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Court reporters, also known as shorthand writers, attend court hearings and take a complete verbatim record of the evidence, the judgments, the summing up and sometimes the speeches of counsel. They should not be confused with reporting barristers, who write reports of cases for legal journals, or with newspaper reporters who write summaries of hearings for the national press. A record of court proceedings has to be made for two reasons. A case may be appealed and the appeal court will need an accurate account of the earlier hearing to see how the lower court reached its decision. In addition, as longer cases progress, the lawyers involved often wish to see a transcript of the day's proceedings, to remind them of the evidence that has been given and to help them prepare for the next stage of the case.
Court reporters in England and Wales
In most instances in the High Court and the Crown Courts, where the major civil and criminal cases are heard, an official record has to be made of the evidence given by witnesses and of the judge's summing up and the judgment. The Lord Chancellor appoints firms to undertake this duty, and their staff- the court reporters - take a note of the proceedings. Sometimes, court reporters will use a portable tape recorder to assist them, and some courts have installed tape recorders as the sole method of taking the record. It is the court reporter's job to produce any typed transcripts which may be required.
Firms which undertake court reporting are also sometimes called on to provide shorthand writers to take notes for conferences and meetings, both public and private, so while you may train and be employed primarily for working within the court system, your skills may involve you in other fields from time to time.
There are no formal educational requirements for joining the profession, but preference is given to those with GCSE and A level passes and shorthand speed of 150 words per minute. What you will need, if you are to make the grade, is an ability to type and take shorthand both quickly and accurately, and a sound knowledge of English. You will have to understand fully what is being said, even if the matters are technical or the evidence is given ungrammatically, so that you can take clear notes and produce a transcript which is grammatically correct, easily understandable and retains the original sense of what was said.
Verbatim reporting has undergone much change in recent years with the advent of computerized shorthand machines and Computer Aided Transcription (CAT). It is now possible to provide a facility for the deaf or hearing-impaired to follow court proceedings, by linking an electronic input machine to a television screen.
Most court reporters work on a freelance basis, and firms often engage self-employed court reporters. The income you make is likely to be much the same, whether you are employed or self-employed.
Court reporters have to be prepared to reach and maintain high standards in their work, and also to work irregular hours as required. Those who qualify usually find the job interesting and satisfying. You are not confined to an office, and although the same skills are always employed, no two cases are ever the same. You might spend three days recording a very technical commercial dispute, and then a week taking notes in a serious burglary case - you can never tell in advance.
Useful fact sheets are available from the British Institute of Verbatim Reporters (see Useful addresses), which incorporates the former Institute of Shorthand Writers and the National Society of stenotypists. It seeks to promote the more efficient practice of the art of shorthand writing in legal and other proceedings and the raising of qualifications and status of its members. It encourages and maintains training and examination facilities for machine and pen verbatim reporters.
Court reporters in Scotland and Northern Ireland
Court reporters in Scotland are engaged when and where required from local firms of shorthand writers who specialize in this type of work. Shorthand writers are employed in the criminal courts in Northern Ireland for the trials of more serious crimes only, and computer-aided transcription is now used extensively. Civil proceedings in the High Court are tape-recorded and transcribed, when notice of appeal is lodged, by members of the Supreme Court typing pool.
Law costs draftsmen
The work of a solicitor has to be charged for, and, although many solicitors process their own bills, there are often instances when they rely upon law costs draftsmen to prepare formal bills for them. Large firms in particular will often count a law costs drafting facility as an important and integral part of their management structure. Unlike accountants or cashiers, law costs draftsmen combine a basic mathematical skill with knowledge of the laws and procedures which apply to solicitors' costs and act as advisors to both the solicitor and the client on the subject of legal fees and associated matters.
The subject of how a solicitor charges for the efforts he or she undertakes on behalf of the client is governed by a minefield of rules and regulations in a manner quite unlike any other profession and where the type of work undertaken by the solicitor, whether it is 'contentious' business, ie when a solicitor acts for a client in court proceedings, including matrimonial disputes - or 'non-contentious' business, ie when a solicitor acts in an advisory or representative capacity, such as in the buying and selling of property or the winding-up of a deceased's estate, will have a significant bearing upon how the solicitor's remuneration is calculated.
