Making the Transition from Freelance to Official –
My First Year in Superior Court
Court reporting is a career where you can choose the type of work you’d like to do, whether it be in the freelance world taking depositions and such, or working in a courtroom taking trials and court-related matters, or CART or captioning. We really do have choices, and it’s wonderful to see the opportunities available for licensed court reporters.
I’d been working as a freelance court reporter for 20-some-odd years. I chose that field of court reporting in part for flexibility in schedule. I have three children, and I wanted to be able to earn a decent living but do it around my family’s schedule. Working as a freelance court reporter allowed me to attend school functions, dance recitals, football games, or stay home with my little girl when she had the flu. That was my choice, and I loved it!
Of course, there was a downside to freelance reporting. First and foremost, for myself anyway, there is never a guarantee of regular payment. Very often I was waiting months to be paid on a job, and it could be very frustrating waiting for your expected commissions of $15,000 while receiving a deposit of $1,200. Also being a 1099 contracted reporter, there are no health benefits offered or paid vacations or holidays or paid sick time. But for me it was worth the tradeoff to be there as a mother for my children when they were growing up and still contribute to the household finances.
And then my youngest reached the age of 19 years old. Where had the time gone? He really didn’t need me at home any longer. My daughters were out of college and on their own. I was walking around the house thinking what do I do now?
I had thought about working in the courthouse for a year or so, but I was very nervous about making that change. My schedule had never been consistent. As a freelance reporter, I could be assigned a job at 10:00 a.m. that was supposed to go all day but actually finished at noon. I could be driving to Globe or Tucson or even Yuma for jobs. I worked for different agencies to try to fill up my time, as many reporters do working overflow. And all of my work was in the field of civil litigation. How could I possibly make the change to working in a courtroom, taking trials in criminal matters?
I said to myself: Why not? Just apply. See what happens.
I was hired by Maricopa County Superior Court within a month. After 20 years of reporting, I had enough experience as a reporter. But little did I know what lay ahead.
I remember my first week saying to myself “What have I done?” I couldn’t possibly fathom a life of 8:00 to 5:00 Monday through Friday. And then learning the language of the courthouse was not easy. What on earth do they mean by IPTC, FTMC, PTMC, CPTC, PCR? What is morning calendar? settlement conferences? evidentiary hearings? changes of plea? sentencings? all kinds of motions? It can be a little overwhelming. When are all these transcripts due? And I hadn’t even gotten to a trial yet!
But I calmed myself down and took a deep breath. I was working in Superior Court now. I told myself, “Deal with it.” I asked questions. I kept track of things. I backed up everything. I learned.
I learned that it’s not much different actually than freelance. We all take our jobs. I’m in the court reporter pool. Therefore, I am assigned to different courtrooms at different times. It’s just like freelance going to depositions, except I don’t have to drive to the location. I just walk to whatever courtroom I’m assigned to. When someone requests a transcript, we prioritize and schedule and produce that transcript. We invoice our own work, and we keep track of our payments. The best thing about that is I don’t have to split a commission!
Being a State employee working for the County of Maricopa, I have a regular paycheck, paid holidays, sick time and other perks. I took my first paid vacation in over 20 years last year! It was great!
I’ve met some wonderful people --experienced court reporters with great stories, bailiffs, clerks, judicial assistants, judges, commissioners, and attorneys. There have been so many helpful people that I’ve learned from. And although I know there are some who feel that court reporters might be irrelevant, I’ve met several judges and court staff as well as attorneys who see the value in having a court reporter in the courtroom to take the proceedings.
There are downsides, if you want to call it that, to working in court. We are super busy! I had no idea what the average court reporter’s day consists of working in Superior Court. Let me give you a sample:
When you’re in the court reporter pool, you’ll get your next day’s assignment in an email that will tell you what courtroom or courtrooms you’ll be covering that day.
At 8:30 the morning calendar begins in most courtrooms. That means you’ll be writing things like:
IPTC – initial pretrial conference
CPTC – comprehensive pretrial conference
PTMC –pretrial management conference
FTMC – final trial management conference
Changes of plea – I had a defendant collapse in the courtroom during one of these proceedings. Phoenix Fire Department was called.
Hearings – evidentiary, Simpson, et cetera
Motions – all kinds
All of these have to do with things that go on before a trial begins. Seriously, I had no idea!
Also in morning calendar you may do sentencings. Sentencings are also scheduled for Fridays when there are no trials. Sometimes these can take a bit longer when people are coming into court to speak on behalf of the defendant. I took a sentencing that lasted over two hours with 14 people speaking on the record on behalf of the defendant before we got to the actual sentencing part of the proceeding.
After morning calendar you may be in trial in that courtroom or be sent to another courtroom to cover a trial. If it’s the beginning of the trial, you’ll have to be ready for jury selection. Or you could be covering a trial that’s been ongoing or even covering a verdict in a case you haven’t covered at all.
On Fridays there are no jury trials going on, but you may be sent to cover a settlement conference. A settlement conference is a proceeding in which the attorneys, the defendant, and the judge sit down and discuss settlement of the case before trial. I’ve covered as many as eight settlement conferences in one afternoon.
None of the work a reporter takes during the day is typically due until an appeal has been filed. At that time the reporter will get a notice and eventually a due date. This is where organization is the key. I began working in court last May. It took a few months before I had any transcripts ordered. Now that I’ve been in court for a year, transcript orders are coming in regularly although I’m not nearly inundated as some reporters. I know some reporters who have hundreds and hundreds of pages being requested regularly. Throughout that time I’ve also had some expedite requests and I’ve taken grand jury proceedings, which are always produced immediately. Then you get into electronically filing the transcripts and invoicing clients. That’s a whole new area of learning.
Court reporters in Superior Court typically write 200 pages a day on average. That’s an incredible amount of time on your machine. It’s fast-paced and can be very interesting as well as exhausting.
I’m sure I haven’t covered everything a court reporter in Superior Court must do. As I said, I’ve learned a great deal, and I’ve met some wonderful people.
Being a licensed court reporter has given me the opportunity to work the way I wanted to early in my career, working around my family’s schedule. And now it’s given me the opportunity to learn new things and meet new people. I can honestly say moving into the courtroom has sparked my interest in my work again.
Who knows what the future holds for me or for the court reporting profession? But if you’re contemplating a change, take the leap! Have faith in your ability.
I always say, if I didn’t have to work, I wouldn’t. There are plenty of other things I would love to spend my time doing. But because I have to work, I am blessed that I can say I really like my job! Attitude is everything.
Diane Donoho, RPR
ACRA Board Member
Maricopa County Superior Court