Getting every word

AT WORK

Court reporter Dwayne Harrison does up to 250 words a minute on his stenographic machine

January 23, 2008|By NANYC JONES-BONBREST | NANYC JONES-BONBREST,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Dwayne Harrison

Court reporter

Gore Brothers Reporting & Videoconferencing, Baltimore

Salary --$85,000

Age --48

Years on the job --26

How he got started --Tired of sitting at a cubicle as a clerk-typist while working for the Social Security Administration, Harrison began looking around for other careers. A co-worker suggested court reporting, so he applied to a local college and began taking classes. He started working at Gore Brothers in 1982 and operates as an independent contractor for that company.

Typical day --Harrison maintains a flexible schedule but he often works five days a week and occasionally on Saturdays. About 90 percent of his work involves going to an attorney's office to record and transcribe a deposition. Usually he's assigned one job a day but sometimes will go on more. He gets his assignments via e-mail from Gore Brothers, usually about 4 p.m. the day before. He travels throughout the Baltimore and Washington metro region.

A typical job lasts about three hours. The depositions are taken on the stenographic machine as recorded notes - similar to shorthand - which are fed through a computer program that translates them into words or phrases. From there he must edit the rough transcript, which can take as long as, or longer than, the statement itself, depending on the complexity of the testimony. He e-mails the file to Gore Brothers. It is printed and delivered to the customer.

Unique jobs --Harrison recently traveled to Amsterdam in the Netherlands to take depositions. He has also gone to Poland for the Justice Department to take a deposition on war crimes.

Stenographic machine --"None of the keys are in the same place as a typewriter," Harrison said. "I don't have all the letters. I compensate for the missing letters by combining letters. I do outlines of words."

This method allows him to be fast, typing up to 250 words per minute. The average person speaks about 180 words per minute.

Paperless --His laptop is plugged into his stenographic machine, which transcribes the notes within seconds into a rough draft. As a backup, he also records the deposition digitally.

The good --"I like the freedom of working out of my home and not having to sit in a cubicle. You can work when you want. ... It's a different scenario every day."

The bad --"It can be very exhausting and can be very tedious work."

Favorite assignment --Helping someone with a physical disability, such as multiple sclerosis or carpal tunnel, take the bar exam. They dictate their answers to Harrison, who then transcribes the information.

Aches and pains --Harrison said his hands don't hurt, but he does work out three times a week to keep his back limber. "It can be kind of hard on your back to sit there that long."

Philosophy on the job --"Go in with a positive mindset. Do the best job you can and produce the best transcript you can under the circumstances."

Nancy Jones-Bonbres

Special to The Sun

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