Speak up about what we can do for our clients

Sandy Bunch VanderPol

By Sandy Bunch VanderPol

Every day, day after day, when we set up our steno machine, we do what we are trained to do: report the proceedings; create a verbatim record; and provide the record to the client. We are the “Guardians of the Record;” we are often the only neutral, disinterested person in the proceeding; we are trusted by all parties to be a professional in the room, a protector of their record. This is our job. We all understand the importance of our job and why we are an integral part of the judicial process. But what if there’s more to our job? Is there even more to our job? I think there is, and this other part of the job is truly why I’m passionate about court reporting.

In the 1980s, doing my job every day, I became restless and even bored. Boredom with the job and uncertainty about the future of court reporting became a part of my thoughts every day.

Today, 35 years later, I’m still reporting and passionate about court reporting. What changed? The purpose of my job changed.

Opportunities abounded with the introduction of technology into our profession. This was a chance to market something new to my clients, value-added services that, I was hoping, all of my clients would certainly be desirous of and be eager to pay for. This was a chance to speak up about what I could do for the attorneys, what I could add to the litigation process beyond the creation of the verbatim record. I was super-excited and rejuvenated in my job, stoked about the prospect of adding value to the litigation process, becoming an integral part of the “team” in the litigation process — not just the silent person at the end of the table.

Now the hard part — moving forward with the marketing, first, of rough draft transcripts, which would soon include interactive realtime reporting, remote realtime streaming, litigation support programs, videotaping of proceedings, syncing the videotapes, transcript repositories, electronic delivery of transcripts, hyperlinking exhibits to the transcripts, marking and distributing exhibits electronically at depositions, and on and on. This is a new world for court reporting, I thought, and I wanted to be the first in my area to market this technology. I had to learn to market to attorneys. Without any education beyond high school and court reporting school, I wasn’t sure what to do. I guess you could say I was a bit tongue-tied.

My plan was a simple one at the time, a three-step process: a plan to educate, demonstrate, and sell my clients and potential clients on the new technology. At every job, every day, there was an opportunity for me to implement my plan. At each deposition I was reporting, I took the time to set up the equipment for realtime, electronic exhibits, or whatever value-added service I was marketing. At the appropriate time, the education process began with a simple explanation of the service I was selling, the time and dollars it would save the attorney/litigant, and a free demo day of the service. I’m sure many of you are thinking: “I can’t speak up and have this kind of conversation with attorneys. I’m too nervous. It’s not my job, it’s the firm owner’s job to market. I might not have the answers to all the questions. I don’t entirely understand the nuances of the technology to market it.” All of these concerns are legitimate and concerns that I personally had. Don’t let the concerns or fears stop you from implementing your plan. Your reward is just around the corner.

I want to share some of my tips for success in marketing our value-added services. Hopefully they may be of help to many of you. I’m sure some of you may have other tips to share, and I would encourage you to write to our NCRA editor, share them with her, so we can all benefit from them. [Ed. Note: Sandy is right; we’re always looking for business tips. Send them to jschmidt@ncra.org.]

PREPARATION: Have a plan for each day you market your technology. What technology are you marketing? Who is the audience (corporate counsel, IP counsel, workers’ comp)? An example of my preparation for interactive realtime usually includes bringing my iPads to the deposition, setting them up before counsel arrive, outputting on my CAT software in the “realtime output options” to my remote streaming account (in case there are attendees appearing remotely via telephone, I can send them the link and session code/password to the stream), and creating a job dictionary for the deposition.

IMPLEMENTATION: When counsel enter the room, confidence and professionalism should exude from you. Some reminders to ensure this professionalism are to stand when counsel enter, shake their hands, introduce yourself and the firm you are representing. Always dress in a professional manner. I like to be one of the best-dressed people in the room. Once the introductions are made and the lawyers now have a feeling of trust, I’ve found this may be the best time to state to them that you have realtime set up and ask if they would like to use the service. My experience has been that more than 50 percent of the time they do decide to use the service. Most counsel nowadays know what realtime reporting is, so the educational process may not be necessary, other than to quickly show them the few needed features of the realtime viewing software they would need to browse and restart realtime. Have a document prepared for those who are not familiar with realtime, touting its benefits to the litigation process.

After the deposition/proceeding has concluded, the opportunity arises for you to sell a rough draft transcript. Attorneys in our current time want information now, including our transcripts. Use this time, at the end of the deposition, to announce that a rough draft is available upon request and can be delivered within 15 minutes, or whatever time you can get it to them. If one side orders a rough, it is likely the other side will too. I would highly recommend attending the seminar on “Creating the Demand for Drafts (Life in the Fast Lane)” by Ed Varallo, FAPR, RMR, CRR. Varallo has a wealth of knowledge on this topic and has had great success in selling rough drafts at his depositions.

In my marketing to attorneys over the last three-plus decades, I have found some things are consistent in what attorneys are looking for:

• Focus your marketing on what attorneys need: saving them time and money.
• Information now! Sell your value-added service(s) with this slogan.
• Continuing education: Set up brown bag lunches with continuing legal education credits to educate attorneys on your services.
• Professionalism: You are a part of the “team,” and professionalism ensures the trust you deserve.
• A sense of humor: Make ‘em laugh with an anecdotal story when promoting a technology. We all have those “funny” stories about our technology.
• Attorneys usually follow what others have done. Share the success stories of the attorneys who have taken advantage of the services you offer.

