By: Caitlin Albrecht
I clearly remember the first time I heard the words, “court reporter.” I was on the cusp of achieving my high school diploma and I still had no idea of what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. At that point my career aspirations had ranged from piano teacher to theater actress to child psychologist. Those ideas didn’t stick around long enough to come to fruition, however, and when my mom casually mentioned this strange career called “court reporting” one Tuesday evening, I figured I’d check it out to pacify her on her mission to find her eldest child a worthwhile career.
A year later I sat on my bed, staring down the gray and black student machine that I realized would either become my new best friend or my greatest enemy as I took the first step toward becoming a professional court reporter. I remember the realization hitting me that there was no turning back; the shorthand theory I had learned would stick with me every day for the rest of my life. I was now cursed with seeing shorthand briefs on vehicle license plates and wincing at the myriads of misspellings and incorrect grammar in the status updates in my Facebook news feed. Luckily, taking that little student machine home and choosing to pursue a career in court reporting turned out to be one of the best moves I ever made.
As hours of practice and days of classes morphed into two focused years of court reporting school, I discovered the most difficult challenge I had ever encountered: Accurately capturing the spoken word. Not just paraphrasing, but getting down every single word verbatim while inserting the correct punctuation and not having a mini meltdown every time the speakers’ speed would pick up. Each new dictation presented an opportunity to write cleaner, create brief forms on the fly, and drop one less word. When I thought I had stretched as far as I could go, a new homework assignment or extra fast dictation would prove otherwise. There was no such thing as a routine day in court reporting school; the challenge started the second my fingers touched the keys of my machine and didn’t stop until I’d stroked out the final phrase of the day.
Eventually, I tucked my last 225 wpm test under my belt and set off into the great world to make my fortune with a court reporting degree in one hand and a professional steno machine in the other. My first hurdle was finished! As I left the school, I firmly believed that I had learned the majority of what I would need to succeed in court reporting; it didn’t take long to figure out I was wrong.
A real job in the world of professional reporting brought a new set of unique challenges, sending me into a (internal) mini meltdown. I interned for four months before I began taking my own jobs, and during that time I grew like I’ve never grown before. My 2 ½-hour labs seemed like a stroll in the park after shadowing on a 7-hour job, and I discovered that discerning a speaker’s words through his accent is a lot harder when you’re supposed to be writing down what he’s saying at the same time! However, after each new challenge I would take a deep breath, internalize what I’d just been through, and realize that I had done something I never thought I could do. Yes, I stumbled several times and have accumulated a lengthy list of things to improve upon. I’m going to make more mistakes, too, but I know I’ll be a better reporter because of it.
That’s why I love court reporting so much: I’m always growing, always learning, always improving, whether it’s in my technique, my knowledgebase, or my on-the-job experience. One of my greatest fears in high school was that I would find myself in a monotonous job that I showed up to from 9 to 5 simply to take home a paycheck; in court reporting, I have found a continuous challenge to rise above my current ability and become better than I was before. I’m living life on the edge! American author Henry Miller said, “All growth is a leap in the dark, a spontaneous unpremeditated act without benefit of experience.” Yikes! Can you say “uncomfortable”? Yet while I seldom reside for long in my court reporting comfort zone, when I look back to where I was a year ago, I know it is all worth the stretching, critique, and growth I went through.
I now know that I can survive navigating the one-way streets downtown, I can correctly identify and record six speakers all in the same room, and I won’t die every single time I make a mistake. The situation, location, and speakers will change, but these variables combine to give me a unique challenge every time I work. That’s what makes court reporting so fabulous: I am always, always, always growing. The words “monotonous,” “boring,” and “routine” are not everyday descriptors used for my job. The stress sometimes drives me to grab a bag of chocolate and a small soy vanilla latte with an extra espresso shot, but when my heart has stopped hammering away at a hundred miles an hour and the dust settles, I realize I can check off another box on the list of “What Cate Needs to Learn.” I can smile, take a deep breath, and take the next step in a job that’s spontaneous, exciting, and totally worth it.