BUSINESS: How building a network got me where I am today


By Kathryn Thomas

The best and longest-lasting work relationships have been those I’ve gained through people I meet. Ever since I was certified, I’ve attended every state convention, and for the last eight years, I’ve attended every national convention.

My first relationship with an agency was with the very agency I interned with as a student. By that experience, the owner already knew I showed up early and dressed and acted appropriately.

When I moved to a different area a few years later, friends I had met online guided me to a few more court reporting agencies that put me to work.

When I decided to transition to CART, I told everyone — everyone — that I was looking to cross over. One of the deposition agency owners (who already knew that I show up early, do my best, and am professional) assigned me to a pop-up CART job lasting a day or two, and the seal was broken, so to speak. I gained more CART experience here and there, until I got hooked up with a captioning agency owned by someone (whom I had met at a court reporting conference) who put me to work full-time.

Now I’m doing all CART and some captioning with a few really good agencies, and my hook-ups with them emerged due to my connections! Of the agencies that I regularly work for, I didn’t just cold-call asking for work. Someone introduced me or referred me to them, or they’d heard of me already by that time.When you have connections, it’s easier, because then people already know you. You are not an unknown quantity.

Now, of course, you’ve got to be professional and have the chops to keep the working relationship going. I’m focusing just now on getting the relationship started. To keep it going, you’ve got to do what you’ve heard a million times — show up, work hard, be professional, don’t whine, learn from your mistakes, etc.

Get out there and meet people. It might be outside of your comfort zone, but outside the comfort zone is where all the good stuff is.

Kathryn A. Thomas, RDR, CRC, is a captioner based in St. Louis and Southern Central Illinois. You can follow her blog at

Thomas wrote this article on behalf of the National Court Reporters 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.


Atkinson-Baker Court Reporters announced as sponsor for 2017 CLM conference

jcr-publications_high-resIn a press release issued Feb. 23, the Claims and Litigation Management Alliance (CLM) announced that Atkinson-Baker Court Reporters, Glendale, Calif., is a sponsor for its 2017 annual conference.

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Denver Court Reporting celebrates partnership with Spark Digital Marketing

jcr-publications_high-resDenver Court Reporting announced in a press release issued March 2 that it has partnered with Spark Digital Marketing to expand court reporting services across Colorado. The company is a subsidiary of Midwest Reporters, Inc.

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Five minutes with Realtime Champ Dee Boenau

Deanna Boenau_2016 Realtime ContestThe JCR reached out to Dee Boenau, RDR, CRR, CRC, a broadcast captioner in Sarasota, Fla., about her Realtime Contest win, the importance of realtime, practice tips, and using the spotlight to promote the profession.

What appealed to you about competing in the speed and realtime contests?

I’ve always competed just as a way to see how my skills have improved. It’s fun and exciting to see how the changes I have made to my theory over the years have increased my speed and accuracy.

 Do you have a preference on which one you would prefer to win?

I like to win the Realtime Contest because realtime writing is what I do, and I believe realtime translation is the lifeblood of court reporting and captioning. However, I would not mind adding the prestigious title of Speed Contest Champion to my achievements and having my name added to the historical list of greats in our profession.

 How do you find the two contests different?

I write both contests in the mind-set of realtime. There really is no difference to me other than the faster speed and the opportunity for editing in the Speed Contest. Nerves can be devastating, though, in the Realtime Contest. If the nerves creep in during the Speed Contest, I know I have a chance to edit it. I guess I am a little harder on myself just before the Realtime Contest because of nerves.

Have you been practicing for the upcoming contests?

I do practice close to the time of the contests. I simply don’t have the time to practice year-round. I prefer to actively use my skills in the real world and to further enhance my ability to make a living. Whether I am reporting or captioning, I always review my work. I can’t stress enough to captioners the importance of reading one’s work and looking up what one missed. Over the years, too, practice would be boring to me because it was always the same dictation tapes. Now there are new programs on the market, like ev360 Ultimate, that take practicing to a whole different level and make it fun, too. The last couple of years I’ve been practicing more because of the program.

