Dealing with a statewide court reporter shortage

JCR: Journal of Court Reporting, TheJCR.com, JCR WeeklyWCBI, Lowndes County, Miss., reported on Aug. 16 that the state of Mississippi is experiencing a shortage of court reporters.

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The CLVS experience at the NCRA Convention & Expo

Back view of a packed classroom. In the front left, a man sits on a chair in front of a PowerPoint presentation; the slide is on the topic "computer as recorder."

Jason Levin leads a discussion on equipment during the CLVS Seminar at the 2017 NCRA Convention & Expo

By Jason Levin

Each year at the NCRA Convention & Expo, videographers from across the country (and even from around the globe) meet for a three-day intensive course. Instructors and attendees go over everything necessary for starting a career as a deposition videographer. While the primary purpose of the CLVS Seminar is to instruct both novice and experienced videographers on how to become legal videographers, perhaps even more crucial is impressing upon them the importance of a professional and respectful relationship between reporter and videographer. Any reporter who has had a bad experience working with an uncertified videographer can appreciate the value of the CLVS certification process.

The curriculum for the CLVS Seminar is developed and taught by the CLVS Council, which is a team of volunteers who already have earned their CLVS certification. Attendees at the Las Vegas Convention had the privilege of being taught by a legend of legal video, Brian Clune, CLVS, who after twenty years of service to NCRA, stepped down from his post on the CLVS Council. Brian’s wealth of knowledge and inimitable charm will be greatly missed!

Attendance at this year’s Seminar was higher than anticipated. It was standing room–only until we brought in extra chairs to accommodate the high demand. An added benefit to having the CLVS Seminar at the Convention is the networking opportunities available to both videographers and reporting firms alike. I hear from firm owners all the time that they have great difficulty finding qualified videographers to cover their jobs. The CLVS certification is the gold standard for identifying competent and vetted legal videographers and sets them apart from the rest of the field.

In addition to teaching the legal video curriculum at the Convention, the CLVS Council also administers the Production Exam. This is a thirty-minute timed examination in which the candidates video a mock deposition under real-life circumstances. We grade them on how they conduct themselves in the deposition as well as the video record they produce. I am pleased to report that the results of the CLVS practical exam at this Convention had the highest passing rate in many years, which I believe is a testament to the quality of teaching at the Seminar.

The next opportunity to take the practical exam will be Sept. 30-Oct. 1 at NCRA headquarters in Reston, Va. Based on the attendance in Las Vegas, NCRA expects the time slots for the Production Exam to fill up quickly, so reserve your spot now! Visit NCRA.org/CLVS for more information about this program or to register.

 

Jason Levin, CLVS, of Washington, D.C., is chair of NCRA’s CLVS Council. He can be reached at jason@virginiamediagroup.com

Highlights and takeaways from the sessions at the 2017 NCRA Convention & Expo

Attendees at the 2017 NCRA Convention & Expo had the opportunity to attend an array of sessions and educational workshops designed to help them increase their professional experience and hone their skills. The summaries below highlight a few of these sessions.

Fast, faster, fastest

View from the back of a meeting room with rows of people facing a panel and a projector

Kelly Shainline, Jason Meadors, and Keith Lemons present “Fast, faster, fastest” to a full house

One of the first sessions to kick off the 2017 NCRA Convention & Expo, “Fast, faster, fastest” with Kelly Shainline, RPR, CRR; Jason Meadors, FAPR, RPR, CRR, CRC; and Keith Lemons, FAPR, RPR, CRR, was packed with standing room only. The nuts-and-bolts realtime session went through step by step how to set up for good realtime. “My first page, I just consider it a sacrificial goat,” Meadors said to laughter, but the presenters emphasized the importance of good preparation as the key to strong realtime. For example, for legal work, the presenters said to get the appearance page ahead of time and use that to do some research. “Let’s say there’s a doctor,” said Lemons. “Look up online what kind of medicine they do — such as obstetrics and gynecology — and use that to build specific words in a dictionary.”

“I won’t be mean,” Meadors said, “but I will be firm to get what I need,” especially for CART or captioning work.

