Maintaining a freelance mind-set in an official world

By Risa Entrekin

Many reporters accept an officialship after years of freelancing and feel they can relax with only one person to keep happy: the judge. After the excitement wanes, however, complacency often manifests itself in job dissatisfaction and frustration. The official who maintains a freelance mind-set in an official world can avoid this and enjoy a successful and pleasant career. Here are a few thoughts on how to succeed at the business of officialships without really trying:

Technology: In this ever-changing world, the steno machine remains a steady, trustworthy foundation upon which we must build an environment to meet client demand. The “client” may be a judge, court administrative staff, a probation or parole officer, attorneys, pro se litigants and their families, or any combination of the above.

As new attorneys emerge on the scene who have been immersed in high-tech gadgetry since before they started kindergarten, the reporter’s ability to respond to their needs becomes increasingly important. Whether it is emailing transcripts in various formats or live streaming a realtime feed to off-site participants, an awareness of technological advancements and the willingness to acquire the skill and equipment necessary to respond to those advancements is crucial. One way to become familiar with the latest advancements is through technology itself: participating in Facebook groups, watching YouTube “how-to” videos, and attending NCRA and other conferences either in person or remotely.

Maintaining and improving one’s skill is always a worthwhile goal that will benefit the client as well as the reporter. A trial involving technical subject matter will always be extremely challenging, but it can be more successful and less stressful when a reporter is at the top of his or her game. Some courts even offer pay incentives for additional certifications.

Financial considerations: An officialship may create new and challenging financial considerations that are best discussed with an accountant or tax advisor. Although taxes will be withheld from salaried income, it may be necessary for the reporter to file estimated tax payments to avoid underpayment penalties. Keeping transcript income and estimated taxes in a separate account may be helpful.

Keeping good financial records is burdensome and time-consuming, but it is a necessary evil. Some officialships require additional record keeping that can seem like “busy” work to the busy reporter. However, this record keeping is simply a job that must be done. The best attitude to cultivate is one of acceptance instead of procrastination.

Organization: When time is short and days in court are long, a consistent method of organizing work and maintaining records is a necessity. Constantly prioritizing transcript requests is a must. The “Sticky Notes” tool available on the Windows desktop or the use of Microsoft OneNote can assist the reporter to be continually aware of what task needs the most urgent attention.

Proofreading on a mobile device can allow the reporter to make more efficient use of unavoidable time delays. Files can be sent and received from a proofreader using the same technology. Develop a quick and effective way of preparing a job or case dictionary for a realtime feed. This often is the difference between a mediocre and excellent realtime transmission. The official may find it helpful to organize the most urgent tasks at the close of a workday.

Teamwork: Unlike the freelance world where the reporter is often working autonomously, teamwork is extremely important for the official. Officials live in an uncertain world of budget cuts and work study evaluations, and they share their world with courthouse personnel who often do not understand or appreciate the reporter’s contribution. Officials often face threats of being replaced by other technology. The reporter’s best reaction in the face of uncertainty is to become invaluable at the courthouse. As with any public-sector job, the reporter will work with a myriad of people from a variety of backgrounds who possess many different attitudes and work expectations. A reporter should always strive to maintain a professional attitude and keep the interests of justice as his or her top priority.

Teamwork also includes working well with a future team, the reporters who will assume the official reporter positions of the future. Create a method of communicating with the reporters of tomorrow about how records, audio files, rough drafts, and final transcripts are stored. This lasting legacy furthers the cause of justice. An “In Case of Emergency” file which can be easily accessed by others will ease the transition and save time. The file should include passwords, file locations, account numbers, locations of keys, and any other information the court reporter considers important.

Professionalism:  It is human nature to have short memories of positive experiences and lingering memories of negative situations. This is one of many reasons for the official reporter to endeavor to develop and maintain a high degree of professionalism. The NCRA Code of Ethics is an additional incentive. Frankly, another reason to always maintain professional integrity is because the legal community is often relatively small and closely knit. A reporter may not know that the doddering old attorney fumbling with the newfangled evidence presentation method used to be the judge’s law partner or that the intake clerk struggling to get a degree may end up clerking for the judge before he accepts a position with a stellar law firm.

Reporters should always avoid even the appearance of impropriety. The official who becomes complacent about their duties can sometimes relax this standard and become friendlier with attorneys who frequent the courtroom. Giving advice and commenting on a case is always inappropriate, regardless of how well a reporter knows an attorney. The official should treat everyone equally, both in the courtroom and after the fact.

Always strive to honor commitments made for transcript production. Maintain communication with the requesting party throughout the production process if necessary. A late transcript now and then is inevitable and unavoidable, but a late transcript preceded by no communication from the court reporter is unjustifiable.

The official sometimes has more flexibility to volunteer with state and national associations, and yet freelancers often carry the lion’s share of this burden. Officials should encourage students by mentoring them if at all possible. This encourages the student and allows them to be more comfortable in an intimidating setting. This connection with students can benefit both the student and the working reporter. Providing pro bono services or transcribing interviews through NCRA’s Oral Histories Program are other ways officials can contribute to their profession.

An unknown author once said, “Watch your thoughts, for they become words. Watch your words, for they become actions. Watch your actions, for they become habits. Watch your habits, for they become character. Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.” Officials should faithfully preserve the record with skill and professionalism, always being cognizant of their contribution to our collective destiny.

Risa Entrekin, RDR, CRR, CMRS, CPE, is an official based in Montgomery, Ala. She also holds NCRA’s Realtime Systems Administrator certificate. She can be reached at risaentrekin@gmail.com.

 

ETHICS: Social media and the court reporter

social media and the court reporterBy Robin Cooksey

Technology has no doubt created a world where information can be accessed at incredible speeds, and opinions and thoughts are disseminated to others simply by the click of a mouse or a keyboard. Whether you are providing remote CART services or broadcast captioning or you are working as an official or freelance reporter, chances are you have used some form of technology to do your job.

Since the advent of the Internet, technology has continued to evolve, and social media has become its cornerstone. Merriam-Webster defines social media as “a collective of online communications channels dedicated to community-based input, interaction, content-sharing and collaboration.” It is so commonplace now and its use is so widespread that businesses set up websites and Facebook pages to promote their business. Government officials use Twitter so that constituents may be informed on current issues.

