Stenograph’s featured person is
ACR, MBIVR, QRR, STTR
Why did you decide to enter the court reporting profession?
I was one of the lucky ones who knew what I wanted to do when I was 15 years old. I used to watch the television show L.A. Law (remember Harry Hamlin and Corbin Bernsen?!), and I always wondered what the lady sitting beneath the judge was doing as she tapped away on a weird-looking machine. I asked my Secretarial Studies teacher in secondary school about it, and I ended up doing court reporting as my work experience placement (shadowing a trained reporter in her day-to-day duties). It was then that I began to dream of being a stenographer.
Upon finishing secondary school at 17, I undertook a university course for 2 years, graduating with an associate diploma in business (Court and Parliamentary Reporting). The course entailed learning the machine, as well as learning written and spoken English, law, economics, and organization (I’m still not quite sure what that last subject taught me!). We had 90 students on day 1 of the first year, and only 10 of us left on the last day of the second year.
After graduating, I started my career in the court system of South Australia, which meant a move from my hometown of Brisbane. After nearly 4 years, I came to England in 1995 on a 2-year working holiday. This month, March 2015, marks my 20th anniversary of being in London. I think it’s safe to say I’m on the world’s longest working holiday!
What is your favorite thing about being a court reporter?
There’s more than one, that’s for sure.
I love not only being in different venues all the time but also being in different countries. I love everything about London (obviously) and working here, but being based in the U.K. has the advantage of being on the doorstep to mainland Europe. Last year, I was lucky enough to work in Paris, Geneva, Gran Canaria, Antwerp, Rome, Copenhagen, Venice, and Frankfurt, just to name a few countries.
Another thing I love about court reporting is the number of things we constantly learn in our everyday lives as reporters. Whether it be about the inside of a plane’s cockpit, the molecular matrix of DNA, or the forensics behind a road traffic accident, it is all fascinating stuff to me and we, as reporters, have a front row seat to it all.
Were there any hurdles you had to overcome in your career?
I’m rather fortunate in that I haven’t had any major hurdles to overcome. However, one that springs to mind is the myriad of accents I’ve had to contend with when I moved here from the other side of the world. To me, Australia has only slightly differing accents, but here in Great Britain, the accents are diverse and have taken some getting used to. I still have to concentrate super hard with certain lingos.
What advice would you give to new court reporters?
One thing I’ve done all of the way through my career and still continue to this day is not to compete with anybody except myself. For example, I compete today with my untranslate rate of yesterday.
To new reporters, I would say strive to be able to write clean realtime, and also constantly work on your personal dictionary. I’m a great believer in the “you’re only as good as your dictionary” school of thought. A reporter’s vocabulary is always growing and so should your personal dictionary. Even with the advent of electronic and digital recording, I honestly believe that if you are a proficient realtime reporter, you will always have work.
Another thing I would say is to know your software and make it work for you. Brief It is my favorite thing EVER, and now that Version 16 is here, the Case Prep function is very, very exciting!
What was the strangest case you have worked on?
In Australia: I wouldn’t say it was a strange case as much as a strange experience in a work setting. We used to have to do circuit court around the State of South Australia. One such stint entailed going to an Aboriginal reserve in the Outback. We were going through the list of defendants and appearances in a makeshift courtroom, which was basically a tin shed. There was an ever so slight breeze, which felt like you were sitting in a sauna holding a hairdryer toward your face. Because it was excruciatingly hot, the decision was made to hold court outside underneath the only two or three trees that were next to each other, thereby providing some shade relief. So there we are, out under the trees when all of a sudden, I pipe up, “I’m sorry, your Honour, but could we stop, please?” I turned around to the presiding Magistrate and ineloquently whispered, “The dog is trying to do things to my leg!” Needless to say, the people who had now gathered around watching just roared with laughter, as did I and the Magistrate.
In England: I was doing a same-day transcript (with a scopist) of a public inquiry about the building of a bridge. The inquiry went on for a year and was held at a football club. It was a great job, tough at times, but all in all, I loved every minute of it. Perhaps not the minute when the ceiling fell in on me, though. I’d actually pointed out beforehand to the secretariat that water was dripping from the ceiling. “No problem, Leah. Just move out of its direct line and we’ll get it sorted in a break.” Fine, okay. I was going hell for leather in cross-examination of a traffic noise and audibility expert when all of a sudden, down came the ceiling. The room gasped. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t injured; I was just wet with bits of the roof sitting in my lap and in my hair. The questioning barrister said, “Leah, are you okay if I just finish this line of questioning before we take a quick break?” REALLY? Yeah, knock yourself out!
Ahhhh, the memories.
What is the highlight of your career so far?
In March of 2014, I was privileged and honored to attend a dinner where President Bill Clinton was the keynote speaker. To be from a little suburb on the other side of the world and then to be in an elaborate venue in the city of London taking down a Q & A session with the former President of the United States…well, that is going to take some beating, I assure you!
What do you like to do outside of court reporting?
I’m currently trying to learn French. Unfortunately, my Australian mouth/tongue/throat is struggling to get some of those very special French sounds!
A final word….
As seasoned reporters know only too well, this profession takes a lot of hard work, but I am constantly learning, and I love that. I find my career extremely rewarding (and I don’t just mean financially). After 23 years of tapping away on that little, weird-looking machine and producing transcripts, I still love what I do. I’ve met people from all walks of life, have made many good friends along the way, and I have gotten to travel to cover assignments. I think that 15-year-old girl made exactly the right decision! As I always say: I love what I do and do what I love.