New captioning company in Idaho

NCRA members Andrea Couch, RDR, CRR, CRC, and Anissa Nierenberger, RPR, CRR, CRC, CRI, are the owners of a new captioning company, IdaCaption, located in Boise, Idaho.  IdaCaption provides on-site and off-site CART and broadcast captioning services.

Read more.

Ask the techie: Condensing software

The Realtime and Technology Resource Committee is taking your questions on topics surrounding realtime and technology. Send the questions you want the technology committee members to tackle to jcrfeedback@ncra.org.

Dear Techie:

I am a freelance reporter and thinking about starting my own business. It’s so intimidating thinking about the many facets of running my own firm! First on my list: Which condensing transcript software should I be considering? There are so many options available that it makes my head spin and I’m not sure which one to choose. Please help!

Concerned About Condensing


Dear Concerned:

Congratulations on taking the next step in your career! Indeed, there are many things to consider when starting your own firm. Glad we are here to help get you started on the right track.

There are several options available for word indexing and condensing. Here are our suggestions.

Cheri Sullivan, RPR, of Memphis, Tenn.: We selected YesLaw after meeting them at the convention in Nashville in 2013. The customer support team has always been great to work with. It is easy to link exhibits, insert a signature/notary seal, insert a picture of the witness, and even place “original” or “copy” on the style page. All eight of us have been happy with YesLaw overall.

Robin Nodland, FAPR, RDR, CRR, of Portland, Ore.: We have ReporterBase, a.k.a. RB, for calendaring, transcript production, and invoicing. We produce the transcripts with RB. With it, we can digitally sign, hyperlink exhibits, and create bundles that include full size, condensed, and word indexes. We create these paperless PDF bundles for all clients. We still have clients that want paper and Etran as well.

Keith Lemons, FAPR, RPR, CRR, of Nashville, Tenn.: For cross-CAT platform use, our company uses Min-U-Script.

Myrina Kleinschmidt, RMR, CRR, CRC, of Wayzata, Minn.: After testing several programs, we decided that YesLaw was the best program for our needs. It’s easy to link the exhibits, and the transcripts look great. An added benefit is the transcript generator software integrates with their video synchronization tool so it is a good program to have in case you ever decide to try video/transcript syncing.

Alan Peacock, FAPR, RDR, CRR, CRC, Mobile, Ala.: I use Min-U-Script Pro. It’s easy to use, and the final product looks great! Support is available and very helpful as well.

Lynette Mueller, FAPR, RDR, CRR, from Memphis, Tenn.: I use Min-U-Script and absolutely love it! The exhibit linking is another great feature of this particular software. You may add in multiple users, along with their signatures and notary seals for electronically signing the transcripts. I can’t say enough good about it.

Dana Hayden, RMR, CRR, CRC, of Fayetteville, Ark.: I currently use YesLaw for all the reasons already mentioned: It’s very user-friendly, and they have good customer service. You can link exhibits, provide a link to the attorneys for them to download the transcript in every imaginable format (although you have to manually create and include the ptx version, which I would love to see YesLaw incorporate like Stenograph did in their CaseCAT), and all the attorneys have to do is click the link to download/save to their computer. It also has lock-out restrictions if needed, such as to send for read/sign only.

Send your questions about realtime and technology to the technology committee members at jcrfeedback@ncra.org.

PROFILE: Catherine J. Phillips, FAPR, RMR, CMRS

Catherine Phillips, FAPR, RMR, CMRS

Catherine Phillips, FAPR, RMR, CMRS

Freelance court reporter
Currently resides in: Ocala, Fla.
Member since: 1988
Graduated from: Jones Business College, Orlando, Fla.
Theory: I truly do not remember, but after reporting for over 36 years, I call it “Cathy’s Theory”

JCR | Why did you decide to earn an NCRA certification?
PHILLIPS | Personal satisfaction, plus I had just opened a freelance firm and my
business partner and I felt it would help market our firm being certified.

