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Chapter 2: Description of the Process
2.1 - Overview
To fully understand the job of the legal scopist, one must first have a general idea of what court reporting is all about and what its purposes are in today's working environment. To understand what the court reporter does, one must also have a general understanding of various legal processes. Next we'll take a brief look at each aspect of the process.
The court reporting profession operates in various business modes, from freelance firms to official reporters, performing services recording various proceedings, from courtroom hearing and trial testimony, arbitration proceedings and deposition thestimony and closed captioning services to executive board meetings and shareholders meetings, and even transcribing convention speakers. Each aspect of court reporting is a little bit different from the others, and each of these areas incorporate scopists to some degree or another.
Freelance court reporters are independent subcontractors and can operate as individuals as well as through a court reporting agency or agencies. Most court reporting agencies use freelancers. Freelance court reporters generally do testimony in the civil litigation environment, primarily in civil lawsuits, such as deposition and arbitration testimony; but sometimes freelancers are subcontracted to do courtroom proceedings, closed captioning services for broadcasters, as well as corporation events.
Not all freelancers and freelance firms offer all these services, most tending to specialize in one area or another. When real-time transcripts are required but a particular courthouse is not so equipped, the courts will hire a freelance firm to perform these services. Freelancers are generally hired by court reporting agencies and compensated by a page rate for services provided, plus an appearance fee and minor administrative charges also generally apply. Freelancers working through agencies generally compensate the agency by receiving only a percentage of the billing, the agency being given a share commensurate to the level of support service provided to the freelance court reporter.
Official court reporters work for the courts at one level or another, and virtually all courts have their own reporters, either in a reporting pool or teamed up with specific judges and/or courts. Official reporters are generally the nine-to-fivers, although most would consider an eight-hour day a very rare treat indeed!
Because of government budgets being the way they are, officials are oftentimes volume producers because there's usually a shortage of them in the courthouse and they're generally, arguably, overworked. Official reporters work directly for the courts, but they can be either government employees or contracted freelance court reporters. In virtually all cases, the official reporter receives a salary or a per diem (day rate) for their writing services, which is paid by the government, and then they produce transcripts, when ordered, which are paid for on a page rate which is billed to the ordering attorney. Some officials bill directly to the ordering attorney while other officials have their transcript orders handled through the courthouse. These transcripts are ordered generally only when an appeal is contemplated or when a complex trial is ongoing and attorneys want immediate access to the trial record. Needless to say, official reporters perform in-court services, recording trial and hearing testimony. Official reporters are generally exposed to both criminal and civil litigation, performing their functions completely "under the gun," oftentimes in what would be considered hostile environments.
For the scopist, knowing who you work for is important because of the nature of the work. Working for an official court reporter might mean getting buried in pages on a big trial covering many days of proceedings, followed by lots of downtime in between. Working for freelance court reporters who are with court reporting agencies can be busy or light, depending upon your client court reporter's (or reporters') workload. Some scopists will partner with an official as their mainstay, while doing overflow work for freelance court reporters in between court transcription tasks. Most scopists balance their clientele with the amount of time they have for performing their services. For example, this author has a clientele model using one very busy freelance court reporter as a mainstay while performing overflow services for two other reporters, one a freelancer and one an official. This has proven to be a successful strategy for over 20 years.
2.2 - Description of the Legal Process
Overview of Litigation:
Court reporting and ,therefore, scoping, is involved in almost every aspect of litigation. Litigation is broken into two general categories: civil and criminal. In each category you have a process which is governed by a set of rules. For example, criminal processes are governed by Rules of Criminal Procedure and civil processes are governed by Rules of Civil Procedure. There are various rules of procedure at the state level, as well as federal rules for both civil and criminal procedure. State variations are generally required to conform to the minimums set within the federal rules, thereby allowing for variance while still preserving consistency. Because of these variations in state and local rules of procedure, transcript formats are generally a little different state to state, court jurisdiction to court jurisdiction.
In criminal procedure, official court reporters are generally present for hearings, sentencings, arbitration and trial testimony, capturing the official record of the case. Reporters generally enter into the picture after case workups have been well underway, when the criminal proceedings have come to a head. An official reporter will usually be present for all preliminary hearings, then during the trial (including some proceedings outside the presence of the jury), and usually sentencing, if applicable. If the case is appealed, an official reporter will be present for all appeal hearings, as well as the appeal itself. Transcripts are generally produced first for preliminary hearings, when a party is contemplating filing an appeal. Transcripts and/or excerpts can also be ordered for hearings, where attorneys wish to argue points of law before the judge and require transcript support to demonstrate a point regarding evidence or testimony. Transcripts displayed in realtime may be ordered for some trials. Some jurisdictions will forgo using reporters for sentencing, choosing to record these procedures and other minor matters on audio, digitally or via multi-track audio tape.
In civil procedure, freelance court reporters get involved earlier on. In civil litigation, during preparation of the case for trial, the parties to the lawsuit generally undergo meetings to set limits for discovery, the process whereby they interview witnesses and exchange documentary evidence with each other. Unlike television, there are generally no surprises allowed in court. All parties are interviewed in a process called deposition, whereby they memorialize all their testimony prior to the trial. This allows all parties to know what's coming, allows attorneys to create their trial strategies, and also "proves up" documentary evidence by demonstrating its nature. Depositions can go on for only a brief period of time, or they can be ongoing for years during the evolution of a lawsuit. Freelance court reporters are generally used for recording deposition and discovery testimony. Should the case go to trial, the official court reporters take over for the trial hearings and trial proceedings, completing the cycle of litigation for that case (sans appeal).
