Last week a young reporter from Florida wrote me looking for some advice. He wanted to know what to do when you are at a deposition and your software stops working. He had a bad experience that turned from bad to worse. I won’t go into the details. As we all know, the more out of control the deposition gets or if something stops working, the more your fingers start shaking, you start sweating, and then things really start to go bad – unless you take control.
I had shaking fingers and was convinced my license was going to be taken away from me because of a deposition I was reporting about ten years ago. My client spoke with an English accent, the witness was an Australian scientist, and they were talking about the sequencing of the human genome. Both sides were hooked in. At one point one of the attorneys asked for me to read back an answer that was all “science talk.” I read it back with a semi-Australian accent because I was writing everything out phonetically. I wasn’t trying to be funny or cute or pretend I had an Australian accent. Everyone at the table started laughing at me. I was able to keep up with the speed, but had no clue what I was writing. I started feeling sorry for myself.
During the lunch break I called my husband all shook up. His words to me were so perfect. He said, “Stop it. You are a professional. You get right back in there and be the court reporter. I don’t want to hear another word about losing your license or any of that other nonsense. Call me when you’re done.” First I got mad at him a little bit, but then I realized he was right. I told myself to knock it off and just bear down and write. There was no room for excuses or having a pity party. It was a tough depo, period.
As a new reporter, never forget your responsibility is the record. When your fingers are shaking, go off the record if you need to. Go to the restroom, slap cold water on your face, and tell yourself to knock it off. Pull yourself together mentally. Force yourself to focus. If you are in over your head, stop the deposition. Call the agency owner. Tell the attorneys. Be honest.
If you notice your machine or computer is malfunctioning, ask to stop the deposition. Don’t be shy. You can say, “I am having a technical difficulty. May we go off the record?” Be confident.
One thing I know from all of my years as a reporter, the attorneys know when a deposition is difficult because of speed, accents, or subject matter. If they see you working hard, they will give you a chance and help you slow things down. Some attorneys or witnesses don’t care and prefer the messed-up record. Don’t let those people shake you up or ruin your reputation. Take responsibility. I promise you they will respect you in the long run and might even request you to be their reporter.
By the way, the attorney who I was working for the day that I did the double hook-in about sequencing of the human genome, thinking I would lose my license, started calling our firm asking me to be his reporter for not only his San Diego court reporting work, but all national court reporting work as well.