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Court reporting done right.

Knowing how to select your court reporting service and how to work effectively with reporters can help your depositions run smoothly.

Attorneys should be able to leave a deposition assuming that the court reporter will produce a clean, accurate transcript of the proceedings. Understand the business of court reporting, and you can ensure that this happens and make the most of court stenographers' services.

Court reporters carry on a long tradition of shorthand writing. Shorthand was first used in 63 B.C., when Marcus Tullius Cicero invented a system of notes to preserve verbatim the speeches of Caesar and Roman senators. Since that time, such celebrated men of letters as Samuel Pepys, Charles Dickens, and Woodrow Wilson have been shorthand writers.

These days, court reporting requires a special, advanced set of skills. The modern shorthand writer who embarks on a career as a court reporter has graduated from an accredited college of court reporting and has mastered the use of the 24-character keyboard of the stenotype machine. In order to graduate, the reporter must be able to type more than 225 words per minute. Today's court reporter has had an intensive education in English language skills, torts, criminal law, court procedures, trial preparation, deposition procedures, medical terminology, anatomy, and physiology.

Twenty-eight states require reporters to earn the Certified Shorthand Reporter (CSR) certification by passing a difficult multipart exam. In California, fewer than 30 percent of those graduating from a three-year court reporting program pass the state's exam each year. Six states offer a voluntary CSR exam, and the National Court Reporters Association (NCRA) offers Registered Professional Reporter (RPR) certification to reporters who wish to establish their credentials by passing the RPR exam. NCRA also offers Registered Merit Reporter certification, which tests skills at higher levels than the RPR exam.

Some reporters work solo, but in metropolitan areas with a high volume of litigation, most work as independent contractors through firms that provide court reporting services.

The following are some questions to consider when you choose a firm:

* Does the firm have conference facilities, and if so, what is their capacity?

* Does the firm call to confirm a scheduled deposition the day before?

* Are on-call reporters available around the clock for last-minute crises (for example, your secretary forgot to book the job, and no reporter has shown up)?

* Can the firm make referrals to handle your out-of-area and international court reporting needs? When a local firm refers clients to services in states that do not have their own certification for reporters, they should recommend firms that use RPR-certified reporters.

* Does the firm schedule interpreters? If a deposition is to take place abroad, it may be critical to schedule an interpreter approved by the appropriate U.S. embassy or the State Department.

* In addition to a hard-copy transcript, does the firm provide ASCII disks and condensed transcripts? There are many format options, but most firms, at the attorney's request, can provide condensed transcripts that retain the appearance of the transcript page but contain up to eight standard pages on a single side of 8 1/2 x 11-inch paper. Many attorneys prefer to have condensed transcripts because they are easy to transport and to copy for others working on a case.

* Does the firm archive deposition transcripts? All transcripts held in ASCII format should be archived by the reporting firm so that a transcript can be replaced if lost. Some firms have the technology to scan and archive exhibits as well.

* Does the firm have a Web site and use state-of-the-art software that enables you to access your account information and deposition calendar online?


If state-of-the-art technology is important in your practice, the court reporters you work with should have advanced technological capability. Many court reporting services offer attorneys a number of high-tech tools and services.

* Document management. Some firms serve as document repositories and manage exhibits in document-intensive cases. The reporting firm will establish a central location where documents are held and create an index. You can then access only the documents you need. Some reporting firms can scan documents electronically and create a password-protected Web site where you can download pertinent documents.

* Real-time reporting. Reporters can instantly translate stenographic notes via a connection to a personal computer (PC) equipped with computer-aided transcription (CAT) software. This connection enables reporters to translate notes and display testimony on their PCs very accurately, almost as it is spoken. At the end of the deposition, the reporter creates an ASCII disk containing a rough draft of the proceedings.

This real-time feed can be linked to your laptop computer through a software program such as LiveNote, CaseView, Summation, or e-transcript binder. This link enables you or your counsel to view and search testimony as it is given. Usually Windows-based, these programs offer a variety of simple-to-use features for highlighting, issue-coding, and annotating testimony, both during the proceeding and later.

Many of these software programs can also facilitate simultaneous transmission of the real-time feed to remote locations via the Internet. Participants at the remote locations can exchange comments with you during the proceeding.

