The Schools of Thought.
This’ll be a relatively short post. In our field we are often told that we should be taking out or altering things in the transcript. For some, it is considered a professional courtesy. For some more, it is considered what the agency wants. For others, it is considered what the customers want. A clean, readable transcript is important, and so many will demand that you take out every false start. That said, there are stalwart supporters of the notion that we must never edit anything, and that it must always be 100% reliably verbatim. My own working life has been a mix of both schools, and that is what I will share here.
The School of Guts.
If your gut is telling you something, you should probably do it. That’s been my rule for a long time. Let me be clear: Your gut is your own personal judgment regardless of what your agency, client, or other reporters think and feel. If you are being swayed by someone else’s opinion, you are not following your gut.
Very briefly, New York is a one-party consent state. As of writing, it is not a crime for someone in your deposition room to be recording the entire deposition. It very well may be a crime if you intentionally alter something in favor of a client. For the small stuff, like not taking down every um, uh, or noise, it’s a pretty common reporting practice to truncate extraneous stuff, because if you were ever questioned about it, you could honestly say such and such noise is unreportable and just makes the transcript more confusing. That said, if a lawyer says strike that and a witness has answered, it may be a very bad idea for you to go taking it out. When a lawyer moves to strike something, it is almost always in your best interest to report it accurately and faithfully, and let the Court decide whether it should be struck.
Very often, my gut tells me to let it be verbatim. Why? Because you cannot be honestly challenged. Let’s say, for example, that a lawyer curses at another lawyer on the record, and the company tells you to take it out. If you take it out, and someone else in that room was recording it, they have proof that you left it out, and can make the claim that you intentionally took it out to favor the other party. If you leave it in, it happened, and it’s reported, and that’s the end of that. And this is no hypothetical, it happened to someone a few years ago. Generally, nobody is looking to accuse you of bias or jam up your career, but someone just might be willing to if they think you’re messing with their case.
Put another way: Before you take something out, imagine what you would say if you were questioned about it, and imagine if that would be good enough for a judge or jury. If you say “I took it out because my agency told me to,” you run the risk of the agency saying they didn’t tell you to, and you look like an idiot because you are supposed to be an independent contractor and not the agency’s pawn/employee. If you say “I did this because it is good reporting practice and makes the transcript more readable, accurate, and true,” it holds much greater weight. Consider all of this, and join the School of Guts.