Remember, if you don’t speak up about your value-added service, they won’t know about it. Step out of your comfort zone and be the marketer you can be.

Sandy Bunch VanderPol, FAPR, RMR, CRR, is a freelancer in Lotus, Calif. She also holds NCRA’s Realtime Systems Administrator credential. She can be reached at realtimecsr@calweb.com.

Sandy VanderPol, who is an NCRF Trustee, wrote this article on behalf of the National Court Reporter Foundation’s Corrinne Clark Professionalism Institute. Established in 2015, the Corrinne Clark Professionalism Institute is dedicated to aiding the education of court reporting students and new professionals about professionalism, branding, and building a successful career. Named for the late Corrinne Clark, wife of the late Robert H. Clark, NCRA’s longest tenured librarian/historian, the Institute was made possible by a generous donation contributed by Donna Hamer, Santa Paula, Calif., Robert’s cousin.

Court reporting firm owners, should you always say yes?

A recent blog posted by Strategic Business Directs gives insight into situations where court reporting firm owners should consider saying no to a job.

Read more.

“Accountability” is the word

Kathy May, RPR, president of Alpha Reporting, based in Memphis, Tenn.,  wrote about her experience at the NCRA 2018 Firm Owners Executive Conference. This year, based on what May learned at the conference, she chose “accountability” as the byword for her company, she explained in a blog post on the company website.

Read more.

Realtime: It’s worth it

By Keith Lemons

THE STRUGGLE IS REAL. That’s a saying for just about everything nowadays. As court reporters, we know that it is real every day, all day long. When I was a puppy reporter, I had a judge who used to tell me, “Don’t interrupt anymore. Just throw up your hands when they’re talking too fast or on top of each other.” The problem with that is that whenever she said that in a transcript, the appellate court would naturally wonder what I left out. So I decided that I had to get better. I concentrated on learning how to brief on the fly, get longer phrases in one stroke, and write for the computer instead of myself.

I started out my career with the wonderful world of court reporting computers. All of them were written in dedicated computer systems that did not cross over for any other CAT program. As a matter of fact, you couldn’t even search the Internet or type a Word document or run an Excel spreadsheet because none of that had even been thought of yet. But we, the court reporters, had a marvelous new toy that made our work both harder and more meaningful. Imagine, if you will, being able to type two pages a minute when you used to only get one page per five minutes.

The struggle was real to try to figure out how to load a dictionary, how to write a dictionary, how to use a dictionary, how to edit a dictionary — all on a 2-megabyte disk — how to remember to plug in the machine, how to figure out if the cassette reader was really writing or reading that 300-page medical malpractice trial day you just had. But we learned. We adapted. We had to if we wanted to help our agency pay for that $50,000 Baron Data Center.

Later, when I became an official, I wrote for my newest piece of technology, the Baron Solo. It had 5-½-inch, dual floppy drives. The struggle was real to remember how to use this new technology and never, ever, ever use your magnet in the same room as your computer. (We had an electronic magnet system that bulk-erased our cassette tapes for the machines. If you used it near the computer, you risked either wiping out your floppies or causing damage to the electronics in the computer itself.) Then came the Microsoft revolution. We had yet one more machine to buy and one more operating system to learn. This one came with WordPerfect and learning the wonderful works of macros. No more Cardex! The struggle was so real that I accidentally wiped out my entire operating system trying to clear a message that popped up on my welcome screen.

Now we had to buy a new machine with a floppy disk drive in it. The struggle was real. In the early days of these marvelous inventions, we spent tens of thousands of dollars upgrading, upgrading, upgrading, all with no such thing as a legacy fallback.

The 24-pin dot matrix printer revolutionized multiple copy printing — that is, unless you figured in the hours spent trying to separate those carbon pages without destroying your clothing in the process. That struggle was real. So was ink in the machine. Try changing a ribbon without making everything around you purple.

Then the struggle became really, really interesting. In the latter half of the 1990s, a CAT program made real-time court reporting a reality. I got to watch a reporter write from her machine and have real words show up within seconds on a computer screen. I have no idea if her writing was pristine or 1 percent or even 5 percent untranslates. All I knew is it was beautiful. Music filled the skies; my heart was full. For the first time in a long time, I really wanted to be a part of something. It wasn’t just about the money anymore. It was something so new and so grand that I couldn’t even envision the possibilities of the future with it.

So I learned it. I bought more equipment, and I learned wiring and splitting and sending and receiving. It was a real struggle. I showed it to my boss, the judge. She didn’t want to have anything to do with it. But I was enthusiastic about it, so I kept asking her if I could just put a computer on the bench to see if my wiring was correct. She relented, but she made me turn the monitor to where she wouldn’t have to look at it. But she didn’t ever tell me to take it down. Pretty soon, she wanted me to angle the monitor so it would be more visible when she wanted to see the attorneys’ objections. Then she wanted to learn how to scroll backwards, then to search, then to write notes. Eureka!

Realtime (without the hyphen) had come of age. Next struggle was to get other court reporters to accept that our future was in realtime reporting. I felt like the most hated court reporter in the state at times because I provided something that 16 other judges in Wyoming weren’t getting. But when they saw it, they wanted it. (Without extra compensation, of course.)

