How’d you get into that?!: Stenographer

Britta Stenography Photo

How many of you have heard of a Stenographer? Anyone…Anyone… Well if you haven’t I bet you’ve seen them before in movies or if you’ve ever been in a court room! In the picture above is Britta Helland and she is a Stenographer, also known as a Court Reporter. This is a unique and often times undiscovered career that typically is only a two year degree. The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that in 2014, in Minnesota, the average annual earnings of a Court Reporter was $61,800, which is $29.71 per hour. It is also estimated that the field will grow by 10% by 2022. Britta is here to answer some questions that you might have about this career. Also, a fun fact is that Anoka Tech has a program right here if any of you want to explore this as an option!

1.)     Why don’t we start off with the basics. Tell us a little about yourself. ( Where are you from? How old you are? Describe your job and how long you’ve been at it, etc.).

I’m 25 years old, turning 26 this month.  I grew up in a small town in North Dakota; moved to Denver for college which took me roughly two years; then to San Deigo for a year; and then applied for the position I’m currently in.  I’ve been working in Bismarck, ND, in district court for just over three years now as a court reporter for generally just one judge.

2.)    Why did you want to get into your job? Was it something you’ve always known you wanted to do? If not, what lead you to it?

Two things lead me to where I am today: my love for typing and words (thank you, middle school MSN Messenger) and my aunt who is a court reporter in federal court in Fargo, ND.  My aunt showed me her stenography machine when I was in 7th grade, and I knew I was a pretty fast typer!  From that point forward, I knew this was my calling.

3.)    Can you define for us what a Stenographer does?

A stenographer, freelancer, court reporter, broadcast captioner takes a verbatim record of the spoken word.  For me, that means taking down court proceedings and retaining those records for the future if and when a transcript of the proceedings is ordered.  There are a handful of jobs you can do with a court reporting degree, not just working in district court as I do.  Freelancing is taking depositions on your steno machine generally at an attorney’s office and preparing the transcript for the attorneys if and when they order a copy.  Broadcast or closed captioning are the words at the bottom of the screen for the hearing-impaired; that’s also done by a stenographer.  When transcripts are ordered, the shorthand notes or steno needs to be translated into English and then the transcript is edited and prepared.  Working for a judge, I have a little more responsibility than just taking down the verbatim record; I also fill out forms, schedule some hearings, edit orders for my judge, and of course prepare transcripts that have been ordered or for cases that have been appealed.

4.)    How did you become a Stenographer? Do you need a college degree? Are there certifications required? If you do go to college, what should you study?

I attended the Denver Academy of Court Reporting in Denver from 2009 to 2011.  I acquired an Associate of Applied Science.  There is a list of accredited schools that offer a degree.  Some programs offer a certificate rather than a degree.  I also hold my RPR, Registered Professional Reporter, that is a certification offered through the National Court Reporter’s Association.  It is the first level of many other certifications they offer.  Some states require you hold a national certification such as the RPR.  Some states require their own state certification which is called a CSR, Certified Shorthand Reporter.  Other states require a college degree and some don’t have any specific requirements.  Court reporting college takes a lot of dedication, and takes some people longer than others.  There are also online programs available.

5.)    How do you find work in your field? Are there different types of jobs within the field? What is the job market like?

There are literally court reporting jobs everywhere, all over the U.S. and even international positions.  Unfortunately, because of the fact that not many people know about what we do and the dedication it takes to complete the schooling, court reporters are a bit of a dying breed.  And we don’t want that to happen!  The different options in the court reporting field were listed above in Question 3.  And all job types have positions available currently in many different states.  NCRA.org, state association websites and magazines, and state and federal government websites post job openings monthly, if not weekly.

6.)    What would the average work day look like?

My average hours are your typical Monday through Friday, 8:00-5:00.  The district that I work for does the whole gamut:  Family law, criminal, mental health, probate, civil lawsuits, and juvenile proceedings.  Some days we are in trial, either criminal or civil and either jury trial or bench trial.  Some days I am in my office editing transcripts and orders and sending e-mails regarding cases, etc.  Some days we travel to rural counties to hold court hearings such as pretrial conferences, bond hearings, and suppression hearings.

7.)    What is the work/life balance like? (Do you work super late nights, odd hours, and weekends?)

I don’t often work past 5:00 or on weekends unless I have a big appeal transcript due or a court hearing happens to go long.  Freelancers tend to work odd hours and sometimes weekends, depending on how many depositions you take on and how soon attorneys want transcripts by.  But that is up to you and how much time you want to put in and money you want to make!

8.)    What’s the best part of your career?

I love being a court reporter.  And I’ve never heard another court reporter say otherwise.  The best part about my career is hearing all of the interesting court cases.  It’s also very rewarding learning new words and details about topics you never knew existed.  There isn’t a career out there that quite compares to court reporting in my opinion!

9.)    What’s the worst part?

The hardest part about being a court reporter is one you would never expect:  Being in court all day (which doesn’t happen all the time) in a seated position seems like a somewhat easy task; it isn’t!  Listening to every spoken word and writing a mile a minute can be hard on the back and wrists.  It can be stressful at times, but the rewards of the job outweigh the downsides by far.
.

10.) What are the biggest misconceptions people have about your job?

The most common misconception about my career as a court reporter is people automatically assume I am a news reporter that reports on court cases.  They also assume I can type really fast, which I guess in a sense is true.  But learning to write steno is like learning a new language and is completely different than typing on a keyboard.  Another misconception is that stenographers are only females… not true.  In fact, long ago it used to be quite the opposite.  Most court reporters were male.  We don’t discriminate!

11.) Any other advice, tips, or anecdotes you’d like to add?

Court reporting is such a fun and exciting career.  I am so happy I knew from a young age that’s what I wanted to do.  Don’t get me wrong, there are bad days, as with every job.  But with so many career options in the court reporting field, the great pay, and the community of court reporters you’ll get to meet, I would definitely recommend looking into it, male or female

For any of you who might be interested in looking into this career or talking to Britta a bit more in person. Please contact your advisor as she has generously extended an invite for students to email her personally and she will respond.  Anoka Tech has a program to become a Stenographer if any of your are interested in exploring this option.

Sources:

Stenographer Job Outlook

Minnesota Stenographer Income Graphs

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