TRAIN realtime roadblocks: Realtime technology and startup costs

For some reporters, the startup costs of realtime can be worrisome. But starting up doesn’t have to cost a lot, say those who are already realtiming. Start with what you have, they suggest, and add on as money becomes available.

It’s not necessary to run out and buy two new iPads when you decide you want to start providing your realtime feed to others. Everyone has an old computer with Windows on it. And just like that, you, too, have a computer you can use to sell your realtime feed. There is a huge benefit to using your own equipment (although it does cost more money). I find it easier just to have my own iPads at the ready. They are all set up to my specific realtime configuration (WiFi using a LAN). All I have to do is press “connect,” and I’m ready to go! Fewer things to worry about and more time to focus on perfecting my realtime feed.

Lisa Knight, RDR, CRR

Realtime Systems Administrator

TRAIN Subcommittee co-chair

Littleton, Colo.

 

We hear it all the time: Realtime is expensive. Sure it can be, but it doesn’t have to be! When getting started, do your homework and don’t go out and buy whatever you read is popular on Facebook. Start with an old/unused computer or tablet you have laying around the house, and check out the Realtime resource guide for a list of free realtime-viewing software you can use. Before you know it, you have a free realtime set up! Once you’re ready for more bells and whistles, start building your realtime collection slowly. After your first realtime job, you will have an idea of what baseline equipment you need, and then you can start building and personalizing it from there. Will you need a router, or do you want to use StenoCast or stream it through the cloud? Do you want to use a free version of a realtime viewing software or purchase a license or lease? How many viewing devices will you need? These questions can be answered on a budget, so start with small and free, and work your way to investing wisely. Getting started is the key ingredient to shopping on a budget.

– Merilee Johnson, RMR, CRR, CRC

Realtime Systems Administrator

TRAIN Subcommittee co-chair

Eden Prairie, Minn.

 

There is a reason realtime is expensive. We provide a skill that very few have. Our steno machines are expensive, our amazing software is expensive, and tablet s expensive. However, old equipment works just as well as new equipment. It doesn’t take much to start your realtime journey if you have an idea of where to begin. You don’t need the top-of-the-line equipment when you start. All you need is a laptop, a steno machine, a router or WiFi capability, realtime software, and either another laptop or tablet for streaming the realtime. You can find first-generation iPads that are cheaper, and you don’t need to start off with a Luminex. After working hard and getting thrown right into the water, I am now so confident doing realtime that I went out and bought five iPad minis of my own. Once you start, you won’t be able to stop. The momentum is a wonderful thing that will bring you exponential growth if you harness your skill the right way.

It is very important to know what you are investing in and shop around and get as much information as you can before making any purchases. Make sure the keyboard on the laptop makes editing easy for you. I once had to return a laptop because the page up, page down, home, and end keys were shared with the left, right, up, and down arrow keys, and I just could not edit like that. Overall, I think the startup costs are worth it, and if you implement training and teach yourself not to be afraid, you are bound to succeed and exceed your expectations.

– Sharon Lengel, RPR, CRR

TRAIN Subcommittee member

Woodmere, N.Y.

 

First, go with the attitude that you are going to do what it takes to make your investment back. Have a plan to market yourself to your firm, your clients, and other firms.

If you’re on a shoestring budget, work with your CAT vendor to see their options and costs. Again, talk to other realtime reporters to find out their solutions and costs, with the plethora of realtime options out there. There are Internet-streaming methods that are available for providing realtime where you may not even need tablets or throwdowns.

In addition to talking to other reporters, attend seminars. Join Facebook groups — like the TRAIN group — or other listservs, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. So what if you sound like a newbie? Everyone was a newbie. That’s why you’re asking: to gain from their experience.

But keep in mind as you cost-cut your way into the beginning of realtime that success means that you’ll ultimately have to spend what it takes to achieve mastery of the best options available for your realtime clients.

Jason Meadors, RPR, CRR, CRC

TRAIN Subcommittee member

Fort Collins, Colo.

 

 

Court reporters that thrive: Building career resiliency and success through mentoring

Photo by John Lynch

Photo by John Lynch

By Kevin Nourse

New court reporters face a variety of obstacles that can derail their careers. These barriers range from meeting speed requirements in their training programs to getting established in their first full-time role. Psychologists have known for decades that one important factor that helps successful people overcome their challenges is resilience — an ability to bounce back from setbacks. You can enhance your resiliency and thrive in your new career by partnering with a mentor.

In this article, we explore mentoring as an essential ingredient for helping you increase your career resilience and successfully enter the court reporting profession. You will gain insights on what mentoring is, how to find one, and tips for working with your mentor.

What is mentoring?

Mentoring is a partnership you can form with an experienced professional focused on your development and career success. This partnership is a relationship between you and your mentor where you both agree to cooperate as a way of advancing your mutual interests. Mentors agree to serve in this role because they want to help advance the profession and often gain enjoyment from helping people grow. As a mentee, you are interested in successfully completing your court reporter training and getting established in your first role.

While many new court reporters rely on social media, such as Facebook, to get support and answers to their questions, some prefer an on-going trusting relationship with a mentor. Your mentor can play an instrumental role in helping you complete your training and get established in your first role.

Who needs a mentor?

While you should focus the mentoring partnership on your unique needs as a mentee, there are some common situations where mentoring can help.

Career changers considering a career as a court reporter

Making a decision to enter a profession can be an overwhelming challenge without the right information. Career changers interested in becoming a court reporter may choose a mentor to help them determine whether it’s the right profession. Activities like shadowing experienced court reporters to observe what their day is like or conducting informational interviews with seasoned court reporters to learn more about the profession are great ways to find out if the profession is for you.

Students who are training to become a court reporter

Students in court reporting programs are faced with numerous challenges as they learn to master essential concepts and skills. Mentors can play a critical role to help students identify strategies to accelerate learning including increasing their speed. Lisa Hahn, RMR, a freelance reporter in Decatur, Ill., shared how she gave her mentee “tips to combine complex multi-syllabic words in one stroke.”

Another way that mentors provide support to students is in the form of emotional support. Rachel Barkume, RPR, is an official reporter based in Oakhurst, Calif.. She explained “family members don’t understand what court reporting school is like — every day we had pop quizzes that we had to pass as we built our speed. Even when you pass a speed test, the next day you have to work toward the next milestone. It can be very discouraging.” In these situations, a mentor can provide a supportive ear and validate the emotions experienced by a new student. By doing so, students are better able to sustain their perseverance to finish their training programs.

