Stenographers Shouldn’t Be Afraid to Interrupt Court Proceedings

It’s happened dozens of times: you’re sitting in court, taking down the record, and the prosecuting attorney is leaning into his line of questioning when he dramatically drops his voice. He turns away, but continues speaking—and while you would never roll your eyes, you’re extremely frustrated. You interrupt in order to ask the attorney to please repeat what he has said, only to receive a withering glare.

Interruptions Are Necessary to a Court Reporter’s Work

Many court reporters have cited “unwelcome interruptions” as a major detriment to their work. Not only are they fearful of interrupting the attorney, they are often met with annoyance—even hostility—when they interrupt an attorney in court. Too often, court reporters are made to feel as though they are somehow at fault for interjecting, or that they will not be chosen for additional jobs because they “can’t hear” the attorney.

Here are a few ways to preserve the record while maintaining your professionalism:

  • Assert yourself. Don’t be bullied into silence by any member of the proceedings. Your job is not to “keep quiet”; your job is to get it right. The attorneys’ words are chosen carefully, but if you can’t hear them, what’s the point? Interrupting someone’s train of thought is preferable to a transcript marked [inaudible] at a critical moment.
  • Speak for everyone. It is likely that if you can’t hear a speaker, neither can the judge—or anyone else in court, for that matter. It’s a known fact that an attorney will be more accommodating if a judge asks him to speak up than if a court reporter does, but you are the transcript’s first line of defense. If an attorney is mumbling or talking too quickly, you may be thanked later for asking him to speak more clearly.
  • Don’t take it personally. Court reporting is not exactly a widely-celebrated profession. All too often, the perfect work that you turn around is forgotten if you cannot give an attorney exactly what he wants. Always remain cool and calm, and understand that any objection to your actions is not an attack.
  • Collect documents. People often read aloud at a faster pace than their speaking voice, causing them to speed through a vital piece of testimony. In addition, documents often have numbers, technical language, or medical terms that you are unfamiliar with, posing a further threat to accuracy. Always ask for a copy of documents read in court to check against the final transcript.

Remember: the most important part of your job is accuracy—and since you would not tell an attorney how to do his job, he should expect the same from you.

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