JCR | You have been involved with some of NCRA’s committees. Can you tell us a
little about what you’ve done and how it affects your perspective about the profession?
PHILLIPS | I have chaired NCRA’s National Committee of State Associations; chaired Constitution & Bylaws Committee; chaired the Committee on Professional Ethics; been a member of the Council of the Academy of Professional Reporters (or CAPR); and served on the Nominating Committee. I have learned from every committee I have ever served on within NCRA. I have never been just a dues-paying type member. I am one to always be involved. Being involved helps you to become a better advocate for this profession. It keeps you current on the changes in the industry and how to keep yourself viable within the industry. It has also allowed me to network with a lot of reporters, and I have made many lifelong friends.

JCR | Do you have any advice for students in school and people who are just getting out of school?
PHILLIPS | My one piece of advice I cannot stress more to students and new reporters is to learn time management. If you are not an organized person, get organized. This business will provide enough chaos, and if you are organized (if only in your professional life), you will be ahead of the game.

JCR | Why was it important for you to earn the RMR certification?
PHILLIPS | After receiving my RPR, the next natural progression was to attempt the RMR. It is important to me to challenge myself to improve my craft and aim for the next level.

JCR | Why do you think professional certification is important?
PHILLIPS | I believe it’s important to keep achieving the next level. Even if your clients don’t know what your certifications mean, other reporters definitely will, and they respect your level of achievement.

JCR | What would you say to encourage others considering professional certification?
PHILLIPS | I received my RPR 10 years after I started reporting and received my RMR 9 years after that, so 19 years after I first started reporting. I encourage reporters that you don’t have to have just finished school to attain these advanced certifications. Just practice, and you will reach your goals.

JCR | What has been your best work experience so far in your career?
PHILLIPS | What I love about court reporting is my work experiences change every single day. We are exposed to so many different things that I never even knew existed; or if I did know about them, I’ve learned more about them. Some days are more interesting than others, but it’s always interesting.

JCR | What surprised you about your career?
PHILLIPS | In 1996 I took a leave of absence to do a home therapy program with our son. Before then, I went to work every day and pretty much was just going through the motions. During my leave, I realized how much I loved reporting and how much I missed it when I couldn’t do it. After my leave is when I got involved in my state association in Florida and then NCRA. It was then that I realized I didn’t just have a job, I had a career. I had a renewed love for court reporting.

JCR | What do you consider your greatest professional accomplishment?
PHILLIPS | In 2015, I was awarded the Emily Mann Distinguished Service Award from the Florida Court Reporters Association, and I also became an NCRA Fellow of the Academy of Professional Reporters (or FAPR). Receiving these two distinctions from one’s peers was very humbling. For them to acknowledge all I had contributed to the profession — that was very rewarding. Of course, I haven’t done all I have done for both associations for the recognition; I do it because I have enjoyed and continue to enjoy doing it.

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.

Setting up a home office

Home office setup with a captains chair, desk, computer, etc.; the desk is in front of a wall of windows

© jnyemb

Many reporters and captioners are freelancers or small business owners, which often means working from home at least part of the time. There are many aspects to working from home, but first you need an actual place to work: a home office.

Picking the space

If you have the space, setting up a home office starts with picking the right room. “I have a third bedroom that is a dedicated office space,” said Angeli English, a freelancer in D’Iberville, Miss. “I picked the bedroom with French doors that open to a deck. Makes it very convenient to let our dog go in and out on the patio.”

Depending on the setup of your house, that space might mean a more nontraditional room, like a loft, where Sabrina Trevathan works. Trevathan, RDR, is a freelancer in Rawlins, Wyo.

If you’re in a smaller space and don’t have a whole room to dedicate, look for a good spot somewhere in your bedroom, living area, or other space. “I live in an apartment and the living/dining are one big room,” said Devora Hackner, a freelancer in Brooklyn, N.Y. “There’s a small alcove by the window that is the exact space designed for my desk.”

