By Ana Fatima Costa, RPR, CSR
“My court reporter is great, but when she was on vacation, her replacement kept interrupting while I was questioning a key witness. I had my secretary advise the reporting firm not to send him back.”¹
Thus begins a fictitious Q&A in my blog post, The Court Reporter’s Dilemma: Interrupt or Drop, which was published in August 2015 on the Bar Association of San Francisco’s [BASF] website.
After BASF informed me that my blog was the #1 most viewed and “liked” in the history of the Bar, it inspired me to write Educating the Legal Community Through Social Media, which was published in CCRA Online’s September
2015 issue. I suggested that we use the viral capability of social media to educate the legal community about our work as guardians of the record.
At my presentation Speak Up NOW: The Art of Interruption at CCRA’s 105th annual convention in October 2015, reporters shared their frustration with attorneys who complain when they interrupt for clarification.
So why am I writing about this again? Because this issue keeps showing up in discussion forums on LinkedIn and Facebook. It keeps coming up in conversations with attorneys, reporters and reporting students whom I mentor through reporter-of-record internships at mock events. My interns’ #1 task is to speak up as often as needed to get the most accurate record they can. It scares them, and they are not alone.
Most official court reporters have judges who back them up when they interrupt, but freelance reporters are often alone in the room with attorneys who are oblivious to their needs or how to make a good record. Feeling unsupported
and intimidated, they don’t speak up.
So what happens when an attorney’s secretary calls the reporting firm to complain about a reporter interrupting? Each situation is unique, but in this highly competitive field, managers and/or firm owners cannot risk losing business, so they hastily apologize. Instead of taking the time to educate, which may infuriate the client, they abide by his request, especially if it’s a long-term relationship or he provides a lot of revenue for the firm. It’s a Catch-22
Unfortunately, the reporter feels like s/he got thrown under the bus. If you are that reporter, being told you’re not welcome back makes you feel frustrated and discouraged that the agency didn’t back you up. And now this is having an impact on your income, so you’re also angry and worried. You were doing your job – interrupting when necessary to get the most accurate record possible. If this scenario keeps happening, it could drive you to rely on audio.
After I posted my BASF article in LinkedIn and Facebook groups, court reporters from all over the U.S. had plenty to say about this topic. Below are just a few examples:
• I’ll tell you, it’s so tough with the interrupting and knowing when to do it. Sometimes I’m unsure of a word, but there’s a certain familiarity to it that I know I can figure it out later, so I don’t interrupt. Medical words as well can usually be figured out. But those times when you just know there’s no way you can get it unless you use audio (if it doesn’t malfunction) are the times when it just has to be done.
• Court participants have become so disrespectful. I am only trying to do my job. I will be the one up at midnight trying to discern audio, if they don’t speak out and stop talking on top of one another.
• I just retired and began freelancing. Before, I felt like a failure. My judge was a horrible speaker. He sets the tone, I feel, for how the lawyers conduct themselves. They would interrupt, talk to one another whispering, and go on and off the record without me knowing which. I really began to feel like I wasn’t capable. That is so not the case.
• Audio has for sure enhanced our jobs. People get so annoyed with reporters using audio, thinking it’s cheating, telling us we shouldn’t use it. I think of it in the same light of telling a doctor he has to use only x-rays instead of an MRI because it’s cheating. It’s a great tool when used appropriately. Unfortunately, it’s being abused. It’s a fine line for sure.
• As the new court reporters have come into the field, they do not interrupt because they are relying on the audio. They don’t know any other way because they’ve always had audio. Of course, they’re new, terrified and unsure of themselves. They’re not forced to interrupt because they have their audio, so this has become the new trend.
• The depos have become a circus with the cross-talk and ungettable speeds because few court reporters are interrupting. I’ve seen the problem developing for the last ten years. I do use audio sync at depositions but never want to rely on it to hear what I don’t!