What advice would you have for a person who has never been in a speed contest before? How can they get started?

Just do it. Sign up and jump right in. The contests may humble you and inspire you at the same time. You could be the next Jeffrey Weigl, RMR, CRR, CRC, or Julianne LaBadia,  RDR, CRR, CRC.

You’ve received quite a lot of coverage based on your wins in the past few years. What has that been like? Do you have any advice for other reporters or captioners who find themselves in the limelight?

When I found myself in the limelight, I spoke with passion. I love writing on the steno machine; it is my favorite piece of technology. Without the steno machine, I could not do my job as a reporter making a record and as a captioner providing communication accessibility to thousands of people. You can’t go wrong talking about what you love because it all comes so naturally. When I first won the Realtime Contest, I was thrilled with the machine I was using and enjoyed talking about it and the technology behind it. When a person speaks with such passion about his or her profession and the advancing technology, it can only inspire others to inquire about court reporting or captioning.

Is there any advice you can give to other NCRA members on how each of us can be an advocate for our profession?

Be the best you can be. Stand up for what is right. Keep the professional image alive.

Any questions we missed or should have asked?

I want to thank NCRA and the Contests Committee for continuing to support the contests. It is a huge undertaking and a sacrifice of convention time for the committee members. I’ve heard that they are often grading papers when people are returning from late-night festivities. Admittedly, the contests are a large part of the reason why I’ve attended the convention 17 years in a row. Yes, I learn from the seminars, but the contests give the convention the wow factor. Thank you, NCRA, past sponsors, and any future sponsors!

Read our interview with Speed Champ Jeff Weigl.

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,, 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

Steno Services partners with Mark Kelly on new search engine campaign

jcr-publications_high-resOklahoma court reporting firm Steno Services announced a new partnership with Spark Digital Marketing and Mark Kelly to launch a new campaign that allows for advertising management, according to a press release issued Jan. 30.

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Five minutes with Speed Champ Jeff Weigl

Speed champ 2016The JCR reached out to Jeffrey Weigl, RMR, CRR, CRC, a freelance court reporter in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, about his Speed Contest win, practice techniques, how he dealt with Americanisms, and what it was like to be interviewed by the press.

What appealed to you about competing in the speed and realtime contests?

Ever since I began learning theory at Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT), I was astonished by the achievements and capabilities of all of the reporters who competed in the Speed Contest over the years. Looking back, it seemed completely unattainable, but it soon became a driving force for me knowing what was actually possible with machine shorthand.

I am enamoured with court reporting for so many reasons, but one of the most important is the fact that every ounce of effort we put into improving our shorthand skills pays direct dividends to our work on a daily basis: faster turnaround times, higher pay, increased variety of work, opportunities to travel, etc. Speed contests or NCRA certification exams are excellent concrete goals to put in our calendars every year to ensure that we work towards improving ourselves as reporters far into our careers. The future of our industry depends on it.

Do you have a preference on which one you would prefer to win?

My goal has always been participation and high achievement in the Speed Contest. I continue to strive towards finding superior ways to keep up with lofty dictation. My practice over the years has been entirely geared towards speed, not realtime; but being able to attain high speeds allows a comfort level at slower speeds, providing clean translation.

I am completely astonished by the achievements of the Realtime Contest winners. It is astounding what they are able to produce. I do not feel I would be able to seriously compete in both contests in the same year, as I would certainly alter my practice regimen and strategy were I to focus on realtime.

How do you find the two contests different?

The Speed Contest is one of abandoning thought, trying to let everything flow through my brain to fingers as expediently as possible without getting hung up on any one thing. Realtime is the exact opposite: You need to focus on verbatim translation, spellings, punctuation, capitalization, stacking, misstrokes. This past year, I somehow forgot to put my initial Q. at the start of my Q & A portion! That is a costly mistake when facing stiff competition. Everything matters.