Little did I know that this struggle would become the thrust of my presentations and seminars for the next 16-plus years. Of course, I’m talking about realtime for the average reporter.

Now the struggle is real because in order to become a realtime writer, we need to put away the things that we learned as a new reporter, that we thought as a new reporter, that we expected as a new reporter. We need to remember that the struggle is not with the machine, it is with our own expectations. We need to struggle to get to the next level of court reporting to make a difference, either in writing realtime or captioning.

The struggle is real; the rewards are great. Two months ago, I was taking a medical malpractice jury trial with several prominent attorneys, one of whom was intensely hard of hearing. I’ve been gently suggesting to him that realtime could help him. Finally, I just did what I did with my judge those many years ago. I put the realtime on his table and told him that it was free; but if he liked it, I would start charging the next day.

During the trial, this attorney would bring the iPad to bench conferences so he could see what was being whispered — something he hasn’t been able to do for years. Both attorneys used their iPads during the instruction conference to see what the construction of their sentences would look like on their jury charge. That reluctant attorney? He now has set two jury trials with me for the beginning of the year — with realtime. Two weeks ago, I did a realtime feed for a woman who was profoundly deaf, deaf from birth, who read lips but never learned American Sign Language. She read lips, but watched my screen like a hawk. She even got a kick out of a mistran or two that I made.

I know the struggle is real. This job can be the most difficult struggle day in and day out. But with our own self-improvement, learning realtime and becoming accomplished at it makes that struggle turn into satisfied accomplishment. I’m loving that struggle. You will too.

JCR Contributing Editor Keith Lemons, RPR, CRR, can be reached at k.lemons@comcast.net. This article was written on behalf of NCRA’s Realtime and Technology Resource Committee, of which Lemons is a member.

TAKE-AWAYS: How Firm Owners Executive Conference led two companies to a merger success

Following one of the NCRA Firm Owners Executive Conferences, attendee Robin Smith decided to take steps on an idea she had earlier brushed aside. Encouraged by a comment, she decided to approach a second court reporting firm to see if the owners were interested in merging. The JCR asked Smith and business partner Gail McLucas, RPR, to take us through their process.

Smith, although not a court reporter herself, grew up in a court reporting family. She found the business side of court reporting fascinating, and with a degree in business management, became an integral part of her family’s business.

JCR | How long have you been going to the NCRA Firm Owners Executive Conference?

SMITH | I attended two Firm Owners conferences, one in Sarasota, Fla., and one in Dana Point, Calif. They were several years ago; and while I don’t remember anything specific, I do remember appreciating the opportunity to meet other firm owners and realizing that we all face similar challenges.

I attended the conference in Arizona last year, and Gail and I both attended this year’s conference in St. Pete Beach. I found the conference this year very worthwhile — lots of opportunities to network as well as practical and useful business knowledge. We came away with the realization of two things that we can do better and have begun to take action on them.

MCLUCAS | This year’s Firm Owners convention in St. Pete, Fla., was the first Firm Owners convention I’ve attended.

JCR | What was the impetus for the merger of your two firms?

SMITH | The economic surveys were what started everything. I’ve never been one for completing surveys, but I have completed every one of the economic surveys, maybe because of my experiences at the conferences. When you complete the survey, you receive the survey reports. And this quote from the 2011 report is what started us on this journey: “When asked about economic indicators and what he or she looks for to gauge whether business is about to pick up, he/she responded this way: ‘I am merging with another small company to create a larger company based on the Firm Owners results reported in February 2011.’”

MCLUCAS | It was spring of 2013 when Robin called me and asked me to have lunch with her. The purpose of the lunch was ultimately to discuss the possibility of merging our firms; and upon hearing it, I considered it a wonderful idea.

JCR | Can you give a little bit of history about your firm as well as the history of the firm you eventually merged with?

SMITH | Geiger Loria Reporting was started in 1950 by George Geiger (my stepfather). He was an official for Dauphin County in Harrisburg, Pa., and started a freelance firm as well. Virginia Loria (my mother) joined him in the early 1970s, and so we are a court reporting family. Both my sisters, Helena Bowes and Sherry Bryant, are court reporters. Except for me. I’ve always done the business side of things.

MCLUCAS | I graduated with an Associate’s Degree in Court Reporting in June of 1974. From then until the end of 1980, I worked as an official at York County Courthouse. I started working for Geiger Loria in January of 1981. My former business partner, Joyce Filius, and I both worked together at Geiger Loria Reporting Service from 1981 until 1983. We were both from the York area, which is about 40 miles south of Harrisburg, and at the time we saw a need for a court reporting service in the York area. So Filius & McLucas Reporting began in August of 1983.

JCR | Robin, how did you approach Gail with your idea?

SMITH | You know how you have an idea and you think it’s great at first and then you talk yourself out of it? That’s exactly what I did: I talked myself out of it. It wasn’t until I was working with a business consultant and mentioned that I had this idea once and dismissed it. Well, he didn’t. He encouraged me to set up a meeting with Filius and McLucas and, as scared as I was, I did.

MCLUCAS | I was kind of curious about the call for lunch from Robin; however, we would see each other every so often at PCRA luncheons or events. But there was never an ongoing meeting with each other outside of that. But when the idea of a merger was presented to me, I was absolutely thrilled about the whole idea. I knew my business partner, Joyce Filius, was looking to retire and I certainly wasn’t ready to make that move in my life. I, too, have always been a firm believer in there’s force in numbers. So the idea of bringing two firms of comparable size together seemed to be a wonderful idea to me.

