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What is a Stenographer?

Stenographers may prepare documents related to speeches and minutes of business meetings.

Court Assignment

A stenographer who does court reporting is assigned by the court and is regarded as an official of the state and a representative of the court. The term of service is governed by the laws and statutes of the court. The stenographer is officially under the direction of the court and the attorneys in the case. He has to be available and present at all times during the trial. In some states, the statutes allow a judge to remove and relieve the stenographer from all duties.

A stenographer is a trained professional whose work involves accurately transcribing verbal communications, such as trials or business meetings, in real time. Written transcripts are important as a means of recalling exactly what was said and by whom, and are often much easier to scan and search than an audio or video recording. Most stenographers learn a series of shorthand notations to make transcriptions more efficient. Special stenography machines known as stenotypes make this task easier, and also help stenographers turn their notations into readable text.

Court Reporters

Some of the most well known stenographers are court reporters. Court reporters act as silent witnesses to many sorts of trials and jury inquests. They record witness testimony, lawyer questioning, and judge instructions. If ever there is a dispute about what was said, the stenographer can simply refer to his or her transcripts, and instantly set the record straight.

Court reporters’ transcripts are usually very important parts of trial records. Lawyers refer to them often when looking for possible avenues of appeal, for instance, and judges may also review them before rending a final judgment. In most jurisdictions, the transcript generated by the court reporter is the official record of the trial. This makes it very important — and accordingly makes the burden for accuracy very heavy.

In many of the most important cases, courtroom stenographers will crosscheck their work with an audio recording. At the end of each day, the stenographer will review his or her transcript against the recording, double-checking for minor inaccuracies or omissions. Most of the time, these sorts of errors are too inconsequential to make a difference to the substance of the transcript. When a case is really important, however, having a flawless record is essential.

Stenographers also frequently find work in business settings. Law firms retain stenographers to record witness depositions and interviews that may have significance to a pending case. These meetings often happen in conference rooms or private offices.

Corporate executives may also have use for stenography services. If a company’s board is poised to decide on a contentious issue, for instance, or if an important shareholder vote is set to occur, having a stenographer on hand to keep record of the events can be advantageous. Most business transcriptions will ultimately become permanent corporate records. In the case of a meeting, the members will usually vote to include the transcript in the official minutes. Portions of recorded proceedings may also be sent out with a company’s annual report, or kept with essential files that can be reviewed by interested stakeholders or executives.

Required Skills

Though the concept of stenography may seem relatively straightforward, the job requires a lot of concentration and attention to detail. Stenographers are usually only hired when precision is a must. This means that there is relatively little room for error, and the learning curve is often very steep. People who hold this job must be very quick thinkers, and must be able to keep their minds focused for long periods of time.

Stenographers must have a great deal of education before they can enter the job market. Specialized training is always required, and specialized degrees may also be essential. A number of different universities and community colleges offer degree programs in stenography. Students learn standardized shorthand in these programs, and also have the time to become proficient on modern stenotype machines.

Stenotypes often look like very small typewriters or computer keyboards, usually with a small screen attached. Most are outfitted with keys that are a combination of letters and shorthand symbols, which makes typing faster for the trained listener. Some also incorporate aural components: the stenographer may speak into a insulated mask, essentially re-dictating the verbal proceedings. The machine then turns his or her speech into typed text, which is usually printed immediately.

Needed Certifications

Training and requisite skills are not always enough to land a job as a stenographer, at least not in some of the most prestigious settings. Many jurisdictions require rigorous certification for court reporters, as well as stenographers who will be working to create official government records. Certification varies from place to place, but is usually a matter of taking certain classes, and passing exams and mock stenography exercises on a regular basis — often yearly.

Differences from Dictation

Stenography should not be confused with dictation, a similar method of transcription. Dictation is most common in medical and business settings, and most happens after the fact. Doctors and executives record their notes, then pass those recordings on to assistants who will turn them into written files.

Dictation is typically used for patient files, letters, and office memoranda. Stenography, on the other hand, generates permanent records that often have legal significance. Accuracy is important to each, but for different reasons — and to different ends.

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What Is a Court Stenographer?

GENERAL STATEMENT OF DUTIES: Takes and transcribes stenographic notes; does related work as required.

DISTINGUISHING FEATURES OF THE CLASS: Under general supervision, makes verbatim recordings of formal court proceedings. Supervision is not usually a responsibility of this position.

EXAMPLES OF WORK: (Illustrative Only) Attends formal court proceedings to take full stenographic notes including difficult technical testimony; Reads back portions of the testimony as requested; Makes transcripts of notes upon request of Judge, plaintiff, etc.; Takes stenographic notes of the rulings and charges of the presiding judge; Takes other difficult dictation at hearings or conferences; Does miscellaneous legal stenographic, typing and general clerical work.

REQUIRED KNOWLEDGE, SKILLS, ABILITIES AND ATTRIBUTES: Thorough knowledge of legal and medical terminology; thorough knowledge of spelling, punctuation and capitalization; good knowledge of court procedures; ability to take verbatim shorthand or machine stenographic notes of a difficult and technical nature at varying speeds from 175 to 200 words per minute for a sustained period of time and to transcribe minutes and notes by typewriter or word processor at a rate of not less than 25 words a minute with no more than 5 errors for each one hundred words dictated; good hearing; accuracy; endurance; alertness; neatness; physical condition commensurate with the duties of the position.

MINIMUM ACCEPTABLE TRAINING AND EXPERIENCE: (a) Graduation from high school and two years of experience in general verbatim recording; or (b) a satisfactory equivalent combination of training and experience including at least one year of experience in general verbatim recording. Note: This is a public officer position and all appointees must meet the requirements for public officers as specified in the Public Officers Law. Towns and Villages Job Class Code: 0045