Can you tell us a little about whether you had to deal with any spelling issues between Canadian and American English?

The NCRA staff has been excellent in accommodating this issue. While I am cognizant of common spelling differences like color/colour or honor/honour, certain things do arise that can throw me off. The biggest challenge by far is being unfamiliar with American terminology related to the legal system down south as well as not having briefs for all states, cities, and the like. As an example, in Canada we have the Court of Queen’s Bench, which is a one-stroke brief for me. I do not currently have any shortcuts related to terminology used in American jurisdictions. Unfamiliarity with terminology can really throw you off at high speeds. This past year’s Q&A portion included Tulane University in New Orleans, which I was unable to confirm the spelling of with just a dictionary. I had never heard of it before and just wrote it phonetically, but I won’t ever forget it now!

Have you been practicing for the upcoming contests?

I strive to always work on my theory daily on the job, shortening and refining it. I was a product of a “writing things out and having a small dictionary” school of thought, learning few briefs and less phrasing from the get-go. Implementing some basic phrasing over the last three years has been such a boon to my writing. I will not begin focused speed practice until a month or two out from Las Vegas, ramping practice up as the contest nears. In 2016, I started practicing further out, and I found I began second-guessing my writing and just got burnt out on practicing in general.

What advice would you have for a person who has never been in a speed contest before? How can they get started?

Urge your state associations to host local contests at slower speeds! The Alberta Shorthand Reporters Association (ASRA) hosted Mark Kislingbury, RDR, CRR, the year after I graduated from NAIT, and that was his suggestion to us. That was the starting point of my speed writing addiction. Find the fun in it and appreciate the fact that while you may not reach all of your speed goals, any effort you put into training will pay you dividends in the real world.

You’ve received quite a lot of coverage in Canada based on your win. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Following the NCRA’s news release to Canadian media outlets, I was featured in two prominent Edmonton papers. It was a pleasure chatting with the author, as there is a genuine interest in what it is that captioners/court reporters do and how our “weird little machines” work. Following a positive response to that first article, I was contacted by several other outlets and participated in another online write-up and video, two primetime radio interviews focusing on “Who Does That Job,” and a lengthy featurette on a national news program including both an interview and a mock Questioning (Deposition) with two lawyers, a witness, and me providing realtime for both parties.

While the attention was certainly unexpected, I was honoured and endeavored to take all opportunities presented to educate the public about our profession in general, what it is we do, and why it is so important. I heard that a couple other radio stations discussed the contest and had listeners calling in showing how fast they could talk. The overwhelming reception to everything I was involved in was a genuine interest and excitement towards our profession. My thanks goes out to the NCRA for putting me in a position to be able to advocate for our profession in such an organic way.

Do you feel you have been able to be an advocate for the profession?

Easily the most important result from winning the Speed Contest has been the opportunity to inform the public on what it is we do, why it’s important, why we are the best option for capturing the record, and why we’re here to stay. It has always been a very personal goal of mine to win the contest, thinking it would also be a good way to advertise to potential clients. But being given the opportunity to educate the public and advocate for the profession has been so much more important and rewarding.

Further, there has been an incredibly positive response amongst both my CART and legal clientele, and they are proud to work with a firm and reporter that continually strives to provide superior services to them. I hope I can inspire other reporters to follow my lead, always improving our skills and expertise for both ourselves and the people we work for.

Is there any advice you can give to other NCRA members on how each of us can be an advocate for our profession?

We all understand our profession, but oftentimes we are not very good at clearly and concisely explaining what it is we actually do, the challenges we face on the job, why we are so important, and why we are a better option than voice recognition or recordings. If you don’t have practiced answers to each of these questions, speak with your colleagues, attend your state association events, and most importantly attend NCRA events. In my experience, the public is always interested in what we do; we just need to know how to best explain it.