Legal videographer LaJuana Pruitt, CLVS, in Bradenton, Fla., found a unique opportunity for work space. “I have a side of a building that was a chiropractor’s office that was added to a home. I bought the home first, and when the chiropractor retired, his office became mine,” she explained. “Separate door, bathroom, parking, air conditioner, etc. This building is zoned professional. In 2007, I remodeled the entire building to be an office space. I took out the shower and added another bathroom where the shower was. I added French doors to the front room. The front room is big enough for a large conference table or video studio. I put in a butler’s pantry for a break area.”

After having the physical space picked out, the next step is making sure you have all the equipment, both for doing the job and for running the business.

First, furniture

Every professional interviewed for this article emphasized the need for a comfortable chair. “Invest in the best because you deserve it with how much you sit, and your body will thank you later in life,” said Donna Linton, RMR, a freelancer and captioner in Ashburn, Va. Of course, make sure you have a desk to go along with that chair, and think about what else you will need to store. You can have a simple space with shelves or turn it into your dream work space. “I had [my office] built out by Closets by Design specifically to my needs, i.e., how many computer stations, where the printer would be, cubbies for different size transcript binders, where the paper would be, and where my machine case would fit,” said Linton.

Having the right stuff

The essential equipment is obvious: steno machine, computer, printer. “I’ve transitioned to captioning in the last year, so I have a TV now so if I’m captioning a show that I have on my television, I can watch my captions,” said Tammy McGhee, RMR, a captioner in Bellville, Ohio. Beyond that, think about potential arrangements and additions. For example, Hackner has a “glass desk with a pullout drawer for an external keyboard and mouse” as well as “a docking station that I just hook my laptop up to, and then I work on a beautiful 29-inch monitor.”

Don’t be afraid to try a new configuration if the original setup isn’t working for you. “I ended up rearranging the space three times to get it right!” said English. It may take time to figure out the best way to organize the space. “I definitely learned how to work more efficiently and what supplies I needed to keep within reach,” said Trevathan. “I’ve got awesome storage space in my office; we planned it that way when we added this portion onto our house.”

Since Pruitt has more space, she’s organized the rooms as a more standard office and a production space. “One is my office with the standard equipment. I have a desk, credenza, bookshelves, chair, fax machine, scanner and printer as well as anything I can’t find a place for,” she said. “The other room houses the production room. It contains computers, a robotic printer, DVD recorders, mixers, cameras, tripods, bags, etc.”

Working from home means being able to run a business, so make sure you have all the necessary software and supplies. Consider having a word processing program like Microsoft Word (or the entire Microsoft Office suite) and accounting software like QuickBooks, and of course, make sure you have up-to-date CAT or captioning software with tech support. Think about cloud or digital storage along with physical storage. Pruitt also uses Wondershare and Adobe Premiere for video editing and has projectors, screens, and lighting.

Trevathan lives in a rural area, so she needs to make sure she has access to all the supplies she needs – it’s not easy to just run to the store. These include binding combs, transcript covers, index and exhibit tabs, copy and printer paper, a schedule book, address labels and different sizes of mailing envelopes, and extra toner. Linton has two whiteboard calendars, a speakerphone, and a fireproof safe to store exhibits. And don’t forget the basics like pens, paper clips, a stapler and staples, etc.

The tax element

If you work from home, you may be able to claim your home office on your taxes. “My CPA figured out a percentage of how many square feet my office is and writes off that same portion of my utilities,” said McGhee. Your accountant should have a formula to determine how much the write-off actually is, and don’t forget to ask about additional spaces like an adjoining bathroom, storage space in another part of the house, or any other area that’s designated as work space.

Make it yours

Since you’ll likely be spending lots of time in your home office, think about what would make it a comfortable space for you. “I’ve got my NCRA certificates and notary certificate framed and on the wall,” said Trevathan, along with her family’s schedules. “I wanted to be able to look out the window, so I had the desk location configured that way,” said Linton. “I wanted it sunny, so I painted it yellow.” English uses Longaberger baskets and “pretty stackable boxes with positive sayings on it” as storage, and she also recommends having “pictures of loved ones to remind you to be grateful.”

