Thoughts from a 30-Year Court Reporter, Part II

Court Reporters as Guardians of the record

As Julie reaches nears the 30-year milestone in her Milwaukee court reporting career, she’s a wealth of knowledge and experience to share about the industry. In the second part of this three part series, we share Julie’s thoughts about what it’s like to take a deposition, staying focused, and her thoughts on the future of the profession.

Would you describe court reporting and taking down the record as kind of like listening to another language, because you’re not fully understanding what the other person is saying, you’re just picking out the words? No, in the beginning when you learn the machine shorthand, it’s like learning a foreign language. But once you develop your skills, your brain processes it, and it goes through your brain and out to your hands. And it’s not like, even though you are deciphering it and putting it into another language – machine shorthand – and it’s done phonetically, it just becomes second nature. And so, it’s not as time consuming as you would think. The more you do it, the easier it becomes.

Do you feel like you can grasp an understanding of what everyone is talking about while you’re transcribing? Absolutely, and you really have to do that as a Realtime reporter. You want to differentiate because so many words sound the same but are written different. So the word “to, two, and too” or “there and their”, you want to make sure that it’s coming up spelled correctly on your transcript, so you don’t have to change it later. And so you’re constantly figuring out what words to put in and so I always am paying attention, and definitely trying to grasp the materials so that you can get as accurate of a first translation as you can.

Can you describe Realtime to people who have never heard of it before? Realtime is where your machine is connected to your computer, you have a phonetic shorthand dictionary, which is taking your shorthand strokes, and converting it into English, and putting it on the computer screen. Sometimes you are doing Realtime just for yourself, and often times you’re maybe doing it for other attorneys who are there, so they can read what the witness is saying as it’s being taken down. It can be a very helpful tool, especially if you have another attorney there who is helping you out, more of a second chair type of person, they can read it. Sometimes people are audio learners, and some people are visual learners, and if you can see that spoken word on the screen, you can then see something that didn’t hit you audibly. You can see it on the screen and it really hits you like, Oh I can ask about that. Or we’ll need to follow up on that. So I think it’s a real good tool for someone who is sitting next to the attorney that’s doing the deposition and they can kind of help them out.

When you’re in a deposition, what do you do to stay focused? I think it’s just kind of the person you have to be. As I said, I’m always trying to make the best translation come across my screen. So it’s just second nature for me to pay attention and you always have to be prepared if they’re going to ask you to read back what somebody said, you have to be prepared, so I’m always paying attention.

How would you describe a deposition of someone who’s never heard that word before? A deposition is taking testimony pre-trial. Only 5% of cases that get started ever make it to the trial process. Most of the time they take the deposition, and what that would be, would be one witness coming to an attorney’s office, they’re put under oath – just like they would be put under oath in the courtroom – and you take their testimony. And that way both sides get to find out what the whole story is going to be, then you’ll take another party’s deposition. So for example in a car accident, you want to know what both drivers’ story is, and then attorneys will decide are they going to settle the case, is there enough evidence to bring the case forward, or will we have to dismiss the case. And like I said, only about 5% of cases ever make it to trial, the rest are either settled or dismissed, or people just drop them. And once they get to court, if that person is again testifying, and they change their answer to a question that had been asked previously in a deposition, then the attorney can produce the written record and say “Now Mr. Jones, on this date, I asked you this question and this is how you responded. And now your answer is this. Why have you changed your answer?” And so really it’s an insurance for the attorneys so that if the person does change their answer, they’re going to be able to impeach them with their testimony, and so it’s usually not a surprise at trial, what people are going to say, there’s no surprise witnesses like on Perry Mason, everybody usually notices what both sides are going to portray.

So it’s like your record could solve cases; Absolutely. I feel being a court reporter, I take my responsibility for maintaining that written record very seriously because it can be very important to somebody’s life, to somebody’s case, and we are the guardians of the record. So therefore we have to do our best to make the best record that we can, and understand that it is vital to somebody’s life.

And I guess that’s pretty exciting to hear for students who are going into court reporting, that this job is really necessary and they’ll always have this job. Absolutely, there’s been guardians of the record since the stone age when people would write hieroglyphics on the cave walls and then scribes – there was always somebody who was writing down what the king or the pharaoh was saying because this is history, this is the written record. People want to know what happened, and that it is an accurate accounting of what happened. And so it’s probably one of the oldest professions in the world to be a court reporter, also called a scribe, or something else years ago.

Why did you get into court reporting? I was in high school and I took written shorthand at that time, and some business classes. And I had just heard about court reporting, I had brought it up to my shorthand business teacher, and she had someone from one of the court reporting schools come down and do a little demonstration, and I was kind of hooked! So I made my decision at that time to go into court reporting and I started right after high school, the September I got out of high school.

Can you walk us through what the education process is like? Sure, to learn the actual machine shorthand theory, it takes about 4 or 5 months, although you are always learning something new, even in your writing process. But to learn the basic theory, it’s a few months, and then you’re trying to get your speed up to graduate. You need to graduate at 225 words a minute, at least when I went to school. But then you also have to take a lot of other classes because you need to know a little bit about a lot of different things. That’s how I always describe it. So we took business law, because you have to take legal terminology, medical terminology, you even have to take some business classes, and a number of other things, anatomy, anatomy and physiology are very important because you are going to have doctors and depositions explaining different parts of the body and you need to know what those words mean or where to find them. So I always say, we have a very well-rounded education, even things in everyday life – current events – you have to know a lot of things that come up. So it’s very important that you’re always learning and keeping abreast on current events and things so you know what those words are when they come up in different depositions.