JCR | What were some of the issues that you had to work out to make the merger happen?

SMITH | Everything! After a lot of discussion, we decided to start from scratch, create a whole new company with the four of us as owners (myself, Gail, Helena Bowes, RPR, and Sherry J. Bryant, RPR, CRR) and wind down operations of our current companies. Then things became easier to figure out. There are so many things to consider and so many things you didn’t think to consider. It was a very hectic time.

MCLUCAS | I think the initial decision that needed to be worked out was whether there was actually going to be a purchase of assets by one company or the other or a mere “merger” of the firms without the exchange of purchase money. When we discussed the assets that each company had accumulated over the years, we found that we had enough to put together two “households.” After all, a merger is almost like a marriage. We had enough to comfortably supply two office spaces (one in Harrisburg and one in York). Each partner put a small amount of capital into the firm to get it up and running and applied for a line of credit to initially cover payroll and some of our start-up costs. Of course, a name for the new venture is always a consideration. And although it’s a mouthful, we decided to keep the two names of the firms and just run them together because they were well-recognized in the area for over 30 years.

JCR | How long did it take to merge the two firms?

MCLUCAS | We started talking in the spring of 2013 and were hopefully going to have it culminate in September 2013. At first, we had a business consultant involved. But we were not getting answers very quickly from him, so we took it upon ourselves to make the merger happen on our own. That, of course, involved a little more time, and we actually began the merged company, Geiger Loria Filius McLucas Reporting, LLC, on January 1, 2014.

SMITH | From that point, I feel it took two years until everything started to gel. The first year is just a blur. We had to put out a lot of fires and just hang on for dear life. The second year, things started to even out, and we could begin to focus on the bigger picture. 2018 will be our fifth year together, and it’s gone really, really fast.

JCR | What are some of the benefits of merging?

MCLUCAS | I feel the benefits of merging were immense, although scary at first. We were bringing the reporters of the two firms together for the first time, who had been with each of us for 15 to 20 years. Like a marriage, we weren’t too sure how all of our “children” were going to get along. But the benefits have outweighed our fright, and overall the merger has given us a bigger and stronger firm than we both had separately. Also, because I’ve always been “just a reporter,” I really appreciate Robin’s business acumen and her contribution in that respect to the newly-formed company. I always enjoyed the client contact and reporting aspect of the business, but not so much the financial side and forethought that it takes to run a truly successful business.

SMITH | We are stronger together. Together we have more resources, and that helps us to handle the ups and downs of not only day-to-day things but the ups and downs that are inherent in any business and industry.

JCR | Were there any obstacles that you had to deal with after the merger was completed? Were those things that you knew about in advance and had been prepared for, or did they take you by surprise?

MCLUCAS | As with any new business, there are always obstacles that you are presented with and have to deal with on a daily basis. The biggest initial obstacle was we moved not only the Harrisburg office, but we moved the York office (and may I say three times) before we were finally settled in. We were lucky enough to keep the office manager that was with F&M for 22 plus years, and that was sincerely a stabilizing factor for both of us. The building we moved into in January of 2014 didn’t have a permanent space for us until the middle of February. So we moved in February to a space, only to find that within a year we quickly outgrew that space and needed to move to a larger suite in the same building that we have been in since.

The other big hurdle that I think every new business faces is finances. We had a substantial amount of start-up costs; and until all our clients settled back into working with us together, it was a little rough at first. But I don’t think any of this took us by surprise; it was just learning how best to deal with the circumstances we were dealt. And as they say, if it doesn’t kill you, it will only make you stronger – and stronger I feel we are today!

SMITH | I wholeheartedly agree. Because we chose to start from scratch, the financial side of things probably was our biggest obstacle. We were spending money before we even opened our doors; and that took longer to recover from than we had anticipated or planned for.

JCR | Was there something specific about the situation that made it seem like a good idea to merge? Are there conditions that you could describe for someone else so that they might recognize a similar situation?

SMITH | The way we operated our firms on a day-to-day basis was very similar, our values and commitment were closely aligned, and we were in different regional markets so we each brought a different client base to the new firm.

MCLUCAS | I think the main thing that made it seem like it was a really good idea was when we compared financial information. It was like holding two identical companies side by side. But as in running two households, running two businesses is always more expensive than one good, strong one together. For me, that is what really made the situation seem real and that it was a good decision to be made.

I think the partners also have to recognize whether they will be able to work together amicably and not have one be so overpowering as to not consider the other’s opinion. As partners we’ve been able to communicate openly about all things involving the business, and there are no secrets kept from anyone about anything. I think an open and informed relationship is the only kind to have.

JCR | Is there any advice that you would offer to someone who is interested in merging two firms?

SMITH | I think it’s important if you’re going to be essentially handing over your business to someone and they are handing theirs to you and you’re going to be working together, that you like, respect, and trust that person. I’m not sure that’s something that I consciously thought of before we started down this path, and I realize now how important that was and still is.

