Interrupting a conversation in progress can be considered just plain rude according to any etiquette guidebook, especially a serious conversation. However, if there is one exception to the rule, it’s a court reporter.
Our job is to create a record of a legal proceeding. Our duty is to ensure nothing jeopardizes the accuracy of that record, even if it means interrupting conversations between attorneys, clients, witnesses and other parties to request repeating or clarifying questions and statements.
Most attorneys and paralegals understand the gravity of a court reporter’s role. More often than not, they do their parts in helping to create a good record by speaking legibly and slowly and coaching clients and witnesses in being clear “for the record.” Rather than becoming annoyed, they appreciate a conscientious court reporter who interrupts for the sake of an accurate record.
Court Reporters: Defenders of Accurate Records
If court reporters were super heroes, their official super hero title would be “Defenders of an Accurate Record.” Since cases have been won and lost on the accuracy of the record, it’s not a title that court reporters take lightly, and neither should legal professionals.
Even so, there are those who talk at warp speed to save time, yet label court reporters who interrupt as inept. That’s just not the case; reporters are trained to capture 225 words per minute, with 95 percent accuracy to be certified in Missouri. Now, add low voices, background noise, other parties speaking over each other, dialects and accents to the mix and it is understandable why reporters trained and experienced in accurately capturing every syllable must interrupt on occasion.
It is mandatory for court reporters in Kansas and Missouri to be certified. Obtaining that certification requires passing the certification exam and meeting continuing education requirements. Coursework during training generally includes English, legal and medical terminology, professional practices, ethics and hours of technology training. The best court reporters tie up their training and wear it under a cape of professionalism.
Regardless of how tragic, vile, shocking or mundane a legal proceeding is, reporters must maintain their professionalism and composure as they capture every spoken detail. What they report is destined to become the official record that judges, counsel, clients, witnesses, other courts, law students and more will reference in future citations, appeals, and even in landmark cases for many years to come. For those reasons, court reporters must be the defenders of an accurate record.
Another way to look at it is if a court reporter doesn’t interrupt when necessary to defend the accuracy of the record, he or she is failing not only him or herself, but also counsel and their clients. Not to mention the fact that failing to be accurate can result in a court reporter losing his or her license.
How Can Legal Professionals Support the Cause for Accurate Reporting?
I mentioned a few issues above that occur, requiring a court reporter to interrupt. Namely:
- Attorneys, clients and witnesses interrupting or speaking over one another
- Talking at or reading documents at warp speed
- Not speaking clearly, especially if accents and dialects are a factor
Therefore, interruptions made by a court reporter can be avoided, or at least kept to a minimum by ensuring normal-paced speech, minimizing background noise and talking clearly. Coaching and practicing with clients prior to the legal proceeding on this matter helps tremendously and saves time in the long run.
Keep in mind that remote depositions via video add new challenges for court reporters to overcome to create accurate records. To support a reporter’s ability to capture information accurately:
- Be aware that reporters need extra time, considering they are not only capturing every spoken word but also checking chats, sharing screens and displaying exhibits
- Ensure counsel identifies themselves and their clients they are representing
- Verify wi-fi connections are strong to avoid the dreaded frozen system or “cut out”
- Use the proper technology, such as headphones, microphones and speakers for clarity
- Mute participants who aren’t active at the moment to reduce background noise
- Remember that every answer or objection must be audible
Should a great court reporter interrupt, it’s not a matter of rudeness or ineptitude. It is an indication that they are committed to the job and duty of being a reporter. It is a sign of diligence in creating accurate records, which have the power to win or lose cases and sway the future of law should they be referenced some day in another matter.