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Front Page - Friday, March 2, 2012

Under Analysis

Silence of the hands

I don’t like taking depositions, but as a lawyer, they are a necessary evil; like vegetables…and politicians. Unfortunately, with the type of law I practice, depositions are frequent. I’m not sure if it’s because of the types of cases that I handle, because I’m a good lawyer, or because I’m a bad lawyer that I have to take so many depositions. I tell myself (and my family) that it’s because I’m good at what I do. Please don’t burst my bubble – or theirs. They think I’m really important.

A big component of the deposition is the court reporter. That is a professional that truly impresses me. Not just because of the fashionable, professional, yet strangely revealing garb she (or he) usually wears, or the flirtatious way he or she clacks on the keys, but also because of the fact that he or she has to write down everything we say. This might be hard to believe, but I can be a bit of a fast talker, and I talk quite a bit. (Shocking, right?) I’m every court reporter’s worst nightmare (and every pizza order-taker’s too). I tend to ramble at a high rate of speed and I find that court reporters typically cringe when they see me enter the room (not just because I’m a fast talker, but also because I typically eat onions for lunch).

I usually don’t mind the court reporter, and don’t pay him or her much attention. However, there is one kind of court reporter that drives me crazy; the steno mask reporter. This isn’t your typical reporter. The typical court reporter sits at a small machine that looks like a mini typewriter and taps keys to enter strange syllables that somehow become words. Steno mask reporters, however, place a rubber mask over their mouths and repeat everything that’s said at the deposition into the mask. Not only is it strange to see a court reporter holding a mask over her face frantically whispering, it’s also quite distracting when I’m trying to conduct a deposition. If the deposition is in the afternoon, I typically have to battle the smell of fresh popcorn coming from the break room, and the vision of a court reporter looking as if she’s going to be sole survivor of a gas attack is enough to push me over the edge.  I find myself saying “Mr. Smith, what did you mean when you wrote exhibit 34?”, while thinking “Terrorists!!! Where the heck is MY mask…”

Although I suspect those masks are simply devices to assist with transcription, a part of me can’t help but wonder if there isn’t anything else going on. Perhaps it’s not to keep gas out, but to keep gas IN!!! It looks remarkably similar to the mask used at the dentist office to dispense the infamous laughing gas that’s so commonly seen on low brow sitcoms. Is the mask emanating gas to get the reporter through the deposition? And if so, why doesn’t she share a little with me? I’m the one who has to ask mind numbing questions for three hours.

The use of the steno mask also brings back unpleasant memories of my childhood that I’d rather not remember. I’m sure you’ve realized that I’m a very important lawyer now (I even have my own nameplate on my cubicle by the restroom at the Levison Towers). However, I didn’t always used to be that way.

Not too long ago, I was the lanky girl in junior high with bad breath, a French braid, and a New Kids on the Block Trapper Keeper. As I walked through the lunch room gripping my Donny Wahlberg binder, I could hear the popular girls whispering about me. I like to tell myself they were commenting on my tight rolled jeans, but I know they were making fun of me. So hearing a steno mask reporter whisper into the mask sends me right back to the 8th grade, which frequently results in panic and an unsettling feeling I didn’t finish my geometry homework.

My hatred of “the Mask” however, is also due to the fact that part of me wonders if the method is accurate, or if it’s one very bad game of telephone gone terribly wrong. The dedicated lawyer portion of me (which comprises about 9 percent), always wonders if the steno mask reporter is accurately repeating what is said, or if it’s one very bad game of telephone gone terribly wrong. You never really know during the deposition if the testimony of “The event was a big mess” will ultimately read “The elephant wore a pink dress.” I guess that’s a little surprise you can wait for when the transcript arrives, but that’s not the kind of surprise I prefer.

So because I crave accuracy, hate the dentist and try to block out junior high altogether, I make sure my assistant knows not to book a steno mask reporter for any of my depositions. A deposition is painful enough without spending it wondering if the court reporter is the sister of someone I went to high school with, or if the transcript will come back with inaccuracies. I prefer to spend my depositions worrying about the more important things in a lawyer’s life…like what that judge was thinking wearing brown shoes with a black robe. 

©2012  Under Analysis llc. Under Analysis is a nationally syndicated column of the Levison Group. Spencer Farris is the founding partner of The S.E. Farris Law Firm in St Louis, Mo.  He knows that Neanderthal man came after homo erectus, but got his law license after his editorial one. Comments or criticisms about this column may be sent c/o this newspaper or directly to the Levison Group via email at comments@levisongroup.com.