As a court reporter with 31 years of experience, I sometimes am asked to impart words of wisdom and advice to up-and-coming court reporters. When I think of the lessons I want to pass on to others, I think of some of the lessons I could only learn the hard way. While these memories are funny to think about now, I wasn’t laughing at the time. Here are a few of those gems that come to mind.
Don’t wear your white suit unless you know where you’re going.
Upon arriving at my assignment one day, I discovered I was to take a deposition at a recycling center. This would have not typically been a problem, except that I had decided to wear my winter white suit to the deposition. No problem, I thought. We will be in the office, of course, around a conference table, as always.
Unfortunately, I soon discovered we were not to be seated in a nice, pristine office setting for the deposition. Instead, I found myself perched on the only chair (which was broken, of course), with a nearby bulldozer shoveling trash into a giant pit while I tried to take down the testimony of the standing attorneys and the witness.
You can imagine what happened to the white suit. Let’s just say it would have been better to wear brown on that day!
Never put your paper steno notes down in unusual places.
I learned this particular lesson when, upon leaving a deposition, I was in the parking lot putting my equipment into the trunk of my car. Rather than juggle too may things and drop everything, I stacked the steno notes from my deposition on the bumper of my car. This, I figured, would free up my hands to finish packing my things away.
Once I finished packing up, I got in my car to leave.
Have you ever had that funny feeling that you are forgetting something? Unfortunately, I didn’t have that feeling that day. Instead, forgetting I had placed my notes on the bumper, I got in the car and pulled out of the parking lot.
Suddenly I heard a loud noise behind me. Looking in my rear-view mirror, all I could see was a huge monster-sized, perfectly-round cloud of paper chasing me down the street! I immediately stopped and got out to see what I could salvage from the tangled web of thin white strips.
Amazingly, the paper did not tear into shreds and it only took me 30 painstaking minutes to fold the notes back into their former stack. Thank goodness the notes were only a redundancy and I had the digital notes of the deposition on my computer and a computer disk. (I still have those notes, by the way.)
Don’t kid yourself into thinking you have the manual dexterity of a circus juggler.
Because I had gone on hundreds of assignments over the years, each time bringing my equipment efficiently packed in its case, this equipment sometimes feels like an added appendage of my body, as familiar as my arms and legs. So, one day, when I arrived at my destination to find I needed to climb a flight of stairs to my assignment, I didn’t think twice about grabbing everything, including my steno machine on my shoulder, my purse in my other hand, and a to-go cup full of Starbucks coffee in the same hand as my steno machine.
Lulled into this false sense of my own abilities, imagine my surprise as I ascended the stairs and felt my steno machine slip from my shoulder, land on my forearm, causing my coffee cup to jump, thereby releasing an alarming amount of coffee from the tiny hole in the lid, which flew up into the air and came down directly on my hair and the front of my skirt!
Then and there I realized that, No, I am not a circus juggler, and, Yes, I would have to take the deposition in this disheveled condition. Which I did!
Sometimes perfectly innocent maps can lead you far, far astray.
When I am preparing to take a deposition out of town, I always print a copy of the directions to my destination to take with me. One particular day, before traveling to a deposition that was many miles away, I grabbed directions quickly and headed out the door. My drive was uneventful until I realized I had taken a wrong exit and had been heading in the opposite direction for miles.
Nothing strikes me with such fear and panic as the realization that I am going to be late for an assignment. All court reporters know that is one of the unforgivable offenses of court reporting. We learn early in our careers to never ever keep a client waiting.
I was able to turn around and finally arrive at my destination. But, to this day, I still remember the client I was working with on that stressful day. Thank you, Mr. Cypher, for being so understanding!
Never assume! It makes an … well, you know the rest.
During one of my depositions when I was still rather new to court reporting, I failed to ask one of the attorneys for his name before going on the record. But I figured everything was fine because I had a deposition notice with the names of all attending parties. I assumed the attorney present was the person named on the notice.
Several days later, I was very embarrassed when I discovered that this attorney was, indeed, NOT the person named on the notice, and I had used an incorrect name throughout the entire transcript!
But lessons are exactly that, things we learn along the way. Sometimes we learn them the hard way, but we do learn. I recently found myself in a similar situation when I recognized an attorney I would be working with for the day but could not remember his name. I now have learned to say “I know who you are, but can you remind me of your name again?” This turns out much better than getting the call that, “You have my name wrong throughout this entire transcript.”
And now I would love to hear your court reporting stories of learning the hard way. I sincerely hope I’m not the only one!
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