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TikTok freaks out over 'nationwide shortage' of underappreciated, high-paying courtroom job: 'I am getting so mad'

Katie Mather
·4-min read

When we think of important, high-paying jobs associated with the justice system (cue “Law & Order” theme), we think of the usual key characters — lawyers, cops and judges.

But thanks to TikTok, it’s become apparent that the hardest job in the courtroom is actually the stenographer, or, the court reporter.

22-year-old Isabelle Lumsden is a court reporter student in Canada and shared some behind-the-scenes looks on TikTok about how she uses a stenotype machine to transcribe everything that’s being said.

A common misconception is that stenographers use a regular keyboard or laptop to keep track of everything, when in reality they use this specialized chorded keyboard that types in shorthand.

According to Lumsden’s most viral TikTok — which clocked in at over 3 million views — she hooks her stenotype up to her laptop, which translates all the shorthand she’s typing into actual words.

The keyboard is broken into three main sections: initial/starting letters, vowels and finishing letters. The central-most key is an asterisk, which deletes the previous word — so keep that in mind for typos. Also, the keyboard isn’t marked with letters, so you have to memorize all of this.

To form words, you have to push specific keys at the same time. This is why stenographers can type an average of 225 words per minute.

If you have a headache just from reading this breakdown, you are not alone. Almost all of the comments seemed to have the same gist: they now had more questions about stenographers than before they even watched the video.

“I know u tried to simplify it………. but can u simplify it some more,” one user begged.

In response, Lumsden has uploaded six follow up videos trying to answer as many questions as possible and clarify how the keys work.

If you watched part one, you’ll notice that three different keys stand for “S” and the keyboard only has “A, E, O, U” for vowels.

“To get every letter in the alphabet, we have to use a combination of keys,” Lumsden explained.

Through my stress tears, I managed to take a screenshot of the combination keys for each letter, but Lumsden manually shows how to do it on her keyboard in the TikTok if you want to watch it in real-time.

“I am getting so mad because i wanna understand so bad but i CANNOT wrap my head around any of it,” someone commented.

To add more stress to an already stressful situation, Lumsden explained that voice recording technology — at least the technology available now — will not replace stenographers.

“Court reporters can indicate between speakers, they can read back what was just said and they can also understand accents pretty well,” she said. “Think about all the times Siri has misheard you. There isn’t much room for error in the court.”

Lumsden also dedicated an entire video to how to write punctuation.

“Pushing down different combinations of keys gives you any punctuation you might need,” she said.

Numbers, thankfully, are a little more straightforward. There’s a bar at the top of the keyboard that when pressed in specific spots in tandem with specific keys, produces the numbers.

For certain double digits, you hold down both numbers at the same time. But, you’ll notice that numbers like 12 and 21 require the same keys to be held down, so how would the laptop differentiate?

Lumsden says for 12 you hit the 1 and 2 keys at the same time, but for 21 you hit 2 and then 1.

“I think it’s really cool how you’ve made so many of us genuinely curious about stenography,” a TikTok user commented on one of Lumsden’s explainer videos. “Like, I’ve never thought about it, but now I’m fascinated.”

It’s true — a lot of commenters agreed that they had no idea stenography was this complicated. In fact, Lumsden also added in a separate TikTok that there is “a nationwide shortage” of court reporters.

The starting salary range isn’t too shabby either. A court reporter in New York could make $28 per hour or $58,985 per year.

It’s also a high-demand career that’s recession-proof (because crime doesn’t stop) and if you aren’t interested in court reporting, stenography is also used in live closed captioning for TV.

If that doesn’t sway you, Lumsden also explains that the program she’s taking in Canada costs just $2,000 CAD ($1,506 USD) per semester.

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If you survived reading this article, you might also want to read about what a flight attendant says are the biggest behind-the-scenes job secrets.

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