Most reporters agree that the jury charge is the easiest of the legs to pass. The reason is because it is the one take that is made up of dozens of phrases that are common to that leg and are repeated throughout the dictation. So at the outset you are at somewhat of an advantage because you can already anticipate some of the language that you will hear. Furthermore, since jury charges are basically the same format-wise, that is, a judge reading instructions to the jury, the dictation is narrower in scope which I have always found to be less intimidating.
The key to passing a jury charge is to use one-stroke briefs for the common phrases found in jury charge dictation. There are several briefs out there for “preponderance of the evidence,” for example, but choose a brief that immediately makes sense to you, one that you can adopt and remember easily. If it conflicts too much with your theory or if it causes you to hesitate when the words are flying by, that will defeat the purpose of using it!
What is also tricky about jury charge briefs is, as always, the little words. Take this sequence:
*beyond a reasonable doubt
*beyond all reasonable doubt
*beyond any reasonable doubt
*beyond every reasonable doubt
There is a one-stroke brief for each of these phrases, but you will have to commit each specific brief to memory to avoid being charged an error for writing the wrong one. You cannot afford to be tripped up during test time. They may be “little” words, but they carry the same weight as every other word on test day. Not to be overlooked is the big difference in meaning between the four phrases.
Of course the great benefit of jury charge briefs is that they can buy you valuable time. Just when you think you can’t hang on any longer, you will hear “beyond every reasonable doubt.” You can hit it in one stroke, and you’ll be back in the game. Briefs can give you breathing room, a chance to catch your breath if only for a valuable second. Briefs can really make the difference between a pass or fail.
Check out the links below. I found them after doing a Google search. Pick out the briefs that you like and practice them until you own them. If you don’t like a suggested brief on the list, don’t use it. Look for another one or create one of your own. A brief has to make sense to you for you to retain it. The third link contains common words and phrases relating to jury service which you may find helpful.
If you frequent Facebook, check out these sites: STENO BRIEFS, The Brief Exchange, Steno Briefs for court reporters, and A BRIEF a day keeps the doctor away. Fellow court reporters are more than eager to share their briefs with you.
Additionally, your software can help you. For example, Stenograph’s Case CATalyst has Brief It. You write a phrase often enough, and Case CATalyst will suggest a brief for you. http://www.stenograph.com/HelpDeskDocs/Cat4V8/Using%20Brief%20It%20In%20Case%20CATalyst%209.05.htm
NCRA’s website also has a section called “Jury Charge Dictation Materials” which you can use as practice material. Here is the link:
Incorporating jury charge briefs in your practice regimen will be your ticket to a pass on your next test, but you will have to know them inside and out so you can write them correctly without thought or effort.