The Challenges of Court Reporting

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01Oct2014

The Challenges of Court Reporting

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By Joseph Millikan

courtroomWhat passes itself off as the norm of acceptability in verbatim reporting and transcription from some of today’s court reporters causes shudders among even the most sanguine of seasoned professionals. According to those skilled in the art, the problem is the sheer lack of education and theory exploitation, something neophytes are blithely unaware of. Widely unheard of in today’s group of young reporters is basic English knowledge, alas even the most elementary rules of punctuation.

What is shockingly troubling is that attorneys and judges are now viewing these work products as de facto acceptable. Something that would simply be unheard of as acceptable 10 years ago is today blessed by management as worthy of praise and recognition. Just yesterday a group of attorneys were overheard characterizing a certain reporter’s realtime as if trying to read braille! What is even more alarming is the reporter in question is realtime certified with years and years of so-called experience. What happened here?

Perhaps with the tsunami of instant information, no one is paying attention to detail, something sorely absent in the transcripts of the younger generation. This blasé work ethic and attitude perpetuates itself in courtroom decorum as well where counsel are, in some instances, barely civil even to the court! Nearly gone are the days of respectful politeness and patiently waiting for one’s turn to present an argument coherently to the court. Rather it is more akin to a verbal free-for-all of the strong willed, the record be damned.

How many times has it happened that no one could understand what anyone was saying when someone asks the reporter to read back what the witness was yammering over objections and banter back and forth?

From this delirium of decorum the professional reporter is expected to create a lucid record. It is speciously assumed we possess mythical powers with a wand instead of a modern shorthand machine. We, the silent reporters, are expected to possess an all-seeing, all-knowing fluency of English, Spanish, French, Italian, Creole, German, Russian, and Mandarin, to say nothing of the obtuse technical, scientific, and medical terminology.

Such unrealistic expectations, coupled with a complete lack of understanding of the art of a skilled, top-notch verbatim reporter, is harmful to our profession. Lowering expectations results in a diminishment of our importance in the judicial process, especially in light of the panoply of incompetence being turned out of schools today as “court reporters.”

The real culprit here is education — or the lack thereof — in law schools, colleges, high schools, middle schools, and elementary schools. Somewhere along the line, education of would-be future attorneys regarding the record and the court reporter’s role has been abandoned as unimportant in the process. It is up to us to educate and reemphasize the importance of clarity and accuracy in the preparation of appellate records and attention to detail.

Starting today, strive in a polite way to guide young attorneys by stressing clear speech and proper courtroom decorum, respect, and politeness in the legal drama. Failure to uplift and reform the untrained and unknowing will result in a continued deterioration of the reporting process as we know it today and bring us ever closer to extinction. It is imperative, therefore, that each of us pays attention to detail and demonstrates the highest level of professionalism we are capable of.

It is time to turn the tide and reassert our rightful importance in the judicial process. Please join today your fellow reporters with a renewed effort to improve the record and reporting standards. Do not wait until the eleventh hour.

© Copyright NCRA 2014. All rights reserved. This article originally appreared in NCRA’s monthly magazine, The Journal of Court Reporting.

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