Thursday, January 27, 2011

Court Reporting

Court reporting is an interesting career. I've been a deposition reporter now for just over ten years, running around with all of my equipment, taking down testimony of so many different defendants, plaintiffs, experts in fields I've never heard of before. Before I got my license to practice in California, I was a realtime captioner for deaf- and hard-of-hearing students for the National Center on Deafness, located at CSUN, California State University of Northridge, located in sunny California. Here's some fun court reporting humor that I'm hoping you'll get a kick out of.

Reporters have to get down everything, from who's speaking to adding punctuation on the fly!
After graduating from El Camino Real High School in Woodland Hills, California, I decided that I wanted to become a court reporter. Yes, I'm one of those girls that sits with that funny looking machine between my legs that has like two keys on it and takes down testimony at a million words a minute, while at the same time getting down punctuation and objections, all the while trying to keep my cool and keep my leg from voluntarily kicking people under the table that are talking too quickly or using really big multisyllabic words just because it's in their vocabulary. I especially love it when the witness is an expert in some field I've never even heard of or if the witness's fifth language is English and looks at me like I'm crazy for not understanding him/her when I ask for a repetition. After the third time of not understanding, I just move right along in hopes I can make sense of their unintelligible attempt of being understood. A motto I live by: When in doubt, leave it out! Joking, of course. I figure out all of nonsense out later on in the comfort of my home by doing lots of research. And If I can't figure it out I'll put a "phonetic" after it. I work on a machine, but I'm only human. I'm pretty much what I'd like to call a glorified typist that puts up with deadline after deadline and transcript after transcript.

If I could rewind time, I most definitely would have picked differently for a career. But as the saying goes, hindsight is 20/20. And if I knew then what I know now, I'd have not dated most of the guys I have over the years, but that's besides the point. To make a long story short -- too late -- it takes a lot to actually become a licensed court reporter. The dropout rate is much higher than the success rate of passing the California state exam. The test that I took and passed on my first attempt had only an 18-percent pass rate.

It's a love-hate relationship I've had with being a reporter. I'm a fly on the wall and get to hear it all without being the one interrogating or being interrogated. I will say that it's not the easiest job in the world. But on that same note, it's definitely not the hardest either. If you're one of those people that are curious about this little steno machine and want to know how it works, click here for a quick lesson on the theory behind our hooked-on-phonics machine-shorthand language.

Before becoming a licensed CSR, certified shorthand reporter, I worked as a realtime captioner at Cal State Northridge University for the the National Center on Deafness. I would have a set schedule of classes that I would go to whereby I'd set up shop, my steno machine and laptop, and take down the class lecture in realtime for a deaf- and/or hard-of-hearing students that were enrolled in the class. It was definitely the most rewarding job I've ever had. I even got pretty good at sign language after taking one class of it at Glendale Community College. I did the captioning after my court reporting school went bankrupt: Merit College of Court Reporting.

Court reporting school was so much fun! It's the working part that sucks. And I'm speaking for myself only. In school we would have our readers that would read real transcripts to us all day long at various speeds. They were usually actors/actresses or comedians that were working as readers until their other gigs took off. Some of the coolest people ever!

Although I'm in the middle of changing careers now, I'll have to admit that I've heard and learned tons from being a court reporter. I will always keep my license but am hoping I'll soon be able to not have to rely on it to keep a roof over my head.

You never know what you're going to hear when you're out in the field.

I'll never forget the one day I was at work and the witness got asked the standard question every deponent gets asked:
Q. Have you ever been convicted of a felony?
A. Yes.
Q. What kind of felony were you convicted of?
A. For carrying unprescribed medication.
Q. What kind of unprescribed medication were you carrying?
We all looked at each other around the table, trying really hard not to laugh, thinking to ourselves "Is this guy for real?"

Seriously, I have heard it all. Some days it goes in one ear and out the other, but other days I learn lots from my job.

The one good thing about being a freelance deposition reporter is that you're not tied down the whole day. This has its pros and cons. No work = no money. The pro is that you can take on as much work as you want or as little as you want. So this has definitely given me the ability to take time and pursue all of my artistic endeavors. And trust me, there have been a lot. I change hobbies like people change dollars for quarters at the laundromat to do laundry.

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