Social media has become such an integral part of our society now that state and federal governments have actually promulgated rules and policies to address the concerns that social media potentially bring to the court system. Jurors are now instructed that they are not to use any form of social media to research the cases on which they’re serving or communicate about them. Jurors are further cautioned about the consequences if these rules are not followed.

While court reporters serve a different function in the legal setting, the rules that apply to the jurors are equally important to follow as a court reporter. Our Code of Professional Conduct does not specifically address the dos and don’ts of social media. It does, however, state that we are to “guard against not only the fact but the appearance of impropriety”; we must “preserve the confidentiality and ensure the security of information, oral or written, entrusted to the reporter by any of the parties in a proceeding”; and we must “maintain the integrity of the reporting profession.” If a reporter were to engage in discussions on social media regarding any matter that they were reporter for, not only would he or she be guilty of misconduct, they, too, could potentially cause irreparable harm to the parties.

In order to respond to the needs of our society, we need to stay abreast of current trends in technology. Use video conferencing, Skype, live-streaming, and the like in order to provide the best product or service that you can. And then, at the end of the day, relax. Share your photos of your family and pets, your favorite recipes, and your thoughts. Let’s remember to keep the “social” in social media.

Robin Cooksey, RMR, of Houston, Texas, is a member of NCRA’s Committee on Professional Ethics.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: The heavy responsibility of being a reporter

By Timothy St. Clair

The opinion section of the JCR allows readers to express their thoughts on various topics. Statements of fact or opinion are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily express the opinion of NCRA or anyone connected with NCRA.

As we can all agree, the percentage of litigating lawyers we have any contact with are far outnumbered by those practicing law in the many other arenas available to their craft. Of those that call themselves litigators, the official court reporter generally has contact with a greater number of lawyers than the average freelance reporter. I understand that an extremely busy freelance shop has contact with a great number of law firms, and a great number of court reporters. But taken individually, each reporter may not have contact with many different lawyers. Contrast that with the official in a busy court where all those cases end up in one venue. I have been on both sides as a reporter – official and freelance. I am sure there are some that will argue the above point, and perhaps I can be proven wrong with national statistics, etc., but this has been my general experience for the past 30 years.

The responsibility I am about to discuss has little to do with our day-to-day job duties. Our greater responsibility has to do with our interaction with the bar and their clients — an interaction that has short-term and long-term implications. Implications that affect not only our bottom line at the end of the month, but more importantly, the bottom line in terms of our future as a profession.

Allow me to pose some questions. Do you see yourself as finding fault with the mechanics of a lawyer’s presentation (i.e., talks too fast, mumbles, interrupts, etc.)? Or do you see yourself approaching a difficult situation with tact and a solution? Are you more interested in the total on your invoice, or are you more interested in being fair-minded? Have you become so callused by what you see and hear as to have no compassion?

As an official, do you often take the attitude of “that’s not my job,” or do you pinch in at times to help with a “non-reporter” task? As an official, do you hold yourself in such high esteem that you lord it over the other courthouse personnel? As either an official or freelance reporter, when is the last time you read the Code of Ethics?

I am sure at this point there are some who will quit reading. Either thinking I’m nuts in thinking any of these questions need to be asked, or thinking I’m nuts because how dare I ask these questions. But I ask these questions because during my years as a freelance reporter and an official reporter, I have seen both sides of these questions lived out.

I live and work in the state of Indiana. Indiana has no certification for court reporters. The courts are manned with both stenotype reporters and “Sony” reporters (with the larger number in our state being “Sony” reporters). We have recently seen changes in Indiana that are, I believe, being brought about because of the negative view others have of court reporters. And I will say the negativity can be sometimes deserved.

I believe the key components to that negativity are the lack of certification, the lack of education, and the lack of ethics. I can tell you that not all the negativity is produced by the “Sony” court reporters. A good portion is produced by stenotype court reporters who have lost the view of the larger picture.

Above all else, we as court reporters must think of ourselves as ambassadors – ambassadors of a time-honored profession of guardians of the record. We must think in terms of being an asset to those around us and not an annoyance. For years, I have told people that I want to be unnoticed as I practice my trade. I want to be unnoticed because to me that means that I am doing my job well. Usually one is only noticed when he or she has done something incorrectly or not done something that was to be done.

Thirty plus years ago, I knew I needed to return to school to better provide for my family. I asked a family friend who was a lawyer about becoming a paralegal. His response was “learn how to be a court reporter; they make a lot of money.” (I’m still waiting). Within a week of that conversation, I found myself at a career night at a local community college that had a court reporting course. I returned home from that career night and told my wife that I found a course of study to pursue. I felt then, as I do now, that if I perform my duties in a role as important as a court reporter that it will be a profession where I can make a positive difference!

When I embarked on a career as a court reporter, I heard the forever cry “ER will replace you.” The cry continues. If our future is threatened, it may very well be that the threat is from within. The threat is apathy – the court reporter who doesn’t feel the need to grow his or her skills and is satisfied with the status quo. The threat is being the prima donna employee who doesn’t know how to get along with anyone other than self. The threat is poor interaction with members of the bar (does “cut off your nose to spite your face” come to mind?). As an official, offer a rough transcript to your judge following a complicated summary judgment hearing; offer him/her a CART window or realtime. Become a value-added employee. Does a lawyer need you to spend five minutes and look something up in your notes? Do it. You don’t have to always invoice.

Please understand that I’m not advocating that we not charge for what we do. But I am saying not everything deserves an invoice. There are times when there is more long-term value gained from simply being of service.

Timothy St. Clair, RMR, is the owner of St. Clair Court Reporting in South Bend, Ind. He can be reached at stclaircourtreporting@gmail.com.

