Good Question: How Do Court Reporters Type So Quickly?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — During criminal trials, the busiest person in the courtroom isn’t always the judge or the attorneys — it’s the court reporter. You see them sitting quietly, typing nonstop.

So how do court reporters keep up with all the dialogue during a trial?

When it comes to words per minute, some of us peck at the keys, while others are like Mozart on a keyboard.

“We are the secret, quiet profession,” Merilee Johnson of Paradigm Reporting and Captioning said. “Our job is to not talk. Our job is to listen.”

Merilee has quietly sat and typed in courtrooms for years during major trials. The trick to keeping up with everything is having good ears and quick fingers.

“Basically, when you think about it, we are a tie between a pianist and a translator,” she said.

Just like a good piano player, a court reporter’s stenograph allows them to stay accurate by typing in individual keys or in chords.

“I can write ‘state your full name’ in one stroke — like a piano chord,” Merilee said.

On Merilee’s keyboard there is no X or Z — since they aren’t often used — but a key stroke can make those letters if needed. There are two “S” keys — one on each end — and those letters can be turned into entire words with key strokes.

“I can have ‘S’ and that’s going to be the letter ‘s.’ It’s also going to be the word ‘is,'” Merilee said.

The million dollar question in all of this is — how many words per minute can Merilee type?

“You have to graduate with 225 words a minute, with 95 percent accuracy,” said Merilee. “That’s the standard.”

Merilee has even had quick bursts of up to 400 words per minute. There are occasional typos, but the few things Merilee isn’t sure about in a deposition, she types out phonetically and then fixes later.

As an officer of the court, she can do what voice recognition can’t.

“If you have the word ‘there,’ ‘their’ or ‘they’re,’ voice recognition can’t change the context and let you know,” she said.

Anoka Technical College, which has a court reporting program, said there will be a nationwide shortage of court reporters within about five years.

Merilee said TV weather forecasts are actually the hardest thing to do closed captioning for. During the hockey season, she does closed captioning on the big screen at Wild games.

Her firm also does CART services for hearing impaired students, and they’ve provided closed captioning services for former Presidents and the Dalai Lama.

More from John Lauritsen
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