Any questions we missed or should have asked?

My thanks go out to my family for their support; my father, Jerry Weigl, who reported for a decade and spent the rest of his career teaching with NAIT’s Captioning & Court Reporting Program; the amazing NAIT instructors; my wonderful colleagues in the ASRA; and all of the speed writing friends I have made at NCRA events who share the same passion for shorthand as I do.

Read our interview with Realtime Champ Dee Boenau.

Milestone Reporting expanding services in Florida

jcr-publications_high-resMilestone Reporting, Orlando, Fla., announced in a press release issued Dec. 16 that the company has partnered with Spark Digital Marketing to expand its court reporting services across the state.

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A well-rounded life

By Aimée Suhie

Tom Crites is a present-day Johnny Appleseed who has planted 2,000 plumeria trees in and around Savannah, Ga., hoping to establish the glorious flowers in the town he loves. So it’s hard to imagine him jetting across the world during his 49-year career, away from home sometimes 300 nights a year. The retired court reporter and firm owner laughs that he has reported in the back of a pickup in the jungles of Panama, under an oil tanker in drydock in Curaçao, on a train from one side of Holland to the other, on the flight deck of aircraft carriers, on airboats in the Everglades, and on the roadside from Delhi to Agra of a horrific bus accident with students on their way to see the Taj Mahal.

“I was blessed with an awesome career,” he says simply. But he does not miss the planes and hotels one bit. He forgets the world when he tends the 1,000 plumerias that surround his 1892 house, one of the most photographed homes in Savannah.

But the accomplishment he is perhaps most proud of is the family he “adopted” in Thailand in the depths of poverty whose members are now not only self-sufficient but true entrepreneurs. “After 15 years of hard work by this family, they now take care of themselves and are waiting to take care of me,” he says only half-jokingly. He says he may very well give up his precious house and gardens and move to Thailand one day.

The Texas native learned about court reporting the way NCRA’s leaders hope all young people do – when a court reporting legend put on a program at his high school. ”When Thyra D. Ellis (‘a true pioneer for all shorthand reporters nationwide’ according to the website of the school she founded) said, ‘Be a court reporter and make up to $10,000 a year,’ I was sold,” Tom relates. He started two months later at her school, the Stenotype Institute of Jacksonville Beach, Fla., and studied for four years. He was reporting, however, after two years and made $1,300 his first day. “That was huge,” he remembers, “in that I lived on $200 a month while going to school.”

His career took him to San Francisco and finally in 1972 to Savannah where he formed Tom Crites & Associates International. He met the right maritime attorneys on a ship fire case covering depositions in Savannah, New Orleans, and New York and was soon traveling all over the world. “Many months of my career I would travel 50,000 miles in a month,” he says. He has worked in hundreds of cities in more than 50 countries, focusing on maritime and mass-disaster litigation, following ships and crew members. At his website,, under the case history section are the tales of two of his most famous environmental disaster cases, the 1978 Amoco Cadiz oil spill off the coast of France, and the 2002 Prestige oil spill off the coast of Spain, “which was four times the size of the Exxon Valdez disaster,” he explains. “As a matter of fact, after hundreds of depositions were taken in the Exxon Valdez case, I was asked to provide realtime at the deposition of Captain Hazelwood (the American sailor who captained the Exxon Valdez during its 1989 spill). I asked Sue Terry, RPR, CRR, [NCRA’s Vice President] to cover for me, and for days she performed her magic.”

But Tom’s most enriching experience was his association with a Thai family in the village of Sala in the province of Surin. He met a young man at a restaurant at the hotel where he usually stayed who spoke English very well, and he became Tom’s friend, driver, and interpreter. “After three years he invited me to meet his family,” Tom remembers. “It was shocking to me to see the way they lived. They were the poorest of the poor. The mother was doing her best to provide for her children and grandchildren. She worked 12 to14 hours a day tending to the rice of others for $75 a month. They had no running water, and they all were in rags.”