MCLUCAS | I would say the most important factor is getting to know your potential partner as well as possible. Robin and I set regularly scheduled meetings with each other over the course of nine months before we finally made the merger happen. I hate to keep likening this merger to a marriage; but if you don’t have common goals and ideas as the person you’re going into business with, it could turn out to be a disastrous idea and will only cause heartache and failure. However, 2018 will be our fifth year in this merged company together and I couldn’t be happier with how everything has turned out for the two firms. I’m almost positive [that we] would not have been as successful if we had stayed two separate firms for this period of time.

Q&A: The art of presentations, with Steve Clark

Steve Clark, CRC

Steve Clark, CRC

Captioner Steve Clark, CRC, based in Washington, D.C., recently visited NCRA headquarters to demonstrate realtime and captioning skills to staff. Steve has an engaging presentation style and lots of experience sharing his story with various audiences, so the JCR Weekly asked him to provide some insight and advice for other captioners, court reporters, and legal videographers on the keys to successful group presentations.

JCR | Can you tell us a little bit about your presentations and what they are used for?

SC | I have about six slide shows that I can choose from, depending on the group I am presenting to and the length of time for which I am asked to present.

One slide show, for example, is a basic “What is CART Captioning?” presentation. This presentation has about 15 slides and introduces potential clients to the basics of onsite and remote CART captioning – how it works, who it benefits, and steps to take to request and set up CART captioning services.

Another slide show is geared toward students and explains how the steno machine works, what CART captioning is, who is a good candidate for this career, and the necessary steps to get started as a student. This slide show can also be used when speaking to civic groups or deaf and hard-of-hearing groups about what we do and how we do it – in other words, answering the common question of “How does that little machine work?”

I have a slide show that I use when speaking to professional court reporting and captioning associations, particularly focused on writing theories and shortcuts for briefing. This slide show can be used for a shorter presentation of 60-90 minutes. I also have created an expanded version of this last slide show. This expanded version is for an all-day presentation to fellow professionals. And I have specialized presentations when speaking to a group about, for example, sports captioning or stadium captioning.

JCR | What are the most important points that you feel you need to cover in your presentation?

SC | It really depends on the audience. If my goal is to help a general audience to understand what we do and how we do it, it is important to explain the basics of the steno machine and why we still use it, particularly why I feel it is the best and most accurate way to produce realtime captions. If I am presenting to a group of fellow captioners or court reporters, I can move more quickly, but I feel it is always important to leave plenty of time for Q&A, which the group of fellow professionals will surely have.

JCR | Do you get nervous about presenting to people? Do you have any suggestions for getting over being nervous?

SC | Now when I present, I don’t get nervous. When I first started presenting, I certainly did get nervous. My three suggestions for not getting nervous are:

  1. Be yourself, but be professional, courteous, and make everyone feel welcome. Speak naturally, but slowly enough that your audience can really absorb what you are saying. And try to speak properly – no “like” and “you know” or other filler words. Having been an audience member, I find that concise speakers are the most attractive speakers.
  2. Know your material. Practice, practice, practice. This means practicing your presentation out loud at least five times. Practice makes perfect.
  3. When I first started presenting and felt the nerves coming on, I would remind myself: “I am the most qualified person in the room to be doing this presentation.” That isn’t meant to sound arrogant or cocky, but rather to remind me that I have worked hard to get to this point; I have worked hard on this presentation and these slides; and I have the ability to present and to present well.

JCR | How does giving presentations help you or your business?

SC | Giving presentations has been a tremendous help to me personally as well as to my business. Whether I am giving a two-minute explanation to a client or audience member during a break at an onsite job or I am presenting to a room of perhaps 100 people, I am representing me, my business, this career, and anyone who counts on the service I am providing. Therefore, it is really important to develop good communication skills, but likewise good listening skills.

JCR | As a captioner, you probably see a fair amount of presentations yourself. Have you seen anything – other than captioning – that sets off a really great presentation from a mediocre one? Have you learned anything from them that you’ve been able to incorporate into your own presentations?

SC | As stated above, the best speakers, in my opinion, are concise, well-spoken, and well-prepared. A good speaker is also a good listener. When I am presenting, if there is a question or comment, I always try to do what I have seen many outstanding speakers do over the years – allow the question or comment to be stated, wait patiently and respectfully, thank the person, and then answer the question as asked. You always want your audience members to know that you value them and that you want them to be a part of this presentation, too.

I also learned from a seasoned member of the court reporting association I belonged to early on in my career that it is important to be deferential. Don’t be afraid to recognize the expertise of others and the tremendous things that the younger, up-and-coming professionals are doing in this field. Give credit where credit is due.

JCR | Do you have any advice for other court reporters or captioners on how to give presentations? Is there a good place to start?

SC | The first few times I presented, I was part of a panel. I was the junior member of the panel, meaning that all of the other panelists had 10 years or more of experience. I had only a year or two. Working on a panel allowed me to hone my skills as a presenter and to improve my slide-creation skills. Listen to how others speak, copy the formatting of others’ slides, and emulate the speakers you like. It is true that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

HLAA or similar groups are really receptive and are good places to begin. State or local court reporting associations are also great audiences for someone just starting out as a speaker or presenter.

JCR | A few days ago, someone sent an email about how being a speaker at an event is good for introverts because it gives them something that other people can approach them about and gives them something to talk about that isn’t small talk. Do you find this true?

SC | I definitely agree. And for introverts, it focuses the conversation on a topic that they can have some control over and that they are prepared to speak about. Once you get the speaking bug, though, you stop being an introvert.