Steve Zinone, RPR, NCRA President and official reporter in Canandaigua, N.Y., adds that experienced mentors can also provide students “a light at the end of the tunnel” to help them maintain their resiliency with a clear vision of what life will look like once they complete their training program.

Recent graduates of court reporter training programs

Newly trained court reporters often experience stress in identifying their reporting focus as well as facing the realities of their first job. With the number of specialty areas available to court reporters as well as types of organizations that provide this service, people who are new to the profession can feel overwhelmed. Mentors can also help early career court reports explore and identify career options.

Starting out in a job after school can be highly stressful as new court reporters face the day-to-day realities that their training programs may not address. Barkume explained how she started her new job after school and was expected to perform reporting for motion call cases. She noted, “I had never experienced this before, and it was overwhelming … so I called my mentor at lunch for support and felt better equipped to complete the first day.”

Getting ready to be mentored

Before you begin looking for a mentor, be sure to do some self-reflection about what you want out of the relationship and the kind of mentor that would be a good match. The following questions will help you clarify your needs and facilitate a good match with a potential mentor:

  • What are your goals or challenges for which a mentor could help?
  • How often do you want to interact with a mentor (e.g., on a regular schedule or as needed)?
  • Do you have a preference for the geographic location of your mentor?
  • How do you want to interact with your mentor (e.g., email, in-person, telephone, Skype, etc.)?
  • Are there certain qualifications or experiences that you would like your mentor to have?

Once you reflect on these questions, you can more easily communicate your needs to prospective mentors.

Finding a mentor

You have decided that a mentor could be helpful and clarified your goals. So how do you go about finding a mentor that is a good match?

There are two ways to identify potential mentors: informal and structured. Informal mentoring relationships happen when you meet an experienced colleague at a professional event and ask them to consider mentoring you to help you achieve your goals. This approach works best if you are comfortable attending professional meetings and engaging experienced court reporters one-on-one. On the other hand, structured mentoring relationships are those that are available from state court reporter associations as well as NCRA. With these mentoring relationships, you will typically submit a request via the website and be matched with a potential mentor. Formal programs, such as the NCRA Virtual Mentor Program, often try to match mentors and mentees based on criteria such as geographic location. Barkume explains “mentees can benefit from a mentor who is in the same geographic area and knows local formats … my mentor sent me the files she used, which saved me time.”

Whatever approach you use, it is useful to have an exploratory conversation with a prospective mentor to learn more about each other. During this conversation, you will also communicate your needs and goals. Ideally, the potential mentor will be a good match. However, it may be that the prospect is not a good fit. In this case, you might consider asking that prospect if he or she knows others who might be a better fit.

Interacting with your mentor

Assuming you found a good match for a mentor, how should you interact with him or her? One of the most important ways you can successfully work with a mentor is to take ownership of the interactions. Some specific strategies you can use include:

Establish an explicit contract at the beginning of a mentoring relationship

Excellent mentoring relationships begin with alignment between a mentor and mentee about the goals of the relationship and the various process associated with working together. While it is not necessary to write a formal agreement, it can be very helpful to clarify certain issues at the beginning of the relationship. For example:

  • How often will you meet and using what communication channel (e.g., email, in-person, telephone, Skype, etc.)?
  • Who will initiate the communication?
  • What is the overall agenda for each call?
  • What are the boundaries related to confidentiality of the information you share?
  • What happens if a crisis emerges and you need to cancel a meeting? How much notice do you need from each other?
  • If the mentoring relationship is not working out for you or your mentor, how will you handle it?

Follow through on your commitments

Mutual respect is a key ingredient of strong mentoring relationships. Mentors are there to support your success as a new court reporter. As part of their role, they may likely provide advice and suggestions. One way you demonstrate respect is listening to your mentor’s suggestions, maintaining a positive attitude, and taking action on the commitments you make. By taking action, you are communicating your respect for your mentor and his or her professional wisdom. By doing so, you are establishing a positive reputation for yourself in the profession.

Communicate regularly

While some court reporters create mentoring partnerships in which they communicate as needed when they face a particularly challenging issue, the best mentoring relationships incorporate regular communication. Many mentoring partnerships start off with more frequent contact then cut back once the relationship is solidly in place. Lisa Johnston, RMR, CRR, CRC, a CART captioner in Melbourne, Fla., advises mentees that “communication is key, and it is important for mentees to reach out to a mentor and not be shy about asking questions.” Johnston described how she interacted through email with one of her mentees every two weeks.

Revisit the relationship if your goals change

The goals you initially identified when you began the mentoring partnership may well change as you grow and develop. If you no longer have a need for your mentor because your goals were achieved, communicate this to him or her. Avoid the temptation to drift off and abruptly stopping communication with your mentor. Again, this is another way to demonstrate respect for your mentor.

Look out for your mentor’s needs

Many experienced court reporters act as mentors because they want to give back to the profession. However, your mentor has his or her growth and development needs too. One way to build a strong relationship that could last a lifetime is to pay attention to ways you can support your mentor. Perhaps you found an article that might interest them or met someone who would be a great networking contact for your mentor?

Consider mentoring others

Despite being new to the profession and possibly still being in school, no doubt there are others following in your footsteps who you might be able to mentor. Not only will you be supporting the court reporting profession, but you will also deepen your learning as a mentor. Zinone explained how rewarding it is when one of his mentees has developed his or her professional support network, becomes more confident as a court reporter, and begins to mentor others.

Entering the court reporting profession can be a demanding and rewarding challenge. The training programs are rigorous. Once you finish your training, there are many ways to launch your career in varying types of organizations. Resiliently bouncing back from setbacks you may face is critical to your success. By establishing a well-designed mentoring partnership early in your career, you can fulfill your dreams of becoming a successful court reporter.

Dr. Kevin Nourse is an executive coach and consultant based on Washington, D.C., and Palm Springs, Calif. He works extensively with associations to develop resilient leaders. Kevin is co-authoring a soon-to-be-released book with Dr. Lynn Schmidt entitled Shift into Thrive: Six Strategies for Women to Unlock the Power of Resiliency.

