Exiting from your court reporting firm

By Terry McGill

Exiting your business is a hot topic for many owners that seems fairly simple at first glance. You start your firm, let it grow for 25 or 35 years, and then sell it to someone while you quietly walk into the sunset with a pocket full of cash.

But the reality is more complicated. When you started your firm, it was unlikely you were thinking about what you needed to do to sell in the future. And you might have assumed that there would just be someone to buy your firm at your price when you were ready to sell. That’s not always the case.

Let’s run through some of the things that you, as a court reporting firm owner, can do to make the whole process smoother.

The first question that we may ask is: How soon are you planning to leave your business? If you want out today and you started thinking about an exit last week, this is a different scenario than if you have been planning and engineering your firm for exit years in advance. Most of the time, owners have not planned ahead for the best possible exit.

When an owner exits a business, there are many, many considerations to be taken into account.  Here are a few questions you should think about:

  • What is my firm actually worth to an outside entity?
  • How would a deal be structured if I were to sell?
  • Is the buying firm a cultural fit with my existing firm?
  • What will happen to my staff and reporters?
  • Will my clients be treated in the same way that I have treated them through the years?

You may have even more questions, but let’s start with these.

What is my firm actually worth to an outside entity?

Unfortunately, it might not be as much as you think. Most owners want to be compensated for the years spent building their firms. Instead, the market is concerned with evaluating a firm’s value, usually using something called the EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization). An interested buyer will probably offer a multiple of that number to come up with a value that he/she is comfortable with. Both parties should consider many factors when coming up with a deal.

How would a deal be structured if I were to sell?

The structure of one deal can be different from the next. There isn’t a standard deal structure. If you are offered $1,000,000 for your firm, that $1,000,000 can be paid out in many different ways over a period of time. It may be in an upfront payment, or a smaller portion may be given at the beginning with the remainder being paid out over a period of time (for example, three to five years) to the owner. There may also be certain levels of revenue and earnings that are a part of the deal that could affect an owner’s payout over time. The main point here is that deals are created differently and structured differently based on an acquiring firm’s goals and directives.

Is the buying firm a cultural fit with my existing firm?

This is a valid question and concern for any owner. It’s important that the firm being acquired and the firm acquiring it are a good cultural fit; that is, they should have similar values. It’s to the benefit of both firms to explore this issue thoroughly. A transition to new ownership should be as seamless as possible — to benefit the staff, reporters, and clients. Many deals have gone off the rail because there wasn’t a cultural fit and similar mindsets moving forward. This is one of the reasons due diligence on both sides is very important to the acquisition or merger being a success. The financial aspect is extremely important, but the cultures should mesh as well and not be overlooked.

What will happen to my staff and reporters?

Again, this is a valid concern for an owner. You have built your staff and reporters over many years, and they have become part of your family. Most firms are respectful of current staff and reporters and are not interested in anything that would be disruptive to any potential acquisition of your firm. Your staff and reporters have helped build the firm to the point where an outside entity would be interested in acquiring your firm. It would not be to the acquiring firm’s advantage to make wholesale changes to the very people who contributed to the success of the firm. Having said that, other factors could affect the acquisition downstream.

Will my clients be treated in the same way that I have treated them through the years?

The clients are always a concern on both sides of an acquisition. They are the lifeblood of the industry. That’s one of the main reasons that the cultural fit is so important to ensure clients remain. An acquiring firm is taking risks because there is no guarantee that clients will continue to be clients. As owners, all of you take the same risk with clients every day. The client who is with you today is not guaranteed to be your client next month. Everyone in the industry understands the value of protecting the client base. This is an additional reason that due diligence is so very important in any exit strategy. Many of the potential negative issues can be avoided at the beginning instead of putting out fires at the end.

What we have tried to illustrate is that there is not a “one size fits all” type of deal. There are many different factors in many different areas to consider before you exit. Educate yourself as much as possible to ensure you understand the process and the components of the process before you move too far down the exit pathway.

