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Queens School Looks To End Nationwide Court Stenographer Shortage

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Stenographers are on the front lines in court rooms across the country.

They silently transcribe all different kinds of proceedings for the official court record. It's a critical job, where people are preferred over computers, but now there's a nationwide shortage of stenographers.

CBS2's Andrea Grymes reports that one school in Queens is trying to change that.

It looks like a typical typing class, but look closer and you'll see it's not.

"It's like learning an instrument and a language at the same time," Plaza College student Cyzar Arca explained.

The students are trying to get up to typing a dizzying 225 words per minute. Many are hoping to go from the classroom to the courtroom and are part of Plaza College's court reporting program in Forest Hills.

(Credit: CBS2)

"Wherever lawyers need depositions, they need you," Arca added.

"Every one of our students is placed as soon as they graduate. This is an amazing, amazing profession," court reporting program director Karen Santucci said.

Santucci admits it's a profession not many people know much about. One of the reasons why there's a nationwide shortage of stenographers.

"We're really the guardians of the record," Santucci added.

These guardians transcribe every spoken word for the official court record; from trials, to grand jury proceedings, to depositions.

Santucci told CBS2 that during the recession the court system across the country started using some tape recorders instead of stenographers to save money. They soon realized human skill trumps technology.

"The problem was that, first of all, someone forgot to turn on recorders… a tape recorder can't, doesn't know if someone is mumbling."

Plaza College is trying to make up for lost time and make sure there are enough reporters to fill all the open positions expected over the next few years.

"5,500 jobs are going to be vacant in the courts," Santucci explained.

Stenographers also do television closed captioning and work with hearing-impaired students in schools. It takes a lot of practice – on a specialized, blank keyboard.

"You learn how to type on this and whatever you type here appears in real time on this computer," student Emily Aquino said.

(Credit: CBS2)

Starting salary in the lower courts is about $70,000, plus benefits and a pension, but many say getting the opportunity to transcribe history is priceless.

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