Stenographers keep detailed notes and records of court hearings and tribunals. They’re often known as court reporters. They may also work in non legal proceedings such as medical hearings, or governmental cabinet hearings.
It is a job that requires someone to keep a verbatim record, using either traditional shorthand writing or machine shorthand, often known as stenograph. Stenographers use a variety of equipment and software (such as a court keyboard or court typewriter) to aid them in their job and will often have to liaise with solicitors, judges and directors.
What is a stenographer?
A stenographer records everything that happens during court procedures. They utilise shorthand, a shortened symbol version of English, to record language at speed to keep a verbatim record of legal and medical proceedings. They usually do this either manually using Teeline written shorthand, or via a piece of equipment called a stenograph that allows them to type it. They’ll then re-write their recordings in full English at a later date to be used by their colleagues.
Stenography work is vital for recording court cases, especially when video or audio recordings of cases are not permitted. Stenography also allows for easily searchable documentation and formal records, where video or audio recordings are challenging to search or obtain key information from. Stenography work is also vital to ensure accessibility for individuals who are hard of hearing or deaf.
While stenography usually refers to legal cases, you could also work in other sectors. Medical hearings require stenographers to take detailed records, while live film and television recordings may also require stenographs for live closed captions. In the case of live captions, a stenographer may type in direct English as opposed to shorthand.
You do not necessarily need a degree in order to work in stenography, though you’ll know Teeline shorthand.
One of the most interesting things about being a stenographer is the different alphabet you will be asked to use. Stenographers do not use the usual ABC alphabet or the nato-phonetic alphabet, they use a shorthand alphabet, which has different keys on their stenographer keyboard, that is made up of symbols or letter combinations that make up words, often using diphthongs of blended consonants. As a result, a stenographer will then transcribe from their stenography alphabet into the usual alphabet or will run their work through software that will translate the work for them.
Your responsibilities in stenographer jobs depend on the setting in which you work, as well as your level of experience. Key duties could include:
- Recording verbatim discussions had during court proceedings, governmental hearings and medical hearings, taking these down in shorthand.
- Translating different types of shorthand recordings into full English for use by other professionals.
- Keeping transcription records organised and easily formatted for use by professionals in a variety of roles, such as solicitors.
- Keeping up to date with updates in shorthand technology, such as changes to stenographer keyboard software.
- Ensuring your court stenography keyboard is in order and working effectively, troubleshooting simple issues.
- Ensuring your stenography keyboard is in working condition before starting any court proceedings or hearings.
- Supporting smaller scale meetings with legal professionals, such as as short client update meetings.
- Having a good understanding of legal procedures, medical issues or governmental policies related to your area of work to ensure swift transcription of industry specific vocabulary.
- Organising meetings in which you pass recordings and transcribed documents.
- Maintaining confidentiality in all that you do - your work will usually cover sensitive legal subjects.
A court stenographer salary will depend on location, level of experience, and the company they work for. Some stenographers also work on a freelance basis, so their income will vary depending on the clients they work for and the amount of hours they’re available to carry out.
An average stenographer salary starts at around £25,000. This is usually an entry level position. With experience, your earnings could increase to £65,000 for a senior level position in a well established company with management responsibilities.
Court stenographers working on a freelance basis decide what they charge, so earnings can vary significantly. You may find that you’re able to earn more than you would in an employed role if you are able to work quickly.
While a degree isn’t a necessity for working as a stenographer in legal proceedings, it can be helpful. Degrees that cover communications and language in some way are particularly good. Many degrees that would align you well with working in verbatim reporting include:
You may also find it helpful to hold a degree in a field relevant to the area you’re reporting in. For example, if you’re working in a medical field, having a biological science degree could support you knowing key terminology and vocabulary that you’ll need to record, while working in criminal hearings could mean a criminology degree would be useful.
You do not necessarily need a degree in order to work in stenography, though you’ll know Teeline shorthand. The most common route to becoming familiar with this form of language is via a shorthand course, such as those offered by the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) or via Pitman Training. Many shorthand practitioners then take set shorthand exams to prove their efficiency. The British Institute for Verbatim Reporters (BIVR) offers examinations and membership which many stenographers find useful for evidencing their ability in the field. This is especially the case of stenographers who work on a self employed, freelance basis, by evidencing their proficiency to prospective clients.