STUDENT REPORTING: Scoping through school and beyond

By Gretchen House and Roanna L. Ossege

Scoping can accomplish many things for a budding reporter, but there are pitfalls to avoid, lessons to be learned, and trust to be earned. Scoping can be a great way to make money, stay in steno mode, and get on-the-job training. In addition, student scopists gain knowledge and ideas and begin to get an idea of the kind of reporter they may want to be. The issues scopists will likely face as a student are making the investment in CAT software, being careful to manage their time for school and practice while being available to their reporters, and getting the hang of the job so they can find and keep clients.

scoping1Our journey

We decided to start scoping to accommodate our mutual desire to stay close to the field. In addition, scoping gave us more control over our schedules than a traditional job would offer. We both feared that jobs outside of the court reporting world might mean less time focused on our ultimate goal.

Roanna bought her software by taking from a retirement fund, and Gretchen used a leasing option. Both avenues accomplished the goal of allowing us to scope professionally. Some reporters have access to a scoping or editing key that may allow students to scope for them without additional costs. In reality, the best opportunity to have access to a lot of clients is to purchase one of the more popular CAT software options.

scoping2Finding clients

There are several ways to find potential clients. Several websites, including Facebook, have job boards where scopists can meet reporters. Scopists need to be prepared with a well-written, correctly punctuated introduction or ad. This first impression matters to the reporters looking for scoping help. Scopists shouldn’t be afraid to mention that they are court reporting students. Student scopists present a promising option because of the resources they have access to through their school, including an education delivered by reporters. Also, scopists who have attained their scoping certification through their NCRA-certified court reporting program should let their potential clients know. Highlight anything and everything that demonstrates competency and promise. A good opening is to show the reporter that student scopists require less training than someone else.

Another way to find clients is to attend seminars and conventions to network with local reporters. Gretchen attended a CAT class given at an annual convention and was the only student in the class. During introductions, she took her chance to mention that she would like to scope and gave out her email address. She met a reporter who she has been scoping for ever since, and this reporter has become a cheerleader for her as well as she finishes up certification testing.

Roanna found one particular long-term client who was a perfect fit. The reporter was new but not too new. This reporter knew enough to guide a new scopist, and Roanna knew enough to be of value to her. In the end, it was the experience with that reporter that got Roanna her first opportunity as a new reporter. She joined her client’s firm about a year later.

From the writers’ experience, the in-your-face, unavoidable, and most important parts of scoping in order to build and maintain a client list are:

  1. Improve skills with every job
  2. Ask for and take criticism
  3. Apply the criticism
  4. Show progress so the reporter sees the value in training

scoping3The learning curve

Many reporters are so appreciative of scopists who are dedicated, careful, communicative, and loyal, and especially those who always meet their deadlines that they will work with new scopists on what they don’t know. We made up for our inexperience by showing a fierce dedication to impress in any way we could. Did we impress every client? No. Some reporters and scopists are not the right fit. That’s just the way it is. Did we make a ton of mistakes? Yes, we did. But we just kept plugging along.

A common thing heard among reporters is that finding a good scopist is like finding a needle in a haystack. Many reporters are weary of even trying anyone new because anyone can buy software and call themselves a scopist. Student scopists have to demonstrate that they have the special knowledge, skill, focus, and dedication to be an effective scopist. Don’t miss words, and insert basic punctuation. If student scopists lag on the other skills in putting together a transcript, most reporters will value someone who goes word by word with the audio. Reporters can train their scopists much more easily on format, etc. So if the best student scopists can offer in the beginning is incredible attention to detail, they are well on their way to being a value to many reporters.

One of the challenges new scopists face is that they will only be able to scope a few pages an hour at first. This is a good thing. Student scopists need to take their time and get it right. They will build up speed as they go and thus increase their earnings per hour.

Put together an organized system to accept work, complete work, and bill work. This means that scopists communicate that the job was received, it was downloaded into the software, the audio is clear and usable, and that they are ready to go. When Roanna was first starting out, she would stop every 20 pages or so and just text or email an update. It seemed to be an effective way to put reporters at ease until they got to know their new scopist. This kind of communication is very attractive to busy reporters. When the job is complete, reporters should be able to reach their scopists in case there is an issue with the file.

Don’t be upset when a reporter offers feedback on areas of improvement. This is a gift. Find out what reference guide that reporter uses, pull the guide out, and study it. Each reporter and firm has punctuation preferences that may contradict what students learned in school. Respect their preferences, be sure to take notes, and keep a preference sheet for each reporter to tailor their jobs to their preferences.

As student scopists improve and get their name out there, they may find reporters contacting them out of the blue because the reporter heard that the scopist is easy to work with, is dependable, and can produce a transcript. The reporter may not always be the right fit, and that is okay. Scopists need to be comfortable communicating that this is the case.

Before working with new reporters, scopists should clearly communicate in writing their rates, expectations, process, and billing schedule before they take any work. Their billing and invoicing must remain organized. There should be a system in place that clearly states any payment expectations, i.e. check, money order, pay in two weeks, etc. They can also, for example, list a late payment fee, but all that needs to be clear and upfront.

If a new reporter client sends a 300-page video depo of a forensic pathologist, it is okay for student scopists to say they would feel more comfortable with something smaller to start. Starting with 60 to 100 pages of what may be a simple motor-vehicle accident to a seasoned reporter may still challenge a newbie scopist. It takes practice and focus to be able to pick up on small punctuation and formatting issues that our brains sometimes unconsciously autocorrect. At the end of the day, it is okay for scopists to turn down a job that is over their head. This will protect their reputation as they gain experience. Taking small jobs from new reporter clients is the best way to build up a system of trust. By starting small and communicating zealously, scopists will grow and increase their business as they improve and expand their skills.

scoping4Facing your fears

Jumping into scoping and facing the fear of failure is tough to overcome, but student scopists have to conquer these fears if they want to be in this industry. Don’t fear the software. Learn to use it. Don’t fear punctuation. It’s important to master these skills, and it takes time and practice. There are resources everywhere to get help with software, punctuation, and a host of other issues student scopists will face.

Don’t fear asking questions. You don’t know what you don’t know, and every reporter was a student once. Reporters want their scopists to ask questions, want them to get better, and appreciate their scopists seeking clarification as issues arise, rather than turning in an incomplete product.