 

COPE: Working with the “CIA” – An ethics review

By Jason Meadors

CIAI’m pretty sure you won’t find what I’m about to say in any Board policy or finding by NCRA’s Committee on Professional Ethics (COPE), in which I have the honor of serving this year. No, what follows are my own views of foundational bases of our ethics, in looking at the ethical frameworks in the Code and Advisory Opinions, and with a few decades of experience in this all-consuming career. I also have a regular ethics seminar that I present, and my views are woven into that as well, and I haven’t been seriously challenged. Yet.

“What are these views?” you might ask. Or you might not. I suspect the latter has the higher probability. But I’m going to tell you anyway. The ethical construct of our sacred court reporting profession has a foundation of three legs. Because Dave Wenhold, our preeminent lobbyist, has taught me that clever acronyms help people better identify and remember concepts, let’s call them the CIA.

Those three foundational legs of our profession are:

  • Confidentiality
  • Impartiality
  • Accuracy

There you go. Our CIA.

Confidentiality

Our Code of Professional Ethics (In a slight bit of acronym confusion with the committee, also named COPE), Number 4, addresses this directly. “Preserve the confidentiality and ensure the security of information,” and so on.

This makes eminent good sense, does it not? When we work, we hear dreadful events, shameful secrets, and financial goings-on from hosts of people. If we want the process to have integrity when it comes to the record, if we want our clients and consumers to see us as trustworthy professionals, if we want our profession to continue, we have to ensure that information that we hear doesn’t go where it’s not supposed to go.

It’s so easy to get caught up conversation among ourselves, with our clients, with members of the general public, because sometimes we hear some pretty darned interesting things. May I suggest a little self-administered test when you’re talking with someone and you get the impulse to sneak out a detail from a case, ask yourself: If this person says, “Oh, the reporter told me,” how will that reflect on you?

(There’s actually a simpler practice that doesn’t require retrospection: Just shut up.)

They bring us, outsiders, in to the proceedings, secure in their belief that we will not be the conduit of information to the rest of the world. Let’s keep it that way.

But that’s not the only reason we are called to our professional tasks. There’s the second foundational leg of:

Impartiality

Five of the ten items in the NCRA Code of Professional Ethics encompass impartiality. Indeed, Number 1 of the Code starts with, “Be fair and impartial…”

And this concept really is the linchpin in working at our professional heights, and its existence flows directly to the reliability of the record that we’re preserving.

In the litigation arena, in one certain sense, our presence might seem a bit odd. The parties are presenting their own weighted view of evidence. The attorneys are advocates for their clients. The judge is protecting the public interest. Everyone has taken a side. And still they bring us in, with our mandate of being both disinterested and uninterested, because it’s the only way that the history that they read later has been kept and delivered without bias, without favoritism, without an eye to supporting one side or the other.

“I love a job where I’m actually paid to not be interested in anyone.”

That’s how it must be. Even while immersed in their advocacy, they are paying us to be emotionally distant and removed from the proceedings that we report. All sides have to be able to rely on the integrity of the transcript without a second thought about whether the reporter might be bringing other interests into the legal game.

Sure, there are times when that “not caring” thing gets pushed and emotions run high. We all have our stories. My memorable one, and not in a good way: Within a couple weeks after a family member’s death, I was taking a deposition about a case that involved a fatality, and the grief of the deponent was open and unyielding. Because of my father’s so-recent death, my own emotions were pretty raw at the time, and I struggled to keep my expression impassive. I’m not sure how well I fared.

But the transcript that resulted from that deposition did not, could not, be weighted toward the grieving deponent, toward my client, toward the attorney who represented the sobbing witness, or anyone else in the room. That’s what all parties expect and what they deserve when they hire us, the professionally detached historian in the room.

(At this point, the alert reader may say, “Hey! You just told us not to talk about our cases!” And that is why I kept it so nonspecific as to time, place, parties, and even the type of case.)

Sometimes at introductions in the deposition room, one attorney will tell the witness, “I represent the plaintiff.” The other one will say, “I represent the defendant.” When the deponent looks at me, I introduce myself and say, “I represent the paper that comes out of this.” The integrity of the record is, indeed, the focus of our own advocacy.

But our confidentiality and impartiality aren’t the only reasons we’re being hired, which brings us to:

Accuracy

This leg is the surprisingly more tenuous one to talk about, because nowhere in the Code of Professional Ethics does it actually state that the reporter has an ethical duty to provide an accurate record.

I’m going to pause a moment to let that sink in. Let me know when you’re ready.

Okay, ready?

The reliability of the record is a principle woven into the fabric of our professional product. If the record of proceedings isn’t accurate, the participants might as well be home reading a good book and sipping their favored beverage. The need for accuracy is why we’re so darned impartial; likewise, impartiality helps to guarantee accuracy. The other factor to accuracy, of course, is the combination of skill, conscientiousness, and record-consciousness that we bring to the table.

Putting it all together

So when we’re faced with an ethical issue, we can generally fall back on our CIA to help resolve it.

  • Does the issue compromise Confidentiality?
  • Can it be perceived as a breach of Impartiality?
  • Could it degrade the record’s Accuracy?

If the answer to any of these is “yes,” the issue must be resolved in a way that keeps those principles intact.

My dear colleagues, what we do is important. Way back when, about to finish Marine reporting school and enter my life as a voice reporter in the Marines, a military judge came in to talk to us wide-eyed new practitioners about our importance. I haven’t forgotten the gist of his talk since, and that was early 1975. He told us about U.S. v. Albright, where the Court of Military Appeals stated that the record “imports verity.” In other words, if we say it happened, absent some showing of fraud (so stay impartial!), then what we say goes. How we transcribe it is how history will see it. If we don’t get it right, history will not look correctly upon what went on (so be accurate!).

And really, we are not just important. We are vital.

If the adage is correct about what is the “oldest profession,” then we can look at cave wall paintings and see what the second oldest is. It is the people who make the record of humanity itself. We bear a direct lineage from those short, stocky folks facing the rock walls, ochre at their sides, painting what happened to Thag Simmons. That tradition carries on through the scribes of ancient Egypt, the courts of the Khans, through the ages of petroglyphs, obelisks, clay tablets, papyrus, rice paper, parchment, paper from pulp, and through the spectra of electronic media that we use today.

