By: Elizabeth Gangl, RPR
In February of 2006 I accepted the job of transcribing “just a couple of tapes” from an interview of Judge Diana Murphy conducted by Lisa Brabbitt from the St. Thomas School of Law. This was a part of a project sponsored by the American Bar Association, the Commission on Women in the Profession, and the Trail Blazers in Law Project. Transcribing tapes is not exactly a choice job assignment for court reporters. We want to be present and in control, and tape-recordings allow for none of that. I didn’t keep a word list, I didn’t make dictionary entries, I didn’t document the research I did. I handled this job as a one-and-done; just get it out and move on. Three weeks later, more tapes came in. I went back into my files, pulled up the first job, refreshed my memory and transcribed this new batch, but still didn’t do much documenting. From past experience I should’ve known – never assume you are done with a particular project. In March, the third set of tapes arrived. By now — go ahead, just hit me over the head with a hammer — I realized this was a much bigger project than originally stated. It was not just Judge Murphy’s history as a federal judge, but her life history, and she has lived an extraordinary life. What I should have done at that point was call the person in charge to get a greater understanding of the true scope of project. And I should have done it sooner than later.
More tapes came in throughout 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, with the last tapes coming in February of 2010. The final page count came in at 705 pages, with numerous revisions required because Judge Murphy did proofread, and I have no problem with that, but she made many, many, many corrections, be it spelling, punctuation and/or deletions/additions of people’s names she referenced throughout her interviews. Interestingly, some of the spellings I had to defend, based on my research, which I had documented, and I had to accept her punctuation style, even though I disagreed with some corrections.
Throughout the course of this job, I learned a few things, or relearned, I guess you could say. Never assume a job is a one-time thing, as I did. Keep a list of spellings used and, just as important, document the resources used to find those spellings. I did find some wonderful websites regarding the state and federal judiciary, which I used constantly throughout this project. I put those in a list of my favorites. I started keeping a list of spellings and incorporated an index with those names, places, etc., and returned that to Lisa and Judge Murphy so they could see at a glance what needed to be verified. I also sent them a list of “sounds like” on the tape, to make sure I had heard something correctly. Over the course of many years court reporters change software, change hardware, even change personal writing style. I began keeping a number of backups in various forms, and made notes in my worksheet of how I was punctuating and capitalizing; any pertinent information needed to maintain consistency throughout the years.
At one point, about 500 pages in, Lisa and I met so we could go over the transcript. Judge Murphy and/or her clerk had made corrections, hundreds of corrections, many of which I simply couldn’t read or understand the margin notes. Extra time spent, but no charge to the client for this. By now I was committed to seeing this project through and being proud of the end product.
In February of 2010, after the last tapes were transcribed, I got a call from Lisa’s assistant. Now it’s crisis time – several tapes had been misplaced, just now located, and how hard would it be to include them in the proper place in the transcript and, oh, by the way, we’re now in a time crunch! Thankfully, because of what had become part of my meticulous, some would say obsessive recordkeeping – I was able to quickly determine they had long ago been transcribed and it was simply an error on someone else’s part. No harm, no foul, no more time spent.
Some day, when they finalize the Women in Law project, you will find Judge Murphy’s story in the Library of Congress. She is a fascinating woman who has accomplished many amazing things in her life. I am honored that I was able to play a small part in this project of the American Bar Association.