Pros and cons

The positive aspects of having a home office are pretty clear: “You can work when you need to,” said McGhee, and Pruitt said she “can cook, clean, launder, and have my animals under my feet.” Trevathan likes that she doesn’t “have to go out of the house to go to an office to do my editing and binding.” Linton added: “If I go to sell the home, anyone who doesn’t want an office can easily turn it back into a bedroom. They might even like to use it as a craft room or a homework space for the kids.”

However, having work nearby in a home office is both an advantage (can’t beat the commute) and a disadvantage. “Sometimes you feel like it’s hard to get away from work,” said McGhee. Trevathan echoed this: “I always feel like I need to be working and never leave work. I’ll run upstairs to the office to return a phone call and end up working on transcripts for an hour before I even realize it.” Perhaps English has figured out the trick, however, to maintaining boundaries. “You can walk out and leave the work behind,” she said. Having a dedicated space for work can mean literal help with compartmentalizing, so when you close the door, you leave the work at work.

Equihacked

mirrored images of computer code written in green on a black background

Photo by Cheryl Pellerin | Dept. of Defense

By Christine Phipps

Equifax announced in September that they discovered a data breach on July 29, that occurred mid-May through July, which affects 143 million Americans.

The hackers were able to access the Equifax data through a security flaw in the Equifax website. In a Sept. 7 post on krebsonsecurity.com, security expert Brian Krebs said, “Equifax may have fallen behind in applying security updates to its internet-facing Web applications. Although the attackers could have exploited an unknown flaw in those applications, I would fully expect Equifax to highlight this fact if it were true – if for no other reason than doing so might make them less culpable and appear as though this was a crime which could have been perpetrated against any company running said Web applications.” The Fort Knox of our identity information was asleep at the wheel.

While this isn’t the largest breach, it’s one of the most serious because the hackers accessed names, social security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and driver’s license numbers. These are the essential elements to take out loans, open credit-card accounts, and more.

Visit equifaxsecurity2017.com to find out if you were affected by clicking on the “Potential Impact” button. Make sure you are on a secure computer (not a hotel or public computer) and are using a secure internet connection (not a public network like a local coffee shop, etc.). Equifax is offering free credit monitoring, identity theft insurance, and other items for those affected. I have always had credit monitoring so that I receive alerts in balance increases and decreases, new accounts, and credit inquiries. If you do not have a system of monitoring in place, I would strongly suggest you do so.

Christine Phipps, RPR, is a freelancer and agency owner in North Palm Beach, Fla., and a member of the NCRA Board of Directors. She can be reached at christine@phippsreporting.com.

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

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

Fast, faster, fastest

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

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

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

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

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

Gadgets and gizmos

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

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

How to compete with some of the best

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Business of being a court reporter

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beyond English

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

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

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

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

Reporters on the red carpet: Writing the Oscars

2017 Oscars reporting and scoping team

2017 Oscars reporting and scoping team

By Megan Rogers

In 1996, Tera Walker was a former court reporting student working as a flight attendant for United Airlines. She’d just launched a reporting company called Steno Scripts and had sent a proposal “to every awards show,” she said. The Oscars contacted her because they didn’t understand what exactly she was proposing to do.

Walker grabbed a couple of court reporting students and drove to Beverly Hills to demonstrate. They wrote about seven to ten minutes of The Usual Suspects with Kevin Spacey, cleaned it up, and printed it out. Walker recounted with a laugh that the transcript was still pretty messy, but the folks at the Oscars didn’t read it — they were impressed with the quick turnaround.

At the time, individual journalists in the backstage pressroom would have tape recorders during the interviews. The result is easy to guess: The celebrities were often misquoted in the next day’s newspapers, and their publicists weren’t thrilled. Now, Walker and her team produce one verbatim transcript that gets distributed from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) to the media.

“We write the questions and answers between the International Press and the Oscar winners for AMPAS,” explained Erika Sjoquist, RPR, CRR, who typically works as a freelancer in Camarillo, Calif. “After our product is finished, AMPAS puts it up on its website, and members of the International Press are able to get copies of the interviews as well.”