The presenters all said that they do prep the night before — although the length of time varied a bit based on how important the trial was, how many people would be seeing the realtime, and if there would be a rough draft, for example – but also emphasized the importance of arriving early to the job. Shainline said that while she often prepares brief forms the night before, after she sets up at the job, she does some practice with those briefs to help get them into muscle memory.

Gadgets and gizmos

Merilee Johnson, RDR, CRR, CRC, and Micheal Johnson, RDR, CRR, lead a session filled with dozens of specific gadgets, gizmos, and app recommendations to make life easier both on and off the job. For example, for the office, Merilee and Micheal shared:

  • a few types of charging stations, including the Satechi USB Charging Station, which charges up to six devices at a time, and the EZO power desktop, which Merilee says she’s brought on jobs as a value add to help attorneys plug in their devices;
  • second monitors, including the Duet Display app, which turns an iPad into a second screen (currently only for Apple products), and the Mimo, which is a small second monitor – both Micheal and Merilee said they’ve found it helpful to use a small second monitor to free up real estate on their laptop and move over, for example, BriefIt on a second screen; and
  • cable management gadgets, including the Baltic Sleeve, which is a Velcro sleeve that wraps around a bunch of cables, and the Safcord, which is also a Velcro solution that performs the same function as gaffer’s tape, except it’s reusable.

How to compete with some of the best

In a session that was part of the Student Learning Zone at the 2017 NCRA Convention & Expo, Chase Frazier, RMR, CRR, CRC; Tami Frazier, RMR, CRR; and Ron Cook, FAPR, RDR, CRR, CRC, gave concrete tips to students on improving their writing while getting through school. The three presenters came from a variety of perspectives: a captioner, an official, and a freelancer.

Chase had strong realtime skills coming out of school, but he didn’t have his state CSR. Because of this, he went into captioning. Tami started as an official out of school because a job opened up at the right time. She said that while court work can be a little faster than depo work — and trials are more controlled — new professionals shouldn’t avoid going right into court after school. And Ron cited the freedom and money potential as perks to freelancing, but he admitted that one downside is the lack of benefits. (He is also a partner in a firm.)

Tami taught both of her sons (Chase and brother Clay Frazier) to write steno, and she did so paperless. She also emphasized perfection. When Chase was at 200 wpm, she saw that while he had the speed, he was writing sloppy and with no punctuation. She had him go back to 160 and work back up while also working on writing perfectly. Chase attributed this experience to his strength in realtime.

A woman speaks into a microphone. She is sitting amongst rows of people at a conference session.

An attendee shares her thoughts during a session at the 2017 NCRA Convention & Expo

“A lot of people don’t emphasize the mental part of practicing,” said Ron. “If you don’t think you’re going to get it, you won’t get it.” He provided a couple metaphors for practicing, including “slow things down” — meaning to slow things down mentally, stay relaxed, and go with the flow.

Tami recommended practicing about 10 percent faster than her goal speed (which was a technique that she used to get through school). “You always want to be pushing yourself,” she said. Pick tough dictation, she suggested — “and I’m a real believer in lit — it makes you write; there’s nothing easy about lit,” she said. She also suggested practicing a five-minute take at least ten or fifteen words per minute faster than the goal speed. But since she also emphasized aiming for perfection, repeating a take until writing it perfectly will clean up a reporter’s writing and also gives the reporter an opportunity to work in briefs and phrases. “The better writer you are, the easier the job,” she said.

Business of being a court reporter

Charisse Kitt, RMR, CRI; Jessica Waack, RDR, CRR; Mike Hensley, RPR; and Katherine Schilling, RPR, presented a mock deposition as part of the Student Learning Zone at the 2017 NCRA Convention & Expo. With Schilling playing the part of newbie reporter, the mock deposition went through a variety of typical situations that a new reporter may not have encountered before or covered in school. At each “freeze frame,” the panelists discussed how they would handle each situation. A few of the situations were:

Introducing yourself at the beginning of the deposition: Kitt said she makes a point of greeting all of the lawyers in the room with a firm handshake. Waack expanded on this by saying that she makes sure her ears are over her shoulders over her hips, so she’s standing with confidence and not hunched over.

