Are you considering becoming a court reporter? If so, congratulations! You are thinking about joining one of the most exciting and challenging careers in the world. This decision could be the most important decision of your life. Reporting can be an interesting, rewarding, and challenging occupation in which your earnings will be limited only by your ability and your desire to work. If you talk to court reporters who have been working for a while, you will find the majority of them very happy with what they do. In fact, if you were to ask a number of court reporters whether they would choose a career in reporting again – that is, if they could start over again – nine out of ten would respond with a resounding, “Yes!” The reasons for this occupational contentment and satisfaction are many. For some, the main reason is money. Court reporters can earn good incomes; but they also work hard and put in long hours. For others, the satisfaction of a job well done is enough. Some reporters enjoy the challenge of accomplishing what appears to others as an awesome task. Finally, some enjoy reporting because it is fun!
Common Characteristics of Highly Effective Reporters
Before looking at an overview of the profession of court reporting, we will study some characteristics of “highly effective reporters.” These basic attributes are those that most reporters have in common. If you do not have all of them, do not be dismayed. Many successful people have overcome great obstacles to become what they wanted to become by substituting a missing characteristic with pure, unadulterated, 100 percent determination and motivation.
Good Physical and Mental Condition
Without a doubt, a court reporter needs to be able to hear and see what goes on in a particular setting. In a very real sense, the reporter is the eyes and the ears of those who are not present. The reporter’s responsibility is to “capture” what is said and done, and then to share this information with others. Good health is important in many occupations, but probably more so in reporting. Occasionally, the work day may be long. Reporters will often travel a great deal. Working extra hours to finish a job .that was due yesterday may be necessary. Reporters very often encounter stressful working conditions, deadlines to meet, and normal day-to-day pressures. Consequently, good physical and mental conditioning are important. The reporter should have reasonable hearing and sight, have good manual dexterity of both hands, and not be addicted or dependent on alcohol or drugs of any type.
Knowledge of Punctuation and Grammar
A reporter must have good English skills that include vocabulary, spelling, grammar, and punctuation. The reporter is a “word processor” in the true sense of the phrase-the reporter processes words! A reporter’s whole business is words-getting them down, reading them back, and producing an accurate transcript. Employers of court reporters rank good English skills as a top priority in hiring new reporters. The court reporter should enjoy words and be inquisitive enough to look up the definition of words that are unfamiliar. He or she should also make certain that the completed transcript contains correct punctuation, spelling, and format.
Knowledge of World Events
If you are considering becoming a court reporter, you should enjoy reading. Most reporters like to read books, magazine articles, and newspapers. Reading keeps one’s mind in tune with the happenings of the day. Just one half hour a day reading a newspaper will have remarkable results for the student of court reporting. It increases your vocabulary; it makes you more aware of what is happening on a local, national, and international level; it entertains you; and it informs you about a variety of topics. A good knowledge of current and world events is helpful in understanding what is going on around you.
Certain personal qualities that most successful reporters strive for or have acquired in their careers are needed. The first quality is a good attitude. You need a solid, positive feeling about yourself and what you are doing. Many people lose good jobs because they have negative attitudes. You can avoid that problem by developing a successful attitude while in school. You can begin by developing a friendly attitude with your fellow students, your instructors, and all types of people you meet in your everyday situations. In reporting you must display a positive, mature personality and exhibit a cheerful, pleasant demeanor under pressure. You must learn to accept and profit from criticism without becoming defensive. In court reporting, as in most professions, immature behavior is not acceptable. To feel good about what you are doing, you must first feel good about yourself. A good, healthy attitude about who and what you are is important. Accept yourself, with all of your faults and shortcomings, as well as all of your strong points. Above all else, remember to think POSITIVELY about what you are doing, who you are, where you are going, and what you are doing with your life.
A second necessary personal characteristic is motivation. Some people call this drive, determination, or perseverance. In reporting, motivation is vital. Real determination is needed to complete the course of study to become a court reporter and to overcome plateaus that may appear on the road to achieving a high machine shorthand speed. You will learn that you must devote time to the study of medical, legal, and technical terminologies, as well as other subject areas. You will learn that you will need to develop a writing speed in excess of 225 words a minute (wam) on testimony.
A third personal characteristic is appearance. Appearance is important. To be a successful reporter, you should look the part. Reporters should read current books and articles on proper dress, because they must create a favorable image of themselves and of the profession. As a reporter, you hold a very responsible position in our society. You are an officer of the court and therefore contribute to the layperson’s respect for law and order. You will often be called upon to transcribe cases involving large sums of money as well as people’s lives. Your appearance should instill confidence in those you meet: you must have an appearance that gives the impression that you can do the job and do it right! Specifically, your clothing choices will depend on the custom and tradition of where you work. When on the job, look around you. If you see conservative attire, try to maintain the status quo. Talk to other reporters or court personnel to learn what is appropriate and what is not. Use common sense and good judgment.
Another quality that is highly regarded among judges and lawyers is the ability of the court reporter to be confidential about legal matters. Confidentiality is essential. The slightest slip regarding something said or done in court or during a deposition or statement could cause serious harm to someone’s life or affect a case adversely. Even an innocent remark to a juror could cause a mistrial. Therefore, reporters must learn to avoid discussing their work. Confidentiality about the testimony extends to scopists, transcribers, binders, and everyone who works in the court or freelance office. Reporters must be very careful to guard the integrity of the record. Passwords should be used when working on transcripts, copies should not be left out in the open, new reporters should not be furnished with any information regarding a case, and copies of transcripts may not be sold or given to anyone without the authorization of the person who hired the reporter to take and transcribe them.
Professional people make it a point to be on time for any appointment or engagement. The court reporter who makes a success of himself or herself, It is the one who arrives early at a deposition or trial and makes sure things are in order. In addition, the competent court reporter makes sure that transcripts are delivered on time, especially if a delivery date is promised. Being on time is a personal quality that the beginning court reporter should strive to incorporate is his or her life.
Reporters should strive to obey and respect the law. They should conduct themselves properly in social situations. Reporters should exercise courtesy toward judges and the diverse types of people they meet every day. Reporters are usually the only individuals present at a proceeding with whom no one is angry or upset. Therefore, they must remain unbiased. They should not show facial expressions or other actions that would suggest that they have an opinion regarding how a case is being handled. Reporters are expected to exhibit a calm, cool, and collected demeanor, which is sometimes very difficult to achieve. Reporters must be loyal to judges, members of the Bar, and their own profession. They should never speak adversely about any attorney or judge. Reporters must also be honest and forthright. The reporter’s duty is to charge proper, uniform rates to all and do the best job he or she possibly can for any client. Reporters should avoid unethical practices.
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Mastering the Skill
The bottom line is this: To work as a court or realtime reporter, one has to be able to write accurately and transcribe quickly. Having knowledge of grammar and punctuation, having an awareness of world events, dressing properly, working diligently, and being punctual and efficient are all important; but most of all, you have to be able to perform! If you are considering a career as a court or realtime reporter, you have started in the right place. You are attempting to gather all the information you can about the profession so that you can make an informed decision. After you have read over the information contained in this book, your future is up to you. Only you can decide whether reporting is for you. We hope you will decide that it is, because there is always a shortage of good, competent court reporters. As long as court reporters can furnish a quick, reliable, accurate, and dependable service and still save consumers time and money, the future of the reporting profession is secure.