Getting called to work the Oscars is a good example of “it’s who you know.” Both Sjoquist and Diane Rugh, RMR, CRR, a freelancer in Snohomish, Wash., got the job via Jeff Cobb. “He knew I had moved to California, but wasn’t sure where,” said Sjoquist. “Jeff was working with Tera Walker at that time, and the team needed a reporter to fill one of the spots.” He reached out to her asking how close she was to Hollywood.

Rugh had a similar story. “I worked for a freelance firm in Seattle, and one of the reporter owners, Cheryl Mangio, RMR, CRR, CMRS, knew I loved movies. She knew the Oscars team that Jeff Cobb worked for was looking for a reporter, so she suggested me,” she said, adding, “I knew I had been given a golden opportunity.” Rugh recommended Carla Wallat, RPR, CRR, a freelancer in Federal Way, Wash. “Diane suggested that I would be a good fit to work with the team,” said Wallat. “Ultimately, Tera Walker asked me to join.”

The team is a mixture of veterans and newbies, but after a couple decades, there’s a definite system. “After working the Awards for as many years as I have, the best part about it is being with the team,” said Sjoquist. “Our team is like family that I get excited about seeing and catching up with every year.” Team members travel from California, Washington, North Carolina, and Virginia. “We’ve turned Oscar Sunday into an Oscar weekend, usually beginning Friday evening, where we make sure we have time to visit, socialize, and have fun with some crazy activity before work on Sunday,” said Sjoquist.

The team is comprised of several reporters, scopists, notetakers, and a runner (usually a court reporting student), and they work with the AMPAS librarians. “The Academy librarians are incredibly knowledgeable about every category nominated, including past and future movies that the nominees have or are working on,” said Wallat. Wallat worked as a notetaker in 2009 and then as a scopist for the team. “The notetaker is tasked with jotting down notes, such as the order of the speakers when they enter the room, spellings that need to be researched. Everything is at such a quick pace that the reporter does not have much time before the next winner may enter the room,” said Wallat. The scopists “work closely with the Academy librarians and research staff to finalize the interviews.”

Wallat said: “In my everyday work, I use a scopist on a regular basis, and after scoping for the Oscars, it has made me realize how valuable my scopist is. It challenges me to write cleaner so it makes her job easier, which in turn produces a quicker turnaround time on the transcript.”

“The three reporters tag team, so I get every third interview that comes up,” explained Rugh, which means, of course, that the reporters have to be ready for anything. “There might be two, three, five, or more people who show up for the interview of, say, the winner of Visual Effects, Sound Editing, Costume Design, and Motion Picture, and you need to know by the time they walk up on the stage, usually about three seconds, who each of them are and get their designations down,” said Sjoquist. “The notetakers are very helpful in this regard. They match names to faces so that we can designate who is talking.”

Jennifer Smith, RMR, CRR, CRC, an official in Mukilteo, Wash., found some similarities between writing the Oscars and both her work in the courthouse and her previous experience in captioning. “This assignment was more similar to closed captioning in the sense that you can’t always see the questioner, only the Oscar winner who is answering the questions. In court, you see everyone who is speaking. Additionally, as in closed captioning, if you can’t hear something or don’t understand something, you cannot interrupt as you could in a courtroom. It’s similar to court in that it’s Q&A and verbatim.”

“The writers have one shot to get all that they can from the interview. It’s not like deposition or court work where you can interrupt the talent and say, ‘Excuse me. Will you please slow down?’ or ‘What was that? I didn’t catch that word.’ Oh, no. You’re hoping to be able to understand and write accents from all over the world: French, Japanese, Indian, Spanish, Australian, English, Arabic, and Farsi, just to name a few,” said Sjoquist. “The winners of the prestigious Oscars are excited. Can you blame them? And so, they often speak extremely fast. They’re expressing gratitude to many people, whose names you hope to find the spellings of because you certainly can’t ask them.”

