Court reporters have seen it all: successful depositions, failed depositions, civilized ones and heated ones. They’ve worked with meticulous attorneys, impulsive attorneys, those who stick to a script, and those who go with their gut.
Esquire Viewpoint spoke with four court reporters from the Esquire Court Reporter Council who attended the 2017 National Court Reporters Association Convention and Expo in Las Vegas. The interview participants – Charlene Friedman, Renee Kelch, Joanne Lee, and Suzann Sanchez – average 25 years of experience each.
“Attorneys work long and hard on their case before, during, and after the deposition,” said Friedman. “Their goal is to get a clear, concise record they can use in court or settlement talks. We can help, and we want to make sure attorneys know that.”
Sometimes attorneys get what they want from a deposition, and sometimes they don’t. These court reporters identified four areas where attorneys and reporters can work together to get a better record.
- Reporters can only take down one voice at a time.
One of the easiest ways an attorney can produce a great record is to avoid interruptions. Whenever two people are talking at once – and it’s common in depositions – the court reporter has to choose one person’s words to capture because he or she can record only one person at a time.Interruptions show up in the transcript as fragments ending in dashes on separate lines.
Attorney: State your name —
Witness: John Smith.
Attorney: — please.
Witness: But my friends call me —
Attorney: Your occupation?
Witness: — Lemonhead.
I’m a master plumber in —
Witness: — California.
Attorney: Where exactly?
Witness: In the city —
Attorney: Wow. You certainly have a long commute.
Witness: — of Los Angeles.
Yes, on a good day, three hours.
Attorney: Hey, John —
Attorney: — how did you get that nickname?
Witness: I like to eat sour candy.
The interruptions and over-talking (“overlapping”) create several problems: 1) the transcripts are longer than they need to be, costing firms perhaps three times as much as they should since transcripts are billed per page; 2) this type of fragmented transcript isn’t cogent and cannot be easily used in a summary judgment motion or to impeach a witness at trial; and 3) the witness is more likely to be confused when multiple individuals are talking at once, creating an unreliable record.
Any good court reporter will judiciously try to step in and halt overlapping where possible. An experienced reporter can make a huge difference to the smoothness of the proceeding. This is critical because after the fact, a reporter can’t just “smooth out” and alter testimony in in the written a transcript, especially if there is a video deposition that is synced to the audio.
“Interruptions are getting more common than ever,” said Lee. “Nobody seems to wait for anything anymore. Everything you could ever want to know is on your smartphone, and collectively, we’re all losing our patience.”
Lee has a trick for squelching interruptions: an audio clip cued to play from her laptop. When she hits a function key, a recording interjects, “Whoa, whoa, whoa!” The room immediately goes silent as everyone looks for the source of the sound. Another court reporter displays a sticker on the back of her laptop that reads, “One at a time, please.” An experienced reporter knows the tricks to help perfect a usable record.
- Work with the court reporter in advance.
By being organized and working ahead of time with your court reporter, you can optimize the time spent in the deposition and create an accurate record. Before the deposition, the attorney can partner with a reporter by sharing terms, names, spelling, and case names. This makes the court reporter’s job easier, creates a clean and accurate record, and cuts down on errors that will need to be corrected through the read and sign process.
- Try real-time transcription.
Real-time transcription is a technology that streams the transcript on a computer or tablet as the individuals are speaking. This technology allows the attorney to review the transcript immediately. Couple the technology with a skilled real-time reporter and attorneys can get immediate feedback on the quality of their questioning and the quality of the answers from the witness.Attorneys are able to see the record come together and learn from it as they ask questions and view the answers they get. By reviewing the transcript in real time, an attorney may realize that he or she failed to drive an important point home or that a question is not as artful as they hoped. Moreover, an attorney can easily backtrack and clarify the record during the deposition instead of weeks later when they review the finished transcript.
Finally, the technology improves accuracy in multilingual depositions involving interpreters. The rough transcript gives interpreters a second chance to “hear” what was said.
- Turn the reporter into a key part of your case
The more a court reporter works with you, the better rapport you will build. Of course, that doesn’t mean the reporter will become a vocal participant in your deposition. Rather, he or she will gain a better feel of how you communicate and how to communicate with you to ensure a good record. Likewise, the more a court reporter works on the case, the more adept they will be with the proper names, technical terms and other details pertaining to the case. This means you get a better record more quickly with fewer questions.
Cooperation is essential.
Attorneys who work together with an experienced court reporter can ensure a complete and accurate transcript to create a record that will lead to better outcomes for your clients.
“You, the attorney, take a deposition to get facts to aid in the successful resolution of your case, and we’re there to produce and protect the record,” said Lee. “To help yourself, communicate with us as you would with anyone protecting something you value.”