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15 Tips for Making a Clear Record

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1. Enunciate – speak clearly and loudly. Even though we must, at times, write five words a second, speed alone is rarely the problem. Slurring or poor enunciation is. This is important because there are numerous words, if slurred and spoken fast, sound alike to the court reporter. For example: Was the witness “racing” horses or “raising” horses? Were the stock certificates “worthless” or “worth less”? Did the money go to the “state” or the “estate”? Abduction and adduction, hyper and hypo, inter and intra sound similar and radically change meanings of root words. Context may help, but not always. There are thousands more.

2. What’s in a name? Two things are true about names: Everyone has one, and no one likes it when his or her name is misspelled, mispronounced or confused with someone else’s. But many names sound alike: Terry/Perry, Egan/Regan, Morris/Norris, Hoffman/Coffman, Corcoran/Cochran, White/Wyatt. Proper names should be spelled out or enunciated slowly and clearly so there is no doubt. And even if you pronounce it slowly, the reporter will probably ask you to spell it later anyway.

Early in my career, I reported the deposition of a Mr. Smith, as his name was listed on the Notice to Take Deposition. Common name, no need to ask him to spell his last name. I was mortified when the witness sent back his errata sheet and affidavit and I received three pages of corrections, all relating to the misspelling of his last name, which was Smyth.

3. Be aware of how the record will look when written. Court reporters write what is said, so be aware of how the record will look when written. If there are things that you would like in the record that are not being said, describe them. For example, if the deponent says, “It hurt here and here, and I had a bruise here,” it is counsel’s job to describe that by saying something like “Let the record reflect the witness is pointing to her right temple, right elbow and the right side of her jaw.” If you feel it is important to note that the deponent made a physical gesture or was conferring with counsel, then make a verbal notation for the record. For example, “Let the record reflect that the witness is rolling his eyes.” “Let the record reflect that the witness and her counsel conferred before responding to my question.” “Let the record reflect that opposing counsel’s tie clashes with his shirt and it hurts my eyes to even look his direction.”

Be alert to nods or shrugs as answers or a handclap to describe the force of an impact. When I see lawyers fail to note these things in a deposition, I resist the urge to speak up to clarify. Your opposing counsel sits impassively, hands folded. He’s recognized it; he’s mute.

Along the same lines, be careful about using too many pronouns and direct the deponent to use names rather than pronouns. Imagine a judge reading an answer like this: “She said she saw her turn that way instead of this way.” The record is much clearer when you and the deponent use names rather than pronouns.

4. Numbers can be a challenge. As unnatural as it is, the reporter will forever be in your debt if you say the whole number and the identifying adjectives that will help the reporter understand how to transcribe the digits. If you say twelve-fifty, I can’t certify $12.50 or $1,250 or $12,050.

A court reporter was taking the deposition of a man who was discussing dates, account numbers, dollar amounts and check numbers. The reporter could not see what the attorney and deponent were referring to, so when they said “ten twelve ninety-nine” she had no idea if it was the date 10/12/99 or the account number 10-1299 or the dollar amount $10,012.99, and so had to transcribe it as words.

The other point to also keep in mind is how your electronic transcript will read. If someone on your staff who was not present at the deposition wants to do a keyword search of account number 10-1299 in the electronic transcript and you just said ten twelve ninety-nine throughout the deposition, their search will come up empty. They will have to spend hours reading a very tedious transcript for the information they need.

5. Overlapping and tailgating. Often, your demeanor infects a witness. The overlapper/tailgater’s anxiety won’t let witnesses finish their sentences. Once the witnesses are infected, they won’t allow you to complete the question. The transcript reads:

Q. Did you call the police —

A. Yes, I did when —

Q. —  at the time of the —

A. — I first discovered —

Q. —  accident?

6. Exhibits. Allow the reporter enough time to mark exhibits before continuing. Also, please identify the exhibit on the record or have the witness identify the exhibit, as opposed to just handing the exhibit to the witness and asking them to go to a certain page so you can begin asking a question pertaining to that page. Many times at the conclusion of a deposition, the exhibits are withdrawn by either counsel. If you do not have an adequate description on the record of the exhibits marked and you need to refer to them later or cite them in a brief to the court, you will not be able to do so.

It is always very helpful for the reporter to be able to refer to the exhibits when producing their transcript. If you do desire to withdraw the exhibits, let the reporter take them with him/her at the conclusion of the deposition and they can return the originals to you once the transcript is completed.

7. Did I say that? A casual listener at a legal proceeding may be impressed with the clarity of what was said, but the reporter is not a casual listener. The reporter hears and must record the false starts, the mistaken references to plaintiff instead of defendant, inaccurate exhibit numbers and dates and, often, the unfortunate grammatical errors. Before approaching the reporter with, “Did I say that?” remember that the reporter is only the mirror that reflects what was actually said, not what was intended.

8. Quote, Unquote. During the course of a deposition, you might find occasion to quote from documents, depositions or other written material. Almost everyone has a tough time reading aloud with accuracy. Keep in mind that if it is important enough to quote, it is worth doing so in a fashion that can be heard and understood by everyone. The ability to speed-read is an asset, but not in a deposition. When quoting, give the proper reference and indicate where the quote begins and ends by saying “quote” and “unquote.” When you read testimony into the record, include the words “question” and “answer.”

9. Off the Record.

MR. SMITH: Off the record.

MR. JONES: No, I don’t want to go off the record.

MR. SMITH: Well, this is my reporter…..

