Depositions cannot take place without experts like Mary Allred (stenographer) and Trevor Price (videographer). Interpreters may be the ones bridging communication, but what happens in the room and what is said there have to recorded by certified professionals to be considered as legitimate evidence. This interview, conducted in May 2017, gives interpreters a glimpse of what they do.
– Tell us where you’re from, and what made you decide to pursue a career as a court reporter/videographer?
MARY: I grew up in a small village (300 people) in the middle of the empty Canadian prairies. I never thought I would end up living in a huge metropolis!
I decided to become a court reporter when I was in university taking other classes. I knew at the time I didn’t like the career path I was on, and I was looking for something else. Trevor’s mom suggested since I was a fast typist that I should do that weird job that someone she knew did. I was interested, so I immediately called up her friend to see what it was. I knew right away that it was just right for me.
I went to the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) in Edmonton, Alberta, which at the time was the only school in Canada that offered the program. NAIT offers an accelerated two-year program compared to most stenography schools. Of course, that also means it can be more difficult for some. The most difficult aspect of the education was definitely the mental part of it. You take speed tests three times a week for two years, and you only need to pass 12 tests to graduate. Of course that involves a very large amount of failure, day after day, week after week, and it can take a very heavy toll on your mind. In the end, everyone with enough determination and mental fortitude will graduate at the same skill level: 225 words per minute for five minutes at 98% accuracy.
TREVOR: I’m from a small town in the province of Alberta in Canada. It seems every move I make during my life is to a slightly larger place. Pretty easy when I started in a town of 3,000 people, but there aren’t many places left that are bigger than Osaka where I am based now.
I went to University to learn 3D graphic design but learned quickly that I much preferred working with real cameras. I graduated and went into the media industry working first in sports television as an editor and producer, and then I went into the film industry as a camera operator. After a few years of this, Mary’s court reporting firm approached me to see if I would be interested in working for them video recording depositions.
A certification for legal videography isn’t required but it gives clients confidence in my abilities, so I acquired that to strengthen my business. It is called the Certified Legal Video Specialist certification and it is given by the National Court Reporters Association in the United States. It is a series of exams testing your knowledge and your practical ability.
– How did you get started?
TREVOR: I got started in my industry because of a fascination with movies. When you start out in the media industry, everyone wants to be a director, and I was no different, but many people find a different path once they have been working for a while. I found that the camera department satisfied my creative needs and my love of technology and fiddling with things.
– Where are you based now and why?
MARY & TREVOR: We are currently based in Osaka, Japan. The company we work for, Planet Depos, does depositions and arbitrations all over Asia and has employees living in many countries in this area. We are lucky enough to be the videographer and court reporter assigned to Japan, which is an amazing experience for our first time living outside of Canada.
– What does a court reporter/videographer do? What are the responsibilities?
MARY: There are three main branches in which a court reporter/stenographer typically works. Television captioning is one of the most visible branches that most people don’t know about. If you spend time watching sports or live news or television programs and you turn on the subtitles, that’s one of us. He or she is probably at home watching the TV just like you are and broadcasting the captioning over the Internet and back to you.
Another branch is to attend school with deaf or hard of hearing students and captioning the classes or other live events. This is called CART (Communication Access Realtime Translation).
The third branch is the legal industry doing depositions, arbitrations, hearings, and court. I attend these meetings, listen and write everything that is said, and provide a transcript.
TREVOR: From the outside some might think my job isn’t too complicated, but there are some very important details that require a great deal of knowledge, experience, and understanding. When a deposition happens in Asia in most cases a videographer will be hired in addition to a court reporter, and together these two people are responsible for making an accurate recording of everything said on the record.
When I arrive I set up a camera and microphones. I am responsible for monitoring these recordings at all times. The audio and video are equally important, and great care must be taken to ensure there are no technical issues. I am also the timekeeper, troubleshooter, and also, hopefully, the guy who keeps the mood light. I take great pride in trying to create an atmosphere at a job where everyone feels comfortable. There can be a lot of tension in a depo room!
Once the deposition is finished, I create a final product from the recorded media. There are amazing new software programs out there that do things like sync the audio and video to the transcript, link to exhibits in the text, and other handy things for lawyers to use in courtrooms, and I’ll prep and put together things like that as well.
And of course, paperwork!
– What is the most difficult thing about your job? What’s the most satisfying thing?
MARY & TREVOR: We find that the most difficult thing is travel — planes, buses, taxis, trains. It’s been a long time since we thought going to a hotel was a vacation!
Exploring new cultures aside (which is our favorite thing to do!), the thing that pleases us most about our job is the fascinating array of people we meet: Interpreters, lawyers, witnesses, everyone! Everyone has a great story to tell, and we love to listen, though sometimes we tell a few stories of our own. In the short time we have been in Asia, we have already made some amazing friends and met people from all over the world. It’s the stories we collect from these people that are our most prized possessions.
– Do you travel a lot? How often & how long? Which countries have you visited?
MARY & TREVOR: Yes! We spend as much as half the year travelling around Asia. We have got a few things down to a science like laundry and luggage weight, etc. Pretty amazing change compared to a once-a-year trip away when we lived back in Alberta. When we go, it usually seems to be about a week at a time, but sometimes it can be much longer! We lived in Hong Kong for an entire month once.
We have been to Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, and Singapore in Asia so far. There is still lots to see!
– What type of interpreter, in your opinion, is easy to work with? In other words, what should interpreters keep in mind to help you create a “clean” record?
MARY: Working with an interpreter can make my job easier in some ways and harder in others. The speed is much slower, of course, but it also makes it a little tricky to tune out the parts I don’t understand and pay attention again when it is the parts that I do understand!
My job is a lot easier if it is clear when the interpreter is speaking on behalf of the witness or whether they are speaking as themselves. As long as I can tell whose words are being spoken, I can make sense of everything else.
TREVOR: As a videographer I always like an interpreter that speaks clearly but also at a good volume! People with soft voices are sometimes a little more difficult. If you are soft spoken though, no worries, I’ll be able to do my job without bothering you.
We also like interpreters that are friendly and enjoyable, but that’s rarely an issue as we usually get along with everyone.
– Do you have any episodes, good or bad, involving interpreters?
MARY & TREVOR: We have many stories, both good and bad! There was the interpreter who was interpreting using his third language. At many points during the deposition he had to translate the witness as saying “I can’t understand you.” Yikes!
We have had many, many days where the check and the lead interpreter get into arguments.
We had a day where we had to pause the deposition, and the interpreter had to take the lawyer to the hospital for some suddenly arising health issues. Every day can be an adventure.
Our most common experiences, though, are the good ones. When everyone is in sync with each other in the depo room it can make for a really enjoyable day. Interpreters often help out on the fly with spellings for Mary, help to adjust misplaced microphones for Trevor, and provide great information on local restaurants and things to see for the lawyers.
– Any advice to aspiring deposition interpreters?
MARY & TREVOR: Legal depositions make for a pretty unique job. You’ll hear some amazing stories told in the most boring way possible. But every day is different, and you’ll always meet new people. Remember that it is the job of the check interpreter to nitpick the details, so don’t take it personally. Our advice would be to try and enjoy the positives, because in our opinion they far outweigh the negatives. We hope to meet you soon, whoever you are, and take you for tonkatsu!