Many owners are not prepared for all of the ramifications and, therefore, not ready to exit. If you are thinking about an exit, make sure you go into any potential situation as an informed and educated owner with the right questions.

Terry McGill is a small business consultant and managing partner of Strategic Business Directs. He assists court reporting firm owners with operational, financial, organizational, growth, marketing, sales, and exiting issues. He can be reached at terry@strategicbusinessdirects.com or 614-284-0846.

New online service helps legal professionals reserve qualified court reporters in seconds

JCR: Journal of Court Reporting, TheJCR.com, JCR WeeklyIn a press release issued Sept. 19, DirectDep, based in New York, announced a new online service that helps legal professionals reserve qualified court reporters in seconds. The online service works similar to reservation and appointment services such as OpenTable and Zocdoc.

Read more.

The JCR Awards recognize innovative business strategies and more

The JCR Awards offer the perfect way to showcase innovative and successful business strategies from the past year. For the third year, the JCR staff is seeking stories that bring to life new and inventive ways that NCRA members change the way they do business, serve their communities, and help promote the professions of court reporting and captioning.

Nominations are currently being sought for several subcategories, such as best-in-class stories for: Marketing and customer service; Leadership, teambuilding, and mentoring; Use of technology; Community outreach; Service in a nonlegal setting; and Court Reporting & Captioning Week (2017) initiative. In addition, NCRA is looking for a group and an individual who show excellence in more than one category for an overall “Best of the Year” award.

Any current NCRA member in good standing, with the exception of students, may be nominated for these awards. Court reporters, captioners, videographers, scopists, teachers and school administrators, and court reporting managers are all eligible for nomination as well as groups, such as firms, courthouses, or court reporting programs. Self-nominations are accepted. More information about specific criteria for each of the categories is available on the JCR Awards Entry Form.

To enter, submit a written entry to the JCR between 300 and 1,000 words explaining the strategies implemented and why they were successful. Ancillary materials, such as photos, may also be submitted with the nomination. Nominations will be considered based on the best fact-based story. Please be prepared to offer documentation, verifiable sources, or other assistance as needed to be considered for these awards. The stories of the finalists will be published as featured articles in the March 2018 issue of the JCR.

Nominations are due by Oct. 31.

Read about the winners from 2017 and 2016.

New professionals share their advice, strategies for earning the RPR

The Registered Professional Reporter (RPR) is NCRA’s foundational certification, which tests the essential knowledge and skills for an entry-level reporter. Members of NCRA’s New Professionals Committee who have earned their RPR within the last few years shared why they earned this certification, their strategies for preparing for and passing the exam, and which certification is next on their list.

The value of the RPR

Depending on the state or job, a reporter may need to earn the RPR. For example, Melissa Case, RPR, was aiming for an officialship in Ohio, which required the RPR. Danielle Griffin, RPR, needed to earn it (along with a written test) to practice as a freelancer in Arizona.

Even in states that have a requirement such as a certified shorthand reporter (CSR), earning the RPR has its benefits. For example, some states will accept the RPR in lieu of the CSR. “The RPR requirements are almost identical to my state requirements. It was an easier and quicker process to go through for certification since my state accepts the RPR in order to practice as a reporter,” said Michael Hensley, RPR, a freelancer in Illinois.

Rachel Barkmue, RPR, an official in California, used the RPR to help her prepare for her state’s CSR. “I took the RPR Written Knowledge Test in conjunction with my state’s CSR written exam, so the materials were similar, and I took them both around the same time,” she said.

However, earning the RPR means more than simply fulfilling a set of requirements. Some reporters are looking for a professional or personal boost. “I knew it would open up a lot more doors for me,” said Case. Barkume earned the RPR for “more marketability and my personal goal of getting as many extra letters after my name as possible. I always want to keep striving for something new.”

