Baking the Cake: A Day in the Life of a RealTime Court Reporter

You will see us in the deposition room, the courtroom, in classrooms, in sports venues, in church, in conferences.  We are ubiquitous these days.  Our customers admire us, rely on us and expect much of us, yet they have little understanding of how we do what we do.  We are the RealTime reporters.

This article will explain what we do in the litigation setting, how we bake the cake, otherwise known as the transcript, the record, or the file.  To produce the transcript we use tools, just as a baker would, but we replace the sugar and the sifters with tools like  continuing education, expertise in our art of capturing voice, proficiency in text conversion, and top-notch technology to facilitate the process.

So, let’s get to the cake itself.  Whether we are providing RealTime or whether we are reporting a plain vanilla proceeding, we reporters want as much information ahead of time as we can get.  Spellings of unusual case-specific terms and names of participants and the parties they represent are our priorities.  With that information, we design stenographic shortcuts that enable us to write those terms quickly, easily and accurately. Add those new terms to the thousands of other shortcuts we have devised for terms we hear every day and we can deliver highly accurate rough draft or RealTime transcripts.

Sounds easy, right? Throw in a few standard ingredients, and voila: the Good Stuff.

Not quite.

What if the milk is sour? What if you don’t have a mixer? What if one of the speakers mumbles incoherently, so that no one in the room can understand what they are saying? You also have to factor in accents, rapid speaking, documents read unintelligibly,  simultaneous speakers, soft voices, background noises, coughs and sneezes.  The shortcuts I mentioned before buy us valuable extra seconds to manage complications like these, and preserve the record accurately.

Reporters do have options when the cake isn’t coming together optimally.  At the very worst, we are forced stop the proceedings and ask the parties to repeat what they just said.  Generally, we dislike interjecting ourselves in that way.  Other options are to wait for a recess and seek to resolve the problem by talking to the parties involved.  If the complication occurred during the reading from a document, the solution is thankfully easy.

It is necessary that we develop the judgment to be able to make split-second decisions in the moment, of to whether to interrupt proceedings or wait for a later opportunity to resolve questions about testimony.  For example, occasionally someone will misspeak or will mumble through the beginning of a question.  Usually these sorts of issues resolve with a few more words and we correct the record appropriately.

Reporters have the ability to lag behind a speakerfor a few seconds, retain the words being inartfully spoken, and correct the record when the words are clarified either through content or through repeating of the words.  Again, the opportunity to create shortcuts facilitates the retention skill.

Living in the real world, we must become accustomed to interpreting words that are delivered with complications.  People misspeak all the time. Litigation court reporters are expected to capture words verbatim with perfection, and eliminate misinterpretations.  We take our job seriously and we work diligently to do it well.   Here at ABA, all facets of our process, from gathering ingredients to pulling the Good Stuff out of the oven, try our best to not burn the cake.

-Al Betz

Connect with Al on Twitter! @AlBetz