JCR | Is there anything else you’d like to add?

SC | Two years ago at NCRA’s convention in Chicago, I was walking through the vendor area, just looking at different products and services being offered. A gentleman approached me and said, “Excuse me, are you Steve Clark?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “You probably don’t remember me, but I remember you. I’ve been hoping for some time that I would run into you again. I saw you speak to our state association in Massachusetts in 1999, and I want you to know what an impact you had on me.”

He went on to tell me how I inspired him to change his writing, to improve his realtime skills, and he wanted me to know that he even went on to present a few times to state associations and other groups.

That is why I love presenting and speaking. You don’t always know it, and sometimes you don’t find out until almost 20 years later, but you can make a difference, and you can influence someone, both professionally and personally. Anyone who is considering speaking or presenting – stop considering it. Do it! You’ll be glad you did.

 

WORKING TOGETHER: How’s your audio?

By Mindy Sindiong

Part of a CLVS’s training is to provide great video and audio for our clients. However, we have two clients: the attorney(s) and the court reporter. Yes, I said court reporter. Part of our job is to offer the court reporter some form of audio, whether it be a live feed from our audio mixer or a digital computer file recorded onto an SD card. The better audio we provide, the more court reporters will want and request to work with a CLVS. I’ll get more into the relationship between a CLVS videographer and a court reporter in a moment. First, I want to discuss the importance of the audio.

The CLVS program teaches a CLVS the audio chain, meaning audio should come from wired microphones to the mixer, from the mixer to the video recording devices, and, from there, into a monitoring device, otherwise known as headphones. Unfortunately, many videographers seem to forget the importance of audio in video. We are sometimes swayed by the technical specs of that new camera that just came out. We want the video aspect of it to look great on that new 4K video monitor. Can we see every line on someone’s face? And, in the process, audio sometimes falls to the wayside. This is a shame because, in reality, the audio is of utmost importance, especially in video depositions. The testimony is the deposition. Try an experiment. Turn on the TV with the sound turned down and watch for a few minutes. Turn the sound up and turn your eyes away from the TV and just listen. In most cases, you will get a better understanding of what is happening by listening rather than watching. Now, mind you, I am not disregarding the importance of the video portion of a recorded deposition. Studies have shown that much of how we communicate is through body language, but that would be a different article.

A good audio recording will also capture the nuances of the spoken word. Is the voice changing in pitch? Is the speech speeding up or slowing down? How long was that pause before the answer? Did that question seem to come out right? These telltale signs are all an important part of communication. If the video-recorded deposition has audio that has a lot of distracting noise, noise that can come from a bad connection, poor quality microphones, an audio mixer that introduces a bad hum sound, and so on, then the spoken voice starts losing its relevance to the listener. That is why the CLVS training stresses the importance of setting up, monitoring, and troubleshooting your audio chain.

Back to the relationship with the court reporter. As I said before, we also teach a CLVS to offer the court reporter some sort of way to monitor the audio, whether it be a live feed or a recording. Court reporters should also be prepared for working with a CLVS and may need to know how to make some audio adjustments on their end and be able turn up or down the input levels on their laptops. Being prepared to make these minor adjustments has huge payoffs in the quality of the audio for scoping and proofing later.

Being able to offer a high-quality live feed to the reporter can have other benefits. I can’t tell you how many times we have done depositions during which one of the participants was extremely soft spoken. Having a microphone on the witness and being able to boost that audio signal through the mixer can make all the difference in the world. The court reporter will be very thankful to be able to hear that witness loud and clear using a headset. I’ve always felt that if you take care of the court reporter, he or she will take care of you. In this business, I believe the court reporter is my most valued partner and friend.

Mindy Sindiong, CLVS, of Lawrenceberg, Ind., is a member of NCRA’s Certified Legal Video Specialist Council. She can be reached at Mindy@DeBeneEsseMedia.com.

 

High-profile trials in a high-profile city

By Monette Benoit and Anthony Frisolone

They say, “The lights shine brightly on Broadway.” Those people have obviously never been inside a courtroom in New York City where on most days, high drama plays out across the city, and the official court reporters of the federal and state courts are there to cover every word of the action!

Just south and east from the stages of Broadway, in Brooklyn, N.Y., at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge, sits the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York (EDNY), where many high-profile cases have taken place. The variety of cases heard there are as diverse as the city itself — organized crime, terrorism, securities fraud, and complex civil cases — and have resulted in many thousands of pages of transcript produced by EDNY’s court reporting staff. Open the local papers or scan the headlines and the names are familiar — Martin Skhreli, John Gotti, Peter Gaitien, Najibullah Zazi, and many others who have all come through these doors of what was once described as a “little country court.”

How does an official reporter or a staff of reporters handle a high-profile federal trial proceeding? Let’s explore some of the procedures that are employed by the EDNY reporters to ensure a successful trial. Initially, after a criminal defendant is charged and arraigned, or a civil case is filed, a district judge is assigned the case via “the wheel.” The wheel is a random selection process to spread the workload amongst all members of the Eastern District Bench. Federal courts also employ magistrate judges who work with the district judges. Their role is to handle discovery issues for the district judge. Magistrates can also take change of plea proceedings and may conduct evidentiary hearings.

