By Ana Fatima Costa, RPR, CSR
A litigator schedules a two-hour deposition beginning at 4:00 p.m. The court reporter arrives at 3:30 p.m. Counsel agree at 6:00 p.m. to continue for another hour.
At 7:00 p.m., the witness’ attorney asks, “How much longer?”
The questioner answers, “Just one more hour.”
The reporter requests a short break to cancel her 7:30 p.m. dinner commitment.
“Just one more hour” is repeated until the deposition ends at 3:30 a.m. The exhausted reporter informs the reporting firm that they need to cover her 9:00 a.m. deposition. They scramble to find a replacement.
Why didn’t the stenographer stop this marathon?
Court reporters strive to meet clients’ needs, often sacrificing their own, even in grueling circumstances like the above true story.
Most attorneys are respectful of court reporters, but some transform into “alpha” personalities upon entering the deposition room. In their zeal to represent their clients, attorneys may forget to empathize with the human being charged with diligently protecting the record.
Writing shorthand at above 200 words per minute on a steno machine may appear easy, but in reality it is an intense mind/body experience akin to playing a symphony. No matter what transpires inside (and outside) the room, reporters maintain constant focus, always mindful of the record. Without proper consideration of their basic human needs, the record’s accuracy may suffer.
In January 2015, BASF published an article by attorney Albert J. Boro, Jr., a member of its Legal Ethics Committee, titled “New Civility Guidelines for Professional Conduct,” excerpted here:
“In June 2014, the federal courts of the Northern District of California adopted ‘Guidelines for Professional Conduct,’ also called ‘Civility Guidelines.’
The Guidelines describe an attorney’s ‘duty of professionalism’ … They were drafted with input from members of the bar to address a perceived ‘decline in civility in federal litigation, especially on the civil side.’ (Email from L. Fuller, Media Liaison for N.D. Cal., quoting Chief Judge Claudia Wilken, dated Nov. 26, 2014.) The Civility Guidelines are a reaffirmation of the importance of ‘professionalism’ by promoting zealous representation performed with candor, respect, empathy, and courtesy to opposingcounsel and the parties.”
Yet, a thorough reading of the Civility Guidelines provided no mention of a “duty of professionalism” toward reporters.
The following guidelines will help foster respectful attorney-reporter relationships:
1. Advise the court reporting firm if you will need a rough draft, real time or expedited transcript. Expect to pay extra for these additional services.
2. Greet reporters with the same courtesy you extend counsel and the witness. Provide your business card and a copy of the Notice of Deposition.
3. Speak clearly and mindfully. Avoid mumbling or talking over one another. Slow down when reading documents. Allow the reporter time to mark exhibits.
4. Break every two hours. Regular rest periods are particularly important in fast paced depositions and those containing complex terminology.
5. Consider reporters’ needs before deciding to work through lunch. Include them when offering food to everyone in the room. Ask if a 30 minute break will suffice.
6. View reporters’ interruptions for clarification of the record as confirmation that they are fulfilling their legal and ethical duty to produce an impartial, verbatim transcript.
7. If you anticipate that a deposition will go longer than expected, ask the reporter if s/he is able to continue, and for how long.
8. Clearly state your transcript order and when you need it.
9. “Please” and “thank you” are the benchmarks of civility.
Attorneys and court reporters are equal partners, doing their best to meet their respective obligations. Clear, respectful communication will ensure everyone’s needs are met.
Ana Fatima Costa, RPR, CSR, is Secretary of the Executive Committee of BASF’s Paralegal Section. As a consultant and coach, she utilizes the experience gained in her 35-year career to inform the legal community and general public about the vital role that reporters have as guardians of the record. Contact Ana at www.anafatimacosta.com. Follow Ana on Twitter at @AnaFatimaCosta1.