As is always true in life, facing fears with action is often the best way to develop confidence, and as a future professional reporter, confidence in the ability to produce a great transcript is empowering. On the other hand, if scopists offer to take expedites and rushes before they are ready, they will quickly tarnish their name in this industry, and they could potentially harm their reporters’ reputations. Student scopists should take what they can handle and work up to the bigger stuff.

scoping6What you gain

Student scopists will learn how to research the craziest things. They will learn how to punctuate the unreadable. They will learn things about their software. They will learn how to effectively communicate with their clients. They will learn to ask for help, more help, and some more help. All these lessons become huge assets when student scopists take their first jobs as professional reporters and put together their first transcripts.

Roanna recalls the major advantage of scoping jury trials for her clients. When she faced her first jury trial as a professional reporter, she knew how she wanted to set up the pages and she knew what was coming her way. Without scoping, this process would have been more intimidating and much more difficult in editing.

scoping5Community benefit

The reporting community benefits from offering opportunities to those students who are on the verge of graduating or who have graduated and need to tackle certification. This is the toughest time for a student, as they likely need to work but also want to stay close to the field to maintain motivation to practice and keep moving forward toward their goal. They need our support.

Court reporting students are well placed to train as scopists. They have the medical and legal terminology necessary for success and experience with their software, and many have a good network of working reporters for support. They understand formatting and proceedings and deadlines.

In the end, scoping while we were students was a net positive for us. We got stressed out at times. We had to learn to balance life, work, and our commitment to practice. We both felt that all of our clients were willing to work with our schedules a little bit to accommodate practice and school. But we were both successful in earning money in a court-reporting–related field while able to keep focused on school and certification.

Students interested in scoping should start communicating within the community to see what opportunities they can find. Scoping may require missing a night out or weekend plans with friends, but that is a small price to pay. The insight, experience, networking, and income potential are worth the sacrifice.

 

Gretchen House, Mesa, Ariz., is a graduate of the Gateway Community College Court Reporting program. Roanna L. Ossege, Falls Church, Va., is a freelance reporter in Northern Virginia. Both are on the Student Community of Interest for NCRA.

New Professionals: Tips from the pros

By Annemarie Roketenetz

It’s not uncommon for new professionals in any field to face anxieties when starting out in their chosen career. This is especially true for those entering the court reporting and captioning professions, whether it’s a new internship or a new job.

But take heed, newbies. According to the pros, the three major concerns when starting a new position typically involve first impressions, working with others, and making a lasting, positive impression. And there are numerous ways to deal each of them.

According to Kevin Hunt, a freelance reporter and owner of Jack W. Hunt & Associates in Buffalo, N.Y., a first impression can make the difference between landing a job or being shown the door, regardless of how well someone writes. “When a reporter goes to a job, they’re representing the reporting firm as a whole, and if their clothes are inappropriate or they are not well-groomed, that’s probably not the image the firm wishes to present. That goes for not just the visual impression, but the auditory and olfactory impressions as well.”

NCRF Chair Jan Ballman, RMR, CMRS, owner of Paradigm Reporting & Captioning in Minneapolis, Minn., agrees that first impressions are instant. “Whether it’s fair or unfair, we are judged based on how we appear and whether we have our act together. You should be mistaken for counsel, not the witness,” she said. “If you come screeching through the conference room door for a deposition stressed out, in a huff, in a sweat, or otherwise agitated — whether because of traffic, or your GPS sent you on a wild goose chase, or your infant spit up on your shoulder just as you were leaving, or you had to turn back for your power cords — be assured of two things: First, counsel won’t care why you’re late; and, you’ve just started the day in a deficit when it comes to making a good impression.”

Ballman also stresses that the best and easiest way to create a good first impression is to look great, not average and not just good. “Look like you made an effort and that you belong in a room filled with highly educated professionals,” she advises.

In addition to looking professional, acting professional is also important in making a first positive impression. “I feel the most important part of making a good impression is arriving early, being friendly, having a good attitude, and being organized,” says Shelly Hunter, RPR, CRR, owner of Hunter & Geist, Denver, Colo. “As we all know, depositions are often stressful environments. Having someone in the room that is neutral to all parties and that can remain friendly in the midst of chaos can be a game changer. If a deposition is not going so well for a client, the last thing they want is a court reporter with a bad attitude.”

Don’t let your good impression down once you have established it. According to the pros, be sure to take the time to know the firm you plan to work with and understand its culture both in terms of employment and services offered.

In addition, be sure the work you produce is of high quality in terms of accuracy, readability, and usability. Hunt advises having a conversation with the transcript when proofreading. “The ultimate consumer of your service will not know how beautifully you wrote when they were speaking at 300 words per minute, they won’t know how skillfully you navigated the software used to translate, edit, and print the transcript; they will only make a determination of your skill as a reporter through the final presentation of the transcript. What are the attorneys and witness trying to verbally describe? If you don’t understand something, ask. In brief, if you want to know how your clients will judge you, remember this phrase: ‘It’s the transcript, dummy!’”

To help ensure an accurate transcript, new reporters should also not be afraid to interrupt the person who is speaking if they cannot understand what is being said. “I stress to my reporters that you must interrupt and you cannot rely on your audio sync,” says Hunter. “I stress that it is the reporter’s job to interrupt and get a good record.”

Ballman agrees. “As with anything else in life, it’s all about phraseology, phraseology, phraseology. If you can’t hear, you have no choice but to interrupt. It’s all about how you interrupt,” she says. “Think about how you would like to be interrupted if you were deep in thought and delivering a very important point in front of an audience, then practice doing that so it comes naturally when you have to interrupt attorneys in mid-sentence or mid-thought.”

According to the pros, maintaining lasting good impressions also takes work, and new reporters should make it a habit to keep positive attitudes both on and off the job, be helpful to others, and learn to be unflappable in the face of all things in the world of court reporting. “It’s not just a matter of doing a great job once and then being recognized for it; it’s a matter of doing an impeccable job consistently, over and over and over again,” says Ballman. “That’s how you set yourself apart.”

Hunter also advises that new reporters make it a habit to arrive early at jobs to ensure enough time to address any issues that might arise. “You may have forgotten something in your car. You may have trouble with your equipment. You may have gone to the wrong location. Being early allows you extra time to deal with situations that happen to all of us. You have extra time to add entries to your dictionary from the notice or the caption. Arriving early also allows you time to get acquainted with counsels who might have arrived early, as well. And most importantly, as a new reporter, arriving early will give you time to calm your nerves. There is a confidence attorneys have when they know the court reporter is set up ready to go and it is still 20 or 25 minutes before the deposition is to begin,” she says.

