Tina Ritchie, of Rising Sun, has been a court reporter for Cecil County for 21 years. In her senior yearbook, she said that she wanted to be a court stenographer. When she started, there were three court reporters and two courtrooms. Now there are three reporters and five courtrooms. Court reporters transcribe civil and criminal cases, including jury trials, sentencing and motion hearings, and more.
How did you get your start?
In high school I never cared for math or science, but I steered toward the business classes and I excelled in shorthand. One of our assignments in Mrs. Hitching’s business class was to find a profession and do a report. My dad thought that court reporting was fascinating, so I looked into it and it played to a lot of my strengths and you could make good money doing it.
How did you train for the job?
What essential skills are required?
You need to be able to do 225 words a minute to get out of school. They have Merit writers that do 270 words. I go from 120, which is nice and slow, to 270, which is really fast. You have to have a strong understanding of English grammar rules, punctuation, proofreading, good time management skills, you can’t stress easy. And a good poker face because you hear some interesting things in court that you can’t roll your eyes or be surprised at what you hear. Sometimes that is the hardest part of my day.
Describe a typical day.
I get together with my coworker and we go over the docket and prioritize things. If it is a big trial, we each rotate a day so you are not transcribing 800 pages. It depends on the case, but generally we have everything out in two weeks. But for appeals it is 60 days and adoptions are expedited, so they are done in 20 days. It really depends on the situation. Each court room has CourtSmart, which is a digital recording. If someone wants a transcription of it, we can do that too.
What’s the best part of the job?
I love that it is something new every day. I like working in a small community and I like having a close working relationship with the bar and the judges. I like having a challenge of something new every day.
What’s the biggest challenge?
Accents and medical terminology, street slang. Sometimes the atmosphere in the court room gets a little tense with people cutting one another off. I would still say the biggest challenge is accents.
What advice would you offer someone looking to go into this field?
I don’t think it is a dying field. The technology is out there. Some people think the keyboard is the hardest part, but it is not. It is getting your speed up, that is the hardest part. People seem to hit their top speed and can’t get over it.
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