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Specialized ProfessionIamA Court Reporter. I use a shorthand language to type at speeds potentially over 300+ words per minute. AMA!

Apr 19th 2017 by Clearly_Opaque • 36 Questions • 77 Points

My short bio: Hey, all. There seemed to be some interest in me doing an AMA after I posted in /r/hockey last night, so here I am!

I'm a 28-year-old guy living in Ontario, Canada. I graduated in 2011 and have been a court reporter for the past six years.

Please feel free to ask me anything at all, and I'll do my best to answer all questions (assuming there are any, lol).

My Proof: Proof 1, Proof 2, Proof 3.

Just because I think it might be helpful to anybody wondering what this is or how our shorthand language works, this is what our keyboard layout looks like, and this short video gives a pretty decent idea of what the best of us are capable of.

Q:

What is your QWERTY keyboard typing speed?

A:

Not overly impressive. I generally hover around 80wpm but get closer to the 100-110wpm range when I'm focused on transcribing.


Q:

this is what our keyboard layout looks like

So the missing keys, you just ignore those letters?

A:

Nope! We've actually got the entire alphabet on the left side of the keyboard, and most of it on the right side. What we do is hit multiple keys at once to form the missing letters. Need to start a word with "F"? Hit "T" and "P" together. Need a "G"? Hit "TKPW".

That's why words in our language look so weird... The word "glass" in our language is spelled TKPWHRASZ - and we hit all those letters in a single stroke, like you would type "a" or "I" on a normal keyboard. That's why it's so much faster!


Q:

Oh, when you said shorthand language, I thought you meant you ignore some of the more useless letters, I didn't realize it's an entirely new language

Cool

A:

Yep! It still uses English letters, but it's essentially an entire new language :)


Q:

Does it automatically translate the words into English as you go?

A:

Sorry I missed this one! Yes, it does. We have a program called Case CATalyst that translates from our language into English using what is basically a dictionary based on if/then statements.

For example, with TKPWHRASZ, the dictionary entry would be something like, "If 'TKPWHRASZ,' then 'glass'"


Q:

What was the most memorable thing you've experienced on your job as a court reporter?

A:

Ha, there are a lot of funny/crazy things that have happened over the years.

Off the top of my head, I once had a completely average, perfectly nice middle-aged guy come in to be examined, because he was suing his apartment complex over a slip-and-fall accident.

As the examination proceeded, and counsel asked about his family, he said that he had a girlfriend and a son who was around 30 years old... when they asked what his son's name was... he said Tobey Maguire. THE Tobey Maguire. He then went on to explain that he hasn't been able to contact him in years, because Tobey was too busy saving people in New York as Spiderman, and whenever he calls, Tobey's "people" give him the runaround.

When they asked what his girlfriend's name was, he said Mary Jane.

Guy was delusionally obsessed with Spiderman; it was both tragic and hilarious, haha.


Q:

Your pros are exactly the reason I'm looking at this. I am of childbearing age and preparing to start a family, and I would like to work from home during my children's more dependent years. Medical transcription is dying, but I do IC work for a woman who has per diem court depositions and what not. So I do have a little court experience, just not stenography, per se. I do transcription for Geico right now and my company offers court reporting school, which I very much plan to use in the future.

I plan on getting the court reporting experience because it's a requirement for home-based closed captioning, which also pays a pretty penny.

Thanks for answering!!

A:

Sounds like you've got a great plan for yourself! No problem, and all the best!


Q:

Where outside of a courtroom can your short hand type skills transfer as a skill?

A:

Captioning, CART providing, and I find a lot of use for it while I'm taking notes at school. Even on a QWERTY keyboard, many of the shorthand briefs are faster to type than normal.


Q:

What are your favorite fictional and non fictional movies involving court cases?

A:

Liar, Liar.

And Liar, Liar.


Q:

are there different systems to handle different languages -- does the court have another transcriber come in if a witness is speaking a different language, or do they simply rely on the translator?

A:

There are, yes. The machine and concept stay the same, but the language (and presumably the way the lettering on the keyboard is set up) changes.