Our all-important record preserved through our grand legacy is the singular method by which society can learn from its mistakes and build on its successes. And so, through our near-incomprehensible skills, and with the guidance of our solid ethical foundations, let’s make that record a good one.

Jason Meadors, RPR, CRR, CRC, is a freelance reporter in Fort Collins, Colo., and a member of NCRA’s Committee on Professional Ethics. He can be reached at jason@reporterworks.com.

 

COPE: Missing deadlines and the Code of Ethics

By Cassy Kerr

The timely delivery of a transcript from a reporter to a reporting firm can be a stressor in the life of a firm owner. “I want to add another pressure to my day-to-day responsibilities of owning a reporting business,” said no firm owner ever.

Also, no reporter wants to be in the uncomfortable position of missing a deadline with a firm. So fear not. There are ways, along with common sense, to avoid these issues for both firm owners and reporters in NCRA’s Code of Professional Ethics (COPE), the COPE General Guidelines, and specifically Advisory Opinion 20.

The first thing a firm owner can do, when looking for an outside reporter to cover a deposition, is personally know or know someone who personally knows the reporter. This is why networking is so important. Whether you need a reporter in an adjoining city or many states away, having a referral from a trusted resource is essential. Attending your state and national seminars, conventions, and get-togethers or volunteering for state or national committees are great opportunities to build your circle of contacts. Next, when you are speaking with the reporter, inquire whether he or she is a member of his or her state and national organizations. Those who aren’t have the ability to say, “State or national association’s guidelines and opinions don’t apply to me.”

Agencies should also advise the reporter of the deposition’s subject matter and verify that the reporter is capable of producing a quality product and delivering it within the requested timeline. If the reporter finds him- or herself in a highly technical video deposition without the required experience, the reporter will spend an excessive amount of time researching terms, which will delay the transcript delivery.

The reporter also has responsibilities when it comes to the timely delivery of a transcript, the first of which is letting the agency know whether he or she has the skills to report the deposition.

Section I.1 of the guidelines reads, “Accept only those assignments when the Member’s level of competence will result in the preparation of an accurate transcript”; and also, the conclusion in Advisory Opinion No. 20 says, “… the individual reporter … has a duty to … refrain from accepting engagements with which the reporter knows he or she is unable to comply.”
Reporter, it is okay to tell the firm: “I appreciate the opportunity to work for you, but I will be in over my head with this assignment.” In fact, the agency will appreciate your truthfulness and that leads to COPE No. 9, which says, “A member shall maintain the integrity of the reporting profession,” and there is no better way to do this than by being honest.

Further, being forthright about your skills and level of competence adheres you to Guideline No. I.5: “Meet promised delivery dates …” Finalizing a transcript can be time-consuming enough without extra time spent googling on a subject matter.

Likewise, if the reporter knows that he or she cannot deliver the job by the requested date, he or she should decline the engagement as expressed in Advisory Opinion No. 20.

Again, reporter, express your appreciation for the chance to work together, but let the firm know you are unable to meet the deadline. If you accept the job knowing you can’t and won’t meet the firm’s expectation, it puts the firm in the unpleasant position of explaining to the attorney, when contacted by him or her, that it doesn’t have the transcript for production. Avoid putting anyone, including yourself, in this sticky situation, and be upfront and truthful with the firm.

An instance of not meeting a deadline can occur when a transcript delivery date has not been given to the reporter. In this situation, a commonsense approach is for the reporter to ask the agency what the expected turnaround time is. COPE No. 3 says, “A member shall guard against not only the fact but the appearance of impropriety.” It is totally proper if not expected for the reporter to inquire of a deadline if it
is not given by the agency.

Reporter, save yourself the panic of an unforeseen request to have the transcript delivered the next day and inquire of the transcript deadline. NCRA’s Ethics Committee concludes in Advisory Opinion No. 20 that “… the individual reporter that subcontracts with an agency has a duty to meet promised delivery dates whenever possible and to refrain from accepting engagements with which the reporter knows he or she is unable to comply; so the burden lies with the reporter, not the agency, to ensure he or she meets the requested or a timely transcript delivery.

Sometimes, however, try as reporters might to meet his or her transcript deadlines, life happens. Urgent care visits occur. Children’s games go into overtime. Another transcript needs to get bumped to the front of the line to meet an unexpected expedited request. This is when common sense, Opinion No. 20, the COPE, and the COPE guidelines all mesh into one message: communication.

Section I.5 of the guidelines reads, “A member should … provide immediate notification of delays.” Will the reporter dread letting the firm know he or she cannot meet the deadline? Maybe.

Will the agency be frustrated that a deadline can’t be met? Probably.

Will the attorney be upset that the transcript isn’t available as requested? More than likely.

But this is when COPE No. 9 again comes into play. Be honest, reporter, as to the delay. Explain the situation, accept responsibility, and come to an agreement with the firm to a new delivery date. As long as your delivery delays are not a habit, the firm will understand and be happy to call you again the next time they need your help.

Cassy Kerr, RPR, CRR, CRC, is a freelancer and agency owner in Tulsa, Okla. Kerr is a member of NCRA’s Committee on Professional Ethics.

Five steps to build a million-dollar court reporting business

By Cassandra Caldarella

Some reporters go their entire lives without earning a million dollars, so it sounds crazy that some court reporters might be able to achieve this milestone in a few short years. But it is possible. Plenty of court reporters have achieved this goal, and you can too!

Pay attention to the following tips and use them to help ramp up your revenue growth:

  1. Find a growing market

five-ways_1One of the simplest ways to build a million-dollar court reporting business in such a short period of time is to find a growing trend and ride it to the top. Take me for example. As a former official for Los Angeles Superior Court, I saw the privatization of the reporters in civil courtrooms and getting laid off from the County as an opportunity. I went from a salaried position making $97,000 a year with the county to making more than $200,000/year. I took my lemons and made a whole bunch of lemonade. Certainly, part of my success comes from turning out a great product and service, but it also comes from timing. When I was laid off in July 2012, a $75+ million-dollar market for civil reporters in L.A. opened up and more than 12,000 attorneys in the Los Angeles market were scampering for coverage of their motions and trials. Along with many colleagues, I experienced a 125 percent annual revenue growth that first year and ever since. Finding a growing market of your own like this can put you on the fast track to massive revenue growth.

