Aspiring court reporter explains how to type 225 words/minute at 95% accuracy
Anyone who loves true crime can probably name the major players in a court scene. The accused. The defendant. The prosecutor. Ladies and gentleman of the jury. Did we miss anyone, your honour? But, in our opinion, the essential but underrated player is actually someone who is rarely heard, but hears everything. Not on the record, but records everything.
The court reporter.
Stenography is a whole different set of language skills and speed. According to Len Sperling, chair of NAIT’s Captioning and Court Reporting program, graduates must be able to write question-and-answer testimony (two voices) at 225 words per minute with a minimum of 95% accuracy.
If that seems impossibly fast, you’re not alone. Captioning and Court Reporting student Isabelle Lumsden recently shed some light into the profession – and went viral in the process.
In September, Lumsden took her TikTok followers on a behind-the-scenes tour of what a stenographer’s keyboard looks like – and how she achieves such blazing speed. Her videos have received more than two million likes and even captured more attention from the likes of Buzzfeed.
We caught up with her after her first semester to find out what makes court reporting so interesting, why it won’t be replaced by AI anytime soon and what all those true crime dramas get wrong.
Techlifetoday: How did you first find out about the Captioning and Court Reporting program?
It was my mom who came across the program.She thought it would be a great fit because I love true crime, I love stories in general, and am good with technology. And, also importantly, no two days would be the same because of the different cases I would be involved in.
How does the stenography machine work? How does it differ from a regular keyboard?
Typing on a keyboard is completely different. It’s actually starting to mess me up on a regular keyboard. When you’re writing on a stenography machine, you’re pushing down keys at the same time to form whole words, kind of like playing chord on a piano. Words are spelled phonetically and they have shortcuts to make words. When I’m typing on a keyboard, I find myself wanting to type keys together rather than typing out the word.
“When you’re writing on a stenography machine, you’re pushing down keys at the same time to form whole words.”
There’s so many digital tools now, why is human stenography still faster and more accurate?
There’s been a lot of opinions about how AI will replace court reporters, but video cameras and audio equipment are really expensive. Live court reporters can talk to the judge or lawyers and ask for things to be repeated. Court reporters can also identify different speakers. Punctuation and noises in the recordings are also a big problem. A lot of these tools don’t know how to put in punctuation properly. Accents are also really hard for AI. It’s just not there yet. Stenographers will also often have an audio recording but that recording still needs to be transcribed.Some places will also have an audio recording that still needs to be sent to a transcriber. It’s ultimately much easier to have a human in the courtroom.
Was there a crime show that spurred your interest in the profession?
Honestly, I never paid attention to court reporters until I decided to apply to the program. I didn’t know that it was a type of job! Now I’m watching “How to get away with murder” and I’ll see the court reporter and think that’s going to be me. Though, I’m part of a Facebook group for court reporters and we’ve all noticed that the show court reporters are so slow! There’s no way that person is typing at 225 words per minute.
What does life after the program look like?
You can work contract work and pick up cases from lawyers or court rooms. You can even take it on vacation with you and have your feet in the sand while working!Court reporters are really high in demand in big cities. The [U.S.] especially has a nationwide shortage of court reporters.
Why is there a shortage?
A lot of court reporters are from an older generation and are close to retirement. People don’t necessarily know about it as a profession now so there aren't more people applying. But, court reporters are still very much in need for courts and closed captioning.
What inspired you to post about it on TikTok?
I felt like I hadn't seen much about court reporting in mainstream media so I decided it might be something cool and fun to post about. I definitely thought it might make some people interested and show them something they might not know even existed.
Were you surprised by how people reacted to it?
Yes, I was very surprised at how much it blew up. People were asking a lot of questions and some I had to find answers for! I was definitely surprised that so many people were so intrigued.
“I was very surprised at how much it blew up.”
Why do you think people reacted the way they did?
I think it's just overall fascinating. Lots of people had no clue what the profession entailed until I shared it with TikTok and that really made people want to learn more about it.
What’s your dream job after you’re done?
Working in a courtroom would be a dream job. My love for true crime is just too big for me to not be in a courtroom. If i could choose, I’d love to work on criminal cases. My family jokes about my facial expressions to what I might hear! I’ll have to practice keeping my face straight.
Anything you’d like to debunk about court reporting?
We’re not going to be replaced by AI anytime soon. We’re also not all ready for retirement! People might look at the stenography machine and think it looks old fashioned but it’s a cool job.
So how do stenographers keep up with blazingly fast dialogue in the courtroom? Well, we’ll let Isabelle’s TikTok (or T-KRTOBG, for the initiated) take it from here.