Federal courts and state courts have jurisdictions for both criminal and civil procedure, with judges who frequently hear both types of cases, as well as judges who may specialize. Generally speaking, state courts handle cases which occur within their borders, while interstate transactions which are the subject of lawsuit may be filed and heard in federal court. Also, federal jurisdictions, such as in maritime situations, are all entertained in federal court.
Types of Testimony:
When people are deposed or interviewed prior to trial, they can be deposed for several reasons. There are fact witnesses called in criminal and civil cases, who are people who have factual knowledge of the circumstances. For example, an eyewitness is a fact witness. Plaintiffs and defendants are oftentimes fact witnesses.
To support various technical or scientific arguments, or even to assist in clearing up an ambiguity in the law, parties may use expert witnesses to offer technical testimony for the jury's consideration. Technically "friends of the Court," these expert witnesses provide allegedly objective information for use in court proceedings as regards the case at hand. However, much expert witness testimony is opinion testimony, and opposing parties will almost invariably find other experts with other opinions.
Oftentimes a witness is used for document production. In both civil and criminal courts, all documentation must be proven up as legitimate before being allowable into evidence. Because of this, employees of corporations can be called to testify as to the nature of certain business records and correspondence. Called a records custodian, most companies will produce a representative who will testify on the record as to whether or not a document is a typical business record of the company, generated in the course of doing business. Also, for personal records and files, individuals may be deposed as to the origin and nature of their personal papers, as well as being asked to give testimony to clarify notes, et cetera. Fact witnesses oftentimes spend much of their deposition time proving up their documentary evidence.
2.3 - Description of the Court Reporting Process
Now that we have an idea of what goes on during the legal process, we can take a look at what court reporters actually do to perform their services.
In the official court reporting environment, the official reporters work off the court dockets. In a pool situation, reporters are scheduled as needed for court or may be teamed with a particular courtroom or judge for a specified period of time. In other court situations, official court reporters are paired up with specific judges. In this situation, there are sometimes overflow reporters available to fill in for people on sick leave or vacation, and sometimes the official court reporter has to make arrangements with a freelancer when they're not at work. As docket items are called, the court reporter will produce transcripts for the proceedings. In the court environment, court reporters usually don't have to deal with exhibits; rather, that's the purview of the court clerk.
In the freelance environment, depositions and hearings are scheduled by appointment, either with a freelance reporter or reporting firm. Prior to the time of the taking of testimony, a court reporter will arrive on location and set up their equipment and get ready for the proceedings. They'll record the proceedings on their steno machines. The court reporter is the official custodian of the documentary evidence produced in a deposition, so they'll generally receive all the exhibits that have been introduced during a deposition and reproduce them and attach copies to the transcripts they produce.
In many instances, freelance court reporters receive requests for videotaped depositions. In this case, usually the court reporting firm will contract with a legal videography firm to do the video portion of the proceeding, but many reporting firms also have their own in-house video production department.
Another service that is requested with greater frequency as time goes by is real-time reporting, where the text of the court reporter's record is displayed contemporaneously during a proceeding. In this situation, reporters oftentimes bring a scopist to the job location so they can help clean up the record. Modern CAT computer systems allow for a scopist to interface between the court reporter and the video screens, allowing for scopist support in real-time for trials, depositions, closed captioning, etc.
After recording the proceedings and receiving the exhibit originals, if any, a court reporter will then save their paper notes for a backup, use their notes-on-diskette or attach their steno machine to a CAT system, transfer their steno notes into the computer, then produce a rough translation of the job. This translation is then provided to a scopist, if used, along with the exhibits and any audio backup.
Once scoped, the court reporter will then give the draft to a proofreader, if used, who will do a proofreading. Finally, the reporter will do a final proofreading, followed by signing and attaching their Reporter's Certificate to the back of the transcript. The transcripts are then printed, and all exhibits are attached to the back of the transcript and bound with the testimony and Reporter's Certificate.
Deponents (the people being questioned in the deposition) will usually also sign the transcript after reading it. Usually there will be a corrections page attached to depositions, so deponents can make corrections before signing their transcript.
Transcripts are generally produced as one original, with original signatures and exhibits; then one copy for each party in the litigation that orders a copy. An attorney who schedules a deposition will generally be charged for a mandatory copy along with their original, because the original transcript is actually to be filed with the courthouse prior to trial.
After production of transcripts, and again thanks to computerization, there are several other items typically produced by the court reporter with their transcript:
1. ASCII transcript - A copy of the transcript on diskette in ASCII format, usable by the paralegals and attorneys when working with the testimony;
2. Condensed transcript printout - A copy of the transcript printed in a way which uses condensed printing to place four to six pages of testimony per single printed sheet. This makes it easier for attorneys to handle many transcripts at a time and still fit them in their briefcase.
3. Concordance - A word list showing a listing of all the words in a transcript, plus citing page and line number for each occurrence. This makes it much easier to jump around in transcripts while doing the workups.
4. Special formats - Some law firms use special transcript workup software with integrated features, and many of these software packages require that the transcript data be processed into a proprietary format. Court reporters routinely provide these services.
Finally, the court reporter will review the new steno definitions which were created during the transcription process, then designate the definitions for their appropriate dictionaries to update their online dictionaries.
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