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What Is a Court Stenographer?

Mary McMahon
By
Updated May 16, 2024
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A court stenographer is a person who transcribes testimony in courts, meetings, and other proceedings where it is necessary to have a detailed and accurate transcript for future reference. The transcript contains not just a verbatim report of everything said, including interjections and stutters, but also descriptions of gestures and emotional reactions. In addition to serving in the court system, court stenographers can prepare real time transcripts for broadcasts and are present at depositions and any other events where there may be a need for a transcript.

Court stenographers can use a number of tools in their trade. Historically, they used shorthand to generate a manual transcript, going through it after the proceedings to expand the shorthand into a transcript that would be readable by anyone. Court stenographers today may use a steno machine, a special device that allows the stenographer to key in shorthand, generating a record of the case that can be expanded into a transcript later. Some machines automatically transcribe, generating a real-time tape of every keystroke and a transcript, which the stenographer will review later for accuracy.

Others may record proceedings and generate a transcript from that, or may use voice mask reporting, where they speak into a muted microphone and a computer transcribes the speech into text. In all cases, stenographers rely on audio and visual recordings of the courtroom to authenticate their transcripts, confirming the accuracy of the information. A second court stenographer may also review the data to make sure it is complete.

In court, a court stenographer who performs real time reporting can be extremely valuable. The judge and attorneys can ask the stenographer to read back part of the transcript, for example, in the event of a dispute. The real time capacity is also important for captioning live broadcasts, to make sure that deaf and hearing impaired individuals can follow the proceedings easily.

Training for court stenographer work requires attending courses to learn about different stenography techniques and develop practical skills. The work may also require certification as a notary or similar public official, so the stenographer can certify her own transcripts as accurate and complete for legal purposes. Stenographers can be a valuable part of the courtroom team as they are aware of the basic rules of legal procedure and follow the case very closely as part of their work. The judge or attorneys may query the stenographer if they have questions related to the proceedings.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a MyLawQuestions researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By kentuckycat — On Jan 07, 2012

@Emilski - It is true that a good court room stenographer is the best friend of an historian reviewing the case.

I have heard that because of the responsibility that the court room stenographers have they receive fairly decent salaries and their position in the court room is taken very seriously.

It seems like a stenographer or court reporter receives a lot of training and classes in order to do what they do and they must have a good knowledge of the legal system, which is something that is harder to obtain than being able to record what is said in the court room as well as the emotion of the court room participants.

By Emilski — On Jan 06, 2012

@matthewc23 - You are absolutely correct. Whenever I look at court cases when writing a history paper about a court case I usually try and find the court transcripts written by the stenographer and hope that they put the emotion of the court room in what they write.

Whenever I look at court proceedings and the transcripts it is very hard to be one hundred percent sure on the appropriate context of the courtroom and it is a very dangerous thing to assume what people's emotions are.

However, when the stenographer makes sure they put the emotions of the court room into the court transcript that gives the person reviewing the transcripts evidence to show the emotion of the court room.

By matthewc23 — On Jan 05, 2012

@cardsfan27 - You are absolutely correct. I see the court room stenographer as being someone that is simply trying to place into context the court room proceedings as honestly and as accurately as humanly possible for future generations to have reference to.

People do not realize that future generations looking back on things have to use what they have available and may not be able to put everything into the appropriate context and they have to base their judgments as best they can off of what they see.

By having a court room stenographer not only put things they see in court in the appropriate contexts, but also putting the emotions of the courtroom in their writing then they provide the perfect example for the people reading about the case years and years down the road to make their own assumptions as accurately as they can.

By cardsfan27 — On Jan 04, 2012

It seems to me like the court room stenographers are very important people in the court room and they have a very big responsibility with their jobs.

It seem like the court room stenographers are in charge of writing exactly what occurred in the court room and be sure that they paint the right picture about their court room experience.

In a way it seems like the court room stenographers are the historians of the court room as they are the ones that are trying to put the proceedings in the best context possible for people of future generations to see and have reference to when they are making judgments possibly based on past cases.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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