You could also look into studying towards an apprenticeship in stenography, also known as a court reporter. These will usually be carried out at Level 3 and require a minimum of 5 GCSEs at grades 9-4 (A*-C). The NCTJ may advertise court reporter apprenticeships, or you may find these through a local apprenticeship provider.
Training and development
Training and development in stenography largely happens on the job. You’ll be able to shadow more experienced stenographers in your role, as well as observing legal or medical professionals to gain a better understanding of the kind of language you’re required to record.
>Work experience is not necessarily essential to becoming a stenographer. Stenographers are more desirable based on the skills and qualifications they have, as opposed to their specific industry experience.
You will need to be confident in shorthand before applying or pitching for stenography jobs. However, you may find that set courses help you develop your skills and abilities in the role. Sorene offers distance learning modules on becoming a stenographer, while membership of the BIVR gives you access to various courses helping you upskill in areas such as speed (or words recorded per minute).
Many people apply to the BIVR, which provides people with access to courses in stenography and Speech-to-Text or for those who wish to work with people who are hard of hearing. You will also be able to purchase your own stenography machine from their approved vendors, which are generally between £100 and £200.
You may also practise personal development upskilling. You could focus on reading around the area you work in to develop your knowledge of core vocabulary, work on your typing speed, and develop your re-translation skills to make yourself a more valuable member of a wider legal team or as a hireable freelancer.
Your skills as a stenographer combine a speedy ability to transcribe with a good understanding of your industry. Example skills include:
- Confidence in shorthand writing, both handwritten and via a stenograph keyboard.
- Ability to transcribe shorthand into longform English.
- Excellent listening skills to ensure all transcriptions are accurate, quickly transcribed and easily understood.
- Excellent written communication skills - you’ll need to retranscribe any audio recordings so your written command of English needs to be good.
- Excellent verbal communication skills - you’ll need to share your transcription efforts confidently with others.
- A good understanding of the areas of law, medicine or government that you’re working in, particularly any key vocabulary or terminology you’re likely to come across to ensure correct use of spellings, grammar and punctuation in your transcriptions.
- An ability to use stenography software and a stenotype keyboard correctly, and an ability to recognise any errors existing before starting legal proceedings.
- Ability to work well under pressure - your work is immediate and requires constant thought processes.
- Excellent concentration skills - you can’t afford to zone out if it’s up to you to ensure an important meeting is recorded accurately!
- Good social skills - you’ll need to work with clients from a variety of walks of life, so you’ll need to work well socially.
- An ability to work independently and confidently.
- An ability to work well within a wider interdisciplinary team.
- Business administrative skills, if you’re working as a freelancer (you’ll need to manage your own accounts, apply for client work and build a good reputation).
Work experience is not necessarily essential to becoming a stenographer. Stenographers are more desirable based on the skills and qualifications they have, as opposed to their specific industry experience. Those with experience in another field within the industry of law or medical care, will likely have an edge, however.
It is possible to find stenography apprenticeships. As stenography is a transferable skill, it is possible to find apprenticeship opportunities outside of the usual legal or medical websites - you can even find stenography apprenticeships on the NCTJ website.
If you are planning on working as a freelance stenographer, it is best to have experience first. Clients tend to hire people with experience and industry contacts, so working as part of a larger organisation is advisable first.
Court cases, governmental meetings and medical proceedings are usually classified, so a work experience individual would usually not be permitted to attend or view any important notes taken. Instead, it’s a great idea to gain some experience minuting meetings in a previous role, if possible.
With strong skills and experience, you could move to a management position within stenography. You may find that you need to move across different departments or sectors to obtain a more advanced or better paid position. Many stenographers move across various industries, from medical to legal to government.
A stenographer records everything that happens during court procedures. They utilise shorthand, a shortened symbol version of English, to record language at speed to keep a verbatim record of legal and medical proceedings.
You could consider being a freelance stenographer too. Many desirable firms may hire stenographers on an ad hoc basis instead of recruiting a specific stenographer internally, so opportunities could be more varied. Many stenographers find that freelancing offers them a great work/life balance and access to exciting client work across various industries. You’ll usually need to show some form of qualification or evidence to show your ability in the field in order to access a good client list.
You might also find that stenography is an aspect you would enjoy within a broader administrative role. You may cover stenography within paralegal work or administrative government jobs, as well as medical personal assistant or executive assistant jobs.
- Recruitment Consultant Salaries in United Kingdom — Glassdoor.co.uk Retrieved 22 September 2022.