As far as for how things go in Canada and the US, you're dead on - translators come in, and we write what they say as if they were the witness (with a special notation indicating that it's all being done through a translator of course).


Q:

what's the funniest transcription error you've seen?

A:

Oh, boy. There are a lot, lol, but one time when I was still in school, I was using my teacher's machine to do a demonstration at a school event.

Her machine's dictionary had some different entries than mine did, so when I typed "TPUBG," I was expecting "if you can" to pop up... but that's not what popped up. T

P=F, U=U, and BG=K

Instead of "If you can," I got a nice, big, untranslated "FUK" right in the middle of the sentence I was writing, on the big screen for everyone to see. It was pretty hilarious, lol.


Q:

For how long can you sustain your highest WPM?

A:

That's something that continually improves over time, but I'd say that at my absolute maximum when I'm "in the zone," I've hit somewhere in the neighbourhood of 320wpm. That said, I'm not a reporting God like the people in that video I posted in my intro, so I can only sustain it for maybe 15-20 seconds or so, lol.


Q:

How affordable are the keyboards?

A:

Hm, it varies quite a bit. A cheap, old, used/refurbished steno machine could probably be purchased off of eBay or something for somewhere in the range of $500-$1000.

A brand spanking new, top-of-the-line machine will run you closer to $4,000-$5,000.


Q:

are there any automatic transcription services you think may make this obsolete in the future?

A:

I think it would be naive to say that technology won't get there eventually, but as of right now, there is nothing that even comes remotely close to being able to replace us.

We're portable, convenient, 100% accurate, don't need to be right up against a person's mouth, don't lose audio when people talk over each other or someone ruffles papers while another person is talking, etc. And that's just in court, for example. Automatic transcription for television would be a whole other can of worms. Just try turning on captions on random Youtube videos and see what kind of results you get (not the pre-transcribed ones, ovbiously, lol).


Q:

100% accurate? That's a bold claim

A:

How do you figure? Submitting a 100% accurate record is kind of the point. The only ones who are allowed to be less than 100% accurate are television captioners, because on live TV, it's nearly impossible, since you can't anticipate every single word that's said.


Q:

Do they call lawyers barristers in Canada? Is the legal system 50% like that of England's and 50% of the USA's?

A:

Lawyers, barristers, and solicitors all exist here too. And no, our legal system is our own, not a 50/50 combo of the UK's and US's, lol. It's similar in all the relevant ways that typical legal systems in Western countries are.


Q:

I mean 50 & 50 , like in what ways are the procedures, terms,Customs, laws similar to England, which are similar to the USA. Canada is loyal to queen and likes to model stuff after England but the USA closeby for news and a model on how to, I think this might have been how your legal system evolved am I wrong?

A:

Honestly, from a culture perspective, Canada and America are extremely similar, but our government is run more like the UK's. That said, we have significant differences in both culture and government from both the US and UK, so to say they're very much alike would be off.

And you'd be hard-pressed to find a single Canadian who gives half a shit about the Queen, lol.


Q:

Isn't she on your money ?

A:

Yeah, but that's more of a traditional thing. I can't speak to how people in government feel, as everyone is their own person, but I can confidently say that culture wise, and as an average Canadian citizen, I've never met a single person who cares about the Queen, lol.


Q:

First off, thanks for answering a bunch of questions in the /r/hockey thread. That was super interesting.

Simple question: Would you eat the moon if it was made of cheese? What about barbecued spare ribs, would you eat it then?

A:

No problem at all! I was happy to do it.

And hell yeah! Heck, I'd have seconds!


Q:

Do you use a stenographer machine for everyday typing? It has to obliterate a regular keyboard's typing speed, I would think.

A:

Ha, good question. I could, but I don't, mainly because use of the steno machine is restricted to a program called Case CATalyst and its function is to produce transcripts and caption, etc.

Programs like Word are more user-friendly for general purpose typing.

Plus, my professors and classmates would probably be distracted if I started bringing my steno machine to lectures, lol.


Q:

Not entirely true. You should be able to add an output in Case CAT that'll let your translated text show up in other programs.