Tom well remembers his upbringing in a housing project in Texas where people donated food to his family, and he didn’t have a new shirt until he was six years old. So Tom got to work. He promptly had two wells dug and then got the family refrigerators, fans, beds, and linens. He rounded up all 19 family members and headed to a department store 50 miles from Sala. “I had each one get a grocery cart, and we loaded up on clothes, shoes, toiletries, towels and lots of food. I then got them a car and a truck.” Next he helped them to buy parcels of land. “On my 60th birthday, we began the planting of 60 acres of rubber trees,” he says and, instead of patting himself on the back, says only “I have been blessed to have the Lai-Ngam family in my life.”

The family now has more than 100 acres of farm land and a rubber tree plantation. All are on computers and receiving a good education. Tom even put the kids to use in his business. “I had an office set up in Bangkok, and these smart children scanned all my exhibits, transferred my steno, etc., to the United States, so I never had to hurry back home,” he recounts, “often going off to work from Bangkok to Singapore, Hong Kong, Seoul, Tokyo, and to many cities in India.”

In addition to his 43 trips to Thailand, Tom worked often with different governments, and he says many waivers were made so that he could report in venues that most reporters could not. At the same time, however, for seven years he was on the board and executive committee of the Savannah College of Art & Design, with campuses in Savannah; Atlanta; Lacoste, France; and Hong Kong. The College dedicated the performing arts center named in his honor, Crites Hall, in 2000, which houses the 150-seat Mondanaro Theater, set design and scene shop, dance studio, classrooms, and a costume studio, where 92 classes are taught each week. He also received the Pepe Award from the college that year for his work. “I often traveled to New York, London, Paris, and Lacoste on the business of the college,” Tom remembers. “And on the local scene, I entertained and dined with many visiting movie stars and fashion designers who came to visit the school, including Debbie Reynolds and Diane von Furstenberg.” Tom adds, “The college has more than 10,000 students and 1,100 employees on our four campuses. It will always be a big part of my life.”

Even though he is now retired, his firm continues on, a “small agency that handles big work,” Tom says. They have a reporter based in Germany covering most of their work in Europe and have had reporters and videographers simultaneously covering assignments on four continents. But on any given day, you’ll find Tom working in his gardens or helping a new graduate paint his house in the 100-degree heat of an August day. “It wears me out, and some days I feel I’m as old as this house,” he says in his smooth Southern drawl. “But I try to keep myself busy. I still work very hard, and I believe in hard labor. Now I grow tropical flowers, prepare meals and entertain. I have always had a colorful life, and everyone says I should write a book. But after 700,000 pages of transcripts, my writing days are over!”

Tips for success

Tom says “The last 15 years of my reporting career, I always took an assistant with me to handle everything, and that is why I lasted so long.”

He passed the Certificate of Profiency five decades ago and is certified in Georgia but let his California license lapse. “I would urge all court reporters to never let any license lapse. Concentrate on getting your certifications from NCRA; find a niche in the legal field and concentrate on that; attend as many attorney functions as you can searching for the right people with the right cases. And invest your money wisely in real estate and art, and hold on to it for a long time. All will appreciate. When you have a huge case or year, donate pieces of art, and your tax savings can be great.”

Tom says you can also pray. “My momma prayed for me and the business all the time,” he remembers. “But when things got busy, my reporters would say, ‘Tell your mother to cool it on the prayers because we’re just swamped.’ She’s gone now, so I have to do it on my own.”

Aimée Suhie, RPR, is a freelance reporter from New Fairfield, Conn., and a regular contributor to the JCR. She can be reached at




Seattle court reporting firm celebrates online reputation

jcr-publications_high-resNaegeli Deposition and Trial, a court reporting firm headquartered in Portland, Ore., announced in a Nov. 15 press release that the company has received a number of high reviews on Google Plus for its Seattle location.

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