Mikey McMorran, RPR, a freelancer in California, had earned most of the segments of the RPR as a student but got tripped up on the testimony leg. “Really when it comes down to it, the biggest reason I decided to go after my RPR was for my own reputation among my peers as well as my own reaffirmation that I belong in this profession,” he said. “As someone who has attended many court reporting functions over the years, I don’t think I’ve ever attended one in which the question did not come up from someone, ‘Do you have your RPR?’ Honestly, it was a little bit embarrassing to have to say every time, ‘Oh, I have all of the legs except for one.’”

Finding the right resources

Most of the members of the New Professionals Committee practiced for the RPR on their own using a variety of strategies. Several members used their school’s environment or resources to earn their certification. “I obtained my RPR as part of my schooling program. Once I finished speeds, then I set my sights on the RPR with all of my time and energy resources,” said Hensley.

“Take the RPR while in school or freshly out of school if possible. There is no replacement for that test mentality that you get daily in school. Once you’re working every day, you lose the test mode and it’s very difficult to get back in that mindset while also handling a working calendar,” said Barkume. “I was still in school/less than a year out of school when I took all my legs (I passed one at a time over three testing dates), so I still had the dictation recordings from school, etc. to help me practice at home.”

Griffin used dictation from the Magnum Steno Club — run by Mark Kislingbury, RDR, CRR, a broadcast captioner in Texas — and EV360. “Between EV360 and Magnum Steno Club, the dictation I was practicing was much harder than the actual test, which worked to my advantage when test nerves kicked in,” said Griffin. She explained her strategy of practicing above the normal speed. “For some reason, testing for the RPR made me nervous. I had to make sure I was above the required speeds so that when the test started and my nerves kicked in, I had an extra bit of speed reserved to account for that.” She practiced 30 to 40 percent above her target speed. “The purpose is to envision yourself as if you were sitting in a speed competition, as a competitor, and writing as if you had expert precision,” she said. “If you take that dictation back down to 225 or a new take at 180, 200, or 225, while applying that same mentality, you will achieve your speed faster than you think.”

Several members of the committee found valuable resources through NCRA. Hensley used recordings of previous RPR Exams, saying the real thing felt “like just another day of practice instead of an actual test.” Case used the RPR Study Guide to aid her in preparation. She commented: “the Written Knowledge Test was much harder than I expected.”

While most new professionals practiced solo, a couple mentioned having a community to lean on. “In Arizona, we have an extremely supportive court reporting community. There are many veteran reporters that are able and willing to volunteer their time to help and mentor students,” said Griffin. “I was able to work with Doreen Sutton, RPR, and Kim Portik, RMR, CRR, CRC, CLVS, to help with the RPR Prep classes.” She added: “That was also a great way to meet other students, practice together, and share suggestions.”

McMorran agrees on the value of a strong court-reporting network. “If you surround yourself with the reporters who do the bare minimum in this profession and talk about how certification is so unnecessary or how hard the test is, then it becomes so much harder to get into the right mindset to pass as opposed to being surrounded by people who can reassure you that you can do it because they did it,” he said.

Mastering online skills testing

Some of the new professionals did their RPR entirely online while others had taken legs of the Skills Test prior to the switch from brick-and-mortar testing. Overall, online testing won out as more convenient, although it took some adjustment.

“I took the RPR the last time it was offered at a brick-and-mortar site. The second time I took it, it was offered online. I have stories about the first few attempts trying to log on to take tests for the RPR. I soon found out that I was using a netbook. Once I switched to a laptop computer and not a netbook, I passed my last two tests,” said Griffin.

McMorran also had a learning curve with the technology. “When I first took the online style, I really did not do a great job of practicing with the webcam and didn’t even bother to schedule the proctored practice that we have the ability to do. Big mistake on my part,” he said. “My first attempt using the online method, I had some webcam issues that left me flustered right before the exam. I ended up not passing that attempt and knew it was on me for lack of preparation. I rescheduled another attempt at the exam for a week later so that I could properly prepare from a technology standpoint and ended up passing that following week.”