Swearing in the witness: Waack suggested having a physical piece of paper with the oath to refer to. She also said to make sure to include “swear or affirm” in the wording, since some witnesses don’t want to swear, and to avoid the phrase “so help you God.” Hensley pointed out that reporters should always check with their state association or firm first to see if there’s a preset oath that the reporter should be using.

Using briefs for names, words, and phrases: For briefs, Hensley pointed out that they don’t have to make sense on paper as long as they make sense to you to write. Kitt said she likes to get to a job at least 30 minutes early so she can use the time to jot down some briefs. And Waack suggested using LinkedIn to find the proper spellings of witnesses, etc., although she added that this will likely lead to some odd friend requests. She also said that after she’s developed a brief for an acronym, if the speaker suddenly uses the full term, she simply writes the brief twice.

The witness is talking too fast: Kitt said, “Don’t ever depend on your audio,” stressing that it’s the reporter’s responsibility as the record-keeper to keep in control and stop any fast talkers to tell them to slow down. Waack says she likes to reset the speaker to the point where she lost the record by saying, “You were talking about [subject].” And Hensley favors using a visual hand signal – physically lifting his hands up off the machine to show the room that something is up with the reporter.

Hensley also emphasized throughout the session the importance of knowing your software.

Beyond English

Stanley Sakai, CRC, led a session that focused on captioning in other languages, especially Spanish. The discussion was guided partially by Sakai’s prepared presentation and partly by the audience’s questions.

Sakai has a working knowledge of eight different languages with varying levels of fluency, including Dutch, German, Japanese, Korean, and Spanish. Prompted by a question from the audience, he explained that one of the methods he uses to keep up with such a wide variety of languages is to have different devices set to different languages (for example, his tablet set in one language and his mobile phone in another). He also takes the opportunity to look up words he encounters on the fly and to read articles, etc., in a language other than English so he learns content and vocabulary at the same time.

The session description specifically highlighted Spanish, and the growing need for Spanish captioning came up in the discussion, both domestically and abroad. Sakai talked a little bit about the differences between baseline speeds in English and Spanish and how Spanish is at a slightly slower speed. He also discussed his methods for doing CART work in German and how steno systems work in Korean and in Japanese. Sakai had to adjust his steno theory in order to provide CART, which was for a German language class, and he even had to be prepared to jump between German and English. Similarly, in the discussion, he pointed out that the Korean and Japanese languages toggle between different writing systems based on the specific words, and reporters and captioners in those countries need to have keyboards that are set up to quickly switch between the writing systems at the speed of spoken language.

Read all the news from the 2017 NCRA Convention & Expo.

NCRA member sworn in as state association director

JCR: Journal of Court Reporting, TheJCR.com, JCR WeeklyThe Victoria Advocate reported on Aug. 20 that Sonia G. Trevino has been sworn in for a two-year term as area director, seat 5, for the Texas Court Reporters Association.

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Register for the September CLVS Production Exam

VideographyThe next testing dates to take the CLVS Production Exam will be Sept. 29-30 at NCRA headquarters in Reston, Va. Registration is open Aug. 25-Sept. 22. Space is limited, so candidates are encouraged to sign up early. The registration form will be available on NCRA.org/CLVS on Friday, Aug. 25.

The Certified Legal Video Specialist (CLVS) program sets and enforces standards for competency in the capture, use, and retention of legal video and promotes awareness of these standards within the legal marketplace. “The CLVS certification is the gold standard for identifying competent and vetted legal videographers and sets them apart from the rest of the field,” said Jason Levin, CLVS, Chair of the CLVS Council. The CLVS Council leads the CLVS Seminar and administers the Production Exam.

“I am starting down a new career path and have chosen the CLVS program to add to my video skills. I found the CLVS workshop to be extremely beneficial and well organized,” said Benjamin Hamblen, a multimedia producer in New York who attended the CLVS Seminar at the 2017 NCRA Convention & Expo in Las Vegas, Nev. “I now know that the CLVS certification will help me down my new career path and will let others know I can produce to the CLVS standard.”