“New situations constantly arise, and as a professional court reporter, it is necessary for each of us to be aware of the guidelines that NCRA provides to assist us in acting ethically and professionally,” Friend continues. “While these guidelines from the Committee on Professional Ethics cannot envision every possible situation, they give a framework for all reporters – whether new or seasoned – on how to act appropriately, professionally, and without favoritism to any party in a case,” Friend advises.New professionals also need to ready for any situation that might arise and remain calm. One way is to be prepared, says Doug Friend, RDR, CRR, with Beouvich, Walter & Friend, Portland, Ore.: “Working as a new reporter can be stressful! Here you are on a deposition or in court, and there is no one to hold your hand, so it’s important to be prepared.

NCRA’s Code of Professional Ethics can be found at NCRA.org/CodeofProfessionalEthics.

Annemarie Roketenetz is NCRA’s Assistant Director of Communications. She can be reached at pr@ncra.org.

 

Developed in coordination with the Corrinne Clark Professionalism Institute

The Corrinne Clark Professionalism Institute, NCRF’s newest initiative, officially launched at the 2015 NCRA Convention & Expo. It was developed to educate court reporting students and new professionals about professionalism, branding, and building a successful career. NCRF will be developing materials, such as seminars and articles, for dissemination for court reporting students and new professionals throughout their careers.

The Corrinne Clark Professionalism Institute was created to honor Clark’s lifelong passion for journalism and education, as well as her love of the court reporting profession. Corrinne Clark is the wife of Robert H. Clark, for whom the NCRF library is named.

Small businesses: SBA loans can be a viable option for business owners

Photo by: epSos .de

Photo by: epSos .de

Small business owners and entrepreneurs seeking financing to help start a business or expand one should consider the many resources the Small Business Administration offers, including loans that are often more flexible and tied to a lower interest rate than conventional loans.

The SBA recognizes companies with fewer than 500 employees as small businesses and attributes them with generating more than half of the nation’s nonfarm private gross domestic product. In addition, the administration notes that small businesses account for nearly half of all jobs in the private sector.

According to the NCRA, freelance court reporters and captioners comprise approximately 70 percent of its membership. In addition, hundreds of court reporting firms throughout the United States provide an array of services including court reporting, broadcast captioning, assistance to people who are deaf and hard-of-hearing, legal videography, business and corporate reporting, and more.

“When I was looking for a loan to buy a business, I knew that the typical standard loan was available, but I also knew I could get better interest rates and the potential for better terms if I used the SBA,” said NCRA member Cregg Seymour, president of CRC Salomon, Inc., a court reporting firm in Baltimore, Md.

Seymour said he interviewed three different banking representatives when searching for his loan and presented each one the terms and conditions he was looking for. He finally settled on working with an institution that has an internal SBA department.

“My pitch to the bank was that I wanted to establish a relationship because I want to do multiple deals over time. I was actually able to name my terms for the loan, something a lot of people don’t realize. Most people think terms need to be five, 10, or 15 years, but through the SBA you can construct them to have their own life,” Seymour said.

He advises those seeking SBA loans to find a banking institution that does a lot of SBA loans such as one that offers an in-house specialist. He also said borrowers should have patience because they might find more boxes to check to qualify since the SBA is a government-sponsored entity and tends to be more tenacious in regards to due diligence.

According to Melanie Samoska, a business banking relationship manager for a branch of SunTrust Bank in Baltimore, Md., the SBA loan process can be just as easy as qualifying for a conventional loan. She also noted that SBA loans can be a great option for business owners who might have had past bad credit issues since the program offers a lower credit score requirement for certain types of loans. However, she emphasizes, bad credit issues should not be the primary reason to apply for a SBA loan.

“There is a misconception that SBA loans take longer than conventional loans. An SBA non-real-estate loan can close within 60 days if all documentation has been presented in a timely manner. If the SBA loan involves real estate, the loan process from beginning to end will typically take on average 120 days,” Samoska said.

NCRA member Teresa Rider, RPR, CRR, president of Rider & Associates, Inc. in Vancouver, Wash., said that after speaking to several more traditional financial institutions and considering the state of the economy at the time and high interest rates on commercial property loans, she was pointed in the direction of SBA to secure a loan when she was looking to purchase a building.

“The paperwork seemed more tedious and extensive than purchasing residential property which I had gone through in the past. However, the SBA was willing to give me a second loan for improvements that were needed in the office building. This helped me tremendously,” Rider said.

Rider said she would recommend SBA loans to other small business owners but would caution them to understand all aspects of the loan first. While conventional loans require borrowers to have liquidity collateral to place against a loan, the SBA will accept the borrower’s house or even a life insurance policy.

“One of the issues that we encountered was that the lender put a lien on our personal residence. This became troublesome when we wanted to refinance our home,” said Rider.

“The company that held the SBA loan was not willing to lift the lien long enough for us to refinance. It also would have made it difficult to sell our home. In the end, we refinanced the SBA loan on the office instead,” she added.

Whether securing a loan from a conventional lender or SBA, borrowers should do their own due diligence and be sure to weigh the pros and cons of all terms of the loan, including what type of loan product fits their needs the best.

“I found the SBA pretty easy to work with. I have the experience of doing large loans so I went in with the proper expectations. Have your ducks in a row. It is relatively easy to obtain a loan through the SBA if you have good financials, good tax records, and profit and loss information in place to tell a good story,” Seymour said.

“This is a great time for folks to be seeking capital. Banks have private venture groups looking for ways to loan money to good people, and the SBA wants to work with good candidates,” he noted.

NCRF announces deadline for student scholarship and grant

National Court Reporters FoundationNominations are now being accepted by the National Court Reporters Foundation for the Frank Sarli Memorial Scholarship and the New Professional Reporter Grant. The deadline for both the scholarship and grant is March 27.

The Frank Sarli Memorial Scholarship of $2,000 has benefited court reporting students nearing graduation for nearly two decades. The New Professional Reporter Grant of $2,000 benefits a qualified new working reporter who has graduated from an NCRA-certified program within the past year. Both awards are based on nominations and recipients must meet a number of criteria.