So where do you see the future of court reporting? Well, I think that especially in the courthouse, although I have never worked specifically for a judge, I think the courtrooms are going to become a lot more computerized with…and some of them are already, where there’s computer screens for the attorneys at both tables and for the judge. That is very helpful for the judge when making rulings. If somebody objects to a question, he can just look over, read the question on the screen, and make an informed decision, rather than trying to remember what that question was or whatever the objection was. So I think the courtrooms are definitely going to become more computerized.

When you say computerized, do you mean a court reporter and a computer? It would be the court reporter and real time, and the notes would be going out to all of the parties and they could follow along with what you are taking down.

Have you seen an example of how technology failed you in the courtroom or at a deposition? Well, I think we need to embrace any technology that can help us do our job better; backup files on your writer so we never lose our notes, because we don’t have paper notes anymore like years ago, they are electronic. So you want to have a number of different backups, redundancy in your files, and I think we just have to embrace the technology that will help us produce our transcripts faster, better, and more accurately.

Do you have any advice for students who want to go down this path? I think you really have to realize that you’re going to have to put some time in. It’s not something that’s going to be easy because many people have started court reporting and if they don’t want to put forth the time and effort, they will not achieve their goal. And you will not be able to graduate until you achieve that 225 words a minute, the magic number. I do have some extended credentials, so I’ve passed my merit which is 260 words a minute, and I have my certified realtime reporter certification. And I feel it’s important to keep going for additional certifications, because that not only helps you in being a better reporter and making your job easier if you do go on and get the higher credentials, it helps you on your job.

And just knowing you have to put forth that time and effort, especially in the beginning. Because when you’re learning that theory, that’s going to be what you build on for your entire career and schooling. You have to get that base down, it’s like learning math. You can’t go on to advanced math until you’ve learned the basic foundation of math. And you can’t achieve a higher degree of speed if you don’t have the basic theory down. So the biggest advice I would give to somebody in school is put in in the time in the beginning and get your theory down, so you really have a good grasp of that.

What is a theory? Theory is your shorthand theory. And there are different forms of shorthand theory. It’s learning the phonetic. There’s only 20 keys on a shorthand machine, there’s 8 keys that start all of your sounds of your English language, there’s 4 vowels, and then there’s 10 keys that end all of your sounds. And since there are more sounds than 8, you have to combine sometimes 2, 3, or 4 letters to make a new letter. So if somebody looks at my notes, they’re going to say “How do you read that?” But if I know TPH is really an N for me, so I have TPHO, I know that’s “N-O.” Somebody looking at my notes would not know that. You have to learn what all of those keys are going to mean for you, and how to€¦

Theory you have short cuts. Kind of like people who do texting and they say LOL means Laugh Out loud. We have brief forms, too. So we may say BURP is “Beg Your Pardon.” And so we make short forms for phrases that come up all of the time. “State Your Name.” “Excuse Me.” “Do you know?” “Do you recall?” We write all of those in one stroke. And if you were typing that on a keyboard, or if you hit one key at a time, that would be like 10 strokes. But we write it in one stroke. So learning the basic theory, some of your advanced brief forms, will definitely make your job & life a whole lot easier.

And then there’s words that may not be in your dictionary as a short form, like the word cardiomegaly, it’s pretty much done according to syllables. So cardiomegaly we do in 4 strokes. But like I said, you’re always learning new shortcuts, and you’ll go to a seminar and you’ll learn maybe what somebody else does for a brief form and you’ll say “Wow, I like that one.” And you’ll incorporate it into your writing style.


Join the discussion 5 Comments

  • Jana says:

    Thank you. Good info. It is important to let the public, as well as potential students, know what we do and how we do it. I like how you mentioned the education received, too, beyond just learning the machine. I notice that is left out in a lot of articles I read.

  • It was interesting to get to hear the various thoughts and motivations of someone in the court reporting services. This has been helpful for me to better understand what to look for. My cousin will benefit from knowing go choose someone with experience since she was looking into this as well.

  • Sandra says:

    What is the difference between the short and long theory?

  • Jana says:

    Very nicely explained…the CR schooling process. I appreciate the mentioning of the fact that we also take academic courses. I see a lot of articles that do not mention that or only mention studying legal/medical vocabulary, when in truth it is so much more…and SO MUCH more of a deep understanding that is obtained after years in the field. So many overlook the fact that being a court reporter involves lots of smarts, constantly evolving, growing knowledge base, beyond writing at high speeds..and that in and of itself is a feat few truly appreciate…the skills…and brains…the mental AND physical work…at the proceeding AND during editing/proofreading!!

  • A friend of mine was talking about getting a court reporter. She wanted to make sure that she wasn’t getting the wrong person for the job. It might help her to know that there are shortcuts that they can use for efficiency.

Leave a Reply