Furthermore, while a client is generally liable for all the solicitor's charges, nevertheless there are instances where part of those costs are to be met either by another party or from a fund, or may be payable out of a public fund (as in the case of Legal Aid). The drawing of bills of costs in these latter instances in particular requires specialist technical knowledge. Thus, the application of an expertise in the field of law costs when preparing an account of solicitor's charges can be essential if the interests of both the solicitor and the client are to be properly protected.
Law costs draftsmen operate either 'in-house' as employees of a firm of solicitors or as freelance agents acting for any number of different firms. The tendency appears to be for the larger firms of solicitors to have their own costs department while smaller firms, with less of a demand for a full-time law costs drafting facility, will use independent law costs draftsmen, many of whom operate in association with other law costs draftsmen.
The work of a law costs draftsman
A law costs draftsman's work is varied and is not always restricted to the preparation of bills of costs. Security for costs, often sought at an early stage in an action, or quantum of costs as an item of damages are examples of areas where a law costs draftsman s expert advice might result in a valuable saving in time and expense.
The first task for the law cost draftsman is to sort out the file and papers and examine the action which the solicitor has taken on behalf of the client, examine who has done the work (whether it was a partner, assistant solicitor, legal executive or trainee) and how long it took. The law costs draftsman also sees what expenses the solicitor has incurred in the way of, for example, court fees or barrister's fees.
Having established what work has been done, the law costs draftsman has to apply the appropriate scale of charges in that particular court, prepare to support the level of fee earner employed (for example, examine whether it was a case which warranted the attention of a partner whose charge will be higher than a more junior fee earner) and prepare a case to justify the amount of time engaged, so far as such time can be claimed as directly attributable to the case in question, for example examine time spent which might have been avoided had the client given clearer instructions.
Once the bill is drawn, these and other factors may be put to the test in court proceedings called 'taxation' which takes place before an adjudicating officer called a Taxing Officer (who, in the County Court, will be a District Judge) and where the law costs draftsman will support the claim for costs against an adversary, probably another law costs draftsman whose job it will be, on behalf of the paying party, to apply legitimate arguments which will achieve as large a reduction in the bill as possible. The Taxing Officer, having read the papers and heard the arguments, will decide the proper level of fees and disbursements to be allowed.
Taxation is an adversarial process where the result can depend not only upon the strength of the arguments at the law costs draftsman's disposal but also the ability of the law costs draftsman to explain and put across those arguments to the Taxing Officer to the best effect.
The Association of Law Costs Draftsmen
As the average size of a solicitors' practice has grown, so the legal profession has become ever more cost-conscious. Attempts by solicitors to simplify billing by the introduction of computerized time recording systems has, in many instances, led to an increase in the number of disputes with clients over the size of bills. Furthermore, so far as costs recoverable from another party are concerned, such computer systems do not impress the courts, who will still require a solicitor's charges to be properly explained and for factors other than time to be given proper consideration. Different courts have different scales and procedures, and with the recent introduction of fixed rates for certain types of work, a law costs draftsman's skills are now in even greater demand.
In 1977 a number of eminent law costs draftsmen, concerned to maintain the standards which they considered were befitting such a branch of the legal profession, joined together to form the Association of Law Costs Draftsmen. This Association operates in England and Wales and boasts a membership in excess of 500, with a growing overseas contingent from the many countries around the world where the principles that operate in this jurisdiction are embodied in their own rules.
Membership of the Association is open to persons of good general education who are of employment age and are actively engaged predominantly in a career of law costs drafting. The Association aims to promote the status of the profession and maintain the standards of its membership. Students of the Association are encouraged to study and take the Association's examinations. Regular publications keep the membership abreast of changes in the law and seminars and workshops are regularly organized.
As awareness of the importance to the legal profession of able and experienced law costs draftsmen grows, employers are increasingly interested only in employing law costs draftsmen who have the advantage of membership of this Association.
The smooth running of the day-to-day business of the courts throughout the UK is maintained by court administrators and clerical staff. There are many different jobs at various grades, some of which you can enter straight from school and others which require previous training, but they are all responsible jobs in which you will be encouraged to use your initiative.
Jobs in the courts are open to men and women and to both school-leavers and more mature applicants alike. A career with the court service is secure, and what attracts most people are the possibilities for career development rather than financial incentives. Promotion is generally made from lower grades, which allows beginners to move up through the service as they gain experience, and training is often made available.
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