ON THE RECORD / OFF THE RECORD

When you’re at a deposition and one lawyer is yelling “off the record” while opposing counsel is yelling “on the record,” what should you do?   In many cases the attorney who hired the reporter will argue that it is his deposition, that he hired us, and therefore he would determine when to go on and off the record.  The other attorney will disagree.  But no matter how loud their instructions to you are — “go off,” “stay on” — don’t let them intimidate you.

NCRA’s COPE Advisory Opinion No. 6 emphatically states that the reporter should stay on the record until both sides agree to go off.  As neutral parties, court reporters must not favor any side.  As long as one party wishes to speak, you must keep writing to preserve their position despite objection from the other side.  The same holds true regarding recording testimony:   If one party wishes to ask questions of a witness, you must keep writing.  If you are ever in doubt, keep writing.  You cannot recreate what transpired, but you can sort it all out later after you have a minute to think.  You need to safeguard the record for a judge to review at a later date.

There will be times during heated exchanges where an attorney might assume something is on the record or vice versa when the opposite is true.  As a reporter, please be aware that there could be ramifications on your end if arguments arise about whether something was on or off the record.  You do not want to be caught in the middle of a tangled mess, and you do not want to be accused of any action or inaction that could affect the outcome of a case. 

In situations like these, you have to more forcibly take matters into your own hands.  When both sides agree, you can announce “We are off the record” so as to take any guesswork out of the equation.  You can even put your statement on the record in colloquy.  This is exactly what one reporter recently did during a very contentious deposition after it was decided to take a break.  Then as the lawyers were leaving the room, one lawyer called the other lawyer a “scumbag.”  The aggrieved lawyer said, “That’s on the record!”  Unfortunately for him, however, the remark was not recorded.  The reporter’s proactive measure saved him from being put in a sticky position.  There was no room for argument.

As a reporter, do not hesitate to take charge when situations like these occur.  As an impartial guardian of the record, you must maintain its integrity.  To protect yourself, it would be a prudent practice to announce when you are going off the record and on the record, especially when the parties are not getting along.

Check out NCRA’s COPE Advisory Opinion No. 6 on this matter.  You may want to keep it handy for future reference in case an attorney questions your position on this issue.

Swearing in a Witness – Treat this task with the respect and deference it deserves.

One of the most important duties a court reporter performs is swearing in a witness.  In Massachusetts, the notary laws state that a witness’s identity must first be verified by their presentation of a government-issued photo ID, such as a license or passport.  They also require that the witness be physically present with the court reporter.

When swearing in a witness, speak slowly and clearly.  Administering an oath sets the tone for the deposition.  An attorney told me once that a reporter rattled off the oath so quickly that he was compelled to ask her, “Do you want me to ask the questions that fast?”  Good point.  An oath administered slowly and deliberately will remind the witness of the seriousness of the occasion and will hopefully help to set the pace of the proceedings.

I have never forgotten this valuable piece of advice I once received on this topic:  Make sure you get an audible response from the witness.  If you receive a nod or a shake of the head, ask for a verbal response.  If you receive any other kind of response other than a “yes,” such as, “I’ll do my best” or “I guess so,” write those exact words on your machine.  In any event, after you swear in a witness, DorisWongCourtReportersmake a note to that effect somewhere, either on your machine or on your work papers, so that you can look a judge in the eye and affirm that the oath was indeed administered.

Almost every reporter at least once in their career forgets to swear in a witness.  If this happens to you during the deposition, you must alert counsel.  They will then probably ask you to administer the oath retroactively.  If you discover your omission after the deposition has concluded, then you must make that very awkward phone call to the attorneys to notify them of your oversight.  You can only hope the matter will be resolved without contention.  This is why getting in the habit of making a note that you DID swear in the witness is a good practice to follow.

I have come across several situations that gave me pause.  Be prepared with an oath to administer to a child and an oath to administer to an interpreter.  Some people would rather “affirm” than “swear” to tell the truth.  Some do not want a reference to God in the oath.  And believe it or not, before you ask someone to raise their right hand, make sure they have one!  (This actually happened)

In short, don’t be one of those reporters who indifferently spews out the oath.  Treat this task with the respect and deference it deserves.

Court Reporter Pride

Whenever I am in a deposition and look at all the participants seated around the table, many of whom have advanced degrees and expertise, I feel a deep sense of pride.  No one else in this room can do what I do!  This deposition does not go forward without me!  I can record every word spoken and quickly produce a transcript which the attorneys will carefully review and use to build their case.  They are relying on my skills to do what they cannot do, and, yes, that makes me proud.