Both Griffin and McMorran found online testing to be more convenient than being at a brick-and-mortar site. “Online testing is such a great tool to be able to have at our fingertips. As a student, you are no longer having to wait twice a year to test. What a relief!” said Griffin.

McMorran said that even though he was initially intimidated about the concept of online testing, “once I actually put the time in to read everything over and prepare for the use of the webcam, not only did I find the technology side to not be intimidating at all, but it is so much easier than dragging a printer to a testing location.”

What’s the next step?

The new professionals are mixed on whether their next certification goal is the RMR or the CRR.

Griffin is leaning toward the RMR, saying: “I am excited to continue learning and also refining my writing.” Hensley agreed, adding: “I want to have a good grasp on speed so that I can next move into offering realtime.”

Realtime is a big pull. “We have to do realtime at the courthouse,” said Case for why she wants to earn the CRR.

“I’ve taken a handful of realtime job over the last year, but I don’t think there’s anything that would give me more confidence heading into each and every realtime job than seeing those initials after my name,” said McMorran.

“I want the CRR because I will receive a salary increase at my court for realtime certification, and it will make me more marketable in the future for other goals I want to achieve. I’d also like to work towards my CRC for the same reasons,” said Barkume. “Realtime is the most important part of reporting, in my opinion. It is what will save our jobs.”

Global court reporting firm wins five-year USPTO contract

Planet Depos announced in a press release issued March 20 that the firm has been awarded a five-year contract with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to provide court reporting services.

Read more.

California’s litigation-heavy environment calls for more experienced court reporters

In a press release issued March 20, Lori Leroy of Accuracy-Plus Reporting reported that her company has seen an uptick in business as a result of California’s litigious climate.

Read more.

Nashville’s Elite Reporting Services sees boost in requests for realtime court reporting

jcr-publications_high-resNashville, Tenn., court reporting firm Elite Reporting Services issued a press release on Jan. 30 stating that it has experienced a trend in requests for realtime court reporting since 2016.

Read more.

Firm Owners Executive Conference registration closes Feb. 3

The last chance to register for the 2017 NCRA Firm Owners Executive Conference is Feb. 3. The conference promises attendees the perfect networking and getaway opportunity filled with educational sessions, social events, and outings sprinkled with fun and relaxation. The event is being held Feb. 12-14 in Tucson, Ariz., at the Lowes Ventana Canyon Resort.

Attendees can also make the most of the conference experience by downloading the NCRA event app for Apple and Android devices to put event planning, learning, and social networking at their fingertips for all NCRA events. The app allows users to receive up-to-the-minute event updates, customize their schedules, access session documents, view speaker and exhibitor profiles, connect with other attendees, and more.

  • Keynote speaker Susan Solovic will take center stage and share with attendees her insights and secrets to becoming a successful entrepreneur. Solovic is an Internet pioneer who cofounded and grew one of the first video-based Internet sites to a million-dollar-plus entity. She is also an award-winning serial entrepreneur and best-selling author. Her experience also includes being a former small business contributor for ABC News and hosting the syndicated radio program It’s Your Biz. She appears regularly as a small business expert on Fox Business, Fox News, the Wall Street Journal’s “Lunch Break,” MSNBC, CNN, CNBC, and other stations across the country. She has also hosted her own PBS special called Reinvent Yourself Now: Become Self-Reliant in an Unpredictable World. Solovic is also a featured blogger on numerous sites, including Constant Contact, Entrepreneur, AT&T Business Circle, FoxBusiness.com, MasterCard, Intuit, The Pulse of IT (HP), and Samsung. Learn more about Solovic’s presentation.
  • Laurie Forster, one of America’s leading wine experts and author of the award-winning book The Sipping Point: A Crash Course in Wine,will host a special fun-filled networking sessionForster has been featured in dozens of publications and has appeared on Oz., Fox Business, ABC News, and other outlets. She also hosts her own show called The Sipping Point, where she explores recipes, wines, food, travel, and more. Attendees at this session will enjoy teaming up to identify wine selections and then battle to see who can really Name that Wine.
  • Mike Nelson, NCRA CEO and Executive Director, will present the findings from NCRA’s 2016 Firm Owners Economic Benchmarking Survey.
  • “Mobilizing Your Dreams: A 21st Century Strategic Plan,” an interactive session that The Varallo Group will present, is designed to teach attendees how to establish a long-term vision for their firm and more. The Varallo Group will also present “Journey to the Center of a Client Decision,” which explores the court reporter–hiring decision process.
  • Strategic Business Directs will lead attendees in two sessions: “Understanding and Using Financial Statements as a Management Tool” and “How to Compete.”
  • NCRA President Tiva Wood, RDR, CMRS; President-Elect Chris Willette, RDR, CRR, CRC; and fellow firm owners will also lead teams on a poker-run nature-hike networking event.
  • Attendees will enjoy a special Valentine’s Day comedy night and closing reception.