During the Production Exam, candidates will run the show at a staged deposition and be graded on their ability to follow video deposition guidelines and produce a usable, high-quality video of the deposition. Candidates must have taken the CLVS Seminar first; the Production Exam and the Written Knowledge Test may be taken in any order. Learn more about the CLVS program at NCRA.org/CLVS.

TechLinks: The 21st century reporter, part 2

TechLinks_logoOn behalf of the NCRA Technology Committee, Robin Nodland, FAPR, RDR, CRR, recently shared a series of links with information to help the 21st-century reporter or captioner. This second installment covers cloud backup, password management, and efficient internet searches.

In a July 21 article on How-To Geek, Cameron Summerson talks about how to use Google’s Backup and Sync tool to automatically backup information — including documents, photos, and videos — onto Google Drive. Summerson talks a bit about what this tool is and how it works, and then goes step by step through the process of setting it up. The Backup and Sync tool works on both PCs and Macs, and it allows the user to sync either an entire computer drive or only specific folders.

In a July 21 article for PC Mag, Michael Ansaldo presents the best password managers of 2017. Ansaldo talks about what a password manager does, why it’s important, and how PC Mag chose the best overall and the runner up. The article includes links to reviews for all of the password managers that PC Mag considered.

In a July 18 reprint on SlawTips (the original ran on the Law Society of Saskatchewan Library’s Legal Sourcery Blog), Alan Kilpatrick offers some tips on using Google Search for efficiently. Kilpatrick focuses on using specific search terms and then using the different search operators and filters — including combining them — to “craft powerful queries and locate good results.” The article ends with a few reminders about evaluating search results for authenticity, etc.

Read “TechLinks: The 21st century reporter, part 1.”

Court reporter shortage: What this means for the industry and for reporters

JCR: Journal of Court Reporting, TheJCR.com, JCR WeeklyIn an Aug. 8 post on LinkedIn, Jim Connor, RPR, CRR, CLVS, a freelancer and agency owner in Indianapolis, Ind., discusses the effects of the court reporting shortage on the court reporting and legal industry. Connor shares a few reasons for the shortage and what the shortage will mean for current and prospective court reporters, including a few benefits to pursuing reporting now.

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Realtime captioning helps overcome hearing loss

JCR: Journal of Court Reporting, TheJCR.com, JCR WeeklyIn an August 2017 post on AdvocateDaily.com, Kim Neeson, FAPR, RPR, CRR, CRC, a freelancer and agency owner in Toronto, Canada, talks about how Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) can help “level the playing field” for people with hearing loss. The article explains what CART is, how it works, and where it can be used.

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Wyrick wows the crowd during the Premier Session keynote

Back view of a dark event room full of people. At the front is a man standing in the front on a stage; he's also projected on a screen.Steve Wyrick, known as the Daredevil Magician, brought some extra-special magic to the 2017 NCRA Convention & Expo during his keynote address at the Premier Session. He performed several illusions, including bringing Ms. Pac-Man to life from an old video game console, linking together three rings provided by members of the audience, and turning a $100 bill into a $1 bill – and back again, to the relief of the attendee who had supplied the original $100.

Unfortunately, Planet Hollywood (along with Paris and Bally’s) lost power for a couple hours during Wyrick’s presentation, but when the lights came back on, attendees had the opportunity to see the rest of the show.

The grand finale of Wyrick’s performance was essentially a “steno mad libs.” Wyrick told a fictional story of a couple court reporters who had snuck out to a casino on the Strip, had a good time, and came back late the next day. Members of the audience predicted the names of the reporters, the casino, their preferred drink, and the time the reporters returned. In the midst of this, Wyrick talked about an alleged Aunt Mable who had been a reporter and said he’d become interested in steno and went on YouTube to teach himself how to write in steno. He drew the audience’s attention to a box that had been hanging from the ceiling. When the story was complete, he brought the box down and, to the audience’s delight, he pulled out a ream of steno paper with the audience’s predictions to the story written in steno.

