Professional pop quiz: The unwritten questions new stenographers need to answer

By Miranda Seitz

Any stenographer, new or experienced, remembers their feelings during their first job right out of school: fear, excitement, insecurity, stress, nervous pride. You worked so hard and have come so far since the theory classes a few years prior to this point. You poured your time, energy, emotion, and, at times, sanity, into learning our mind-bending skill and performing it well; and now it’s your time to shine.

You get through your first day, and a second, and a third. You’re coming up with briefs to make your editing time shorter and easier. Memorizing shortcuts for your CAT software starts to come faster, and you get your block files looking exactly the way they should. Invoicing starts to be less of the behemoth it seemed to be when you had your first transcript request. You finally are starting to feel a sense of ease about your job and your writing.

Soon after that, attorneys, judges, paralegals, court clerks, and other legal staff start asking you questions about your new job and the profession in general. Don’t we only have to order the original? Why can’t we just share copies? What are your page rates? Who decides your page rates? Who pays for your equipment? Are you certified? What’s a certified copy? Who’s your boss? Aren’t you going to be replaced by a computer or recording equipment? Will you transcribe this recording of a court hearing for me and certify it? Do you record whispered conversations between my client and me? Will you sign this contract for your services? What do you charge for an expedite, and when will I get it? Do you do rough drafts or partial transcripts? Are you a court reporter?

That last question, on its face, seems to be the one with the most innocuous and obvious answer. However, depending on the state you’re working in, it is an extremely loaded question. All over the United States, my state included, “court reporter” could signify a clerk or judicial assistant tasked with transcribing digitally audio-recorded (DAR) hearings, a DAR reporter, a stenographic reporter, or any person in charge of recording equipment in a deposition or courtroom and responsible for producing a transcript. The use of the descriptor “stenographer” in the title of this article and in my own professional use is very purposeful and intentional, and your descriptor for your skill and work should be the same.  Knowing what legal professionals in your state are referring to when they are talking about “court reporters” is just as important. We, as stenographers, all know the importance of the nuances and inferences of the words we use in any respect. Being conscious of the language we use when talking about ourselves, and the language other professionals use to talk about us, is of utmost importance when dealing with debates and changes in law regarding our profession.

Surprisingly enough, a lot of the questions referenced above have been asked of me by legal professionals, attorneys, and even judges in the short two years I have been working as a stenographer. Ask yourself those questions as early as possible in your career, and find the answers before you are asked them right on the spot in open court, or are dealing with invoicing issues after putting in hours of time to produce the transcript in question, or are being subpoenaed for transcribing and certifying an audio recording for which you were not present. The time you spend thinking of these potential questions and finding the answers will only help you be a better professional and serve to exemplify that we are the premier makers and guardians of the record.

Miranda L. Seitz, BA, MA, who is the Wisconsin Court Reporters Association’s President Elect, lives in Eau Claire, Wisc., and works as an official stenographer at the pleasure of the Honorable Anna Becker in Black River Falls.