The job of a court reporter is one which can be quite complex and challenging. Duties extend beyond simply recording what is spoken by those within the courtroom; a reporter must also be adept with the setup and operation of job-related equipment. He or she must also establish rapport and communication with lawyers and witnesses to ensure quality service and accurate transcription.
Whether you’re just getting started in the field or you’re a seasoned veteran, there are plenty of strategies and tricks of the trade that can help you improve your capabilities. Here are eight to get you started.
1. Don’t Just Be Punctual—Be Early
In many walks of life, being on time according to the clock is essentially showing up late. Walking in at the last minute not only adds stress for attorneys awaiting your presence, it forces you to set up in a hurry and affords you no time to prepare or respond to unexpected issues. Try to show up a half-hour early so that you have plenty of time to establish your workstation, speak with attorneys, and get your bearings.
2. Interpret the Interpreters
With cases involving two different primary languages—or the use of sign language, in some cases—an interpreter may be necessary. It is the duty of a court reporter not only to make it clear when a witness is testifying versus when an interpreter is speaking, but also to swear in the interpreter with the proper verbiage. Make sure you’re prepared should this need arise.
3. Spelling Specifics
Communicate with witnesses to confirm the spelling of their first and last names for the record, and don’t assume that common names are spelled just as you expect. Using breaks and the period immediately following the deposition to secure proper spellings can be helpful when opportunities don’t present themselves readily during testimonies.
4. Working With Attorneys
It’s important to establish rapport with attorneys you work directly with and to provide them with service which meets the needs of the case. Often times, transcripts may be requested to be expedited or kept confidential. Clarify what these requests truly mean. “I need it tomorrow” can be a vastly different request than “I need it first thing tomorrow morning”—be sure you know what the expectations are.
Similarly, confidentiality is a sensitive issue. You’ll want to confirm whether the entire transcript is to be marked as such, and if so, what specific language should be used on the cover page. Some attorneys may request headers on each page indicating the confidentiality of the document; again, it’s best to confirm upfront to avoid dissatisfaction from clients.
5. Statement Semantics
Not every witness prefers to be sworn in. Affirming your testimony is legally equivalent to swearing under oath, but depending on any individual’s religious beliefs, swearing may not be preferred or even permitted. Be ready for either situation.
6. Don’t Fall Behind
A court reporter’s job duties can make it difficult to keep up and maintain an accurate record when witnesses rush, mumble, or when there are multiple persons speaking at the same time. While it’s important that you do not frequently interrupt proceedings or halt testimony for the wrong reasons, it’s vital that you know when to speak up in order to regain control of a situation so you can perform your job properly.
7. Always Be Prepared
If you have reason to believe that a particular case will include testimony which is complex or highly technical in nature, it’s helpful to prepare yourself in advance. Try to secure lists of names, terms, or acronyms which may be difficult to transcript accurately in real-time.
8. Stay Current
In addition to continually practicing and developing your skills as a court reporter, it’s also recommended that you keep current with industry tools. Make sure that both your computer and steno components are in good repair and that all necessary software, cables, and accessories are maintained and ready for action. Get familiar with the use of timers in the case you receive a request to track the duration of a deposition.
While there are certainly many unique facets to court reporting, many of the most effective tips and tricks are those which relate to almost any industry:
- Conduct yourself professionally and courteously at all times
- Dress appropriately for your work environment
- Continue to advance and develop your job skills consistently
- Always strive to deliver outstanding service to your clients
By following these lines of thinking, you’re sure to project an image of poise and confidence that will serve you well on the job. Sometimes there’s simply no replacement for experience, but by that same token, experience is no replacement for quality service and dedicated professionalism.