The reporters in EDNY work on an approximate 20-week rotating basis, meaning each official serves with a judge for five days, then the reporter moves to the next judge in the schedule. In the context of a trial, the reporter assigned to the court is the principal for that week, who is then assisted by members of the court reporting staff who may have a light calendar and may be available to help the principal.

In EDNY, the staff works in teams of three reporters. Each reporter takes a one-hour portion of the trial, is then relieved by the next reporter, and then the next. This allows the first reporter, the principal, one to two hours to transcribe their portion — depending on how the trial day is divided. Relief times are adjusted according to delays in the proceedings or a shortened or elongated trial day. The goal is that each member of the trial team gets a close-to-equal share of the trial as the other members of the team.

The duties of the principal reporter for the case include: keeping track of each assisting reporter on a case, tracking everyone’s pages using a tally sheet, and communicating with the parties to obtain correct ‘order’ information. A majority of the trials that the reporters cover are ordered as a daily or an immediate copy, so teamwork and communication are the keys to success. The reporters also handle their own production of transcripts, which includes printing and binding of transcripts as well as emailing, troubleshooting realtime connections, billing parties, and paying the assisting reporters. It’s not unusual for one reporter to be underneath a desk troubleshooting a connection while another reporter is writing.

Preparation for a high-profile trial, or any trial, begins with solid preparation. Usually, on Thursday or Friday before each case begins, the principal reporter will create a glossary of terms for the case by scanning the Electronic Case Filing system that the federal courts employ.

We also try to work with the attorneys on each case to get a witness list and possibly a CD or any bindings of any exhibits that will be used during trial. In criminal cases, we understandably won’t receive that information until the day of trial due to rules that the U.S. Attorney’s Office has set as well as the Section 3500 obligations. Once the glossary is complete, it is then distributed amongst the staff members. In cases where technical terms or foreign names will be mentioned, we will research and double-check for the correct spelling.

Sometimes, additional research is required to ensure transcript accuracy. Preparation is made easier thanks to some of the case preparation features now found in our CAT software. These functionalities allow for the analysis of transcripts, and then from the lists, we can build those words into our job dictionaries.

Since the EDNY has the largest terrorism docket in the United States, this is especially important since a majority of cases involve military terms, foreign names, foreign locations, and other foreign terminology. Just as an example, there are at least six ways to spell Mohammed. In one trial, there were two defendants named Sayed and Said as well as a witness named Sayeed — all of them pronounced SIGH-eed.

In terrorism cases, it is required that district official reporters also obtain TS/SCI security clearance in order to report classified proceedings under the Classified Information Procedures Act. TS/SCI stands for Top Secret/Secured Compartmentalized Information. The process for receiving this clearance requires an extensive background check, as well as interviews of each candidate, friends, and past employers.

When realtime is provided, we use a switch box with four connections for the officials to connect their computers and equipment. At the beginning of each day, at least two reporters connect their computers to the switch box. Now, when switching takes place, we do what’s called
a “silent switch” where the switch occurs on the next question. The switch is signaled by a nod of the head or even a tap on the shoulder. When this occurs, the first reporter stops writing and the second starts. In the realtime context, the first reporter then moves the switch box to the letter on the box that the relief reporters have assigned themselves. You know that the switch is truly silent when no one notices us entering or leaving the courtroom!

This is just a quick sketch of how one courthouse handles big cases. The truth is that we handle every case like it is a big case because that’s what we require of ourselves.

Monette Benoit, CRI, CPE, B.A., who is based in San Antonio, Texas, is a captioner and agency owner as well as an author of several books. She can be reached through her blog at monettebenoit.com.

Anthony D. Frisolone, FAPR, RDR, CRR, CRC, CRI, is an official court reporter in the Eastern District of New York. He can be reached at AFrisolone@aol.com. He expresses his appreciation of the 25 official court reporters in the Eastern District of New York who, he says, “are some of the most talented and hard-working reporters I’ve ever had the privilege to work with, and this is why I keep showing up to work every day!”

Special hotel rates expire Jan. 5 for 2018 NCRA Firm Owners Executive Conference

Take advantage of the specially negotiated hotel room rates at the beautiful Don Cesar hotel in St. Pete Beach, Fla. These rates expire Jan. 5. The luxurious Don CeSar hotel plays host to this year’s NCRA Firm Owners Executive Conference taking place Jan. 28-30. The deadline to register for this business-focused conference is Jan. 12.

Attendees, including freelancers and owners of firms of all sizes, can expect an agenda rich with innovative, interactive, and inspiring sessions led by some of the best leaders in today’s business world.

Inspiring speakers

Keynote speaker John Spence, one of the top 100 business thought leaders in the nation, will share his insights into achieving business excellence. He will also present his most intensive business improvement workshop, specifically created to help management teams take a hard, honest look at their businesses to determine exactly where their strengths and weaknesses are. The workshop will also help participants create focused plans for how to succeed at a higher level in the marketplace. Watch Spence’s personal invitation to Firm Owners.

Chris Hearing and Greg Laubach will present an interactive session entitled “Managing to Maximize Business Value.” The presentation will focus on creating short-term profits and business value so attendees can learn how to plan as if they will run their business forever but act as if they’ll sell it tomorrow.

SEO strategist, internet marketing educator, and owner of the Tampa SEO Training Academy, Steve Scott will lead a session dedicated to business marketing on the Web. He will touch on the secrets to search engine optimization (SEO) success, tactics and techniques for online marketing, and social media marketing, among other topics.

