There are two schools of thought on this issue. Some believe that sitting out with a working reporter at any speed is helpful. I personally feel that you shouldn’t shadow a reporter until you have passed your 200 Q&A.
The purpose of shadowing a court reporter is to familiarize yourself with the job, but it also should serve as a gauge of where you currently are and where you have yet to go. If you sit out after you’ve passed your 200s, it will be a more realistic test of your abilities. You still have to pass your 225s to earn your RPR, and those extra 25 wpm are the hardest to attain! Further, any reporter will tell you that even 225 wpm just doesn’t cut it on many days. The gap between 180 and 225 is a big one, and sitting out at that speed would be discouraging. Your time would be better spent practicing.
When you are ready to sit in with a reporter, you should have the mindset of putting yourself in the reporter’s place and envisioning that YOU are the reporter of record. Learning how to swear in witnesses, mark exhibits, note stipulations, etc., is the easy part. The hard part is creating a record. Pretend that you are there alone. Can you keep up? Would you have to interrupt often? How are you handling colloquy, the arguing, the frequent readback? In short, would you be able to prepare a quality transcript of the entire proceedings?
Working reporters enjoy taking students out and sharing their knowledge. This is a perfect setting to learn what you don’t in the classroom: the reporter’s routine, tricks of the trade, use of technology. Maybe your reporter is writing realtime for the attorneys and has provided iPads to all counsel. You will be amazed and inspired to witness this live! Take advantage of this special opportunity to ask your questions and get tips on what you need to do to improve.
I still remember vividly sitting out as a student. The attorneys were always gracious, allowing me to sit in on what are always considered confidential matters. I was grateful; they could have refused my attendance, but it was never an issue. I was allowed a front-row seat, but I tried to be as unobtrusive and respectful as possible. What I most remember was trying to keep up. My fingers were still moving long after the reporter’s fingers had stopped. I soaked it all in and took something away from every session. Lastly, I always took a moment to thank the reporter and the attorneys for the opportunity.
Shadowing a reporter is a great experience, but it should be saved for when you are close to approaching the finish line. At that point you’ll have more practice time under your belt and a better chance of success. If you are not quite there yet, keep putting in as much quality practice time as you can. Your turn to shadow a reporter will come. I wish you all a productive learning experience out in the “real world”!