Nancy Silberger of Lynbrook, a past president of the New York State Court Reporters Association, spent the last four decades as a stenographer and still wakes up excited and ready to get to work.
Faced with a nationwide shortage of court reporters and stenographers, Silberger is doing her part by training new recruits to help meet increasing demands for this profession.
“I’ve been doing it for 40 years now and there has never been a day where I haven’t loved going to work,” Silberger said. “I love what I do and I want other people to love their job too.”
Court stenographers and reporters are primarily responsible for writing depositions, hearings, and proceedings verbatim using stenography machines, which come equipped with only 24 basic keys. They maintain the pace of the dialogue between each of the parties involved in the case. They also must identify the individual talking, reading back portions of dialogue upon request, and providing copies of any transcripts.
On average court reporters earn $60,380 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and depending on their precise line of work can make as much as six figures. Silberger said thanks to her lucrative profession, she was able to raise her daughter as a single parent and put her through college.
To help pay it forward, Silberger devotes a portion of her time each week to teach students online through Project Steno, a free six-week crash course on court reporting. Unlike some other online courses, participants are provided with their own stenograph machine, giving students opportunities to test the waters and determine whether it’s a career move that is right for them.
“I love teaching,” Silberger said. “A lot of reporters like to give back to the profession. We want people to know about what we do and get out there.”
Based on a 2013 study commissioned by the National Court Reporters Association, and conducted by Ducker Worldwide, the gap between available stenographers and the demand for their services is expected to continue to increase exponentially over the next several years.
By 2018, the need for court reporters surpassed the national supply by approximately 5,500 positions. The Covid-19 pandemic was an unexpected variable, which caused courthouses to close for extended periods of time, adding to wasteful delays and a backlog of court proceedings.
According to a February 2022 article from Long Island Business News, Harriet Brenner-Gettleman, owner of Realtime Center for Learning in Garden City, said the pandemic and advancement of courtroom technology led many seasoned court reporters to retire in recent years.
By working with Project Steno, Silberger is able to help students from all over the country with their typing skills. The program serves as a basic training boot camp, where students learn the fundamentals of shorthand theory and acclimate to typing between 140 to 225 words per minute on the steno machine.
The main goal of Project Steno is to promote the profession by building a robust pipeline to further education by assessing successful graduates and identifying the candidates most likely to succeed in a two-year school. Students, who advance to college-level court reporter courses, will occasionally finish in less time and will often be hired while they are still attending classes.
Silberger said since college classes on stenography and captioning are often more intensive, they tend to have a much higher dropout rate. Project Steno provides opportunities to try it out for free so that students can determine whether it is the right career path for them.
After completing basic training, Project Steno continues to help by guiding students to find the right court reporting school for them. Silberger said there are two primary places in the New York-Metro area specializing in such programs. The first is Plaza College in Forest Hills, Queens, and the second is the Realtime Center for Learning in Garden City.
Project Steno also provides students with a Merit Award program to help with the cost of school. This program helps provide $1,000 to students attending one of their partner programs, provided they register within 30 days prior to the start of classes.
“Students enrolled in the program are not just limited to working in the courts,” Silberger said. “There are so many ways to put these skills to use.”
In addition to working as a court stenographer, the lessons provided by Project Steno can help students looking to work in closed captioning, sports broadcasting, and computer-aided real-time translation.
To find out more about this free six-week program on court reporting, visit ProjectSteno.org or call (508) 438-0314.