AMBI5559Throughout his presentation, Wyrick highlighted some of the ways that court reporters and magicians are similar. He pointed out that both reporters and magicians work with their hands. They are sworn to secrecy — reporters know that they must handle confidential information carefully. Everything has to be perfect with fine attention to detail. And both reporters and magicians find success with thorough preparation, including developing a backup plan and working through logistics.

Other highlights of the Premier Session included the recognition of international attendees from eight different countries, certification holders, and past presidents. Joanne Lee, RPR, a Florida reporter who works with Esquire Deposition Solutions (the Premier Session sponsor), provided an update on the work that the company has been doing to help students successfully complete online programs and to get millennials more involved in the profession. NCRA’s 2017-2018 Board of Directors was installed, including NCRA Immediate Past President Tiva Wood, FAPR, RDR, CMRS, being magically transformed into NCRA President Chris Willette, RDR, CRR, CRC. Ed Johnson, FAPR, RPR, CRR, introduced his fellow Wisconsinite with a top ten list of “things you may not know about Chris Willette,” including a quip that in a Speed Contest, if the topic was cheese, Willette could beat Mark Kislingbury, FAPR, RDR, CRR. Willette gave her first address to the membership, which focused on the importance of hard work, service, and perseverance. And Nancy Varallo, FAPR, RDR, CRR, was recognized as the 2017 Distinguished Service Award recipient. As she accepted the award, Varallo thanked all of her mentors who have helped her get to this point.

Lindsay Stoker, RPR, CRC, from Fullerton, Calif., provided the on-site CART captioning for the event.

Read all the news from the 2017 NCRA Convention & Expo.

The fear factor

By Debra A. Levinson

Facing fear is a given as a court reporter. No matter how credentialed you are, no matter how many letters you have attained, there will always be some level of fear prior to any job. Why? We are not taking down a prepared script. We are writing words on the fly and rightly fear the unknown. We fear not hearing clearly or fear speakers testifying at near-lightning speeds. We fear having to process unfamiliar vocabulary or garbled speech or technical matters in nanoseconds.

What we really need to focus on is self-confidence. We have an amazing skill set that impresses the masses, and yet that’s still not good enough. So please allow me to share my favorite adage to accept and adjust. Simply put, accept the fear and imperfections of what we do. Make adjustments and change what is not realtime-friendly. Then proceed forward.

The result of not taking chances or pushing ourselves beyond the comfort zone is tantamount to being stuck in a rut. Remember that nothing ventured is nothing gained.

Writing what I call readable realtime requires practice and commitment that will pay off both literally and figuratively. Here are some basics to add to your practice. You will gain that confidence and begin refining your skills to help accomplish your goals and eliminate that fear factor.

  1. Begin by identifying your problematic translation areas (such as speed, conflicts, word boundaries, and prefixes and suffixes), and you will become empowered to change.
  2. Maintain an ongoing commitment to retrain, and you will write faster and cleaner and shorter.
  3. Stay focused and write realtime on every job, and you will challenge yourself to translate at higher and higher percent rates.
  4. Input proper case names and designations prior to start time, and you will save time later.
  5. Purge and modify entries and edit on the job, and you will ensure what’s in your dictionary will translate properly.
  6. Make weekly revisions, and you will feel accountable having set goals.
  7. Brief repetitive words and phrases and use Auto-Brief or Brief-It, and you will save valuable energy.
  8. Monitor your screen throughout the proceeding, and you will identify where to check trouble spots.
  9. Use the Internet to research proper names on the job, and you will have gained an edge.
  10. Learn how to finger-spell, and you will eliminate puzzled looks when nonsensical words appear.
  11. Sign up for the free Word-of-the-Day (my personal favorite is from Merriam-webster.com), and you will become familiar with many esoteric words without having to wait until you’ve heard them for the first time.

Debra A. Levinson, RMR, CRR, CMRS, CRI, is a freelance court reporter and agency owner from White Plains, N.Y. She can be reached at dal@dalcoreporting.com.