  1. Think monetization from the start

It seems strange to think about monetization objectively, but some court reporters operate without any obvious monetization strategies. Twitter is one example of this phenomenon, but countless other companies out there are building up their free user bases, hoping that inspiration – and, consequently, financial stability – will strike along the way.

five-ways_2Most profitable companies operate from one of two models: either they sell a lot of inexpensive products to a lot of people or they sell a few big-ticket items to a more limited buyer list. Neither model is easier or inherently better than the other. What’s more important than choosing is having a defined plan for monetization. Knowing what the plan is to make money from the start will prevent wasted time spent hoping that something profitable will come together.

For court reporters, we have some limitations: what we can charge may be limited; we can’t give away our services for free; and we can’t participate in gift giving more than a certain amount each year. To work as a pro tem in court, most of the page rates are set by the Court Reporters Board in California. One of the free user bases court reporters can set up for themselves is a vast network of referrals. So when an attorney calls requesting your services, and you are already booked, you can tell him that you have a friend who just became available. And the same goes with agencies who call you for work.  It can be a mutually beneficial situation. Or, if you prefer, you can offer to cover the job for the attorney, find a reporter that you network with, and take a cut. Do whatever works best in your situation.

  1. Be the best

five-ways_3There are plenty of mediocre court reporters out there, but the odds are good that these reporters aren’t making a quarter of a million dollars a year. If you want to hit these big potential revenues, you’ve got to bring something to the table that wows customers and generates buzz within your marketplace.

How can you tell if you’ve got a “best in breed” service? Look to your current customers. If you aren’t getting repeat business from attorneys and agencies and getting rave reviews or positive comments sent to your inbox, chances are your clients aren’t as ecstatic about your service as they need to be to hit your target sales. Asking your existing customers what you can do to make your service better and then put their recommendations into place. They’ll appreciate your efforts and will go on to refer further jobs to you in the future.

Improve your skill level. Focus on getting your realtime certification and then offering realtime on every job. Get as many certifications as possible. Be a member of your national and state associations. Join the state bar associations and trial lawyers associations.

Beyond our skill level is making an emotional connection with your clients. We reporters have very little time to communicate with attorneys while we’re working. The entrances and exits are sometimes all the time we have with them. Make it count. Make eye contact. Smile. You’ll be surprised what an impact a simple smile can have.

 

  1. Hire all-stars

Hitting the $200,000 in revenue per year is no small feat. You aren’t going to achieve this goal alone and you certainly aren’t going to get there with a team of underperformers. Yes, hiring less expensive scopists and proofreaders (or none at all) will be cheaper and easier, but you’ll pay for this convenience when your end-of-the-year sales numbers come up short.

five-ways_4Instead, you need to hire all-stars, and the fastest way to do this is to ask around for referrals. The really good ones will be busy and will turn you down at first. You need to use your referrals to let them know that you know someone they work with and can be trusted. Get them on board with incentives such as higher than usual rates. This will not only get them in the door, it will ensure that you have them on your team when that daily trial starts tomorrow. They will make you a priority. And treat them like gold by remembering their birthdays, sending holidays cards, gifts, and bonuses, and just by having open and direct communication with them. If you have the time to “interview” scopists and proofreaders by starting them out with small jobs to test the waters, and you find one that has potential, this could be your opportunity to turn them into exactly what you need and want by gentle coaching and instruction and slowly giving them more and more to do for you. The training you put into them will be rewarded with loyalty. You need to be absolutely certain that you can go after those all-day, realtime, same-day expedite jobs because you can rely on your team to be there when you need them. You need to be able to get those jobs day after day after day without missing a deadline. One missed deadline could be the end of a relationship with an agency or an attorney. When every penny counts towards reaching your million-dollar goals, you’ll find your team of subcontractors to be worth their weight in gold.

  1. five-ways_5Consume data

Finally, if you want to shoot for the revenue moon, you need to be absolutely militant about gathering data and acting on it. If you want to make $250,000 a year, then do the math. There are 2,080 working hours per year, which is $120.17/hour. There are 12 months per year, which would be $20,833 per month. And there are about 20 working days each month, which would be $1,041.66 per day, 240 days per year. As the ebb and flow of reporting goes, so go our predictable numbers, so we must constantly take measure of where we are.

I keep an Excel spreadsheet with my running monthly totals of jobs invoiced and money received ,and I put that on a side-by-side comparison of the last year’s numbers. I always know where I stand each month. If my job cancels today and I’ve only made the $300 per diem appearance fee, and I know I still have to get to my $1,041.66 goal for the day, then I text message all my agencies to let them know I’m available. I try to double- and triple-book myself, so I’ve got 3-6 motions in one day or a trial with dailies and realtime. I don’t stop until I’ve hit my goal. But then there are days where I get 5 copies and realtime and roughs, and it makes up for those days where everything falls apart. But I never stop trying to hit my daily goal. Always check your statistics to see how your day impacted your revenue. Add up your per diems and make a note of how many pages and calculate how much you earned at the end of each job. It may not be too late to pick up another one before you head home. Check your phone frequently for text messages and emails from agencies. Keep track of your key performance indicators (KPI’s) and push your metrics even higher every day. Keep a score card for yourself. Always keep your numbers in mind and know where you measure up each day.

I’m constantly picking up new agencies and making cold calls to agencies I hear other reporters talking about. I send them a resume and list of references, but I tell them what I want. I send my rate sheet, work preferences, geographical areas, and tell them about my experience. I try them out. I always invoice agencies and don’t rely on their worksheet. I know down to the penny what I earned on each job. I always negotiate rates with new and old agencies, with each job. I know what the going rates are by constantly doing market research, talking to other reporters, networking. You have a veritable gold mine of information just hanging out in the various Facebook groups, so put it to good use.

Growing your freelance court reporting business to million dollar revenues isn’t easy, but it is possible. Stick to the tips above – even if you don’t hit this particular goal, you’ll earn the strongest sales results possible for your unique business.

