What You Should Expect From Your Court Reporter
In today’s ultra-competitive litigation support industry, it has become increasingly challenging to find a court reporter and court reporting firm that mirror your progressive, modern litigation philosophy. From the large national court reporting firms that now have a presence in just about every major metropolitan area, to the familiar firms in your local market, almost all will boast the old taglines of “speed,” “accuracy,” “timeliness,” “professionalism,” and probably a dozen or so other predictable marketing descriptors you’ve seen for decades. The fact of the matter is, they all more often than not will produce very accurate and timely transcripts. However, you should be expecting so much more from your court reporter. There are several other attributes of a truly exceptional court reporter and reporting firm that will make them stand out from the rest and give you the confidence that you have hired an invaluable litigation support partner.
9 Attributes of Exceptional Court Reporters:
1) USE AND MASTERY OF CURRENT COURT REPORTING TECHNOLOGY:
An exceptional court reporter uses computer-aided transcription software at all times and will have his or her laptop with them at all proceedings. This is critical in the arena of efficiency and expediency, as during breaks and lunch, you should see your reporter already editing the transcript. They also use AudioSync technology and will edit transcripts line by line against their audio. This is not an indication of inferior talent, as a truly professional court reporter will use whatever technology available in addition to their talent to ensure 100 percent accurate transcripts, and to not use this technology is irresponsible and a serious red flag that a reporter is not keeping up with the technology in the field. If you don’t already know what AudioSync technology is, ask your reporter the next time you see them on a job, and they should be happy to give you a simple, two-minute demonstration.
2) THE SILENT OBSERVER IN THE ROOM:
An exceptional court reporter will try to be as invisible as possible during a proceeding and will only interrupt in very limited circumstances. If a reporter has done their job properly and effectively, you will forget they are there until the proceeding is concluded and orders are discussed. Furthermore, your court reporter should only speak up during a proceeding if he or she can literally not hear a soft-spoken witness. And chances are, if the reporter can’t hear the witness, one of the attorneys can’t either, and will usually speak up before the reporter has a chance to.
3) FOCUS AND ENDURANCE:
An exceptional court reporter will never be the one to ask to go off the record for a break. They understand that you have a method and a flow to your questioning, and they realize that most attorneys or witnesses will usually break between an hour and two hours anyway. You will always remember a reporter who is constantly asking for breaks, interrupting your flow; and you will definitely remember how different it is working with reporters who take pride in their endurance, respecting the fact that they are working on your time.
An exceptional court reporter will never ask for spellings while on the record. The appropriate time for spelling questions are at breaks or after the proceeding. Furthermore, spellings of industry terms, streets, towns, cities, colleges, etc., that are easily found using Google or other search engines (or on exhibits that they will have in their possession after the deposition) should not be asked at all. Asking you or the witness for this type of information is basically using your time to do the easy research that a professional reporter should know how to do on their own. This can prove quite detrimental if the time your court reporter is using to ask spelling questions causes the expert witness you are deposing to go into another hour of very costly billing.
5) KNOWING HOW TO HANDLE MULTIPLE SPEAKERS AT ONCE:
An exceptional court reporter will rarely interrupt while on the record to ask people in the room to speak one at a time. It can be difficult to create an easily readable transcript when people speak over one another during a deposition. An appropriate way to handle this is to briefly say to the questioning attorney at a break that the testimony is getting conversational, reminding the attorney how stacked, staggered and broken up the transcript will look, and to kindly ask counsel to remind the witness before going back on the record to wait until he or she finishes the question before they answer. A reporter who is constantly interrupting on the record is giving the impression that they are not capturing all of the testimony, and is breaking the flow of an attorney’s questioning. It may also be a strategy of an attorney to talk over a witness, and if opposing counsel is not objecting, it is not the place of a court reporter to object for them, so to speak.
6) FIRST ONE IN, LAST ONE OUT:
An exceptional court reporter will be the first to arrive at a proceeding and the last to leave. He or she will never complain about a deposition that goes past 5:00, or well into the night, for that matter.
7) NEVER MISSING A DEADLINE:
An exceptional court reporter will always answer the question “How soon can I get the transcript?” with “Whenever you need it.” No exceptions, even if it means staying up all night after a nine-hour deposition to get the final in your hands first thing the next morning. Remember, your court reporter is working for you, and you should always expect your reporter to deliver no matter how demanding the time constraints.
8) EXTREMELY CLEAN ROUGH DRAFTS:
The days of barely readable “dirty ASCIIs” are long gone. As technology in court reporting has evolved, so too has the ability of a court reporter to be incredibly accurate immediately. An exceptional court reporter will produce all rough drafts that you order within a few hours of going off the record, and the quicker the better. The reporter should be using breaks to clean up steno and check fuzzy parts in the transcript so that by the end, a very clean, extremely helpful and readable rough draft should not take very long.
9) DIRECT COMMUNICATION:
Finally, and maybe the most important, you should have the ability to have direct contact with the court reporter on your case. Communication with your court reporter should be as streamlined as possible. You may need to reach them when:
- You have a question regarding delivery time.
- Realize you need a rough draft and the deposition ended hours ago.
- Maybe it’s the weekend and you forgot to order a transcript.
- You need to get an excerpt of a final transcript to help you prepare for your next witness.
You shouldn’t have to go through many confusing channels in order to get your request to the reporter. This means that your court reporter should have their professional emails and cell numbers on their cards, and can be reached at any time. As simple as this may sound, there are many court reporting firms out there that will basically discourage communication directly with your reporter, and will have you go through a series of middlemen until your request or question finally gets to the reporter. This is an obvious waste of your time.
If you are currently working with court reporters and reporting firms that meet the above criteria, congratulations. Keep using them, as they are truly acting in the best interest of the record and your time. However, if the court reporters that you are currently hiring continually fail to meet any or all of the above attributes and practices of a truly professional reporter, it may be time to rethink what it is you should be expecting from the litigation support that you hire. You may benefit from seeking out other court reporting firms in your city that put a greater emphasis on efficiency and possess a deeper understanding and respect for the entire discovery process.
In another article, we discuss Getting the Most Out of E-Transcripts Without a Westlaw Subscription.
You may also like: Digital Signatures: Protecting the Data Integrity of Electronic Transcripts.
About the Author:
Todd L. Persson has been serving the Cleveland legal community as a court reporter since 2002 and is a Co-Founder of Cleveland-based litigation support firm Cleveland Reporting Partners, LLC. He has spoken on the future of court reporting and technology on the Stenographers World Radio national podcast, has had blogs featured nationally by the National Court Reporters Association and the American Translators Association, and has contributed articles to the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Journal. To read Todd’s full bio, visit our Partners page. Connect with him on LinkedIn here.
CRP Blog Editors in Chief:
Grace Hilpert-Roach has been serving the Cleveland legal community as a court reporter since 1992 and is a Co-Founder of Cleveland Reporting Partners, LLC. To read Grace’s full bio, visit our Partners Page. Connect with her on LinkedIn here.
Christine Zarife Green has been serving the Cleveland legal community as a court reporter since 2008 and is a Co-Founder of Cleveland Reporting Partners, LLC. To read Christine’s full bio, visit our Partners Page. Connect with her on LinkedIn here.