NCRF’s Frank Sarli Memorial Scholarship honors the late Frank Sarli, a court reporter who was committed to supporting students at the highest level of their learning curve. Sarli, who was studying to become a professional pianist, turned to a court reporting career when he could no longer afford the tuition to music school. During his career, he opened Accurate Court Reporters in Orlando, Fla., Orange County’s first independent court reporting firm, and was a founding member of the Florida Shorthand Reporters Association. Sarli also served in numerous roles at the national level, including as a director for NCRA. He was also the first Floridian to earn NCRA’s esteemed Distinguished Service Award.

Both the scholarship and the grant are supported by donations to the NCRF Angels Drive and other fundraising events. Recipients will be recognized at the 2015 NCRA Convention & Expo., being held in New York City, July 30 – Aug. 2.

To learn more about the Frank Sarli Memorial Scholarship or the New Professional Reporter Grant, visit NCRA.org/Foundation.

Marketing legal videographers

NCRA’s Certified Legal Videographers Council leaders Bruce Balmer, MBA, CLVS, Columbia, S.C., and Brian Clune, CLVS, San Anselmo, Calif., were joined by Jason Leven, CLVS, Washington, D.C., to present a conceptual overview of how and where to market legal video services during a session held at the association’s recent TechCon conference held April 11-13 in Atlanta. The panelists shared their experiences, practices, and insights with session attendees about an array of aspects related to successfully marketing a legal videography services business.

Define your geographical market

According to the panelists, professionals need to define where they plan to provide their services, for example, only in the downtown area of a single city, surrounding cities, one county or more, statewide, national, or international. In addition, they should determine their fees for other aspects of doing business including travel reimbursements, job referral fees, and cancellation charges at the same time as they determine their general service fees.

Determine what services to provide

Legal videographers have a wide range of areas where they can offer their services so it is important to identify the services and specialty areas where they plan to focus, such as depositions, day in the life videos, settlements, site visits, courtroom playbacks, or duplication and edition. They should also consider non-video services such as court reporting services, trial presentations, providing conference rooms, and a new trend called audio/videotape transcription where authorities want surveillance tapes transcribed.

Identify your competition

Striking out on your own can be exciting but to ensure you set your business up for success, it is important to identify your competition. Spend some research time to determine whether there are similar businesses in your area, how many there are, what areas they serve, and how healthy they are. In addition, determine what the standard rates are in your market area for the services you plan to provide and price accordingly, making sure you are not the cheapest guy in town or the highest, agreed the panelists.

Identify your customers

Among potential customers to target include local court reporters and court reporting firms, as these are who typically schedule depositions. The panelists suggested visiting local firms and asking if they have a videographer on staff and if so, letting them know that you are available if they need additional assistance. Other potential customers include fellow videographers, national court reporting firms, legal secretaries, and attorneys themselves.

Effective marketing tools

Effective marketing doesn’t always have to cost money, especially when it takes the form of networking. The panelists suggested new business owners take advantage of the opportunities and benefits of membership in professional associations related to their field of expertise including legal-related groups. Other cost-effective marketing tips presented included making yourself a resource by providing articles to professional newsletters and speaking at association meetings, civic organizations, and schools. Also, submit formal announcements to local and legal media outlets about new hires and new services you might now offer.

Direct marketing tools

According to the experts, direct marketing pieces such as postcards are an effective and cost efficient way to create name recognition within your market place. In addition, they recommended maintaining mailing lists of both existing clients and potential clients and use different messages when marketing to them.

Secrets of success: Positive thinking, Discipline, and People Skills

Positive Thinking, Discipline, People Skills
Diane Hromek, RMR, CMRS, has been in the court reporting field for more than three decades. Born and raised in Illinois, Hromek splits her time between Cape Coral, Fla., and Lake Tomahawk, Wis. After seeing an ad for court reporting school at age 16, she received her parent’s permission and started Bryant-Stratton College in Chicago between her junior and senior years of high school. Hromek went on to graduate with a court reporting degree in 1968. She is the owner and manager of Diane Hromek’s Court Reporters and runs her business with the help of her handy BlackBerry, Verizon Hotspot, laptop, and high-speed printer.

How important are credentials and continued education in becoming successful?

Generally speaking, I have never had an attorney ask me about special credentials I have received. They are interested in what I can do and how fast I can get it done. They assume I can do my job accurately.

However, the more education a reporter has, the better. When a reporter is at a job site, attorneys and witnesses expect court reporters to know the basics about a subject. That is why I have always advocated that a reporter take a course in a certain area they may have an interest in, such as securities, real estate, construction, medicine, etc. Also, reading the paper and keeping up with spellings and world events is mandatory. Even sports.

As an owner of a small business, I have needed support or courses addressing how to run a business and related subjects, such as Quickbooks, marketing, taxes, etc. Getting to go to an owner’s seminar would be great.

What would be your advice on building up business in several locations?

Building a business in new locations was tricky. I remember one court reporter who I trained right out of school. She is a great gal. She came from a small town in Illinois far from Chicago. After I trained her, she went home and started her own business in that same small town where she grew up. I understood that and wished her well. Still, my business suffered a loss.

I thought it would be an interesting idea to start a business of taking students from school and then teaching them the ropes for a fee. It takes lots of time to train a new reporter. In our industry, time means money. Just think of how much time it takes to edit a transcript and how much time it takes to train a new reporter. So, to answer the question, establishing a new business in strange places just takes time.

I am now a business owner, primarily, and a court reporter, secondarily. I have owned my own business since 1974. At the time that I made the decision to have my own business, I did the math, thought about the clients who always liked to work with me, and thought if I opened my own business, I would be better off financially. (That is not necessarily true, because being a business owner is way different than being a court reporter. Both need the proper training.)

What are the challenges and rewards of owning a business?

The challenges: Not enough work; too much work; not enough money to pay the bills; trying to make a profit; making sure to follow the rules and regulations or guides for the court reporters; knowing where I stand with the attorneys so as not to get pushed or pulled in the wrong direction; training court reporters; ensuring quality control; meeting deadlines, especially when typing transcripts, which was how transcripts were made at the time. Being a woman business owner alone and dealing with male attorneys.

The rewards: The pride of saying that I own a business, especially for many years, and of finishing contracts honorably; being able to help other reporters; speaking to schools and encouraging student reporters; working as a reporter on amazing cases and meeting people affiliated with them; being in the heart of Chicago politics and Illinois politics and keeping my mouth shut; traveling around the world to report; and earning the monies to live an enriched lifestyle, including the ability to buy airplanes, fly them, pay mortgages on them, and grow to the next airplane – five of them as of this time, one at a time.

