Steal This Job
Tuesday, July 19, 2005; 4:38 PM
MARGARY ROGERS, 28
JOB: Official court reporter at D.C. Superior Court
SALARY: $62,880, plus $15,000 to $20,000 in transcript fees
EDUCATION: Bachelor's in court reporting from Johnson & Wales University, in Providence, R.I.
WHAT SHE DOES: Rogers takes verbatim notes on everything that's said during trials, including disruptions in the audience. Her tools: a stenotype machine (which looks something like a tiny electric typewriter with unmarked keys) and a personalized dictionary of shortcuts, "almost like a code," for words and phrases that come up often. Keys comprising shortcuts are pressed simultaneously (one six-key combo enters "ladies and gentlemen of the jury"), then the codes are instantly translated into English by a laptop connected to the stenotype. Outside the courtroom, attorneys will sometimes order copies of her transcripts, for which she's paid separately. Rogers pays a person called a "scopist" to edit transcripts for grammar, punctuation and to fill in missing words. (Some reporters do this themselves, but if you're in court all day, having a scopist is the "only way you can really have a life," she said.) Creating a good transcript is as much mastering the stenotype as it is a state of mind -- specifically being able to kick it into autopilot. "We're hearing but we're not listening," she said. "And that's the art of court reporting. If you listen, you'll miss something because you're thinking about it."
WOULD YOU WANT HER JOB? Not if you can't handle pressure. "Besides the judge," said Rogers, the court reporter is the most important person in the room. "We have to get the record." That means asking the judge to make lawyers slow down and soft-spoken witnesses speak up. "Most times we have to fight for ourselves, because if anybody questions the record they come back to us." It also means typing at breakneck speeds -- Rogers clocks in at around 225 words per minute. And of course there are concerns for health issues stemming from all that typing. "Most of us have insurance on our hands," she said.
HOW YOU CAN GET HER JOB: Rogers worked as a freelance court reporter before getting her job, and said the training is also applicable to related fields, such as captioning. According to a recent posting for the D.C. court system (dccourts.gov), applicants need to have completed a court reporting program approved by the National Court Reporters Association and two years of work experience. Approved schools are listed on the NCRA site, and a spokesman said some offer distance learning.
This article originally appeared in the Express on June 6, 2005.