This officer of the court records and transcribes exactly what is said and done when people are being questioned during a court case.
Are official stenographers becoming extinct? Not at all! They are in demand in Quebec.
Most people don’t know much about these officers of the court who play an important role in our legal system.
When people are questioned during a court case, official stenographers record what is said and done. They record either by
- typing very fast on a strange-looking keyboard that uses phonetic symbols (“stenotype”) or
- repeating everything they hear into a recording mask (“stenomask”).
They then write out (transcribe) what they recorded in a written transcript.
When they’re present in the courtroom during a trial, they can be asked to go over their notes and repeat out loud something that was already said. But they’re not always present in the courtroom. In these cases, they prepare the transcript from a sound recording made in court during the trial.
Judges rely on transcripts when making their decisions after a trial. Transcripts are very important when a decision is appealed. Transcripts contain testimonies, admissions, objections, judges’ decisions on objections, etc.
Official stenographers must have these skills:
- excellent language skills
- ability to concentrate for long periods of time, good listening and typing skills
- professional attitude: on time, detail-oriented, able to manage stress, work well on their own, etc.
- record what people say and do as they speak (ask questions, answer questions, hesitate, cry)
- accurately transcribe exactly what was recorded
- make sure special rules are followed when people are questioned outside the courtroom
Official stenographers are not employed by the court. They are self-employed and sometimes work in a stenographers’ office. They spend a great deal of time recording what people say during court hearings and when people are questioned outside the courtroom. They work at home or at the office when they transcribe their notes.
They can also work during conferences and other events that are not part of court cases.
To become an official stenographer in Quebec, you must have
- an Attestation of College Studies (AEC) from the École de sténographie judiciaire du Québec or the equivalent from a recognized school (see below),
- passed the exam of the Comité sur la sténographie of the Barreau du Québec (stenography committee of Quebec’s professional association of lawyers). The exam is difficult. You need 90% to pass the spelling and grammar part and 80% for stenography techniques.
The two-year program at the École de sténographie judiciaire du Québec is in French. The courses are challenging, and students learn shorthand, stenography techniques and legal vocabulary.
You can do equivalent studies in English at the following schools, which are recognized by the Comité sur la sténographie:
Also, if you are a certified stenographer in Alberta, Ontario, Saskatchewan or British Columbia, you can work in Quebec if you pass the theoretical test of Quebec’s École de sténographie judiciaire. You can take this test in English.
You should know that there are plans to create an English version of the École’s training program for stenographers.
Official Stenographers working full-time earn about $50,000 a year. Because they are often self-employed, their yearly income depends on how much they work.
The government decides how much a stenographer can charge in fees:
- $70 an hour to record what is said by a witness
- a fixed amount per page for the transcript, depending on the type of witness and how much time they are given to prepare it
Stenographers can also make payment arrangements with their clients for specific cases.
The Service Canada website has information on official stenographers (also called “court recorders”) including the work they do, job prospects and salary.
The websites of the the Northern Alberta Institute of technology (NAIT) and the École de sténographie judiciaire du Québec (French only) have information on the training, career and job prospects for official stenographers.
The television show Le droit de savoir, produced by the Barreau du Québec (Quebec’s professional association of lawyers) and Télé-Québec, had an episode on official stenographers (French only).
Attestation of College Studies in legal stenography
Strong writing skills
Attention to detail