The value of the spoken word in the legal process

March 21, 2013

By Kathy Zebert, RPR, B.S.

How many words do you speak in a day? And how many of those words are valuable? At first thought, you might say, “Well, all of them.” In the context of the profession of a court reporter, you would be absolutely right. It is the court reporter’s job to take down every word exchanged between attorneys, witnesses, and judges during a legal proceeding. Those words will be captured by the court reporter and put into the form of a transcript, which will ultimately affect the lives of everyone involved in the process.

It is for that reason that I became a court reporter. I see my role in the process as one of service; most importantly, to the litigants who have come to the legal table seeking justice. Although the court reporter’s presence in a legal proceeding is at the behest of the attorneys/judges, it is the litigants we are all there to serve. The most valuable part of the entire process is the record, the responsibility of which lies with the court reporter.

As you might imagine, court reporters hear hundreds of thousands of words over the course of a career. The smallest word, if it’s not recorded, can make a huge difference to one side or the other. Let’s take the word “not” as an example and compare these two sentences:

“I did not see him enter the garage.”
“I did see him enter the garage.”

I believe you can see the impact that one word may have in the legal process. There are many other examples that could be given, but this one example should suffice in examining the value of the spoken word. What if a court reporter wasn’t present? For decades, many courtrooms across this country have attempted to replace court reporters with tape recorders.

While some may believe substituting audio for a live person is a cost-effective approach to the legal process, imagine what would happen if a chair squeaked or someone coughed during the process. Using the examples above, perhaps this happened and the word “not” wasn’t audible on the audio. Perhaps the people in the room heard what was said; however, if the proceedings were appealed, a transcript would be required. In that instance, the person transcribing from the audio may not be able to capture the words that were missed by that chair squeak or cough.

So here are a few questions to ponder: If your life, liberty, home, or family, were at stake, how much value would you place on the absence or presence of one word? Would you entrust these precious things to a machine, or would you trust them to a live person who is specially trained to guard the record and value each and every word spoken?

Winston Churchill once said, “You make a living by what you get; you make a life by what you give.” Over the last 18 years, I have been honored to serve the litigants, my community and my country as a court reporter. It is my most sincere hope that I have done so with respect, dignity, and unbiased professionalism.



Kathy Zebert, RPR, B.S., has been a court reporter since 1994. She has reported in Mississippi, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Georgia. She has practiced as a freelance and an official court reporter, reporting depositions, civil and criminal trials, arbitrations, and conferences.