What personal traits have contributed to your success?

First, my parents were always there to support me in every way. My father had a business, a used car lot and auto body shop. Ex-Army, he exhibited some traits that I have inherited without realizing where they came from.

My mother, a homemaker, encouraged me every step of the way in everything my sister and I did. She was always there for us, cooking, cleaning, and loving us. We didn’t have to clean or cook so that we could concentrate on school and piano. The philosophy worked so that we wanted to cook and clean and be like mom as we grew older. We didn’t have to be told.

Also, training and discipline to become a concert pianist. Internal drive. The power of positive thinking and my Christian beliefs. Discipline, from playing the piano, to practice.

How has court reporting changed over the years?

We used to type transcripts. I can remember one time, I had several copies that were ordered. I had to use hectograph paper. When I made a mistake, I would have to stop, separate the sheets in the typewriter, take a razor blade and scratch out the error, and then put the sheets back together, hope they didn’t slip, and hit the right key to correct the transcript.

At that time, we had a note puller with a foot pedal. One would step on the foot pedal, and it would activate the notes to progress upward on a slanted easel, over the top, and, if one was lucky, the notes would fold nicely on the other side. If a breeze blew, the notes would scatter all over. It was a lot easier than flipping the steno notes over as we finished typing from them.

At that time, no self-respecting court reporter ever used a tape recorder as a backup. If you dropped, you interrupted. If you interrupted too much, that was a big problem. The attorney was apt to call for another reporter or even interrupt the proceedings to get a different reporter.

Steno machines used to be really light to carry. I think, perhaps, that is why people thought of us as secretaries versus court reporters. As our equipment became more intriguing and our ability to do amazing things with it grew, we earned the respect of being court reporters and were more respected for charging the rates we do now.

There was no such thing as a “dirty disk.” There was an unproofread transcript. That is what was used when doing daily copies when there was no time to proofread transcripts – such as when we typed transcripts through the night to be in the hands of the attorneys before court began the next morning.

Believe it or not, I remember a time before fax machines and copy machines. What wonderful inventions!

Notices of deposition. I suppose those were always there. But now, when I get a phone call or email requesting a court reporter, before the client has a chance to start dictating the job information, I simply ask him or her to fax or email the notice of deposition and the service list with all the information possible about the attorneys of record. I save all the NODs in my computer and send them as attachments to the court reporters who accept the job. The procedure used to be for the court reporter to arrive at the deposition and, after setting up the steno machine, ask the attorney for the caption. By hand, we used to copy it word for word, thus taking long periods of time while the attorneys made small talk and waited politely for the court reporter to finish. We had to ask each attorney for his or her name and who he or she represented. After we assigned symbols for the attorneys for our steno machines, then, 15 minutes later, we were ready to start. At the end of the deposition, we would ask on the record who was ordering a transcript. Now, many reporters use an order form. At that time, it was easy. “Do you want a transcript?” “Yes.” Now, the choices are so many: “Do you want a mini? A concordance? An ETran? A pdf?”

There was a time when smoking was allowed in the deposition rooms. One time, there were five attorneys, a witness, and me. All but one person smoked in that small, closed-door room. I wondered how I would survive such situations in the future. I was 18 and intimidated by just being among attorneys. How was I going to ask them to not smoke?

Attitudes of attorneys toward reporters have changed with the times. There were times that I would rather burst than ask for a bathroom break. People are more relaxed now, such that asking for a recess should be totally acceptable.

What kind of skills are needed to be successful?

People skills! Also dealing with clients. I always lean their way, if at all possible, even if I take a loss. Also with court reporters. If they charge a little extra, even if it is not what my rates are/were, I don’t quarrel. I am so grateful they are willing to work with me. Most are humble and wonderful to work with and willing to bend.

Other skills: Math. You never know when a customer will call and ask for a bid to do a big job. You have to know how to do fractions, percentages, and know your costs so that you can make a profit. Personal temperature control: Always stay calm about everything. Tongue control: Measure what you are going to say. “Treat wisdom as a sweetheart.” (The Bible.) Acknowledge and praise the reporters. We all work so hard! Advertising: Be smart where to put your money. Savings: This is one of the most important things I learned from my accountant: Save. I started a savings account and try to put aside 10 percent of every deposit, just for a rainy day. (Thank goodness, it doesn’t rain too much.) I also dip into this fund at Christmas. Nice to have. Thank yous: Very important key to running a business. Just a little note, handwritten, is all it takes – usually.

What advice would you give a student who is about to enter the field?

Get with an agency that is very busy, one that takes all different sorts of work. Be willing to go to court, take meetings, do things over your head so as to grow. Read at least 50 transcripts from that agency so that you will know their format and clients. Know software for various computer programs like Microsoft Outlook, Quickbooks, etc. Take computer courses. Have your own technician. Hire your own scopist. Start together and grow together. Two of them are even better. That way, if you have a daily copy or a huge amount of transcript to get out right away, there is no delay, and no one gets tired out. Always remain loyal to the agency and be grateful. Be positive. Dress and act professionally. That is half the fun of this job. Allow clients quiet time when you arrive on the job unless they engage you. You are there to serve them. Be half an hour early. Get transcripts in way before they need them. Read the newspaper. I offer my work to the Lord. I am doing a service to mankind when I do a good job, helping people who are in trouble or quarreling over something. The law keeps peace. There were scribes back in Biblical times, and I think there always will be.

What type of advice would you give to an established court reporter who is considering getting out of the field due to changes in the business?

The right answer is to go where your heart is. Right? Still, if you can help someone, keep on going. Life is short. Do what makes you happy. Help others. Maybe the right answer is to close the business.

See what fits each individual person. It takes money to keep an agency going. There are many things to consider: advertising through NCRA or individual websites, the cost of keeping your license or upgrading your software or servicing your hardware. Illinois requires continuing education points. In Florida, I need to renew my notary license at a cost of about $250. The cost of steno software is $750. Quickbooks costs about $220. The cost of my BlackBerry and Hotspot, $340 monthly. Other advertising. Binders. Office supplies. Business cards. Brochures. Other promotional gifts – under $100 per client yearly. It takes time, too, as you (or someone) must be present to take phone calls and respond to emails in a timely manner.