Only attendees of the Firm Owners Executive Conference can take advantage of the special resort room rates, which have now been extended to Feb. 11. Multiple registration discounts are also available as long as they are accompanied by one full-priced registration. These discounts include all education sessions, networking events, and access to the exhibit area.

Make this event even better when you arrive early or extend your stay, and take advantage of special room rates that apply three days prior to and three days after the conference, negotiated for attendees by NCRA.

Attendees can also take advantage of an array of amenities, including waived resort fees on self and valet parking, fitness center access, yoga classes, and tennis court rentals. Other amenities include a free shuttle service to beautiful Sabino Canyon, discounts on golfing, spa facilities, and more.

In addition to networking opportunities, award-winning speakers and authors, cutting-edge educational content, and vendor speed dating, the schedule includes more free time in the afternoons for attendees to network with each other on their own.

For more information or to register for NCRA’s most elite event of the year, visit NCRA.org/FirmOwners.

Give an NCRA Firm Owners Executive Conference registration this holiday season and save $100

Still searching for the perfect gift? Register now for NCRA’s 2017 Firm Owners Executive Conference, save $100, and give the perfect get-a-way and networking experience the New Year has to offer, while taking advantage of the lowest registration rates offered for this event since 2012. In addition, you can arrive early or extend your stay as NCRA has negotiated the opportunity for a special room rate to apply three days prior to and three days after the conference.

The 2017 event is being held Feb. 12-14 at the gorgeous Loews Ventana Canyon Resort in Tucson, Ariz., which features an array of guest amenities, including waived resort fees on self and valet parking, fitness center access, yoga classes, and tennis court rentals. Other amenities include a free shuttle service to beautiful Sabino Canyon as well as discounts on golfing, spa facilities, and more.

The conference also features a program packed with networking opportunities, award-winning speakers and authors, cutting-edge educational content, vendor speed dating, and more. This year’s program also features more free time in the afternoons for attendees to network with each other on their own, and tangible takeaways designed to ignite productivity and energize the business bottom line.

“This year’s Education Content Committee for Firms Owners has put together an outstanding program designed to help you develop better business skills, network, and have fun,” said Mike Bouley, RDR, Tucson, Ariz., who serves on the committee.

“The stunning Loews Ventana Canyon Resort is the place to be, and with the NCRA room block rate available both before and after the conference, I can assure you Tucson is a lovely getaway when winter is hitting hard. Plus we have outstanding local attractions to see including Kartchner Caverns State Park, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, alpine skiing, authentic Mexican restaurants, and much more.”

