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Inside Job: What It's Like to be a Court Reporter

Rachel Bachrach

Yes, it takes more than just a high rate of words per minute to be successful: Three court reporters on the ups, downs, and sideways glances of the job

Thursday, October 13, 2016

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I

n the Heavenly ledgers, everything is perfectly recorded. In the earthly court, court reporters try to get as close to that as possible. They need to type, type, and type some more — — and do it fast! Yet it takes more than just a high rate of words per minute to be successful. Whether people are describing violent crime, breaking down in tears, or cracking funny jokes, you must stay an impartial employee of the court.

Devorah Cohen, 23, is a court reporter for Gore Brothers in Baltimore, Maryland. She’s been working for two years.

A court reporter’s job is to…

transcribe conversations word-for-word, usually in a legal setting. We use a stenographic writer — — a 22-key typewriter used to type shorthand. The question-answer session recorded by the court reporter is a legal transcript that can be used for trial purposes. The field is broad, because there are so many parts of legal proceedings that need recording.

I work as a deposition reporter, meaning I type the oral testimony of anyone related to a lawsuit — — the plaintiff, the defendant, any witness to the case. An attorney asks the questions, the deponent answers them, and I type their depositions in a question-answer format.

I can type ____ words per minute.

250. To graduate from court reporting school, you have to transcribe a five-minute question-answer dictation test at 225 words per minute with 97 percent accuracy. Phew! In most depositions I’ve recorded, people speak at an average of 180 words per minute, but there have been times where my speed has reached 300 words per minute. I type the deposition, and it’s quick, but I also record it so I can listen to the audio after and make sure I took down every word.

But that’s not all a court reporter needs to know how to do. There’s also…

organization, and you have to be a quick thinker who can handle fast-paced scenarios without hesitating. And of course, proper knowledge of grammar, punctuation, and spelling are necessary to create quality transcripts.

 

NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH “We’re keepers of the record. If something isn’t in the transcript, then it wasn’t said — period”

Court reporters are/are not used outside the courtroom.

I’m actually never in a courtroom. My work is all pretrial, so most depositions are at law firms, but occasionally they’ll be in hospitals — — when doctors are deposed — — business centers, or even hotel conference rooms. The agency I work for sends me all over Maryland, up to 90 minutes away, for a job.

If I know one of the people involved in a case, I…

It depends. My agency calls me every afternoon with a brief description of my assignment for the next day. I’ve been assigned to deposition with attorneys I know, that’s not an issue, but I’ve had instances where I knew a deponent personally and didn’t think they’d appreciate seeing a familiar face, so I asked for a different job.

The toughest day I had at work was …

when an Uzbek translator was having a hard time translating, and the deponent’s attorney knew both English and Uzbek, and he kept interjecting, “You didn’t translate that correctly!” When a deponent doesn’t speak English, we need a translator. It’s quite helpful because after each question is asked, I have extra time to type the English while it’s being translated. But in that case, it wasn’t easy taking down the translator’s broken English along with the attorney’s interjections, and I spent several hours after the deposition reading through and punctuating the transcript to make it as easy to read as possible.

Part of being a talented reporter is knowing how to take down more than one voice at a time. A typical deposition is a question-answer session between two people, and that’s not difficult. It’s when other people interject that skill is needed, especially when it happens repeatedly and in the middle of someone else’s sentence. Some transcripts look very neat, a series of questions followed by answers, while others are full of interjections and have half sentences everywhere.

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