Some might think the court reporter, who writes verbatim what is said in the courtroom or deposition setting, magically produces an accurate transcript. Grammar is daunting. Transcription of a verbatim record is not like creative writing, when the author can attend to syntax and choose the right words.
Even an extremely gifted and accurate realtime reporter has some clean up to do on a draft realtime transcript.
The court reporter’s task can be difficult. A creative writer has the opportunity to delete, paraphrase, or rearrange her own words to ensure the reader’s understanding. Using punctuation and logical, semantic and systemic knowledge of the subject matter, the court reporter must work with the words, word order, and usage of others to communicate deposition and legal proceedings accurately. A verbatim account with a final spell check isn’t enough. But why is that?
Even the most educated speakers throw grammar to the wind when speaking extemporaneously. Lawyers change subject mid-question. Witnesses are nervous and emotional. Experts use vocabulary that is rarely heard in casual conversation. If the transcript is incorrectly punctuated or technical terms are confused, the facts and the tone of the proceeding could be misinterpreted. This means that the court reporter is often a transcript manager, administering language tactics within the written document to make the spoken words understandable. Consider this exchange involving gastrointestinal medicine:
Q. Mr. Jones, isn’t it true that you misunderstood the risks of esophageal manometry when you signed — isn’t it true that Dr. Smith failed to explain to you the difference between esophagoscopy and —
A. Well, yeah, because, you know, I didn’t understand, you know, all that — that — that medical gibberish. You know what I mean? And besides, his nurse had guaranteed me that —
Q. Mr. Jones, we’ll get to that in a moment. An earlier fluoroscopy —
A. A what? I just can’t do this anymore. I need a — I feel a – okay. Look, I just want three things: a written apology —
Q. Mr. Jones —
A. — corrective surgery —
Q. Mr. Jones —
A. — and $2 million.
Were the names of medical procedures properly spelled? What was the demeanor of the witness? So many punctuation marks! In this case, the procedures are correctly spelled, and the speakers are clearly identified, but how can an attorney help limit mistakes during the transcription phase of a deposition so the court reporter’s transcript is absolutely accurate?
When booking a court reporter, the lawyer or her support staff can provide an index of vocabulary that may be used during the deposition. CompuScripts attempts to match the content of a case with a court reporter well-versed in the subject matter. Generally, a seasoned court reporter may have experience with personal injury, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, or medical malpractice, but it is unrealistic to expect every layperson to have an expert’s command of the diseases, disorders, appliances, and procedures that may be mentioned.
A vocabulary index gives the court reporter a head start on accuracy. For ongoing cases with challenging word lists or names, CompuScripts forwards to the assigned court reporter a word list from previous depositions. We also try to assign the same reporter to a case whenever possible. This assists with consistency and accuracy among transcripts from multiple witnesses on different days.
When arranging the deposition room, the attorney should make sure that the court reporter is seated close to the witness and remind all participants to speak at an audible volume. Court reporters gather additional queues on what is being said by viewing movements of a speaker’s mouth, face and tongue, which helps with accurate transcription. If the court reporter is unable to understand the speaker, preventable errors may occur.
When choosing a court reporting firm, think localism. A local firm will be familiar with the area and its court reporters will be used to dealing with geographical syntax, idioms, and accents. Speakers from the Lowcountry, Midlands, and Upstate of South Carolina may speak as differently as if they’re from different states.
Your local South Carolina court stenographer is usually the best fit for the deposition. She will be most familiar with habitual or customary spoken language practices in her hometown, as well as resident expert witnesses, industries, medical facilities, and governmental entities.
In conclusion, as trained professional court reporters, once a deposition begins, our role is generally a silent one. If your court stenographer interrupts the deposition or asks for a spelling during a break, do your best to assist the court reporter so that she is able to produce an accurate transcription of the sworn testimony and colloquy.