Ample networking

Numerous networking opportunities include the “Build-It, Mix-It, Who Will Win It” opening event, reception, and dinner, a networking power half hour, free time during lunch, and a closing reception. Also on the schedule are educational events during breakfast sessions and a special welcome and meet-and-greet with NCRA’s new CEO and Executive Director Marcia Ferranto.

Industry outlook

The annual NCRA State of the Industry session will look at how the court reporting and captioning industry is doing now, what areas firms are developing, and what successes they’re finding – all based on solid, current data. Having a real-world sense of what the industry looks like nationwide will help attendees know where their individual businesses fit into the big picture.

Come join the 2018 NCRA Firm Owners Executive Conference in January and discover what connection or tip will be the one that makes 2018 your best business year yet, no matter what size your company may be. Register now, and don’t miss the special hotel rates set to expire on Jan. 5.

Get insight from top business leaders at the 2018 NCRA Firm Owners Executive Conference


Time is running out to save on registration for the 2018 NCRA Firm Owners Executive Conference in St. Pete Beach, Fla. After Dec. 15, there is a $100 late fee on registration.

This business-focused event promises attendees the opportunity to connect, learn, and energize when they network and participate in invigorating and motivating sessions. The event is from Jan. 28-30 at the luxurious Don Cesar hotel.

The NCRA Firm Owners Executive Conference is the foremost event dedicated to owners of firms of all sizes — including freelancers — to help them increase their business savvy, make new connections, and take home the latest in best practices and strategies for ensuring the continued success of their firms.

“The biggest benefit for me is the opportunity to meet and get to know the respected firm owners from across the country and to see how they address and deal with the same business issues I face every day. Getting to know the colleagues and forging lasting relationships is very special as well,” said Rick Levy, RPR, a freelancer and owner of First Choice Reporting & Video in Miami, Fla. Levy has attended Firm Owners almost every year since 2012. “Networking with the firm owners allows me to feel more comfortable when I must find affiliates to refer my clients to for out of state depositions,” he added.

The 2018 agenda features an array of innovative, interactive, and inspiring sessions led by some of the best leaders in today’s business world. Keynote speaker John Spence, one of the top 100 business thought leaders in the nation, will share his insights into achieving business excellence. He will also present his most intensive business improvement workshop, specifically created to help management teams take a hard, honest look at their business to determine exactly where their strengths and weaknesses are. The workshop will also help participants create a focused plan for how to succeed at a higher level in the marketplace. To learn more about Spence, view his video.

For more than 22 years, Spence has traveled worldwide to help people and businesses be more successful. He is the author of five books and co-author of several more, a business consultant, workshop facilitator, and executive coach with a client list that includes numerous Fortune 500 firms. His areas of expertise include leadership, high-performance teams, managing change, organizational culture, consultative selling, strategic planning, strategy execution, and the future of business.

He has also been recognized as one of the Top 100 Small Business Influencers in America, one of the Top 50 Small Business Experts in America, and one of the top 500 Leadership Development Experts in the World. In addition, the American Management Association named him one of America’s Top 50 Leaders to Watch. He has been a guest lecturer at more than 90 colleges and universities, including MIT, Stanford, Cornell, and the Wharton School of Business.

Building on John Spence’s sessions on developing business excellence and strategic planning, Chris Hearing and Greg Laubach will present a session entitled “Managing to Maximize Business Value.” This interactive presentation will focus on creating short-term profits and business value so attendees can learn how to plan as if they will run their business forever but act as if they’ll sell it tomorrow. Hearing has 30 years of experience as an executive leader, during which he has helped organizations successfully face complex market challenges head-on by identifying and implementing opportunities for revenue growth and operational improvements. Laubach has experience in both the legal and corporate sector. A skilled negotiator and deal closer, Laubach has sourced, negotiated, and closed countless acquisitions, joint ventures, and other business relationships as platforms for growth.

SEO strategist, internet marketing educator, and owner of the Tampa SEO Training Academy, Steve Scott is also scheduled to lead a session dedicated to business marketing on the Web. He will touch on the secrets to search engine optimization (SEO) success, tactics and techniques for online marketing, and social media marketing, among other topics.

Ample networking opportunities are also scheduled including the “Build-It, Mix-It, Who Will Win It” opening event followed by a reception and dinner on Jan. 28. Also on the agenda are a networking power half hour, free time during lunch, and a closing reception. Attendees will also enjoy education events during breakfast sessions and a special welcome and meet-and-greet with NCRA’s new CEO and Executive Director Marcia Ferranto.

Finally, attendees will get access to the annual NCRA State of the Industry. This session will look at how the court reporting and captioning industry is doing now, what areas firms are developing, and what successes they’re finding – all based on solid, current data. Having a real-world sense of what the industry looks like nationwide will help attendees know where their individual businesses fit into the big picture. “This coming year, I hope to take away ideas on what new technologies other firms are using and how they are dealing with the court reporter shortage across the country,” said Levy.

Come join the 2018 NCRA Firm Owners Executive Conference in January and discover what connection or tip will be the one that makes 2018 your best business year yet, no matter what size your company may be. Don’t miss your chance to register and save by Dec. 15. Special hotel rates for the event will also expire on Jan. 5, 2018.