By Meredith Seymour
Claire Stein, a graduate of Madison Area Technical College, is in her first year as a reporter at the Dane County Courthouse in Madison, Wis. She says she was terrified before her first hearing (it didn’t help that her mentor and fellow reporter on the case warned her she’d be “thrown to the wolves”). But, says Stein: “I think the adrenaline from the fear worked to my benefit because I was on fire that hearing. I was extremely proud of myself.”
MS | How did you get interested in court reporting?
CS | After my daughter was born, I felt a strong desire to go back to school and change careers. Between work and home life, I knew I needed a program that was offered online. I searched for online programs offered at my local community college, and court reporting came up. Once I saw the 100 percent job placement rate, I was immediately interested. I went into school with no other option in my mind but to finish and change careers, and I haven’t looked back since.
MS | Where’s your favorite place to edit?
CS | My sunny office while listening to lo-fi radio and drinking a cup of coffee.
MS | What do you enjoy most about court reporting?
CS | Honestly, I just love the drama. I never get bored. Even when the material is dry, the reporter doesn’t get bored because she’s thinking about her writing, thinking about briefs that pertain to this job, adding job dictionary entries during a pause. I also love that it’s a career with so many different opportunities and plenty of room for improvement.
MS | Where do you see yourself and your career in five years?
CS | My goal is to earn as many certifications as I can and to feel confident providing realtime.
MS | How did you feel both going into your first assignment as a reporter and coming out of it?
CS | I was completely terrified for my first hearing. It was an evidentiary hearing for a big civil case with many parties. One of my mentors, Phil, had taken the morning of the hearing, and I was assigned to the afternoon. At lunch he came into my office and basically scared the living daylights out of me by saying that he had to read back a lot, the pace was fast, and a transcript was definitely going to be ordered. He basically said: “You’re getting thrown to the wolves.” (Thanks, Phil :)) I think the adrenaline from the fear worked to my benefit because I was on fire that hearing. I was extremely proud of myself. Other days haven’t been so great.
MS | What is your next goal? What is a long-term goal?
CS | I’m working on passing the remaining legs of my RPR certification, and then I’d like to start testing for my CRR and RMR after that.
MS | Do you have any advice for reporting students?
CS | When you practice for speed, forget your accuracy. When you practice for accuracy, forget your speed. And, if you can, test every day. Testing is the only way to move out of the speed you’re stuck in. If you’re too scared to test, the test has already beat you. Just do it every day so it’s not such a big deal. You never know when you’ll get one you can pass.
MS | What’s something that you’ve learned in the field that you didn’t learn in school?
CS | There’s a lot that applies to work and not so much to school. School is designed to get you to 225 wpm, so having 12 speaker IDs is not a priority in school. One thing I learned on the job regarding speaker IDs is to treat my keyboard like the layout of the room. The first person sitting at the counsel table to my left will be my upper left bank, the next person, my lower left. Then the people on the right side of the room are my right bank. I find this to work better than assigning speaker one, or whatever, to the prosecution because, in Dane County, the prosecution and defense do not always sit on the same side. The other huge tip for new professionals or students at the internship level is to use Brief It. It’s such a useful tool to help you shorten your writing on a job and ultimately write cleaner.
MS | What was the hardest part of transitioning from school to the real world?
CS | There is a huge learning curve. I was under the delusion in school that once I get to 225 I can write anything! That has not been the case at all in my experience as a professional. There are many, many days where I struggle, my fingers don’t work, and my brain is even worse. Be kind to yourself. If someone is too fast, just ask them to slow down (something I’m still really shy to do). It’s your record!
MS | What is the ultimate goal in your career?
CS | I want to master this skill. That’s been my goal from day one. I also want to serve as a mentor for the future stenos of Wisconsin. I think our trade is so cool, and I want to be there for budding stenographers 30 years from now.
MS | If you could sum up your first year in one word, what would it be and why?
CS | Transformational. I feel like a completely different person than when I started.
MS | What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you first started out?
CS | Even (especially?) seasoned reporters ask people to slow down. Some attorneys just talk way, way too fast. You won’t be the first or last court reporter to ask them to slow down.
MS | What’s your “can’t live without” item in your steno bag?
CS | I use an external sound card that plugs into my USB drive. It has a microphone and headphone port. I plug the courtroom audio into the sound card, and the audio syncs with my software file.
MS | What’s the coolest experience you have had working in the profession?
CS | I’m such a nerd that everything seems cool to me. I just love feeling like I’m “in the room where it happens.” Honestly, we get the best seat in the house to watch the courtroom drama unfold. And you don’t (get to) miss a thing.
MS | What do you love about your career?
CS | No one understands what we do, so I feel like there’s an instant bond when I talk to other reporters. I just love having a skill that others rely on so much. And we get to listen to really smart and interesting people talk and get exposed to new information all the time.
Claire Stein is an official court reporter in Madison, Wis. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meredith Seymour is an official court reporter in Madison, Wis. She can be reached at email@example.com.