Rugh also added that the Oscars are different because “at a deposition, I’m not usually starstruck by the deponent whose acting has moved me to tears or that they are so stunningly beautiful or handsome I can’t do anything but stare or have a stupid grin on my face!”

Preparation for an assignment like this begins with ensuring that equipment is in working order and gathering information. “We are required to have the latest update on our software,” said Sjoquist.

“I managed to watch more movies this year than ever before, although I only ended up seeing one of the Best Picture nominees! Other than that, I built a dictionary of all the movie titles, nominee names, and then spent a bit more time researching the foreign films,” said Smith. “The other reporters, Erika and Diana, helped me prep my dictionary for those the morning of. We sat in our hotel room and found out what we could. Lucky for me, Erika got to report the foreign film interview! Hands down, she had the hardest of the bunch.”

“Carol Stone, the head scopist, prepares a list of the nominees every year and makes sure any new team member has the right layouts. Having done this for 11 years, I finally realized I don’t need to put every single movie and nominee in my job dictionary because I will only end up using maybe 5 percent of it,” said Rugh. “I have usually seen most of the nominated Best Pictures, but some of the things that come up during the interviews, such as names and places and people that the winner has collaborated with over their career, is beyond any prep I could do. That’s where our talented and capable scopists come in, with the help of the AMPAS librarians.”

“The day prior to the Oscar broadcast, we meet with the Academy personnel to go over the layout of the room, make sure internet connections work, and confirm the reporters’ audio and page layouts,” said Wallat.

Sjoquist is also on the team that covers the awards for the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA), also a Steno Scripts assignment, which turns into good preparation the month before the Oscars. “The team we have for SAG-AFTRA is much smaller than our Oscars team: three versus 12. To me, it’s not as stressful as working the Academy Awards,” said Sjoquist. “We write the acceptance speeches for SAG-AFTRA. Security is lighter there, too, so we can walk freely among the talent for the most part, and then SAG-AFTRA has a party at the venue for its employees that we go to after the show.”

Perhaps the most fun part of prep work? “Find a dress and shoes!” said Wallat.

“We have so much fun when we play together, but we all individually take very seriously the work portion, which lasts on Oscar Sunday from 4 p.m. to after midnight,” explained Rugh. “I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the three reporters are usually done writing the interviews around 10 p.m., but the scopists are still working for up to three to four hours after the live show has ended.”

“The winners may not arrive to the press room until well after the broadcast is over. This puts a lot of pressure on our team because the press is anxiously awaiting the transcripts,” said Wallat. “We have two hours after the broadcast is over to complete the transcripts.”

Despite the fast-talkers, the long hours, and the pressure to deliver, working the Oscars provides memorable moments unlike any other assignment.

“The writers and notetakers sit in the front row, about 3 feet from the stage where the winners are standing. We are so close to the winners that one year, one winner, Jared Leto, actually handed me his Oscar so that I would confirm how heavy Oscar really is,” said Sjoquist.

“We loved Jared Leto; he just stole our hearts. And it wasn’t just because he gave Erika the statute to hold,” remembered Rugh. “She was trying to write, by the way, and I was too enthralled to try and take over writing for her! He was just so magnetic. And those eyes!”

“My most challenging year was 2011 when The King’s Speech ruled the night with Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Director. The interviewees had heavy accents, which made it take longer to finalize the transcripts,” said Wallat. “The year Sandra Bullock won for Best Actress, she looked stunning in her gorgeous form-fitting gold gown, but she said she wanted to relax and eat a burger.”

“My most memorable Oscar moment was reporting the interview of Viola Davis. First, from a reporting perspective, she was a dream to write,” said Smith. “I was so completely mesmerized by her grace and class that I literally forgot I was writing! There was a huge sense of relief when I looked at my realtime screen and realized I hadn’t stopped.”

“One year we all wore red dresses, and Meryl Streep, as she was walking offstage after her interview, said we all looked beautiful and reached out and took Tera’s hand,” said Rugh. “That was thrilling for all of us to even be acknowledged, but especially for Tera!”