A:

Yeah, that's fair. I mean it's technically possible, and I have to do that now and then for lawyers who prefer transcripts in Word or WordPerfect, etc., but the problem is that formatting always goes to hell and takes me hours on hours to get back to normal.

Either way, I just find it more convenient and portable to type QWERTY on my laptop in school and outside of the job in general.


Q:

In an age of HD video and audio recording technology, why do we still have court stenographers?

A:

Because audio is fallible, inasmuch as it cannot discern between multiple voices or sounds at the same time. For example, if a witness was giving an important answer, and at the same time as that was happening, one person coughed loudly, another person scraped their chair along the floor while moving it, and a third person ruffled some pages on their desk - there's pretty much no way you'd be able to understand what the witness was saying with an audio recording. Similar idea when it comes to arguing/shouting matches, since people yelling over each other makes it basically impossible to figure out who is saying what, etc.

It's also probably less expensive to hire a stenographer than to trick out whatever room you're examining in with the kind of audio tech required to get a reliable recording... and we're far more portable than that. We can drive out to a local hotel conference room, lawyer's office, court building, different classrooms etc. - wherever we're needed. Can't set up perfect audio technology everywhere.


Q:

Are you a fan of the Blue Jays, Argonaut, Toronto FC, Toronto Raptors?

A:

Nope. I'm a fan of Detroit sports, actually. I'm first and foremost a massive Red Wings fan, but I also generally follow the Tigers and Lions. I don't pay attention to soccer at all, and I only follow basketball a little bit, lol.


Q:

What are your favorite pizza toppings?

A:

Ham and pineapple. I'm one of those lol.


Q:

Funniest court transcript you ever typed ? Did you ever experience any meltdowns in the courtroom?

A:

Funniest was probably this one, lol.

And as far as meltdowns go, yeah. The room can get pretty heated depending on the topic or case being discussed. Lawyers arguing with other lawyers happens most often, or sometimes with witnesses, but the biggest "meltdowns" usually come from cases where something really bad happened, like a murder/sexual assault/child abuse, etc.


Q:

I stumbled across this and when I looked at your links I was immediately fascinated! I am an exceptionally fast typer on the QWERTY keyboard (my employers over the years have always commented on it). That said:

Does being a great typist on a regular QWERTY keyboard make it easier to learn the steno machine? Do you think piano players have an edge in learning this skill?

Thanks so much for making me think about something I previously knew nothing about!

A:

Hey! No problem at all; glad you're interested!

I would say that being a fast QWERTY typist is definitely helpful for the transcription portion of the job, but I don't think it would really influence your ability to use a steno machine - although it may help with your finger speed. The ability to use a steno machine is a lot more like playing chords on a piano than typing letter-by-letter on a QWERTY, though.

And yes, pianists definitely have an edge, inasmuch as it's a very similar concept. That said, I had a professional pianist in my program, and for the life of him, he couldn't get his speed up on the steno machine - so maybe going cross-fields with that sort of concept hinders some and helps others. Not too sure, since I don't play the piano, lol.


Q:

Thanks! I play piano and was classically trained from a young age and I think it definitely helps that my regular typing speed. But I'm sure there's a lot of mental prowess involved too!

Thanks again!

A:

No problem! And definitely - chances are you'd have an edge if you ever decided to give it a shot!


Q:

I wonder if playing the piano could actually hamper your classmate because they are trained so much at keeping the same speed and rhythm?

A:

It's certainly possible. He's a professional pianist, so it's certainly not lack of ability. I can't really speak to exactly what it was that threw him off, though, as I don't play piano.


Q:

What happens if you have to sneeze? If you sneeze, won't you miss something to type?

A:

Yep. It happens, you just gotta deal with it.


Q:

How many hours in a day are most court trial days?

A:

For court, 10am to about 4 or 5pm, usually.

For pre-trial proceedings or other events, any time, really. Could go all day from 7am to midnight. Just depends on the situation.


Q:

Hi there, I'm a journalist from the UK and I was intrigued by this.

