This series of blogs is dedicated to answering all of your questions from our May 2020 webinar. The questions outlined in this series of blogs are all of the questions not addressed during the live event. We hope you will find these blogs informative. The questions were submitted by students from schools across the U.S. and Canada, and from every level of the court reporting program.
I hear that many people work as freelancers, and your company has offices all over the world; but does that mean that stenographers travel around the country/world, or do they work remotely?
Planet Depos is a global court reporting agency. That means that we have clients who conduct business all around the world. As such, Planet Depos engages the services of freelance court reporters to cover proceedings for our clients around the world. Most reporters provide coverage for their local area only. For work overseas, reporters must be highly skilled realtime reporters who are comfortable travelling to and working in foreign countries. Planet Depos also has long-term assignments (one year or longer) where the reporter is based in Asia and travels throughout the continent.
Pre-COVID-19, clients typically did not schedule remote jobs on a regular basis. It has been the tradition that the reporter is in the presence of the witness, along with counsel (or counsel may occasionally attend via telephone or videoconference). Clients and reporters together have learned to navigate the new world of remote depositions. Videoconference platforms like Zoom, Microsoft Teams and WebEx have become the norm when conducting remote depositions. Each offers a unique experience for the attendees and it’s in your best interest to know how to use each of these platforms. With so much focus today on cybersecurity, consider working with an I.T. specialist to ensure your systems and protocols are compliant.
Do you see any age discrimination in the field – what is the median age of the stenographers you have? Is this a good career for someone of “retirement” age?
The average age of court reporters today is 53 according to the National Court Reporters Association.
This may be one profession that actually embraces the mature reporter. Clients always want to feel that their reporter is experienced, and this is where age works to your advantage. If you enter a deposition room with confidence, no one will consider your age. If you walk into the room unsure of your place in the room, it won’t matter if you’re 50 or 25, the participants will detect your inexperience and will probably test your skills by asking you to read back – perhaps significantly more than they would if you exude confidence. What better way to prove yourself than being able to read back accurately and flawlessly? You’ll be amazed how quickly confidence is restored – not just for you, but for the clients as well.
I’m interested in judicial court reporting. What does a typical day look like for a court reporter working in a courthouse?
The experience of working in a courthouse can be different from location to location. The best advice to offer here is to call your local courthouse, introduce yourself to the court reporter manager, let them know you may be interested in applying for a position once you have completed your schooling and ask if they have any advice for you. They can explain how things work at their courthouse, what you can expect for starting salary, any benefits associated with the position such as health insurance, paid vacation, retirement plans, bonuses for certifications, demand for transcripts, etc.
Do you ever get frustrated if you cannot hear the witness?
In a perfect world, you would never struggle to hear or understand anyone, be it counsel or the witness. Everyone would speak perfect English, every sentence would be constructed grammatically correct and no one would speak on top of anyone else. But the reality is, there will be days where you maybe can’t hear the witness because they’re soft-spoken, they speak too quickly, or perhaps they have an accent with which you are not familiar. Regardless, it is your job to capture the record. Perhaps the first time you cannot hear or understand, you simply ask the witness to repeat themselves. If the problem persists, a practical place to start is asking to go off the record and discuss with counsel the difficulty you’re having. Maybe it’s simply a matter of moving the witness closer to the reporter, or if the job is being conducted virtually, perhaps moving the microphone closer to the witness, or increasing the volume on the speaker phone if the job is being conducted as such, or perhaps adding a headset and listening through your audio sync will provide the amplification necessary to reduce the stress of straining to hear.
This is the perfect reason to have more than one audio backup running. Perhaps one device’s recording is more powerful or simply placed in a better location and can capture better audio to use for editing. But do not be passive in this situation and just assume that the audio backup will save the day. If all other avenues of remedying the situation have been exhausted, and your audio backup cannot provide additional clarity, you may be forced to include (inaudible) in your transcript. Please consider this a last resort as clients will quickly become frustrated if this is repeated with any frequency.
What to do when your fingers start getting sloppy?
This is the very reason you must continue to practice – and to write for longer periods of time at one sitting. It is only by pushing your boundaries that you will build the necessary stamina to keep pace. If it has been several hours since the last break, you may watch for a change of direction in the questioning and request a break for a few minutes. Make use of that time to do some hand exercises to help relax the tension and get you ready for the next session.
Coming straight out of school, which is more appropriate, freelance, or official reporting?
Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to this question. Here are a couple of ideas to perhaps help you find what’s best for you.
Take a few days to go to your local courthouse and sit in on a couple different types of proceedings, perhaps a murder trial, or a drug case, or a divorce matter. Sit in the general public area, with your writer if you wish (and with permission) and write the proceedings as if you were the official reporter. Clearly, you may have some issues hearing certain things, but this is more an exercise to see if you feel comfortable in the structured environment that is the courtroom. This is a much more formal and rigid structure than you may find in a deposition setting.
Also keep in mind that official reporting positions frequently require a minimum number of years reporting, or an RPR and/or state certification, if you live in a licensing state. But with the current shortage of reporters, perhaps your local courthouse is making an exception, so it’s best to check there first.
Official reporting positions offer a salary-based income and typically other benefits such as health insurance, retirement plans, paid vacation, and the like. These jobs typically also have standardized hours Monday-Friday with occasional exceptions based on your assignments. You may also earn extra money when/if a transcript is ordered of a proceeding you covered. This is work over and above your regular courtroom hours, and you will typically need to handle your own production. This recent blog article may offer some additional suggestions in this regard, so check it out.
As part of your externship, you will likely be paired with reporters in a deposition setting where you can experience this environment firsthand. Many freelance reporters like the diversity of the deposition setting. This option gives you the opportunity to encounter every aspect of reporting from your workers’ comp case to complex litigation. Bear in mind that as a new reporter you will not be assigned to the complex litigation work for quite some time, but it is work to aspire to as many of these jobs include special services, e.g., realtime, rough drafts, daily copy, etc., thus increasing the value of that particular day’s pages which translates to more money in your paycheck.
In the freelance market you are typically paid by the page. Sometimes there is an appearance fee added, other times not, depending on the area in which you live. You will also need to keep detailed records of expenses, e.g., parking, tolls, mileage, etc., for tax purposes. If the agency you are working with does not consider you an employee, you are an independent contractor and have obligations to file quarterly taxes. Planet Depos’ “The Modern Court Reporter” podcast recently interviewed Amy Bowlen, a freelance court reporter in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on these very topics. Be sure to check out the podcast for specific information in this regard.