This column has previously discussed how paralegals and secretaries deserve more respect for the amazing work they perform in the legal industry. Those articles were well received, and I am happy that many people shared my view that paraprofessionals in the legal industry deserved more recognition for the role they play in ensuring that law practices run smoothly. I do not attend as many depositions as I used to, but I recently defended a deposition of a client. Seeing the court reporter perform her job reminded me of all the amazing court reporters I have worked with over the years.
Perhaps primarily, court reporters deserve more respect because they have incredibly difficult jobs. The physical task of reporting everything that is said and done during a deposition or other proceeding is immense, and court reporters need to be trained and amass substantial on-the-job experience to be at the top of their game. Moreover, court reporters often need to deal with counsel talking over each other, interpreters, and other matters that can make the job even more difficult than usual.
Moreover, it can be difficult to be a neutral arbitrator of things that occur at the deposition. Court reporters need to make difficult decisions about what a witness said in real time, and there can be a lot of pressure from lawyers about which words came out of a witness’ mouth about contested issues. In addition, court reporters sometimes need to make choices about conversations that are held on and off the record. It can be difficult for court reporters to make these determinations when at least one of the lawyers sitting right next to the reporter will be dissatisfied with their actions.
In addition, being a court reporter can be a physically demanding job that requires a substantial amount of time and effort. Many court reporters need to lug around equipment cases, which can be a hassle if court reporters are traveling in certain areas to take testimony. Moreover, court reporters often need to travel great distances between jobs, which is time for which they may not be totally compensated. Moreover, court reporters need to make sacrifices in order to be ready and available for the lawyers and parties who attend a deposition or hearing. I am sure that many litigators have attended depositions or hearings that have gone without a meal break or went into the night because counsel did not want to reconvene on another day, or for some other reason. This can place burdens on court reporters, and court reporters often need to work harder in such circumstances than other people in the room.
Despite all of these challenges, court reporters perform their important work admirably, and they are often the most pleasant and amazing people I know in the legal industry. Court reporters are almost always available to answer a question about the transcript or otherwise assist in the legal process however they can. One time, earlier in my career, I had to take a deposition at a deponent’s house because he was very ill. When I arrived at the deponent’s home, it was clear that the witness was too sick to testify, and everyone headed home.
When I got to my car in the deponent’s driveway, the engine would not start. Since the deponent’s family understandably were not my biggest fans at the time, I was hesitant to go inside the home and ask for help. The only person outside the home was the court reporter, and he sprung into action to assist me. He drove my car while I pushed it in neutral to get it out of the deponent’s driveway. The court reporter then waited with me while I figured out my car issues to make sure that I was covered. I am sure that many lawyers have stories of court reporters helping them out, though perhaps not pushing their car out of a driveway.
In any case, it is distressing to witness some lawyers who seemingly do not respect court reporters too much in their practice. I have seen lawyers shout at court reporters during disagreements and when mechanical failure or other issues arise at depositions. Moreover, I have also witnessed lawyers deride court reporters for needing to stop a deposition to attend to personal matters or to take a meal break. This type of conduct is usually not acceptable. Court reporters are a valuable part of the litigation process just as much as deponents, lawyers, and other participants. The needs of court reporters should be just as important as the needs of anyone else who attends a deposition or other hearing.
All told, court reporters are important parts of the legal process, and their efforts help ensure that testimony is accurately recorded and the judicial system works properly. They deserve more respect than some lawyers give them since they conduct an important and difficult job.
Jordan Rothman is a partner of The Rothman Law Firm, a full-service New York and New Jersey law firm. He is also the founder of Student Debt Diaries, a website discussing how he paid off his student loans. You can reach Jordan through email at [email protected].