Highlights include a dynamic presentation by Susan Solovic, an award-winning serial entrepreneur and best-selling author, and an Internet pioneer. Solovic served as CEO and co-founder of one of the first video-based Internet sites, a company she grew from its infancy to a million-dollar-plus entity. She is also a former small business contributor for ABC News and has hosted the syndicated radio program It’s Your Biz. She appears regularly as a small business expert on Fox Business, Fox News, the Wall Street Journal’s “Lunch Break,” MSNBC, CNN, CNBC, and other stations across the country. She has also hosted her own PBS special called Reinvent Yourself Now: Become Self-Reliant in an Unpredictable World. Solovic is also a featured blogger on numerous sites, including Constant Contact, Entrepreneur, AT&T Business Circle, FoxBusiness.com, MasterCard, Intuit, The Pulse of IT (HP), and Samsung. She has also hosted her own PBS special called Reinvent Yourself Now: Become Self-Reliant in an Unpredictable World. Solovic is also a featured blogger on numerous sites, including Constant Contact, Entrepreneur, AT&T Business Circle, FoxBusiness.com, MasterCard, Intuit, The Pulse of IT (HP), and Samsung.

Laurie Forster, one of America’s leading wine experts and author of the award-winning book The Sipping Point: A Crash Course in Wine, is also on the schedule to host a special fun-filled networking session. Forster has been featured in dozens of publications and has appeared on Dr. Oz., Fox Business, ABC News, and other outlets. She also hosts her own show called The Sipping Point, where she explores recipes, wines, food, travel, and more. Attendees at this session will enjoy teaming up to identify wine selections and then battle to see who can really Name that Wine.

In addition to a look at NCRA’s 2016 Benchmarking Industry Trends Outlook, attendees are welcome to enjoy sunrise yoga sessions and “Mobilizing Your Dreams: A 21st Century Strategic Plan,” an interactive session that will be presented by The Varallo Group designed to  teach attendees how to establish a long-term vision for their firm and more. A second presentation, “Journey to the Center of a Client Decision,” will explore the court reporter hiring decision process.

In addition, Strategic Business Direct will lead attendees in two sessions including “Understanding and Using Financial Statements as a Management Tool,” and “How to Compete.”

NCRA President Tiva Wood, RDR, CMRS, President-Elect Chris Willette, RDR, CRR, CRC, and fellow firm owners will also lead teams on a networking hike/poker run competition. Teams will be assigned clues that will lead them to a location to get their playing cards, with a last stop to determine the winning hand.

A special Valentine’s Day comedy night and closing reception will wrap up the event with laughs and a final networking opportunity.

Registration for the Firm Owners Executive Conference is required to take advantage of the special resort room rates. Multiple registration discounts are also available as long as they are accompanied by one full-priced registration. These discounts include all education sessions, networking events, and access to the exhibit area.

For more information or to register for NCRA’s most elite event of the year, visit NCRA.org/FirmOwners.

 

Realtime writing and realtime scoping in Jamaica

By Linda Bland

It isn’t unusual for me to receive a call from a court reporter asking how to upgrade his or her writing to offer realtime writing as a service or how to transition to captioning or CART providing. However, I was very pleased when I received a call from Ms. Tessa Lewin of the U.S. Embassy, asking me if I would be interested in discussing how the Court Reporting at Home Realtime Writing Professional Development Program might train 44 official reporters for the Supreme Court of Jamaica. I immediately responded, “Yes! Absolutely! I would love to develop just this kind of project.” Having previously trained realtime writing court reporters in Zambia and Sierra Leone, Africa, my mind began immediately thinking how this might be accomplished.

Justice Bryan Sykes and his committee had determined that their reporters could benefit from upgrading their skills for realtime writing and speed, as well as other areas. Just the idea of the project was exciting. A great deal of thought and planning had already been developed by Justice Sykes and his committee, comprised of reporters, justices, IT department personnel, etc. By the time I was contacted, the committee had already had established a series of goals. When we met via video conferencing, I made a few more recommendations.

The Chief Justice of the Jamaican Supreme Court was so committed to the project, she allotted time during the workday for all reporters to be able to practice. How generous was that? Each morning, one group of reporters/students would be allowed to practice while other reporters covered court, and each afternoon they reversed roles. Being paid to train — who could refuse that offer?

