My dear friend Rosalie Kramm and I were flattered to be included in a delegation of 37 reporting professionals for the People to People trip to Russia last October. This trip was sponsored by the National Court Reporters Association. The trip focus would be on the Russian judiciary system, but the trip included visits to Red Square, St. Basil’s Cathedral, the Kremlin, the Hermitage Art Museum, Peterhof, and the Amber Room at Catherine’s Palace.
When in Russia, do as the Russians. Right? We could spend hours discussing our adventure, but this post will be dedicated to their system of justice and our reporting counterparts. But let us say that the people of Russia are beautiful, the cities are colorful, and girls from California have no business buying fur hats. It also should be noted that vodka can really give you a headache.
With that being said, we learned that judicial reform began in 1991 after the demise of the Soviet Union. Russia has patterned its judicial system after the American federal court system. The new Russian Federation has worked toward establishing a court system that gives its citizens rights to a fair trial and to be protected against accusation and judicial mistakes.
The judiciary consists of three different types of courts: a Supreme Court, a High Court of Arbitration, and a Constitutional Court. The Supreme Court hears general cases. The High Court of Arbitration hears economic dispute cases, including bankruptcy. The Constitutional Court determines the validity of laws passed by the Russian legislature.
Generally, more cases go to trial in Russia than in the U.S. There are no pretrial depositions. A defendant in a felony matter can have his case heard by a judge, a 12-person jury, or a three-judge panel. The government can appoint defense counsel for a criminal defendant. There are no sentencing guidelines.
The judge’s secretary must have a legal degree and three years of legal experience. The secretary would be the closest thing they have to a court reporter. She prepares minutes of the proceedings. Most lawyers and judges were once court secretaries.
The highlight of our professional tour was definitely at the Constitutional Court in St. Petersburg. There are 19 judges appointed to this court which rules on the constitutionality of the 135 articles to the Russian Constitution. Reporters in this court prepare a daily verbatim record from a video feed. While a proceeding is in progress, reporters type one-minute segments. One reporter then ties all the segments together.
We feel that the Russians are truly interested in a fair and impartial judicial system. It still is evolving. And although their reporters use a different method to capture the record, there was still camaraderie and a shared interest, the desire to accurately capture and protect the record.
When Shanna Gibbs was nine years old she attended a trial with her father. She was fascinated with the court reporter. At a break in the proceedings, the court reporter took the time to demonstrate how her steno machine worked. At that point this little girl decided she definitely wanted to be a court reporter when she grew up. Shanna still lights up when she talks about that day in court.
When Shanna was fresh out of high school, she eagerly became a court reporting student at the Weill Institute in Bakersfield. She attended for about two years, but because of family issues she had to quit before she had reached her goal. In March of ’05 she was able to return to school. She is currently in qualifiers and hopes to be able to take the test in either November ’06 or March ’07. She’s still like an excited nine-year-old when she’s talking about her new career. Her excitement is intoxicating.
I had the pleasure of meeting Shanna when she sat in on a deposition with me. I’ve been reporting 24 years, and I forget sometimes what it was like to be new to the field. Shanna is very bright and inquisitive, and I tried to give her some tips that may make her transition easier.
In my opinion, it’s not just about reporting the deposition and producing a great transcript, although those are a must, but it’s your confidence on the job. The client must believe you are competent, and that begins when you walk through the door of the deposition.
It’s all about attitude. You are a professional now. You are an important person in that room. Dress and act like it! Remember the old saying, “If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it must be a duck”? You’re a reporter, and now you need to act like a reporter.
An important tool here is wardrobe. Use it! Feel good about how you look. You’re just starting out and you’re anxious and insecure and you need the confidence boost. I suggest an investment in a few power suits and dress shoes. They can be inexpensive and basic. Sandals are seldom appropriate, and sleeveless shirts should only be worn under a blazer. As for the men, ties are a must.
Always arrive 20 to 30 minutes early and have your cell phone in the silence mode. If possible, set up at the end of the table. Of course always carry an extension cord for the hard-to-reach outlets. I try to stay away from the coffee/water setup. That can be a noisy spot during the deposition.
As the parties enter, confidently introduce yourself with a handshake and a look in the eye. I always stay standing with my blazer on until I am completely set up and I’ve introduced myself to all and have cards and/or information from all those in attendance. At that point I would sit down to signal that I am ready to go on the record. If you sit down before that, you may have that rushed attorney commanding you to swear the witness. That may fluster you and frustrate him when you are not ready.
Exude confidence, be assertive, and smile! It’s hard when you are new and scared, but fake it till you make it. When you walk in that room, it’s show time. People want to work with happy and confident people, not someone who is complaining or too timid. They want to feel confident that the reporter at the end of the table is doing his/her job. Leave your problems at the door and give the room your full attention.
Make friendly conversation and try to fit in. You are just as important as any person in that room. Act like it! Stay away from anything controversial like religion or politics. Obviously you need to avoid conversations about the case. In those instances it’s wise to excuse yourself. No matter what you overhear, never repeat it. Forget you heard it.
When reading back, do it with a loud and strong voice. If you need to slow a witness down or have something repeated, do it confidently. If you are timid in your request, they’ll think you are unsure of yourself and perhaps not able to do the job. Remember, it’s your job to make the record. Be in control and do not hesitate to protect the record.
When marking exhibits, stay organized. I keep track of the numbers on a pad, and I make sure to physically tag or number each exhibit. Avoid the dilemma of figuring out which piece of paper on the table is your exhibit. Keep the group organized. The parties will truly appreciate it.
Handle exhibits with care. Don’t just shove them in your bag to be wrinkled or lost. Use an envelope or folder to avoid any damage. It will show the client you are organized and on top of things.
There is no question that this is a stressful time for even the best of writers, but you’ve proven that you are deserving of this career. Believe in yourself! Muster up all the confidence you can and walk – or even waddle — in there like you are the prettiest, brightest, and smartest duck in the pond. Before you know it, you’ll be laying that golden egg!