There are other methods out there that aim to do the same thing we do, but no method is superior to the court reporter, verbatim voice-to-text specialists.  During the course of a deposition, split-second decisions are constantly being made on the fly — making briefs, distinguishing between homonyms, adding punctuation — and our amazing brains and nimble fingers work in conjunction to listen, process, and execute.  We can provide expedited delivery.  We can showcase our skills in realtime and provide usable rough drafts at the end of the day.  We can provide a secure realtime feed over the cloud directly to their laptops and iPads.  As the technology has become more advanced, attorneys have come to expect more from us, and it is our responsibility to deliver.

If we are to remain indispensable to the legal community, we must continue to embrace change, improve our skills, and stay abreast of the latest trends and developments in our profession by taking advantage of the seminars sponsored by our state and national associations.  We must also conduct ourselves in a professional manner at all times, treating all parties with equal regard and impartiality, basically adhering to NCRA’s Code of Professional Ethics.  In these ways we earn the respect of the attorneys we work with, the respect of our colleagues, and the respect of the general public.  We can hold our heads high because we know the value we offer to the judicial system and, by extension, the community at large.  THAT’S court reporter pride.

NEED A LITTLE INSPIRATION?

Every now and then I come across “The Court Reporter’s Creed.”   I always find it so inspiring.   It is a reminder of how great this profession is; how indebted we are to those who came before us; and how we are carrying forth this honorable tradition in numerous settings around the country every day:  in depositions, hearings, courtrooms, classrooms, even in the United States Congress.

Few can do what we do.  Even fewer reach the level of greatness of our own profession’s heroes.  There are only approximately 30,000 court reporters in the workforce nationwide.  I’m sure the majority of the population has no idea what a court reporter does or has even seen a Stenograph machine.  In contrast, there are 1.15 million lawyers in the United States!

The importance of our role in society cannot be underestimated.  Pretrial discovery relies on sworn deposition testimony.  Criminal defendants rely on trial transcripts when their cases are appealed.  Recording our nation’s legislative business ensures transparency and honest debate.   Court reporters in all these roles are helping to uphold the rights we cherish under our Constitution.  The record never forgets; the written word holds all accountable.

Kudos to all of us who are in the trenches day after day chasing down words before they are lost forever, spoken and soon forgotten.  If you are a student, I hope reading “The Court Reporter’s Creed,” cited below, will energize you to reach your next speed goal and to one day join our proud ranks as a certified verbatim court reporter.

 

THE COURT REPORTER’S CREED

My profession stems from humanity’s desire and its necessity to preserve the happenings of yesterday and tomorrow.

My profession was born with the rise of civilization in Ancient Greece.

I was known as a scribe in Judea, Persia, and the Roman Empire.

I preserved the Ten Commandments for posterity and was with King Solomon while building the temple.

I was with the founding fathers of the United States when they drafted the Declaration of Independence.  My hand labored upon the scroll that set forth the Bill of Rights.

The immortal Abraham Lincoln entrusted me to record the Emancipation Proclamation.

I was commissioned to be with Roosevelt at Yalta.  I was with Eisenhower on D-Day and with MacArthur at Tokyo.

I have kept confidence reposed with me by those in high places, as well as those in lowly places.

My profession protects the truthful witness, and I am a nemesis of the perjurer.  I am a party to the administration of justice under the law and the court I serve.

I discharge my duties with devotion and honor.

Perhaps I haven’t made history, but I have preserved it through the ages.

In the past I was called a scribe.  Today I am the court reporter who sits in the courts of my country and in the United States Congress.

I am the verbatim court reporter.

NCRA’s “Courting Disaster” Game

Have you had a chance to play NCRA’s online game called “Courting Disaster”?  It is a fun way to learn about the profession.  There are six modules.  The stated purpose of the game is to test your client relations savvy and your ability to execute the core job competencies.  It is an interactive game in that you are presented with different scenarios and you have to choose an appropriate response in your role as a professional court reporter.  As in real life, many of the situations that are presented cover ethical grey areas; therefore, the game is challenging and thought provoking.

I would highly recommend that students play the game.  At this stage you may not have the experience to draw from to help you choose the correct answers, but it doesn’t matter!  It is a game.  Better to make your mistakes now than out in the field.  Competency on your steno machine is only part of the job.  It takes so much more to be considered a true professional.

