How To Deal With Difficult Attorneys At Depositions
By Joe Grabowski, RPR
Principal, Gore Brothers, A Veritext Company
Posted with permission of the National Court Reporters Association.
An attorney’s job is to represent and/or defend a client to the fullest. Some do it more vociferously than others, both in the courtroom and in depo-sitions. As they see it, the sun rises and sets on whatever is happening in that proceeding, which can ultimately make or break their case. Not only is their client’s case at stake, but so is their reputation and ultimately their livelihood.
Despite the passion aroused or the serious-ness of the situation, an attorney’s boisterous personality or propensity to be loud or intimidat-ing during a deposition should never be directed at the court reporter in attendance whose job is to facilitate the proceeding and guard the record. In some cases, attorneys’ tone may not reflect who they really are but rather a part of a case strategy in terms of approaching witnesses. Regardless, it’s important to remain strong and respectful, even when attorneys in the room may not be.
When dealing with difficult attorneys on the job, there are three key things to remember:
- Always remain professional, polite, and courteous, no matter what happens or how everyone else in the room is behaving.
- Never take anything said in these situations personally. As the guardian of the record, your job is to protect the record, making an accurate transcript of what is said and what happens in that proceeding.
- You have a lifeline: your office. When all else fails, call them.
When attorneys argue over points of law or something happening in the deposition, that is between them. Judges are assigned to be avail-able for attorneys to call when they have legal arguments that need to be resolved. They can take a break to do that.
Many reporters have experienced the classic argument in which one side wants to go off the record while the other wants to stay on. When that happens and one side resorts to things like “it’s my deposition, I’m paying the reporter, so we stay on the record,” you may politely and briefly tell them you are required to stay on the record unless it’s by agreement of all counsel. Some reporters are able to accomplish this with their hands on the machine, writing as they speak; others have a parenthetical handy to use in this situation.
Occasionally, we encounter situations that seem to spiral from bad to worse, whether it’s one attorney being difficult or multiple people in the room who cannot maintain appropriate respect and decorum. Remaining calm may be a challenge, but it’s necessary to get through the event. When all else fails, very professionally inform everyone you need to go off the record. While off the record, calmly explain the issue that is affecting your ability to make an accurate transcript. If necessary, tell the participants you need to contact your office for guidance.
If an attorney expresses dissatisfaction with you as the reporter, advise the attorney that you will check with the office to see if relief is avail-able and how soon it can arrive. Typically, what ends up happening is cooler heads prevail. If at-torneys cannot come to a satisfactory resolution, they can always adjourn and continue another day.
Also, when your deposition goes much longer than expected or attorneys request expe-dited delivery or a rough draft without prior no-tice, never say or do anything that would show your frustration or anger. While this expectation may seem unreasonable, your negative reaction or response could cost you future work, as this is a common reason for clients to request that a particular reporter not be assigned to their jobs in the future.
In summary, always be professional, don’t take anything personally, and in an emergency use your lifeline. As a court reporter, you have a great team working behind the scenes to help you through any tough times. I still get calls from reporters needing advice on how to handle something happening on their job, and believe me, after 43 years in the reporting business, it’s nothing I haven’t heard before.
Joe Grabowski, RMR, is principal of Gore Brothers, A Veritext Company, serving the Maryland and Washington, D.C., area. Grabowski is a past president of both the Maryland Court Reporters Association and the National Network Reporting Company, chair of the state association’s Education Advisory Committee, a member of the Society for the Technological Advancement of Reporting, and was appointed by Chief Judge Robert M. Bell to Maryland’s first state Committee on Court Reporting.