I learn Teeline shorthand and can handwrite at 100wpm. I had no idea that this existed and I think it's pretty amazing so props to you!

Obviously, our skills are quite different but also similar in a odd sort of way.

Do you tend to work with journalists with quotes/transcriptions in the US? Or is it something they tend to sort themselves? Of course, the court systems in both countries are quite different.

A:

Hello! Thanks for your intrigue. Many of my co-workers use Pitman Shorthand, which looks about as discernible to me as Teeline, haha. It's funny how two things can be so similar and yet so different at the same time!

I have never had to work with journalists for quotes or anything, and while I can't speak for the US since I'm in Canada, I doubt there's much of a difference with regard to that.

That said, it might just be a matter of circumstance that I've never interacted with a journalist, because all court cases are a matter of public record - unless expressly ordered otherwise (proceedings held "in camera"). So, a journalist, like anybody else, could technically order a transcript just like anybody else - whether the reporter/reporting company would sell it to them is another matter, however, haha.


Q:

I think this person was asking if reporters contacted you about using your skills to report recorded interviews as a fast track solution.

A:

Ah, maybe I misunderstood the question. I've never dealt with reporter's either way, so the answer is still no!


Q:

Aside from talking too fast, what are some habits/tendencies lawyers have that make transcribing more difficult for you?

On the flip side, Is there anything attorneys have done to make your job easier?

A:

Oh, great question! The biggest thing that lawyers and witnesses do to make the job more difficult is talking over each other. You have to think about it like this: Imagine that you're reading a book, and instead of reading one line after another, the lines were literally printed right on top of each other, because two characters are arguing and yelling over one another... impossible to read, right?! Now imagine trying to listen to them yell at one another, and still transcribe exactly who is saying what as it's happening!

It's damn near impossible. People get too conversational, and that tends to happen all the time - like a witness beginning to answer a question before the lawyer is finished asking it, etc. It's very important that everyone speaks clearly and when it's their turn to talk!

The other big thing that witnesses do is say "uh-huh" or "uh-uh" instead of "yes" or "no". The problem is the former are not words, and therefore cannot be considered real answers. Most lawyers forget this and don't notice the witness is doing it, so we frequently have to speak up in the middle of the examination and ask things like "was that a yes?" and whatnot.

On the flip side, there are a lot of great attorneys. Making sure that the witness doesn't say "uh-huh" and "uh-uh" all the time so I can concentrate and not repeatedly jump in is pretty huge. It's also great when they remember not to argue or talk over a witness - or shut a witness down when they start to ramble unnecessarily, as it makes the transcript a disjointed mess.

Also, taking reasonably frequent breaks (like 10-15 mins every hour or two) is really important for the reporter, as we're pretty much always high on stress, and our backs are KILLING us lol.


Q:

Have you ever tried a GKOS chorded keyboard or app? If so how would you compare that to the keyboard you use professionally?

A:

Oh, wow, I've never heard of this before! Looks like the same idea as our steno machines, though. Very interesting; thanks for the link!


Q:

I have the app loaded on my phone and I try to practice with it every now and then. I'd be curious to hear what a pro thinks of it of you get a chance.

A:

I will definitely check it out! It looks very interesting.


Q:
  1. Wanna buy me a pizza?

  2. What's been your most frivolous purchase?

  3. What started you on this path?

  4. If all things were equal, what's 1 thing in the world you'd get rid of?

  5. What's been the highlight of your life so far?

A:
  1. Hmm, Well, I technically do want to buy "me" a pizza... so, yes?

  2. An Alienware gaming laptop that was absurdly expensive. Probably the dumbest and most irresponsible thing I've ever done, lol.

  3. I was a kid out of high school who had just finished a year of Psychology and a year of Architecture, not really liking either one. Somebody told me there was a job where you could caption sports/television from your home... I was on a plane to school out west about 3 months later, lol.

  4. Ugh. Mosquitoes.

  5. Eh, boring personal stuff I guess, lol.


Q:

I'll rephrase question 1...would you like to buy u/Huge_ox a pizza?

A:

Haha, no. Sorry!