Megan Rogers is NCRA’s Communications Assurance Specialist. She can be reached at mrogers@ncra.org.

STARTING OUT: Imagine that

By Katherine Schilling

I shuffle awkwardly in my black pumps as the floors tick by one at a time – ding, ding. The stainless steel elevator doors make a poor mirror as I try to sneak a peek at my reflection to adjust those pesky fly-aways that the wind’s kicked up. Propping my sunglasses on my head instead, I try to imagine that they serve as a perfectly good headband.

“Do you solemnly swear — swear or affirm to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God? No, no. Drop the whole God part.” I rehearse the line again and again in my head, imagining I’m delivering the affirmation while another part of my brain imagines unloading my equipment in the room: tripod, then machine, then laptop, then cables. Yup, cables definitely last.

When I walk up to the receptionist with my best “I totally know what I’m doing” smile, I imagine that I don’t have a run in my tights from grazing my roller case just minutes earlier. I imagine I’ve done this a million times before.

I’m pretty good at imagining. After all, it’s what I’ve done all through court reporting school. And now I’m finally here, about to take my first deposition.

Fake it until you make it. Visualization. Mind over matter. Call it what you want, but it’s one of the key reasons I got through school. Since before my first day of theory, I had a very specific image in my head of what I would look like after my school career: pencil skirt, black pumps, roller case in hand. There would be tall buildings, cool elevators, and beautiful cityscape views from the windows. I’d be poised and articulate, and I’d take down the record with ease. My writing would be clean; my schedule, full.

The Law of Attraction is the belief that focusing on positive or negative thoughts will bring about positive or negative experiences into your life. Visualizations power that Law of Attraction. Now, no one is saying that simply imagining something will magically make it come true. If you’re a student now or have been in the past, then you know that it takes practice, discipline, focus, and a whole lot of work to pass that final test.

However, maintaining a positive spirit by keeping one’s eyes fixed on the goal is what makes all that work worthwhile. The weeks, months, and even years spent in front of the machine practicing won’t do you a lick of good if you don’t eventually reach your goal; you won’t reach your goal without a positive attitude; you can’t maintain that positive attitude without visualizing your goal.

While there is no one answer to most students’ burning questions — How much should I practice? Should I shorten my writing or write everything out? What’s the fastest way to get through school? — the one constant among all successful graduates is that they had a goal and visualized it until it became a reality.

Demoralization is, above all, the greatest threat to one’s success in school. Visualizing yourself as the successful court reporter you want to be is that imaginary carrot on a stick to help you get through the tough times, something to remind yourself why you’re sitting in front of your machine for hours. It makes the days you dedicate to memorizing briefs and scrimping and saving for the state association conventions worth it. Without that shining light at the end of the tunnel, it is easy to grow to resent the grind of school days.

Painting a magnificent picture of your future can also have the added benefit of tricking yourself into success. In my later speeds when I hit plateaus, I would get frustrated, and then I would get imaginative. I pretended that I’d already passed that test and that the ten minutes of dictation were merely a warm-up. Sometimes it worked. Like imagining a plateful of delicious food to stave off my rumbling belly, that imagined confidence shrugged off nerves and left my apprehension at the classroom door so that I could tune out the negative self-talk and just write.

Now, nearly a year and a half after I left school, has all my visualizing paid off? Well, I got my pencil skirt and pumps, but they’ll sometimes show runs in my tights or get scuffed. On the job, I’m sometimes poised and articulate; other times, I forget my own name. Sometimes my schedule is full, and sometimes it’s emptied by a rash of “cancellitis.” But that doesn’t stop me from still imagining. I’m always making new goals and focusing on them, looking forward to what I can accomplish next.

Whatever your goals are, bring them to life with powerful visualizations. Get creative and don’t skimp on the details. The more vivid the image, the more potent it will be. These self-affirming visualizations will keep your head high when things get tough, they can help you relax during tests, and they will remind you what all your hard work is for.

And just imagine what will come next.