* Videoconferencing. Some large reporting firms have state-of-the-art conference facilities and can provide videoconferencing services. Although videoconferencing may seem expensive, its economic benefits to you and your client can be enormous. For example, your travel expenses can mount quickly in a multiparty case involving several geographic areas. If an overseas deposition is necessary, videoconferencing may cost as little as one-third what traditional reporting would cost.


The cost of court reporting services for a deposition will vary across states and regions. Typical charges range from $4 to $6 per page, and delivery of the transcript usually takes two to three weeks. Reporters in some regions may charge a lower page rate but add a daily appearance fee, making the final cost roughly equal.

An ASCII disk and condensed transcript customarily accompany the transcript at a nominal charge (from $5 to $8) to cover the production expense, or they may be offered without charge.

Expedited delivery of a transcript in final form on the next day is usually subject to a 100 percent surcharge. The surcharge generally decreases by about 10 percent per day. If you need to review testimony quickly, you can realize significant cost savings by using real-time reporting.

If real-time reporting is used, the reporter can provide an unedited ASCII disk to you at the end of each day. Although the disk is uncorrected, the cost will be much lower than an expedited transcript in final form and may be sufficient for many purposes, such as review by your expert witness.

If you have the laptop-link software described earlier, enabling interactive real-time service, you will have the reporter's unedited notes on your laptop at the end of each day. The reporter will charge either a per-diem or a per-page rate for providing this service, which will be much less than the cost of an expedited transcript.

Ensuring accuracy

The average CSR works 60 hours a week under great pressure--writing with speed and accuracy even when there are overlapping speakers, heavy accents, technical jargon, and loud arguments. To help the reporter make the most accurate record possible, remember the following tips:

* Indicate the nature of the case and type of testimony when scheduling services for a deposition so that the firm can provide the reporter best able to handle the particular kind of proceeding.

* Schedule depositions for the same case as far ahead as possible so you can secure the same reporter for each one.

* Before the proceeding, provide the reporter with the case caption and the order in which deponents will appear. Also give the reporter the correct spellings of proper names and any unusual terminology that may come up.

* At the proceeding, enunciate clearly and speak at a moderate pace. Clarify letters of the alphabet like M and N, P and T, B and D, and F and S. (For example, say "N, as in Nancy.") Clarify figures as well. For example, when you say "fifty-five-o-seven," the reporter will not know whether you mean 55.07, 5,507, $55.07 or $5,507.

* When questioning a deponent, avoid interrupting, Wait until the deponent has finished answering before you start the next question. Likewise, if the deponent starts to answer before you finish a question, remind him or her to wait until the question is completed to ensure an accurate and understandable transcript.

* Avoid nonverbal communication. Gestures are meaningless on the typed page. Statements such as "about this wide" or "approximately that close" require the reporter to add specificity. You can help by adding a statement for the record. For example:

Counsel: About how far away from Mr. Jones were you?

Deponent (gesturing): About this far.

Counsel: For the record, the witness is indicating a distance of about one foot.

* Give the reporter a copy of any document from which you intend to read so that the excerpt can be verified easily. When reading, don't mumble or read too fast. If the reporter will not have access to the original source, quotations must be read clearly. Say "quote" and "unquote" at the beginning and end of quoted material.

* Mark and specifically describe exhibits for the record at the time they are first identified. For example, say "Defendant's Exhibit 6, letter dated March 17, 2000, from John J. Jones to Michael M. Miller." References to "that letter" or "this photograph" can make the record incomprehensible. Complete descriptive references to exhibits will greatly assist the reporter when preparing the transcript.

* Be clear about going off the record. If counsel agree, the reporter will note "discussion off the record." Let the reporter know exactly when you wish to go back on the record. Otherwise, valuable information may be excluded from the deposition.

* Notify the reporter as soon as possible if you wish the transcript to be expedited. Depending on the deadline and the length of the deposition, the reporter may need to be relieved from the proceeding by another reporter to start preparing the transcript.

Use these tools at your next deposition to make the court reporter's job easier. The result will be a more thorough and accurate transcript.

For further reading

William S. Bailey, Using Computer Technology to Prepare for Trial, TRIAL, Apr. 1998, at 44.

Samuel L. Davis, A Practical Guide to Videoconferencing, TRIAL, Mar. 2000, at 48.

Daniel I. Small & Neil Aresty, Technology in Trial Practice, TRIAL, Sept. 1999, at 60.

Pat Barkley is president of Barkley Court Reporters, based in California.
COPYRIGHT 2001 American Association for Justice
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Barkley, Pat
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2001
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