Cassandra Caldarella is a freelancer and agency owner from Santa Ana, Calif. She can be reached at cassarella11@hotmail.com.

California law lets parties to an arbitration use a court reporter

A blog posted on Oct. 3 by JD Supra Business Advisor provides insight into a new law passed in California that gives a party to arbitration the right to have a certified shorthand reporter transcribe any deposition, proceeding, or hearing as the official record. The blog was written by Kramm Court Reporting.

Read more.

COPE: Why ethics matter for CART captioners

JCR publications share buttonBy Cecilee Wilson

Through the course of my 39-year career as a professional reporter, as well as my 20 years providing broadcast captioning and CART services for many organizations and television stations, I have developed a strong conviction of the importance of our role in the Deaf and hard-of-hearing community and our responsibility to provide ethical, professional services to our clients.

In March of 2015, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), with extensive input from the NCRA, made significant rule changes regarding broadcast captioners. While these rule changes did not directly affect CART providers, the NCRA Board of Directors in November of 2015 approved and adopted a Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct based partly on these rule changes. This code was adopted for both CART and broadcast captioners to set a standard of quality and professionalism in our field.

While there are not currently any interstate or federal requirements for CART providers, some states have adopted standards in order to maintain the quality of services offered beyond basic certification.

As our field has developed and changed, many CART providers and captioners no longer understand the relevance of NCRA in their professional lives.

Many times we hear, “Where was NCRA when…” in conversation or on social media, in cases where the role of the Association would not have been applicable.

What can NCRA do? Influence legislation, build up and promote the profession, and search out new applications for the court reporting profession are a few things that NCRA does on an ongoing basis. In fact, the CART and captioning segments of the profession would not be even close to where they are today without the influence that NCRA has had on federal law and in Deaf and hard-of-hearing groups. That’s why it is more important than ever that we continue to support the policies established by NCRA to maintain a high standard of work across our profession.

In my work, the biggest problem I see first-hand is the provider who misrepresents their level of expertise, leaving the consumer with less-than-adequate accommodations. Judicial court reporters and deposition reporters are generally heavily regulated by individual states. In the “olden days” if a student felt they could not pass the rigorous testing of their state CSR laws or NCRA testing, some would choose to go into CART as a “fall-back” so as to be less regulated and get through school early. Unfortunately, taking the easier path has resulted in a wide variety of skill levels in our profession. Our clients, without the necessary tools and information to adequately judge the providers and services, are the ones who end up suffering for it.

Though the word “accurate” is present in both the FCC rules and the guidelines established by NCRA, there is no set standard for accuracy or untranslate percentages, either for CART or broadcast captioning. In many instances the absence of a legally enforced standard is an asset due to the increased costs and time that would be needed to enforce the standards. But that does not mean that we are unable to hold ourselves and our community to higher expectations.

Deaf groups that I have worked with have expressed a desire for standards for CART providers, even at different skill levels, in an effort to have an established level that would be commensurate with remuneration; to show the clients in the community that “you get what you pay for” when it comes to the services and skills you will receive and the fees associated with hiring a highly skilled professional. In my state it is not uncommon for clients to call a non-]certified CART provider because they would like to save their resources (money) and hire me when it is “really important.” Many consumers are also unaware of the NCRA services locater that lists its certified CART captioners.

The pitfall comes when a provider promotes themselves as highly skilled and charges accordingly, but provides services that are substandard and ineffective. This not only frustrates clients and other providers who may have been better able to offer the necessary services, but it also creates an atmosphere of distrust between clients and providers because of prior bad experiences.

I recall one conference in particular, where I was providing CART for a young person from another state, who was accompanied by his mother. She had been skeptical about hiring a CART provider because she had typically been unable to get high-quality CART services in her home state. She was very impressed that someone would provide that level of service, since she was unable to get that in her locale, regardless of the cost. She and her son would have benefitted from an established standard across our profession so that she was confident in the services she could expect to receive.

In my opinion the most effective way to increase the quality of the CART and captioning profession is to encourage others in our profession to become members of NCRA, and for all of us to sincerely adopt the ethics and professional guidelines in our everyday practice.

The Code of Professional Ethics includes provisions that we determine fees independently, avoid or disclose conflicts of interest or even the appearance of impropriety, preserve confidentiality, and be truthful when representing our qualifications. We are also encouraged to support the relationships in our community by providing pro bono services when the situation calls for them.

We must also diligently keep ourselves educated on current literature and technological advances and developments in order to offer the highest quality services possible. This should also include awareness of changing regulations and standards. As members of NCRA we are also required to maintain the integrity of our profession, abide by the NCRA Constitution & Bylaws, and participate in national, state, and local association activities. These should be the way each of us, as professionals, run our lives.

This aspect of activism in our Association is vital to our effectiveness. If we do not establish and enforce professional standards ourselves, as well as advocate for our concerns, then these standards are open to being set and enforced by outside interests without the necessary representation from our community.

As NCRA members and broadcast and CART captioners, we need to encourage others in our professional community to become members of NCRA and help to enforce the professional standards we have set, and continue to offer a high-quality service to our clients. This will help alleviate the problems of overstated services being offered, undercutting prices of professionals in our field, and educating consumers so they will not be taken advantage of. We need to educate ourselves on the Code of Ethics and Professional Guidelines, hold ourselves to the standards we have established, and support the work of NCRA through membership and activism. We have to change from being active to being activists.

Cecilee Wilson, RDR, CRR, CBC, CCP, of Kaysville, Utah, is a member of NCRA’s Committee on Professional Ethics.

COPE: Conflict of interest: Remaining professional despite relationships

By Donna Cascio

Many years ago, I was interviewed by a president judge for an officialship in a small judicial district served by two jurists in rural Western Pennsylvania. The judge’s secretary was his wife. Little did I know at that first meeting that I too would enter a lifelong journey of dealing with relationships that linked my professional world with my personal world.

