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Court Reporter Answers Questions in New York Times Feature

Manhattan court reporter Rebecca Forman, RMR, CRR, was featured in the New York Times column “Taking Questions.” For the week of June 14, Rebecca fielded questions about the profession of court reporting. Here is her story about how she got this opportunity.  Please read her full article below.

Court Reporter Taking Questions

By Rebecca Forman

The New York Times has an online column called “Taking Questions,” featuring a professional New Yorker and inviting its readers to ask questions about the person’s job. I always read this column, and occasionally I submit a question. A couple of weeks ago, the “Taking Questions” column featured a New York City subway motorman, and the response from the readers was tremendous. It seems that inside every man there’s still a little boy who dreams of one day driving a subway train. That got me thinking, hey, I’ve got an interesting job, too. Since 2003 I’ve been an official reporter in the Southern District of New York, which is the federal courthouse in Manhattan. In the courtroom, people are always asking me about my steno machine, “How does that thing work?”

I e-mailed the editor of the “Taking Questions” column and asked if I could be the featured professional of the week. I figured the worst-case scenario would be that my e-mail would be ignored, or I’d get a polite “No, thank you.” Instead, in less than five minutes, I got a very enthusiastic, “Yes! Are you available next week?”

I have been a daily reader of the New York Times since I moved to New York in 1990, and now I was going to be in the online edition for a full week, with an edited version printed in the Sunday New York Times. Plus, I would get the chance to talk about court reporting, a field that’s been very good to me, and – I hoped -- educate the public about what court reporters actually do. I was really excited, and I had a hard time sleeping the week before my column would be online.
On Monday, June 14, 2010, the New York Times posted my bio and picture on their Web site and invited readers to post questions. My answers would be posted Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. The editor told me to aim for answering 15 questions total. The first few people who posted questions were friends and family, and the questions were pretty easy, if not a little boring. Then I got hit with question number 14:

Why do court reporters charge so much per page? The court reporting fee for an all-day deposition can be well over $1,000. Then, for additional copies, a court reporter will charge the same or similar amount to the other parties in the case. These are outrageous sums. -anon”
Uh-oh! The chief court reporter in my office told me that he thought it was important for me to answer this question. As it turned out, court reporters called and e-mailed me privately to say they loved my response. This is what I came up with:

“Because I work in court, the page rates that I charge are set by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. What you are referring to, Anonymous, is the page rate for freelance court reporters. Freelance court reporters work for agencies and only receive a percentage of the amount of money the parties pay for the transcript. A court reporter does not get paid until the final transcript is completed. For an all-day deposition, which can be 8 or 9 or 10 hours, transcription can take days. So the money that is paid for the transcript is not just for the one day of the deposition. It is to compensate the reporter for the transcription time.

“Court reporters are highly skilled workers. Just as a highly skilled attorney or expert charges for their time at an all-day deposition, so too does the court reporter.”

Luckily, only two of the 54 comments I received were negative. The other negative one also had to do with how much court reporters earn.

One reader asked how the keys on the machine work. Usually, when someone asks me that question, I have my writer in front of me and I can give a quick tutorial. Putting it into words was more difficult. I explained how we use multiple keys at the same time, and I gave the example of initial N. New York Magazine picked up that part of my answer and posted a little article entitled “An Interesting Thing About Court Reporting and Their Little Machines. Why Typing the Letter “N” is Kind of a Complex Process.” That was almost as exciting as being in The Times, especially since it was so unexpected.

It was a terrific week for me. I got to educate the general public about court reporting and encourage young reporters and those thinking about entering court reporting school. I answered questions about realtime and about the different NCRA certifications and about why court reporters are needed and useful. The most rewarding part, however, was hearing from court reporters from around the country. The positive feedback and encouragement meant the world to me.

Rebecca Forman, RMR, CRR, is an official reporter in the Southern District of New York, which is the federal courthouse in Manhattan. View her complete “Ask the Reporter” column.