Paul Baca Court Reporters
Randy Siner | NMBW
The job has kept her household afloat for the past two years, while her husband, who was laid off from a firm that installed security systems, looked for work.
Gonzales is a court reporter — one of those people who sit emotionless at a stenograph machine in court proceedings, depositions, government meetings, hearings and any other setting where an official transcript of the proceedings is needed.
“I thank God that I’m in this profession; it has helped me survive, ” Gonzales says.
Gonzales, who runs her one-person firm, Independent Court Reporters, out of her home in Los Lunas, says her business this year is up 30 percent over last year. Although 99 percent of her work is transcribing testimony in depositions, Gonzales would be able to find other work if that dried up.
The court reporting business is booming, thanks to federal laws that require closed captioning of TV shows and, now, captioning of all shows that TV stations stream on the Internet.
“A cottage profession has grown up over broadcast captioning. That area has opened up a great host of opportunities for those who enter the profession, ” says Jim Cudahy, spokesman for the Washington, D.C. area-based National Court Reporters Association, a trade organization that counts as members 21, 000 of the nation’s 50, 000 to 60, 000 court reporters.
“Court reporters themselves are pioneers with regard to bringing technology into the courtroom and other settings, and every day they are finding new applications for taking speech and turning it into words on paper or in an electronic file.”
Changing with the times
Court reporters sit at their machines and transcribe verbatim what is being said. They have to be able to transcribe at 225 words per minute to be certified in New Mexico and other states. Their keyboards consist of 24 consonants and four vowels, with consonants on the left- and right-hand sides, and vowels in the middle. Reporters can type words phonetically. Certain letters paired together represent certain phrases. It’s essentially a different language, court reporters say.
Reporters say it is imperative to have them in a courtroom or a deposition, because there is no substitute for a human being’s ability to discern what is occurring. Merely tape recording meetings or testimony can lead to errors and confusion when someone tries to transcribe it, they say.
For example, if someone coughs when a witness is spelling their name, a tape recorder will pick up the cough. A person can stop the proceeding and ask that the spelling be repeated.
Nationally, the average salary for the profession is $64, 000, says the Court Reporters Association.
Eighty-five to 90 percent of America’s court reporters are women, Cudahy adds.
“Those numbers were probably reversed 50 to 75 years ago, but court reporting has presented an opportunity for those who are looking for flexible schedules and for a career that does not penalize you for taking a hiatus in your career, ” Cudahy says.
As long as court reporters can keep up their speed and keep pace with technology, they’ll have jobs.
Technology has changed the profession drastically. Since people first began trying to transcribe the written word, there have been various versions of handwritten shorthand. The most famous, the Gregg method, became popular in the late 1800s.