At the end of each module you are given a score along with an explanation of why your responses are correct or incorrect.  What is especially helpful is that applicable provisions are cited from NCRA’s Code of Professional Ethics, a code that every reporter should be familiar with.  Members of the profession are bound by this code in their dealings with their fellow reporters, members of the legal community, and the general public.

Take advantage of this opportunity to test the waters, so to speak, and get a glimpse of the different dilemmas that you will encounter as a working reporter.  Take the time to ponder the matters presented to you.  The experience will give you added confidence when faced with thorny or sensitive matters. The beauty of the game is that, pass or fail, it is a valuable and unique learning experience.

To access the game, go to www.ncra.org/courtingdisaster.  Good luck and have fun.  You may surprise yourself and earn a trophy for being a superstar reporter!

50 Years of Change

April of 2017, marked the Golden Anniversary of Doris O. Wong Associates, Inc.  Court reporting has changed so much since this company opened its doors in 1967.  What has been the driving force behind all the changes?  Technology.  If I have learned anything in my almost 40 years here, it is that reporters need to embrace the changes that technology offers in order to succeed.

It’s hard to believe, but way back in the day there were pen writers.  Then manual steno machines came into being followed by electronic machines.  Since the 1960s there have been many iterations of the Stenograph machine, the latest being the Luminex, the lightest and most sophisticated machine of all.  We’ve gone from typing our own notes, to dictating our notes to typists, to computer-aided transcription and realtime translation.   We can now offer attorneys a full complement of electronic litigation support products, such as digital exhibits, synchronized transcripts to video, PDFs, interactive word indexes, and videoconferencing.  Technology has made all this possible.  Going hand in hand with all these fantastic advances are the dozens of accompanying software updates.  Who can keep up with it all?

I am here to tell you that you must try your best to keep up with every technological change that affects this profession.  It is to your benefit to do so.  Staying abreast of the technology will make your job easier.  You will be able to write and produce your transcripts with greater efficiency and confidence.  If you fail to keep up, you will be left behind.  Reporting using the latest technology will ensure you will always be employed and in high demand, especially for the most desirable of assignments.  It will enhance your value as a professional.

The very best court reporters not only keep up with the technology, they embrace it.  The leaders in our profession from all around the country push the envelope by trying newly released technology.  They eagerly await the latest advancements that will enhance their professional growth.  They are never satisfied with the status quo.  They welcome the chance to get out of their comfort zones to try something new.  Their efforts make our profession stronger because they share their experiences, and the learning curve becomes less steep for the rest of us.  Their efforts make our profession even more relevant and indispensable as attorneys cannot prepare and litigate their cases without the skill, services, and products that we can provide.

How can a reporter stay abreast of the constant technological changes?  Thankfully, there is an organization called the Society for the Technological Advancement of Reporting.  STAR provides its members with extensive training, educational resources, networking events, and the latest CAT technologies.  STAR has an annual conference with outstanding seminars and workshops given by top court reporter professionals and the actual developers who have intimate knowledge of Case Catalyst software.  This provides attendees with a unique learning opportunity.

This year Linda Fifield of Doris O. Wong Associates, Inc., is STAR’s president.  Linda, along with a core group of court reporters, has been a liaison between Stenograph and working court reporters since 1980.  They meet directly with Stenograph’s software developers and discuss what works with the software, what improvements need to made, and what their “wish lists” are.  Many of the advancements made in the court reporting industry are a direct result of this special collaboration.  The profession owes them a debt of gratitude.

STAR offers learning opportunities in addition to NCRA’s annual convention.  See for yourself how STAR can help you keep abreast of all the changes and trends in technology.  Join STAR and attend this year’s convention in Boston at the Hyatt Regency, October 12 through 14!  You won’t be disappointed.

We have come a long way in 50 years.  Nothing has stood still.  Nothing is as certain as change.  Enthusiastically accept change and reap the rewards.

“Change is hard at first, messy in the middle, and gorgeous at the end.”– Robin Sharma

Meet Connie Psaros, Editor

This is the post excerpt.

Connie Psaros, RPR, CMRSWelcome to “Student Corner”!  My name is Connie Psaros, RPR, Vice President of Doris O. Wong Associates, Inc., and I will be responsible for the content appearing here.

Who knows better than fellow court reporters what you are going through?  If you are just starting your career, you also may find this section helpful.  Feel free to contact us if we can answer any questions or address any concerns.  We want you to succeed!

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