A few months later, we entered into an agreement, and on Jan. 5, 2015, the project began. I had agreed to seven goals:

  1. Assess the reporters’ current speed writing level
  2. Assess the reporters’ realtime writing proficiency
  3. Train the reporters in Eclipse Audio Synchronization
  4. Make necessary steno dictionary conversions, build dictionaries, and make modifications
  5. Train two official supreme court reporters as trainers in all aspects of training, with emphasis on developing speed tests (writing the tests, counting in word and syllabic count, dictating the tests and proctoring speed tests)
  6. Implementing speedbuilding via the CRAH student platform
  7. Train two official supreme court reporters/trainers to update academics and customize them for Jamaican legal terminology, including study materials and tests.

I have learned during my many years of training reporters, captioners, and CART providers that all projects have challenges, and this one was no different. It would never have gotten off the ground without the dedication of Ms. Tanya Chung-Daley and Ms. Deline Cunningham, RPR, the court reporters designated as the two individuals who would be trained to be trainers of all future reporters for the court.

Our almost daily meetings, which later evolved into weekly meetings over the Internet, became an exciting, enjoyable part of my day. These ladies, fortunately, are so talented, it mde training them tremendously easier. In addition to handling their daily duties covering court, they had to go home to develop and dictate tests, or modify academics for the Jamaican judiciary, and countless other assignments I heaped upon them. They were working extended hours daily and weekends for months and months. And when I asked for materials back by Friday, I received them on Tuesday or Wednesday instead. My job was to stay ahead of them, to ensure that the next step in the training process was already prepared to prevent anyone from having to wait on any component of the project.

Our first two goals were to determine the reporters’ current speed and accuracy in translation. Imagine how difficult it is to schedule tests for this many reporters who have daily, ongoing court assignments including transcripts. Many of these reporters did not work in the Supreme Court in Kingston, Jamaica, but rather were in the circuit courts in cities all around the country.

Any court administrator knows the difficulty in simply keeping all courts covered. However, covering all the courts and scheduling the reporters for testing purposes was quite a feat. We had to test on three different dates, utilizing three different tests for speed at three different speed levels, as well as for realtime. The tests were graded utilizing NCRA grading guidelines, “What Is an Error?” as well as with a view toward the number of large and small drops the reporters were experiencing, how many of the errors were written correctly in steno but not contained in their dictionary, punctuation, and so on.

We then had a basis from which to work. We knew the speed levels we needed to address and the degree of the reporters’ translation accuracy. Knowing that the reporters and justices would benefit from audio synchronization, our first step was to introduce that feature. However, just as with all of us, some of us know our CAT software better than others, and it appeared some of the reporters required a review of some of the basic Eclipse features before we could introduce audiosync. Therefore, although basic training on the software was not a component of our agreement, I knew it was imperative, so I decided to employ someone who could refresh and walk the reporters through the basics.

Who could train my Jamaican reporters/students? I contacted an old acquaintance who put me in touch with Dineen Squillante, who is a certified Eclipse trainer. After one conversation with Dineen, I knew she was perfect for this project. Dineen developed a checklist for what we felt every reporter needed to know for basic realtime setup and editing, steno dictionary preparation, and so on. Each reporter was asked to fill out the checklist, designating which areas they felt needed additional training. Upon receipt of that information, Dineen developed multiple webinars that she presented to the trainers and that were recorded and provided for the trainers’ use in training the remaining reporters.

After the trainers determined that all the reporters were proficient in the basic features, we turned to dictionary building, conversion, and modifications, working on numbers, punctuation, etc. Dineen said, “Working on this project was one of the most enjoyable assignments of my entire career.”