Katherine Schilling, RPR, is a freelancer based in Richmond, Va. She can be reached at katherineschillingcr@gmail.com.

 

REPORTING: Are you ready for daily copy?

By Brenda Rogers-Fiscus, Deborah Smolinske, and Beverly Thomas

It’s Friday at 7:30 p.m. The weekend has officially started. You’re just kicking back to relax with a movie and some popcorn. Then this email hits your inbox:

“We need someone to cover a three-week asbestos trial starting Monday, daily copy, rough at close of each day, four realtime feeds plus judge, multiple copy orders. Are you available?”

Your first reaction: Woot! You can’t type fast enough: “Yes! I’ll take it!”

daily copyAs you hit the send button, your eye falls on the postscript you somehow missed on the first reading: “And, oh, by the way, they need the final no later than 10 p.m. every night.”

Are you thinking: “When will I sleep? When will I eat? Will my family remember what I look like when the trial is over? Will I still have a family? Will the dog remember who I am? What was I thinking? I can’t do this!”

Yes, you can

With a seasoned team of scopists and proofreaders, a little prep work, and the latest technological advances in CAT software, you can do this — and live to tell the tale with a smile on your face.

The first step is to start preparing now, before you get that call or email. A small investment of time and effort now will pay off huge when the big day does arrive.

“But why do I need to prepare now?” you may ask. “I may never need such a team. I don’t even work with a scopist/proofreader on a regular basis. What’s the point in spending time on it now? I’m sure I can just post on Facebook or another forum and find all the help I need at a moment’s notice.”

Maybe; maybe not. Most quality scopists and proofreaders keep a full calendar of work. Forming a good team is always a challenge, even more so at the last minute. Searching for superb help when there is no time for due diligence is a sure recipe for disaster. And, as we all know, even the most foolproof technology can behave like an unruly child, especially when there’s no time to troubleshoot or learn.

Get ready before it happens

First, begin lining up a team of scopists and proofreaders who have extensive knowledge and experience with daily and immediate turnaround work. Do your due diligence. Get references, read testimonials, and pay attention to how questions in groups and forums are answered. You can choose to assemble your own team or you can contact a ready-made team geared exclusively toward daily work.

Second, agree upon a form of communication that will afford all parties the fastest response time possible. Applications like Google Hangouts, Yahoo, AIM, Facebook IM, and Skype are all good options.

Third, have a frank conversation with your team about your expectations and theirs during the course of the job. How do you want to be notified of questionable spots to check before sending out the final? How much — or how little — research do you expect from your team? Do you expect scoping to be done with full audio? How firm are you about having your specific preferences followed to the letter? How will files be transferred back and forth? Who is responsible for putting together the rough? How and when will invoices be sent and when is payment expected?

Fourth, verify your team’s availability as soon as you learn of an impending daily. Send your team any word lists, prior transcripts, and any other information you have that may contain spellings/terms/parties pertinent to the case.

Fifth, set up a short practice session with your team to ensure that you have all the correct settings for your CAT software when performing realtime or daily work.

Finally, relax. You’ve got this! With a solid team behind you, you can focus all your attention on your writing. When there’s a break or it’s lunchtime, you can actually get up and move around, eat a real meal, make a phone call, go outside and enjoy some sunshine. Your team will be there doing the heavy lifting while you get some much-needed downtime to gather your strength for the next round.

You’ll emerge from this experience with a new level of confidence in your skills, your marriage will still be intact, the kids will still know who you are, the dog will still recognize your voice. And you’ll actually look forward to the next time you get that crazy email, knowing that you are equipped with a secret weapon: a proven team of scopists and proofreaders working alongside you every minute with one goal in mind — delivering a finished, polished transcript in record time to your adoring fans – er, clients.

Who’s afraid of that big, bad daily trial now? Not you!

Brenda Rogers-Fiscus, Deborah Smolinske, and Beverly Thomas are the primary team members of Perfect Partners Transcript Brigade, which was established in 2014.  Learn more at transcriptbrigade.wordpress.com.