It is the court reporter’s responsibility to preserve the record, to take down the proceedings and transcribe them with accuracy and impartiality. The attorney has the responsibility to make the record, ensuring that the transcript will be clear. There are several things you, as the record maker, can do to better meet that responsibility.
- When you arrive, give the court reporter your card and write which party you represent on the back of the card. Attorneys change firms and firms move, so this helps ensure that the court reporter has your current contact information. When there are multiple attorneys and parties, it also aids the court reporter in remembering who represents whom if you have written it on your card. If you did not send a copy of the notice to the court reporting agency when you booked the job, bring an extra copy for the court reporter to the deposition so they don’t have to spend time copying all the information down.
- When speaking, keep your hands away from your mouth and avoid turning away from the reporter while talking. This sometimes happens when the attorney turns away to get a document out of his file, but he is continuing to ask the question.
- Be sure and speak distinctly and clearly. Many names sound alike, such as White and Wyatt. Acronyms can be hard to understand, too. Was it CNN or C&N? SAT or SAP? And you may be very familiar with the medical terms in a case, but the court reporter is usually walking in cold and if you rush through the phrase “left ventricular hypertrophy and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy,” you will leave your court reporter wishing she was on the seashore selling seashells. Enunciate clearly so they understand what is being said. It is better to ask the witness to pronounce a technical term if you are unsure than to quickly mumble it, thinking the court reporter will magically understand which term you meant.
- Ask the witness for spellings when there is an unusual name or a name that can be spelled multiple ways. The name White can also be spelled Whyte, Weit, Whidt, Wyatt, Wight or Wite. When spelling, be mindful of letters that sound alike such as S and F, T and P, M and N, and D, V and B. Use words for clarity when spelling, such as D as in David, P as in Paul.
- Be precise when using numbers. If you ask the question, “When did the meeting take place,” and the witness answers, “Twelve fifteen,” you need to clarify for the record and the court reporter. Was that 12:15 or 12/15? Figures should be stated in full with their subject. Eighteen thirty-five could be 1835 or 18.35. Saying “Eighteen dollars thirty-five cents” clears up any confusion.
- Remember that the written record will only show what is spoken, so gestures or pointing by the witness will need to be described in words. Likewise, you will need to clarify if the witness uses head nods or “uh-huh” or “huh-uh.”
- Control Cross-talking. Most attorneys will caution the witness at the beginning about answering before the question is completed, but when the questions and answers begin to overlap, your court reporter will appreciate it if you stop talking until the witness finishes, then caution them again about answering prematurely and repeat the question. When the attorney and the witness continually talk over each other and other counsel start objecting, it becomes a free-for-all and what we call an “unreportable” situation. The court reporter should interrupt to try to bring the proceedings under control, but words could be lost as they were not heard in the crossfire. In normal conversation we tend to utter words like “Yes,” “Okay,” or “I see” as the witness is answering as a way of indicating that you are processing and hearing their answer. Not only does this make a very choppy looking transcript, but it may appear later that you are agreeing with the witness even though that was not your intention.
- Give the court reporter time to mark exhibits. It is frustrating when the attorney directs that a document be marked and then proceeds with the next question before the court reporter has time to mark it. When exhibits pile up without being marked at the time, mistakes in marking them can occur. If a document is designated to be late-filed, give the court reporter a few seconds to note it so he doesn’t have to keep a running list in his head.
- When reading quoted material, take your time and read slowly and clearly so the witness, and the court reporter, can understand. Include the words “quote” and “unquote” when reading quoted material and the words “question” and “answer” when reading testimony. If you are quoting an excerpt from a case cited in court, do your court reporter a favor and provide them a copy of the quoted material. This takes little extra effort on your part but saves the court reporter time in transcription, helps them ensure they maintain the original punctuation, and they will appreciate your thoughtfulness.
- Speak your objections loud enough for the court reporter to hear them and, preferably, not at the same time as the question or answer. A nod or hand gesture at the court reporter will not suffice. I once had an attorney tell me that, rather than interrupt the deposition, if he tapped his glass with his pen, I was to note an objection in the record. I was a fairly new reporter and intimidated by all the attorneys in the room, but, thankfully, self-preservation kicked in and I told him I could not do that, that he would have to speak his objection.
- Nip it in the bud! It’s time to get those little annoying habits in check. Rustling papers, clicking your pen constantly, playing the drums with your coffee cup and pen, jingling keys in your pocket and playing with those plastic wrappers from the conference room candy dish are very distracting to the court reporter who is trying to catch every word.
- Avoid having private conversations during a deposition with co-counsel or your client which are loud enough to be heard. It not only makes it difficult for the court reporter to concentrate on taking the testimony, but sometimes opposing counsel or the witness may comment on the content of such conversations and the record is now confused because the court reporter did not report the original comments which were meant to be off the record. Keep any necessary conversations very quiet or have them outside the conference room.
This article is part of a more comprehensive guide called What Court Reporters Wish New Attorneys Knew…and a Few Seasoned Attorneys As Well! In the guide, we cover what we, as court reporters, wish new and seasoned attorneys knew about the 3 stages of depositions. Learn more about it here.