By: Caitlin Albrecht
It’s been almost 2 ½ years since I passed my final 225 words-per-minute test and graduated court reporting school, but I still remember my heart pounding and fingers shaking after that final stroke. I’d made it through court reporting school!
For some reason, I thought something magical was supposed to happen between that final test and my first official job on my own, that somehow I would be imbued with a special ability to effortlessly capture every word verbatim. However, the second I put my fingers to the keys in my first depo and felt my pounding heart and hands shaking, I knew that wasn’t the case and it never would be.
Thankfully, there’s good news! There were things that I was able to do prior to that deposition, both in school and after that final test, which helped prepare me for the real deal. And the cool thing is, whether you’re in school or have just graduated, you can do it right now!
Find a Mentor: Find a mentor in the court reporting field. I have been beyond blessed to have had experienced, patient, and honest mentors, and it has made all the difference. You don’t know what you don’t know getting out of school, and having someone with more experience who can tell you what you’re doing right and what you need to improve on is paramount to improving as a professional reporter.
Practice and Refine: You know all that practice that you do on your steno machine in school? Once you’re out, you’ve got to keep that up. Not only that, but you need to keep refining your dictionary. The longer you write, the more comfortable you get with your style and the easier it gets to create briefs on the fly. When I was in school, I remember my teacher telling us that we could use the asterisk key to resolve conflicts in our writing. At the time, I shrugged it off. All the asterisk was good for was to let me know I’d misstroked and to ignore the last brief (or last several briefs). Let me tell you, that little asterisk saved my writing on the last two jobs I did! It turned multistroke words and acronyms into one-stroke briefs that allowed me to get down questions the attorneys would ask me to read back. It’s vital to have that mindset of always improving.
Have Courage: This one has two connotations: Don’t be afraid to speak up, and have the courage to take on unfamiliar situations. Once I started taking depos, I had the hardest time speaking up to ask a witness to raise their voice or repeat what they’d just said. I paid for it once in the editing process when I spent over an hour (no joke!) listening to a five-second audio clip. Make your voice heard if you can’t hear theirs!
Secondly, be brave enough to accept unfamiliar jobs. Everything’s going to be unfamiliar once you get out of school, but the cool thing about court reporting is that each situation is different and you never know what to expect. Jobs will never become old hat to you until you have the courage to step up and take them.
So there you have it: Find a mentor, practice and refine your writing, and have courage. The sooner you start being proactive about improving, the more rewarding your career will be. To all the court reporting students out there, you are amazing and I wish you the best of luck!