• Unfortunately, all too often, the attorneys have requested of the agencies not to be interrupted and/or the agencies have given instructions to the court reporters not to interrupt. The attorneys now see it as a sign of incompetence, where it should be looked at as just the opposite. The horror stories go on and on, where a court reporter who interrupts only a few times is asked not to
• I’ve been at this 31 years, and it used to be a source of comfort for the attorneys if we’d interrupt – not continually but occasionally – because they felt sure they
had a good reporter who cared about the record. Now it’s a source of annoyance for them, as you mentioned in your article. Since the institution of audio, more and more reporters have stopped interrupting and are depending
on the audio.
YET, THE LAW IS CLEAR – AT LEAST IN CALIFORNIA
Recently, the Court Reporters Board of California [CRB] published four Best Practice Pointers covering a range of topics. Below are two key quotes from Best Practice
Pointer No. 1: How to Interrupt Proceedings: “The fundamental duty of a court reporter is to protect the record, including interrupting if the accuracy of the record is jeopardized. California Code of Regulations Title 16, Division 24, Article 8, section 2475 requires the reporter to promptly notify the parties present or the presiding officer upon determining that one is not competent to
continue an assignment. Business and Professions Code 8017 defines shorthand reporting as the making of a verbatim record.
Note: The stenographic notes are the official record. If a complaint is received as to the accuracy of the transcript, the Board looks to the transcript and the stenographic notes, not an audio file that may exist. In other words, do NOT rely upon your backup audio recording for transcript production.”²
In this slide from my CCRA presentation, I show that the need to speak up, combined with fear of interrupting, creates an inner conflict. We know it’s our job to get a verbatim transcript, but most of us are too intimidated to
speak up. Yet the Court Reporters Board emphasizes that we must
not rely on audio. So what to do?
TAKE CHARGE IN FOUR STEPS
1. DO YOUR HOMEWORK
Ask for and review the Notice of Deposition and a previous transcript; Google the case, attorneys and witness; build a job dictionary; and familiarize yourself with case-specific terminology. Talk to other reporters on the case to get important information, such as what the attorneys are like; any issues or special needs; transcript orders; and delivery requests. This is especially important when you’re providing realtime. The more prepared you are, the better you will feel. And attorneys will appreciate that you showed up prepared and confident.
2. ACKNOWLEDGE YOUR FEELINGS AND NEEDS
If you start to feel anxious and your mind starts chattering:
“I’ll clean that up later.”
“OMG, what was that word?”
“Should I drop?”
“No, the witness is slow. I can catch up.”
This is precisely when you need to interrupt because you’re about to drop.
If you need a glass of water, a break, some fresh air, a bite to eat or to use the restroom, speak up – politely but firmly. If your basic physical needs are not met, your mind and body will pester you, and you will be too distracted to
capture a verbatim record. If the noticing attorney says he’s going to order food so they can work through lunch and asks everyone except you what they want, tell him: “Counsel, I need ____ minutes to eat and get a breath of air before continuing. I want to do the best job I can for you, and to do that I need a break.” Chances are that others in the room will silently thank you.
3. SIT UP STRAIGHT AND BREATHE
When stressed, you are unaware that your shoulders are up under your ears and that you are holding your breath or are breathing shallowly. This constricts the blood vessels and makes your heart work harder to pump oxygen to the head
and extremities – your hands and fingers. Sit up so that your lungs can take in more air. Breathe deeply into your belly. This will calm your body and mind, lower your blood pressure, and give you the ability to respond to stressful
situations with greater clarity.
4. REMEMBER: IT’S NOT PERSONAL
Some reporters hesitate to interrupt because they don’t want to break the flow of Q&A or colloquy. If they have to interrupt several times, they may begin to think they’re not good enough or worry that attorneys will see them as incompetent. Yet if you can’t hear or understand something, you must interrupt. Don’t take attorneys’ responses or facial expressions personally. Explain politely and clearly that it is your legal and ethical duty to get a verbatim record. As with every new skill, it gets easier.
HOW AND WHEN TO INTERRUPT
From CRB’s Best Practice Pointer No. 1: Be polite, but firm and loud.
• Say, “Please speak one at a time, for the record.”
• If the witness keeps talking over the questioner, “Excuse me. For the record, the witness needs to let the question finish before answering.”
• If they are speaking too fast: “Excuse me. You are speaking at 325 wpm. For the record, I need you to please slow down.”
