Court Reporting Myths

All court reporters are the same.

We may all seem the same at first glance, sitting at our machines with our fingers flying, but we all know that among our members there is a wide range of abilities and experience.  So how does one know that a reporter has the core competencies required to produce a timely verbatim transcript, or how does one know if the court reporter can provide realtime?   The standard determinant in our business has always been the credentials earned through NCRA:  RPR, RMR, RDR, CRR, and CRC.  It may not be the only factor — and there are some members who consistently perform at a high level without the top credentials — but it is the one that carries significant weight among its members.

Court reporting is easy.  All you have to do is push a button to get a transcript.

Were it so!  True, there are gifted reporters out there who can consistently produce very clean transcripts by the end of the day, but they are in the minority.  Among NCRA’s membership of 11,495, only 1,864 hold the RMR; 486 hold the RDR; and 2,478 hold the CRR (as of February 2018).  Court reporting is stressful and difficult, but they make it LOOK easy. 

Longer words are harder to write than short words. 

With the emphasis on writing “short,” this does not hold true anymore.  Multisyllabic words used to be the nemesis of reporters, but savvy reporters have changed their writing styles to incorporate shortcuts for long words, word groupings, common phrases, and numbers.  In addition, they have learned to come up with creative briefs on the fly.  Carol Kusinitz, a reporter extraordinaire who routinely does this, came up with the brief CRUPL* for “cryptococcal meningitis.”  This practice not only cuts down dramatically on misstrokes but saves wear and tear on your hands and fingers which is crucial when considering a career that can last decades.

I can earn $100K at the completion of just a two-year court reporting program!

Earnings for beginning reporters do not even approach $100K.  This is certainly attainable but only after years of experience in the field.  The higher the credentials one has usually correlates with the more lucrative assignments, so it certainly is an incentive to improve your skills.  Secondly, many students do not graduate in two years.  To think that you will definitely finish in two years and then start immediately earning $100K is a fairy tale.

Court reporting is a boring job.

Yes, there are times when you are bored to tears, but court reporting can also be very exciting.  You will be privy to private and confidential matters, contentious and controversial matters, sometimes matters covered by the local and national media, and you will be exposed to topics from every field imaginable.  It is a “free” education, there for the taking. You will meet people from all walks of life and gain perspective on human nature.  Reporting also offers you the opportunity to travel nationally and around the world!  Reporters from this office have reported in Italy, Cyprus, Sweden, and Mongolia, to name a few.

Court reporters can make their own hours.

If only this were true.  Freelancers may have more flexibility, but all reporters are at the mercy of their backlogs and their clients’ wishes.  When a transcript is needed on an expedited basis, it needs to get delivered on time.  Everyone has a million stories.  I remember attorneys ordered an expedited transcript from me on Christmas Eve.

I have audio, so I can just sit back and enjoy the ride.

I don’t know of one professional reporter who subscribes to this.  There is always the possibility that your audio could fail, often at the absolute worst time.  If you didn’t hear it to begin with, it’s possible it won’t be picked up by the audio.  You are there to safeguard the record and must do everything in your power to prepare the best transcript you can.  Interrupt for clarification if necessary, and always work on improving your skill and speed so you don’t need your audio backup as a crutch.

A tape recorder can do your job.  You probably hear this one a lot.  I don’t even want to go there.  We all know the truth.

What Money Can’t Buy

Court reporters spend a lot of money before they can even begin working.  They need a reliable machine for starters plus a laptop, software licenses, service contracts, and various ancillary supplies such as business cards, exhibit stickers, batteries, and extension cords.

All these items can be replaced almost immediately should disaster strike, but there is ONE item than cannot be purchased anywhere, in a store or through a vendor.  Without it you are back at square one.  Aside from your skill, it is your most valuable asset as a working court reporter.  What is it?  Your personal dictionary.

There are horror stories out there about court reporters who have lost all their equipment through car accidents or other natural disasters and, along with it, their personal dictionaries which resided only on their laptops.  This has rendered them essentially dead in the water, unable to immediately resume their daily duties and earn the income they are accustomed to.  Sadly, this situation could have easily been prevented if only they had backed up their dictionaries.