After I was hired by that president judge, I learned that the judge’s brother was a practicing lawyer. The court administrator was careful to make sure that that attorney did not appear in proceedings before that judge. As I was soon to learn, there was another lawyer in that judge’s family. His cousin was the district attorney (DA), but that relationship was deemed distant enough so that the DA was able to prosecute cases in front of either judge. The daughter of our other judge, termed the associate judge, was married to a practicing lawyer; that lawyer was prohibited from appearing before his father-in-law.

Does this sound confusing? Well, wait, because it continues. And I added to the mix.

As time went on, I married a lawyer who was a principal in a local law firm (the Cascio law firm), which included his father and brother, among others. Adhering to Code of Professional Ethics No. 2 (avoid situations that are conflicts of interest or appear to be) and No. 3 (avoid the appearance of impropriety), of course, affected my assignments in certain cases.

When a court reporter has a relationship with a party that compromises the reporter’s impartiality, that relationship at the very least has to be disclosed and an agreement to proceed obtained by the parties affected, and at the very most must be avoided (see Advisory Opinion No. 2, Reporter’s relationship to litigants; 1987, 2013; and No. 3, Reporting for a spouse’s law firm; 1987; 2013).

Continuing in my career, that lawyer I married ascended to the bench. By this time there was a new set of judges and a new president judge. Anticipating the inevitable situation of working together, my husband had sought an opinion from the Judicial Ethics Committee of the Pennsylvania Conference of State Trial Judges. The opinion expressed that there was no violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct if I continued my work as an official reporter and that I could report proceedings that were held in his courtroom. Despite the ruling, our new president judge preferred that I would work in my husband’s courtroom only if absolutely necessary, meaning all other reporters were either absent or swamped with work.

This was in a three-judge county with only three reporters. We called it working without a net. We use a pooling system of reporters. However, my husband’s busy courtroom and my inability to rotate into it regularly created some difficulty with the flow of work in those 15 years until our president judge retired and his rule was abolished.

In 2006, when my husband became president judge, the ruling from 1990 was dusted off, and I began a regular rotation of working for every judge. I guess this means I have more experience than most in evaluating and dealing with appearance of impartiality. However, in a 50-mile radius of my home, I personally know three court reporters married to Pennsylvania State Court trial judges, so I am not alone.

The husband-and-wife relationship in the courtroom may seem curious to some. I always emphasize that the judge and the court reporter are the impartial people in the courtroom. In jurisdictions where there is sufficient staff to adhere to a rule of not working together, that is fine. In my situation living in a small town, that is impossible.

By the way, my brother-in-law is still practicing law at that same law firm, and so I disclose that relationship to every out-of-town counsel even though my husband obviously has no tie to that law firm. But by this time, that relationship is well known. At the current time, our judicial district has sought a ruling from the current Ethics Committee of the Pennsylvania Conference of State Trial Judges on some other relationships. Of our three sitting judges, the current president judge’s ex-wife practices law with the Cascio firm, my husband’s brother continues to practice law with the firm, and our newly elected judge is a former partner from the same firm.

The ruling from the Ethics Committee was that any contested matters emanating from the Cascio law firm must be heard by a specially appointed senior judge.

My point in sharing that bit of confusing data is because jurists in my court are acting with care to adhere to standards of acceptable judicial conduct, so they have sought this ruling to guide the court operations going forward.

There may exist in some states licensure or advisory boards to help guide reporters’ professional conduct. We in Pennsylvania are not so lucky. But just as our state courts have the ability to seek guidance from an Ethics Committee, so too do we reporters on a nationwide basis have the ability to seek guidance from a bona fide body so all actions we take can have sound reasoning and we can avoid the appearance of impropriety.

Court reporters have the NCRA Code of Professional Ethics as well as the set of Public Advisory Opinions, conveniently accessible on NCRA’S website. In addition, NCRA’s Committee on Professional Ethics stands ready to discuss any situation brought before them by any member (if not already addressed in a current public advisory opinion).

According to Priority #4, Advocacy, in Vision 2018, NCRA’s Strategic Plan, NCRA will continue to “establish, perpetuate, and promote standards of conduct for court reporters.” In Priority #5, Professional Development, it is clear that “NCRA will establish and refine standards of knowledge, competence, and professional practice.” Thus, we can be assured going into the future that NCRA will remain our guide for any questionable issue.

Donna Cascio, RDR, CMRS, is an official court reporter in Somerset, Pa. She is also a member of NCRA’s Committee on Professional Ethics.

 

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Code of Professional Ethics

A Member Shall:

  1. Be fair and impartial toward each participant in all aspects of reported proceedings, and always offer to provide comparable services to all parties in a proceeding.
  2. Be alert to situations that are conflicts of interest or that may give the appearance of a conflict of interest. If a conflict or a potential conflict arises, the Member shall disclose that conflict or potential conflict.
  3. Guard against not only the fact but the appearance of impropriety.
  4. Preserve the confidentiality and ensure the security of information, oral or written, entrusted to the Member by any of the parties in a proceeding.
  5. Be truthful and accurate when making public statements or when advertising the Member’s qualifications or the services provided.
  6. Refrain, as an official reporter, from freelance reporting activities that interfere with official duties and obligations.
  7. Determine fees independently, except when established by statute or court order, entering into no unlawful agreements with other reporters on the fees to any user.
  8. Refrain from giving, directly or indirectly, any gift or anything of value to attorneys or their staff, other clients or their staff, or any other persons or entities associated with any litigation, which exceeds $150 in the aggregate per recipient each year. Nothing offered in exchange for future work is permissible, regardless of its value. Pro bono services as defined by the NCRA Guidelines for Professional Practice or by applicable state and local laws, rules and regulations are permissible in any amount.
  9. Maintain the integrity of the reporting profession.
  10. Abide by the NCRA Constitution & Bylaws.

No. 2 Reporter’s relationship to litigants (Originally written 1987; Revised 2013)

Statement of Facts

Upon appearing for a deposition or any other proceeding, the reporter finds that the reporter is related to one of the attorneys.

Is it the reporter’s responsibility to advise counsel of the relationship?

Discussion

If the reporter becomes aware of any relationship that may reasonably call into question the reporter’s impartiality, it is incumbent upon the reporter to disclose that relationship as soon as known. This gives counsel the opportunity to object or waive any objections on the record to the reporter’s reporting of the proceeding. If any objection is raised, the reporter must withdraw and offer to attempt to obtain another reporter. Counsel may elect, however, to select a reporter of their own choosing.