Developing a literary, jury charge, or testimony test involves a great deal more than one can imagine unless you have served on a committee for the NCRA. Thankfully, we have counting software now that counts by word count as well as syllabic count. However, these software programs are not always 100 percent accurate and often require “tweaking.” Because of that, I felt it was important to teach the trainers how to compose a test, count the words in both word count and syllabic count, and dictate it. There is truly an art to dictating correctly and accurately. It can be the difference between being able to pass a test or fail one. It takes a great deal of practice for most instructors, but fortunately, once again, the trainers adapted to dictation quite easily.

Tanya and Deline, as well as the wonderful IT staffer, Duane Carr, teased me often about learning to “speak Jamaican.” When I would think the test “did not make sense,” I would be educated on certain phrases and how “it is spoken in Jamaican.” And without Duane’s IT expertise, we would never have completed this project.

We placed dictation developed by Tanya and Deline on my company’s student platform for the Jamaican reporters to practice, in addition to providing them access to hundreds of hours of our dictation if they chose to practice that as well. Tanya and Deline reviewed and edited our academics to determine what modifications were required for Jamaican law. We modified those and placed those on the platform as well, allowing their tests to be automatically and immediately graded, designating the errors they made and what the correct answer should have been.

And finally, I wanted the trainers to know how to edit or scope realtime. I called upon Dineen once again to train my trainers in realtime editing. If you haven’t tried realtime editing with your scopist, you have to do this. It saves a tremendous amount of time, and it is so easy. Do not be afraid to learn a new feature of your CAT software.

An awards ceremony was held for the reporters after they learned the realtime theory and writing concepts, and Deline and Tanya demonstrated realtime editing/scoping for all those present. While one wrote, the other edited the transcript simultaneously. If you aren’t familiar with realtime editing/scoping, your scopist may be in a different room, a different city, or even a different state, editing while you are writing the assignment.

In February 2016, my work ended. The materials for the Jamaican Project had been provided for realtime writing theory, speed building, and academics. The trainers and reporters had been trained in basic Eclipse, audiosynch, and realtime scoping. However, as we know, the road to building sufficient speed and accuracy and developing one’s steno dictionary are ongoing projects, and I knew Deline and Tanya to be quite capable of handling anything required by the Jamaican Supreme Court.

Deline stated, “The experience as trainers was a challenging and demanding one; however, with encouragement and assistance from Court Reporting and Captioning at Home, we were able to triumph over all the hurdles.” Tanya added, “Yes, and we are truly grateful for this experience.”

So, “Mon,” I didn’t get a trip to Jamaica, but I made a lot of wonderful Jamaican friends along the way, and we spread realtime writing to yet another part of the world. I am so grateful Court Reporting and Captioning at Home was chosen for this project and grateful also for all the assistance through the State Department, U.S. Embassy, the Jamaican Supreme Court, their IT Department, and of course, all 44 of the Jamaican Official Court Reporters.

My advice to you: Don’t stagnate! Realtime is attainable for anyone who is willing to put forth the effort. Don’t think that you can’t change your style of writing or that you are “too old.” You don’t have to change your entire theory at all. However, in all likelihood, you probably need to add a few realtime writing concepts to your theory. Remember, we all modify our theory somewhat, don’t we? We think of new briefs, or find another way to write our numbers, or a new way to write a “family” of words or contractions. We find new groups of phrases that work well for us.

If you want it, realtime is there for you to master – even from the comfort of your home. It requires taking one realtime concept at a time and mastering it to prevent you from causing hesitation in your writing. Writing realtime well isn’t accomplished in a one-day seminar, or even a week or a month. It can take anywhere from 90 days to a year or longer, depending upon how much work you need to employ to update your theory, how much time you make to practice, and how disciplined you are to completing your training. Every realtime writing concept you incorporate into your writing improves the translation, reduces the amount of time it takes to edit a transcript, and provides you more time to practice. It’s a win-win situation. However, you must take the first step to begin your journey.

Linda Bland, RMR, CPE, is the owner of Court Reporting and Captioning at Home, SSD Enterprises, LLC, Fla. She can be reached at LindaB@courtreportingathome.com.