that sound the same (homonyms), because everything is phonetic. The transcript is later retyped in plain English.
Court Reporting Careers
Court reporting is a great way to make a living, too, says Dianne Sarkisian—the founder of a court reporting company in Miami, Florida. Individual court reporters may work for the courts, as freelance help, or as part of larger agencies. Being a court reporter requires the proper training, but for qualified individuals, the rewards can include salaries of about $90,000 a year. How much individuals make varies quite a bit by state and region.
To get started as a court reporter, you’ll have to seek out a degree or certificate program and invest in the proper equipment. If you make it, you’ll be an important part of our legal system.