Reasons requiring disclosure include, but are not limited to:

  1. The reporter is related by blood or marriage to an attorney of record, an attorney present at the deposition, a party or a deponent. “Related by blood or marriage” is defined as including a parent, child, grandparent, grandchild, great grandparent, great grandchild, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, niece and nephew or the spouse of any such person.
  2. Any other relationship which may reasonably cause the reporter’s impartiality to be questioned.

Obviously, it is not possible to list all relationships that may be a conflict of interest or give the appearance of a conflict. Therefore, the Committee recommends that whenever a reporter is unsure of whether to disclose a relationship, the reporter should disclose the relationship as soon as known. For further discussion on this topic, please refer to Public Advisory Opinion No. 3.

Conclusion

It is the Committee’s opinion that failure to disclose any relationship that might reasonably call into question the reporter’s impartiality is a violation of Provisions 1 and 2 of the Code of Professional Ethics. These provisions state that the member shall:

No. 1. Be fair and impartial toward each participant in all aspects of reporting proceedings, and always offer to provide comparable services to all parties in a proceeding.

No. 2. Be alert to situations that are conflicts of interest or that may give the appearance of a conflict of interest. If a conflict or a potential conflict arises, the member shall disclose that conflict or potential conflict.

No. 3 Reporting for a spouse’s law firm (Originally written 1987; Revised 2013)

Statement of Facts

A reporter’s spouse is a member of a law firm that schedules a reporter for a deposition or other proceeding. Because the spouse will conduct the proceeding, the reporter refrains from taking the proceeding but requests another reporter to cover it, from whom a percentage commission is to be received. When other members of the spouse’s law firm schedule proceedings, the reporter reports them.

Is it a violation of the Code of Professional Ethics (1) for the reporter to schedule proceedings for the law firm of the reporter’s spouse, (2) for the reporter to send another reporter and retain a commission therefor, or (3) for the reporter to report proceedings for other members of the law firm?

Discussion

With respect to the facts cited above, the reporter may schedule proceedings for the spouse’s law firm. Second, the reporter was acting prudently by requesting another reporter to cover the proceeding, and the retention of a commission is permissible. The reporter should not personally cover the proceeding, but should request another reporter do so. The reporter may report proceedings for other members of the law firm only if the following three conditions are satisfied:

  1. Full disclosure of the relationship is made as soon as known.
  2. An agreement is reached by all counsel that there is no objection to the reporter’s taking the deposition (which should be stated on the record prior to commencement of the deposition).
  3. The reporter’s certificate conforms with the above facts.

If the reporter does not follow these steps, it would constitute a violation of Provisions 1 and 3 of the Code of Professional Ethics. These provisions require that the reporter be impartial in all aspects of reported proceedings and guard against not only the fact but also the appearance of impropriety.

Conclusion

It is the Committee’s opinion that scheduling proceedings for the law firm of a reporter’s spouse and requesting another reporter to take the proceedings being conducted by the first reporter’s spouse, and the acceptance of any part of the fee therefor by that reporter, does not violate any provision of the Code of Professional Ethics.

It is also the opinion of the Committee that for the reporter to report proceedings involving other members of the spouse’s law firm would be a violation of Provisions 1 and 3 of the Code of Professional Ethics unless:

  1. Full disclosure of the relationship is made to all parties as soon as known.
  2. An agreement is reached by all counsel that there is no objection to the reporter’s reporting the deposition, and that such stipulation is stated on the record prior to commencement of the deposition,
  3. The reporter’s certificate conforms with the above facts.

The applicable provisions of the Code of Professional Ethics state that the member shall:

No. 1. Be fair and impartial toward each participant in all aspects of reported proceedings, and always offer to provide comparable services to all parties in a proceeding.

No. 3. Guard against not only the fact but the appearance of impropriety.

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COPE: Like, share, post

By Marianne Cammarota

One of the first things I do when I log on to my computer is check my social media pages. I like to see the beautiful pictures of the flora and fauna of Nevada my friend Karen Yates has posted. I can’t wait to see the Case CATalyst tip Cindi Lynch has posted. And of course, all my stitching friends have posted their wonderful handiwork for me to ooh and aah about. I like to read about what my friends are doing because they keep me on a positive path, they inspire me, and they bring joy into my life.

Social media and technology have brought us all closer together, even though we may be thousands of miles apart or in another country. We are just a click away from our best friends 24/7.  It’s so easy to say whatever is at the forefront of our minds, sometimes without thinking about how it may appear to thousands of others who may be reading it.

I have been a reporter for a long time, longer than I like to say. Attorneys in New Jersey know me, and they talk to me about all kinds of things. It is distressing to hear them speak about court reporters texting while reporting a deposition – and I don’t mean during a break. No one would like a plastic surgeon to be texting while getting a rhinoplasty.

I have seen some reporters post messages that are less than courteous responses to others simply because they think their opinion is more worthy. And at the worst end of the spectrum, I’ve read some grievous posts that could be considered criminal in nature.

The profession doesn’t look good when an attorney says, “Do I now have to have a paralegal scanning the court reporter forums for posts about what may have happened during my deposition that he or she feels is unfair, unjust, or just plain doesn’t like me?”

We are sometimes caught up in the nitty-gritty of our everyday reporting life, keeping up with the latest and greatest technology. We must learn all the rules and regulations of our local, state, and national associations and boards. Sometimes all this information bears down on us so heavily that we forget the simplest rules that do us the most good.

Our Code of Professional Ethics states: A member shall maintain the integrity of the reporting profession. Sounds simple and easy. But every time we write an angry response, post a nasty, ill-natured complaint, or do a discourtesy, we chip away at the profession.

A Mexican proverb says, “Tell me who your friends are and I’ll tell you who you are.” If we can keep our posts positive, we can do no harm.

Marianne Cammarota, RDR, CRR, is a freelance reporter in Bridgewater, N.J. and a member of the NCRA Committee on Professional Ethics.