It will happen to you. You will be reporting a difficult deposition, struggling with the accent, the speed, or the subject matter, and the lawyer will say, “Miss Reporter, can you read that back.” The attorney assumes that you heard it, understood it, and wrote it all down. But what if you didn’t?
There are three scenarios on readback:
- You hit it out of the park. You got every word and are reading back confidently, loudly, and clearly. It is so satisfying to successfully deliver on a specific request.
- You will have the majority of the requested question or answer, but there are some messy outlines or maybe a dropped word or two. You are unsure it will hang together when you read it aloud. If you are called upon to read back under this type of circumstance, my advice would be to take a few seconds to scan your screen quickly and read the passage to yourself. Sometimes you just missed a small word that makes all the difference, or perhaps you misheard a word but it suddenly becomes clear. In any case, read back what you have and let the chips fall where they may. If your readback of a question indeed fell a little short, the attorney may choose to repeat, rephrase, or strike it altogether. If you were asked to read back an answer, it is possible that the attorney didn’t understand it either and will ask the witness to repeat it.
- You missed so much of the requested question or answer that it is impossible to reconstruct it in a few seconds. You were going to interrupt to ask for it to be repeated, but you were asked to read back before you got a chance. In cases like this, you can say, “I’m sorry. I didn’t get that. I was just going to ask you to repeat it.” They will most likely oblige.
Readback isn’t restricted to Q&A. As reporters we are often asked to read back colloquy. Sometimes these exchanges are quite heated, and readback can be challenging. They are just as vital as the questions and answers, however, as the attorneys are stating their objections and are preserving their positions for the future. You have to be prepared to read back colloquy, too, and sometimes the exchanges can be quite lengthy.
Keep in mind that all reporters have had trouble reading back at some point. There are so many variables that make our job difficult. Some attorneys understand what we are up against, and some don’t. Some care and some don’t. You will be forgiven if it is a rare occurrence. If you continue having difficulty, however, it will not go unnoticed. Your agency may receive a call requesting a different reporter the next time, or you may be dismissed and replaced with another reporter that very same day.
Sometimes the reason for the readback is simply to satisfy the attorney that he has a reporter with the requisite skills. If an attorney suspects he is dealing with a newbie, he may ask the reporter to read back random questions or answers early on to gauge whether or not the reporter is equipped to handle his case. He would prefer not to wait until receipt of the transcript to determine if there is a problem.
So how can you increase your chances of reading back successfully? Don’t be a mindless writer. It only makes sense that if you pay attention and try to follow the testimony, you will have some context and point of reference from which to draw upon, and your chances will increase that you will be able to read back without error. Also, if you make a habit of looking at your screen while you are writing realtime, you will be able to identify your misstrokes and make mental notes of what words those misstrokes should be. Lastly, not to be overlooked is the obvious: speed. It is a given that the faster you can write the less you will drop and the cleaner your notes will be.
As a student, the more you read back, the better off you will be! Practice reading back aloud everything you take. Pretend you are at an actual deposition and see if your readback will make the grade. Not only will it force you to confront your writing issues and improve your skill, but it will be a good exercise in learning how to keep your composure under pressure. This will pay off in the long run. Reading back is one of the benchmarks upon which attorneys will judge you. Make it your moment to shine.