The conventional wisdom is to back up your personal dictionaries as often as possible, at least once a month, more often if you are just starting out.  Think of all the entries you make on just one assignment, especially if you are at the beginning of your career.  All that labor needs to be preserved and protected.  For even greater insurance, it would be wise to back up your dictionary in multiple ways, such as in the cloud or on a couple of thumb drives.  Then you can store one of the thumb drives in a location other than your office or home, such as a relative’s house, for safekeeping.  The more times you back up and the more places you can store your backups, the safer you will be.

This advice also applies to backing up your jobs.  I not only back up my jobs before I even leave an assignment, but I also back up after each editing session in case my laptop ever decides not to start up again.  The thought of being unable to retrieve a deposition or hearing for an attorney is frightening, so that alone is worth going the extra mile to protect my files at all costs.

Learn from those who have lost it all.  Save yourself the pain and avoid any serious repercussions and damage to your reputation.  Consider it a vital investment in your professional career.  Stop what you are doing and back up your dictionary right now.  Back up, back up often, and back up in multiple places!

Google With Care

Back in the day, long before computers became a part of a reporter’s everyday life, whenever I had a tough question, such as a spelling or a word I could not quite decipher from my notes, I would seek the help of my local library reference assistant.  This aide had access to medical dictionaries, technical journals, encyclopedias, and a host of other resources that I did not.  She saved the day for me on more than one occasion.

Today is a different story, especially for the Millennials, Gen Y, born roughly in the late 1970s to the mid-1990s, and the Centennials, Gen Z, born roughly from the mid-1990s to 2012.  Each new generation grows up with even more technology at its fingertips, specifically the Internet and social media; and with such easy access at any time of the day or night, getting instantaneous answers to one’s questions is not only desired but expected.

Court reporters have a constant need for information, and for most reporters Google is their go-to resource.  With Google, you really have the world at your fingertips.  It’s wonderful:  so helpful, convenient, and fast!  There is a danger, however, to blindly relying on what you find on Google.  Doing a search and choosing the first thing that comes up may give you a false sense of security.  You may think that you’ve done your research and found your answer when, in reality, the correct answer is really farther down on Page 2.

So how do you know if the answer you’ve found is the correct one?  It comes down to definition and context.  For example, your doctor witness says what you hear as “abduct.”  You perform a simple Google search and, sure enough, it’s a word!  If you fail to dig a little deeper, however, and look into the word’s meaning, you may not realize that the doctor actually said “adduct,” which has the opposite meaning of “abduct.”  Huge difference!

  • abduct, v.t., to draw away from a position parallel to the median axis. Think of abduction, which means a taking away.
  • adduct, v.t., to draw toward a position near or parallel to the median axis.

Chances are the doctor will be using both terms throughout his testimony.  These words are extremely difficult to distinguish auditorily under the best of circumstances.  If the doctor is a fast speaker or has even the slightest accent, it will be impossible.  This means that you will have to choose the right word each time, relying on definition and context to make the correct choice.  Imagine the implications if you fail to choose the correct word.  Imagine the fallout if you didn’t even know the other word existed!  Ouch.

Abduct/adduct is just one example.  The medical field is replete with similar illustrations.  Consider the following:

  • anuresis, n., A condition of inability to urinate. Total lack of urine.
  • enuresis, n., bedwetting.
  • apophysis, n., a projecting part of a bone.
  • epiphysis, n., the end of a long bone,, usually wider than the long portion of the bone, either composed of cartilage or separated from the shaft by a disk of cartilage.
  • claustrum – the thin layer of gray matter between the white matter of the external capsule and the extreme capsule of the brain.
  • colostrum, n., the thin, milky fluid which is secreted by the mammary glands around the time of parturition.

The lesson here is to Google with care.  Do a complete and thorough search before you decide on what to include in your transcript.  Just because you find your answer quickly doesn’t mean it is the right one.  If you are ever in doubt, don’t hesitate to ask someone for help!

Lastly, here is a useful link you should review from which the above examples were obtained:   http://www.meditec.com/resourcestools/medical-words/sound-alike-words/

P.S.  Google searches helped to make this blog possible.