• If you interrupt more than three times and nothing changes, raise your hands shoulder height so they are clearly away from the machine and say, “Stop. We are off the record.” Then state what you need from them,
politely but firmly.
• Say, “This is what I have right now,” and read back the last clear portion you have in your notes.
• Ask the speaker to repeat the last thing that was said. “And I revised Mr. Schledinger’s …”
• For court proceedings, the CRB suggests that all requests for clarification of the record be addressed to the judge:
“Your Honor, could we have Ms. Smith repeat what she just said?” However, this can get exhausting if you have to go through the judge every time. I suggest that you speak to the judge before the matter begins to ask his preference. If appropriate, state that it will save time and be more efficient for everyone if you speak directly to the attorneys and witnesses. If he insists that you speak
through him, then do it his way.
• Don’t interrupt for an unusual phrase. If possible, wait for a natural pause in the proceedings, such as marking an exhibit or changing topics.
• Get spellings during breaks.
• If the witness or counsel is a mumbler, ask to take a break and move your chair closer.
• If the witness has a heavy accent, put an extra netbook with realtime in front of him/her (with attorney’s permission) to minimize interruptions. ³
SUPPORT FROM TWO SAVVY LITIGATORS
“Lawyers should not be worried about being interrupted at trial or at deposition. First, the whole point of having a court reporter is to have the record. If the reporter does not interrupt to get it straight, there is no accurate record. What
is the point of that? Second, lawyers have to be prepared for interruptions to their flow because that is the nature of what we do. Opposing counsel will interrupt to slow you down or make you lose your momentum, a Judge may
interrupt you for a recess or other Court business, so you should be prepared for interruptions. It shouldn’t matter that you are interrupted briefly by a court reporter.”
— Elizabeth L. Riles, Esq., Bohbot & Riles
“The one thing that became very clear to me quite quickly is the fact that the Court Reporter is, in the end, one of the most important persons in the room when taking a deposition. Understanding their significance to your process, respecting them as colleagues rather than “the help,” ensuring they are asked if they are in need of a break, and not simply expecting them to do your bidding
without question, goes a long way.
I remember one of my first depositions the reporter warning me that if I did not slow down, she would never work with me again. Considering it is her role to get down every word said, I was horrified that I had not even considered my
normal speed and how that was affecting her.
Although I can’t say I’m a slow speaker, I have always kept that in mind and have worked hard to speak clearly, as slowly as I can, and warn every reporter that works with me before we get started to simply kick me under the table if I
am going too fast. I now have my regular reporters whose faces I love to see and who know me and my style well enough that they have not warned me they would never return. A little respect for who they are, how important they
are to us attorneys, and having some consideration for how difficult their jobs can be should always be in the forefront of our minds when we walk into that deposition conference room.”
— Karine Bohbot, Esq., Bohbot & Riles
Susan Jeffers, Ph.D., author of Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, wrote The Five Truths about Fear. Fear Truth #3 states: “The only way to feel better about yourself is to go out and … do it! With each little step you take into unknown
territory, a pattern of strength develops. You begin feeling stronger and stronger and stronger.” 4
The attorney’s job is to represent her client to the best of her ability. It’s your job to get the most accurate record that you can. Acknowledge your fear, breathe, speak up as often as you need to, educate attorneys about why you need to interrupt, and let go of everything else.
¹ The Court Reporter’s Dilemma: Interrupt or Drop
(Ana Fatima Costa, RPR, CSR, Bar Association of San
Francisco, Legal by the Bay blog, July 28, 2015)
³ Best Practice Pointer No. 1: How to Interrupt
Proceedings (Court Reporters Board) and Suggestions
on When and How to Interrupt (Kramm Court Reporting
blog, April 20, 2014)
4 The Five Truths About Fear (Susan Jeffers, Ph.D., from
Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway and Feel the Fear and
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ana Fatima Costa, RPR, CSR, is a former court reporter currently working as a consultant, author, and coach. She utilizes the experience gained in her 35-year career to inform the legal community and general public about the vital role that reporters have as guardians of the record.
Contact Ana at www.anafatimacosta.com. Follow Ana on Twitter at @AnaFatimaCosta1.
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