A court reporting career is exciting, no doubt about it, but you’ve probably seen several blogs entitled, “Can an Introvert Be a Court Reporter?” That may be because court reporters are called upon to review what they have typed and read it aloud during court. Quickly and loudly.
The first time the judge requests that you read back testimony, it’s only natural to be nervous. Unless he or she has a debilitating case of glossophobia (fear of public speaking), an introvert won’t have any problems working in a courtroom setting. Don’t forget, the witnesses and the attorneys are the real “stars” of the show!
‘The Right Stuff’
As with any profession, there are some qualities you should have when pursuing a court reporting career. If you feel you are lacking one or more of these abilities, know that you can develop personal and professional qualities just like you develop skills. Here are four capabilities that you may already have or can develop that you need for a successful court reporting career:
A court reporter should be completely focused at all times! One quick daydream could mean a significant loss of details that are needed for review by the court. “A reporter’s mind has to stay on task,” says Christine Harrell, court reporting writer. Concentrating on entering data and typing can be difficult, especially when you’re hearing heartbreaking testimony or description of a grisly crime. “. . . Nor can the reporter be distracted by disturbing and emotional testimony, such as a coroner discussing the wounds on a murder victim,” Harrell continues.
A court reporter is never in the same environment, doing the same thing day after day, and this will naturally help your ability to concentrate because every day is new and interesting! Other ways to maintain your focus during your court reporting career include taking care of yourself. Always get plenty of rest the night before you will be working in the courtroom (or anywhere else, for that matter). You should eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly and know that practice makes perfect. Your mind will adapt to staying on task the more you do it.
Accuracy in information is critical for legal and government documents. “The biggest problem that most reporters and students have when writing is being able to get the speaker’s words down as quickly and as accurately as possible,” says Mark Kislingbury, who holds the Guinness World Record in speed writing.
At the very least, you must have a good grasp of English. Knowledgeable punctuation skills also factor into transcription accuracy, especially the much-maligned apostrophe. There are many people who think if a word is plural, there must be an apostrophe somewhere . . . If there is an apostrophe, where to put it matters. You must be one of the people who know the difference between “their,” “there,” and “they’re,” (also “whose” and “who’s,” “its” or “it’s”) for example.
There may be times where your ability to be accurate is challenged during your court reporting career, especially when someone whose first language is not English has a thick accent when he or she speaks. Some people are nervous during testimony and are barely audible or they mumble, but you have to work through it as best you can. Here’s an example of how a court reporter’s accuracy can impact a jury’s decision:
Attorney: How much wine did you drink before you drove?
Witness: A couple of sips.
The court reporter entered, “A couple of fifths.” That’s a problem! The data entry method court reporters use was designed specifically for capturing the spoken word quickly and accurately, so once again, practice makes perfect!
The National Court Reporters Association (NCRA) maintains a court reporter shall:
- Preserve the confidentiality and ensure the security of information, oral or written, by any of the parties in a proceeding.
- Be truthful and accurate when making public statements.
- Maintain the integrity of the reporting profession.
Integrity is something you either have or you don’t, but even the worst gossipers can develop the ability to be trustworthy with what they hear in court. “What happens in the deposition room or courtroom STAYS in the deposition room or courtroom,” says court reporter Judy Stevens. “No information learned, whether on or off the record, at a deposition or hearing is a topic of discussion outside that room.”
Some people simply think and move faster than others. Court reporters have the ability to quickly process information from more than one speaker, and the information is not just the spoken words. You have to work on entering the spoken words and the gestures and emotional tone the witness or attorney uses. Here’s a good example:
Attorney: Where did he hit you?
Witness: Right here.
The witness points violently and repeatedly to his left shoulder, then bursts into tears.
All of that information; the gestures, the emotions, are what the lawyers may forget but the court reporter will have chronicled as quickly as possible. In court reporting school, you’ll learn how to write faster on the stenography machine faster than you ever dreamed!
A professional typist can type an average of 75 words per minute (wpm); 200 wpm is not uncommon for a court reporter. You’ve heard this adage many times, but you’ll hear it even more in court reporting school about speed: Practice makes perfect!