The “this” Mr. Smith refers to is, in fact, an officer of the court, impartial, and the property of no one. The reporter’s duty is to prepare a full and accurate record of proceedings. Only when all counsel agree, will the reporter stop writing. The reporter will not start writing again until directed to do so by all counsel.

10. Methyl-Ethyl-What? Through training and continuing education, court reporters, like lawyers, acquire a broad general knowledge. However, in this world of advanced technologies, it is difficult to be familiar with every possible subject matter. You have the advantage of having prepared your case and thus become familiar with its specialized terminologies. A reporter will not be as prepared for the pharmacological terms or medical terms or metallurgical terms that have become like old friends to you during your preparation. You can help ensure an accurate transcript – and even more so with realtime display – by providing the reporter with a glossary of technical terms and names. This will acquaint the reporter with the terminology of the case and minimize interruptions for clarification during the proceedings.

11. Remember, Speed Kills. In an average day, the court reporter will write anywhere from 30,000 to 50,000 words. It is best for everyone that this not occur within the first two hours. As with other aspects of life, the pace of legal proceedings has picked up over the years. People simply talk faster than they used to. The average rate of speech is now estimated to be 150 to 160 words per minute, or about two and one-half words per second. In the heat of a deposition, it’s not unusual for speech to approach double that rate. Above 200 words per minute, speech tends to become indistinct, making it more likely that words will be misheard.

This isn’t to apologize for the skills of the court reporter. For example, the National Court Reporters Association’s Registered Professional Reporter (RPR) exam includes three dictations of five minutes each at 180, 200 and 225 words per minute. That’s a rate of three to almost four words per second every second for five solid minutes. The Registered Merit Reporter (RMR) exam has portions at 200, 240 and 260 words per minute. Reporters are skilled professionals trained to write at high rates of speed, but this skill, like the engine in your car, isn’t there to be run at top speed every time out. The points you make with your questions and your arguments look and sound better when you speak clearly than when you are racing out of control near the upper range of comprehension.

Speed can greatly affect the accuracy of a realtime transcript. While the court reporter may be able to hang on and read back through any missed fingering at 250 words per minute, all it takes is one wrong key and the computer cannot translate accurately. If you notice a degradation in the realtime quality, it may be due to talking too rapidly.

12. Everything takes time. The press of modern life and the conveniences of technology encourage rush demands. In some cases, the necessity is real. Court reporters don’t mind turning a transcript around overnight – if they get advance warning. The problem comes in when an attorney concludes a deposition, looks up, and asks to have a copy in the morning. It is helpful to know beforehand that they need it the next day.

It is common practice for reporters to ask whether the job is a rush when the deposition is scheduled. Unfortunately, many attorneys don’t let their staff know, so it cannot be communicated to the reporting firm. If we know in advance that it is a rush job, we can schedule reporters to accommodate the need. Otherwise, the reporter who shows up may have a job the next day in another location, be planning to leave on a long-scheduled vacation, or otherwise be unavailable for such a rapid turnaround.

Some attorneys seem to think the reporter “can press a button and it’s done.” The advent of realtime reporting, where parties see the transcript as it is recorded, has only added to this perception. Most reporters “strive to be accurate.” As a result, they prefer to review and correct any typographical errors in the transcript. Despite the computerization, the process can still take time.

What types of errors can occur? There are, of course, the difficulties associated with obscure terms or special terminology. But even a single keystroke can mean the difference between various alternate words or meanings. In fact, realtime reporting can be a significant culprit in this regard. A past article in the Journal of Court Reporting highlighted the challenges of realtime captioning a message from the Pope. The software generated conflicts between such words as “thy” and “thigh,” “canon” and “cannon,” “thrown” and “throne,” and perhaps most disconcertingly, “Jews” and “juice.”

13. Technology is your friend. To put it mildly, technology has revolutionized our lives. Although technology can sometimes be frustrating and intimidating, it provides many efficiencies and capabilities that our legal and court reporting professionals simply did not have access to before.

A prime example of that is court reporting realtime technology. As the reporter writes on their steno machine the words being spoken, the words spoken are instantly translated into English and appear on the reporter’s realtime screen. With this technology, attorneys are able to receive the realtime feed on their laptops or iPads allowing them to not only view the transcript as it is being spoken, but to scroll through previous testimony, search for any key words, add notations or issue codes.

Another example is a totally electronic transcript. With more courts requiring electronic filings only, an electronic transcript in several different formats can be furnished with the exhibits hyperlinked and any corrections by the witness inserted.

14. Some final points. Court reporting is a physically demanding job. It may not look like it because we are sitting at a keyboard, but it is. Many court reporters face repetitive stress injuries in their hands, arms, shoulders, necks and backs. That’s why the chair matters. Regular breaks and time to eat a decent lunch during lengthy proceedings are appreciated.

The two best ways to improve the transcript of any proceeding are “speak clearly and don’t interrupt each other.” Do that and you won’t just make the court reporter’s day, you will make your record.

Reporters are the silent performers in the deposition room or courtroom, as they should be. When a reporter does speak up, it is in the best interest of the record to recognize and acknowledge the problem at hand and to make every effort to resolve it.

Remember: THE SPOKEN WORD VANISHES; THE WRITTEN RECORD REMAINS.

15. The bottom line. As court reporters, we want to work well with you, our client. We want to help you obtain an accurate, usable record, and we want to provide you with the best possible transcript. We want to have a partnership that works for all parties concerned. We are a dedicated, hardworking group of professionals who are proud to be working with you in the legal system. Let’s make the most of our collective skills, abilities, resources and talents, and let’s work together to be an outstanding team.

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