A Little Goes a Long Way

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01Dec2008

A Little Goes a Long Way

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By Kathleen McLaughlin, CSR

court reportingScheduling a deposition is just the beginning of what’s to come: a temporary, but very important relationship between the taking attorney and court reporter, a relationship that is often taken for granted but has a direct effect on the deposition itself.

The article below is a fun inside look at the deposition from a reporter’s perspective.  Kathleen McLaughlin has been a reporter for over 25 years and she shares what she feels are the “little things” that can impact your attorneys’ depositions in a big way by shedding light on some of the ways a reporter can and should go the extra mile.

Monday morning, 8:30 a.m.  You’re finally at your desk after fighting that morning commute.  “Hey, Janet,” says the senior partner as he passes by your desk on his way to court, “set up a depo in the Helzner-Pilkowski v. Sploingovitz case, couple weeks from now.”  Before you can ask any questions, he’s out the door.  Knowing that you need to send the Notice out today to meet the statutory timeline, you have to set it up today, which means determining the location, calling your court reporting agency and seeing if opposing counsel is available on that date.  And all before your morning cup of coffee.

“Hello, Atkinson-Baker.  How may I direct your call?”

“I need to arrange for a court reporter.”

Routed to only one person, you begin to respond to a number of questions, some of which you are prepared to answer but not all of them.  “Why do they ask so many questions?” you say to yourself.  All you know is that you need the reporter to show up at a certain date and time.

There are a number of reasons for all of those questions that are asked of you, but they are all designed to ensure that you have the best reporter for your job.  The court reporting agency, as well as the reporter, utilize all of the information that you provide to assist in not only selecting the most appropriate reporter for you – those experienced in reporting medical testimony, videotaped depositions or realtime – but all of the information also  assists the reporter in preparing for the deposition.

Now you’ve crossed off, “Calendar with court reporter” on your To-Do List and the court reporter takes over.

The day of the deposition has arrived and the reporter arrives armed with machine, tripod, laptop and more, paper and ribbons and cables galore, knowing that the one sure thing about this deposition is that it will be like no other, for no two assignments are the same.  Oh, sure, hearing the case name Smith v. Jones might sound like an easy deposition; that is, until the witness appears and it becomes obvious that his laryngitis, coupled with his slight speech impediment, means that understanding his German accent while testifying about sterilization techniques of intraocular lenses will make it challenging to record his testimony.

While you may have only seen a reporter in your conference room, we are occasionally asked to report a deposition in an unusual location.  It certainly makes for a more interesting and challenging day when you’re recording testimony in a mushroom field, during a house inspection, on a boat, in a hospital or a prison. Sometimes there are light moments and laughter and very often heart-wrenching stories.  But no matter the witness, the setting or mood, the reporter knows that her job is to get a verbatim record, even in the most difficult situation.

In court reporting school I was taught how to understand the language of stenotype and learn how to write faster every day.  What they did not teach was what to do in a pinch, when you needed to alter the traditional setting, or how to conduct yourself in an uncomfortable situation, including when Counsel starts throwing coffee at each other (yes, it has happened!).

A little goes a long way when the reporter arrives to find that the witness has a profound hearing loss and she suggests that he view her laptop screen to be sure he understood the questions.  A little goes a long way when the reporter realizes the record could be confusing and off the record requests Counsel to speak more slowly when they mention the names of the six doctor defendants in the case:  Chin, Chen, Chan and Ching, Cheng, Chang (yes, that happened too!).   We are the modern day scribes, recording and preserving important testimony, and we take that responsibility seriously.   And a little goes a long way when we ask for the spellings of proper names so that when that senior partner flies by your desk again next Monday morning asking that you set the deposition of the other witness that was mentioned in a deposition, you can rely on the fact that we spelled Tatsouri Karaindros correctly so that you can subpoena him correctly!

About the Author

Kathleen McLaughlin, currently a reporter with Atkinson-Baker, began her work in the legal field as a legal secretary and worked from 1976 to 1982 as a legal secretary while attending court reporting school in the evenings.

Being a legal secretary gave her a very good foundation in a legal environment where she learned that legal professionals were people just like her who are drawn to the law and who are committed to it wholeheartedly.

After graduating in 1982 from Southern California College of Court Reporting, Santa Ana, and passing her CSR in June 1982, she has worked continuously as a deposition reporter in Orange County and San Diego, specializing in medical testimony.

Early in her career, the most modern piece of equipment she had was an electric stenotype machine with all transcripts being produced by dictating into a reel-to-reel tape recorder and reading from paper notes. A typist would then type the transcripts on to erasable bond paper and all corrections were made manually. What a pioneer!

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