The country's oldest court reporting program turns 100

July 25, 2012

Carrie Shepherd and Kate Dries

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Chicagoans planning to continue their education have many options: City colleges, private universities and vocational schools are just a few places to look. But there's one school in the heart of the Loop that has a deep history with a specialty education track: MacCormac College has the country's oldest court reporting program, and 2012 marks its centennial anniversary.

Court reporting may seem like an outdated career path because of new advancements in technology, but program director Peg Sokalski-Dorchack says people like her won't be out of work anytime soon. She says rather than replace court reporters, technology makes the job faster and more efficient.

When she started in the business, her reports were handwritten. Now, computers mean faster input of trial arguments, and a quick email attachment and send get notes in lawyers' hands.

In today's economy, the next obvious question after school is: Will I have a job? The Bureau of Labor Statistics places job growth over the next decade for court reporters on par with other occupations with about 14 percent growth. The career extends outside the courtroom. Growing needs for captioning services will also put workers with court reporting training on the job market. 

MacCormac College's Peg Sokalski-Dorchack joined Eight Forty-Eight's Tony Sarabia Wednesday morning to explain more about required court reporting skills and how the field is evolving and changing. She answered some of your most pressing questions aout the profession:

What happened before court reporters?

“They used pen and paper to do shorthand.”

When did that change?

“Somebody invented a machine that could do keystrokes and the machine gradually evolved into what it is today. The people who write on the machine are actually doing it verbatim. Every single word. They’re not taking notes.”

"They could write faster. I’m sure some pen writers might disagree with that but over the years, the machine has enabled the reporters to produce their records faster, to become less tired, to use both hands on the machine."

"The software can translate the notes for us and we can do an editing. It has allowed court reporters to morph into broadcast captioning and work with the deaf and hard of hearing."

How did the Maccormac program start?

“I’m not sure because I’m not 100 years old. It started as a business college and this was a business career.”

Okay, but what kind of stuff do I have to be good at to get this job?

"[We type at] 225 words a minute. You have to have good hearing and good finger dexterity. You have to like working with words."

And how do you type so fast?

"It’s a unique keyboard: the lefthand keys represent beginning consonant sounds, the righthand keys represent final consonant sounds and the thumb keys are vowels."

But do we even need people to do this anymore? Isn't there just a computer that will do it for us?

"I think technology has saved the profession, actually. Computer aided transcription, live captioning on the internet, transcripts sent through email, paperless writers [have all helped]. Technology has really helped to change the profession and it’s also increased more opportunities, because we’re also not just in the courtroom anymore."

So I just go to school and then I get a job doing this? Sweet!

"In IL you have to be licensed in order to work as a court reporter, so that lends a level of quality and professionalism. [But] the Chicago area  is a good market [with all the] depositions, hearings, arbitrations.

Is it a dependable profession?

"If you want to have a job that’s consistent like a Monday-through-Friday type of job where you have a salary benefits, courts are for you."

"If you want something that’s more variation...then freelance reporting is a good option."