To answer the question again, I believe digital recording in the courthouse has some merit for smaller cases, especially with budget cutting. I understand when there is a fender-bender case, it may not be appropriate to spend a thousand bucks when the total costs of the accident don’t amount to half that. And I could see how important it is to spend the dollars necessary to hire a court reporter for a high-end medical or product case. As a reporter, one better be ready for exciting reporting on cases of more sophisticated matters, which is not a place for a beginner. Also, this is a situation where experience and knowledge come into play. Reading numerous finished transcripts by experienced reporters would be very helpful for young reporters.

Where do you see the court reporting profession going in the future? And how can reporters to prepare for that?

I thought about 10 years ago that reporting would end. But the technology kept it going. I love all the new things I know about computers and technology. I attend seminars to learn the latest. To respond more directly to the question, I believe reporters who are chosen to work on depositions and trials will have to be the most professional ones available, with good speed, accuracy, dependability, professional conduct and appearance, a proper work ethic, so that they can get the job done on time or ahead of time.

I encourage reporters to work three weeks and take off the fourth week every month or at least a long weekend to rest. Lenore Weiss, an agency owner in Chicago who has passed away, said: Never give up an important event in your personal life for court reporting. In summary, I am grateful for the opportunity to share some of my experiences as a court reporter and an agency owner.

Student Report: The shock of the real world

“You all right in there?” hollered the attorney as he knocked on the bathroom door.

I could not answer him as I continued to vomit, an already embarrassing situation made worse by the fact that the law office was an old wooden house located in midtown Houston. In these types of structures, loud noises reverberate with ferocity across every room. No sounds are hidden in this longstanding house, especially the ones my unforeseen sickness was producing. When I finally regained the strength and stillness to answer the attorney, I faintly answered, “Yes, sir. I just need a few minutes. I’m sorry.”

Hundreds of panicked thoughts raced through my mind. Do I call the court reporting firm that assigned me to this job and let them know what is going on? Will the attorneys automatically send me home for this? Did I mess up the record when, minutes ago, I asked everyone in the room to please excuse me? The uneasiness of my stomach was exacerbated by the fear and uncertainty starting to run through me.

After I carefully paced myself back to the conference room and said that we could resume the proceedings, the attorney asked me if the court reporting agency that sent me should dispatch another court reporter. I politely denied the idea and insisted that I was fine to continue. Six hours later, we concluded with the final witness for the day. I packed up and slowly limped to the car carrying my steno machine and laptop. My equipment seemed to weigh a thousand pounds more than usual after a long day of recording testimony for more than eight hours, with no shortage of the attorney and deponent angrily talking over each other at what seemed to be more than 300 words per minute.

This was my very first job ever as a licensed court reporter.

My mind began to reel at how my very first assignment actually unfolded. I did not have any answers or points of reference for a day like this. My court reporting school or instructors never mentioned days like this. I had no idea if I handled the day’s unusual events correctly or not. I experienced a lot of emotions as I sat quietly in my car that evening, but mostly I felt simply unprepared — unprepared for dealing with belligerent witnesses who refuse to slow down their speaking as they direct livid orations at the questioning attorney; unprepared for the pain and stiffness shooting through my arms after the first three hours of writing to intensely brisk back-and-forth testimony; unprepared for dealing with an unexpected sickness while simultaneously trying to make the best possible impression on my first freelance assignment.

I just felt lost.

Thankfully, there would be more jobs. There would be better depositions. There would be kind attorneys and compliant witnesses who converse with a friendly calm. There would be days where I am complimented for my professionalism and sharp appearance. Thankfully, those days would slowly become average for my life as a court reporter. But I also experienced my fair share of court reporting “horror stories,” as CSRs love to share with each other when they convene. It is interesting to listen to court reporters regale others with their more embarrassing, frustrating, and bizarre jobs. Sometimes these stories are told to entertain; sometimes they are told to educate; other times they are told for what seems like the sake of experiencing a therapeutic catharsis — or even a confession.

But many times, you will hear the same final thought with these old court reporting war stories: “I was not prepared for that.”

As I took some days to alleviate the shell shock of my very first job, I began to realize that my training for being a court reporter and the real-life application of being a court reporter turned out to be two completely different things. Yes, my court reporting procedures class in school was invaluable in its practicality and relevance; yes, the interning I did with working reporters was an eye-opening educational experience; yes, my instructors did warn us of strange jobs that we may take as reporters. But there is still so much to absorb and figure out when you first embark on jobs as a bright-eyed certified reporter. For instance:

• What do you do when the attorney who hired you wants to go off the record, but opposing counsel demands that you stay on?

• What do you do when an admitted exhibit is a firearm or bag of narcotics?

• What do you do when an expert witness’s accent is incredibly heavy, to the point where you only understand every other word they are saying?

• What do you do about paying taxes as you begin to make money as a licensed court reporter?

Of course, there is a consensus for a “right answer” for all of these example situations. But would a student who is about to take their certification exam know what to do in these instances? Would a court reporter who has been working for only six months in the field know what to do in these scenarios?

I spoke to several court reporters about their own shocks of transitioning from a student of stenography to working in the profession full-time. Much like the surprise of my first day of proceedings having wild dictation speeds, many veteran court reporters recall their own dismay of trying to keep up as neophytes. A working professional confessed to me, “I wasn’t prepared to make the transition from five-minute takes to real-world conversation at 300 wpm for 20- to 60-second bursts, followed by a pause, and then an answer at 180 words a minute — rinse and repeat for hours on end.” A court reporter from Delaware communicates this same idea with sobering brevity when she said, “Depositions don’t happen in five-minute takes.”

Some reporters began their career with questions of how to handle everything that happens outside of the deposition proceedings. “I could write, and I could punctuate. I even expected the arguing attorneys,” a realtime reporter from California told me. “What I had no clue about was the administrative side of reporting: Worksheets, billing, calendaring, taxes, shipping, tracking receipts, and expenses. I was totally unprepared.”

I have had the pleasure of mentoring new court reporters, most of whom I know through the school I attended and developed friendships with. I cannot count the number of times I have guided new reporters on where to order exhibit stickers, how to keep track of their mileage for each deposition, or how to swear in an interpreter. Each time I give out these useful tidbits of information to burgeoning reporters, it affirms the harsh reality that new court reporters need a lot more attention and help than they are normally getting — whether through their school or not — to ensure that they are doing the best they can for the clients they serve.

My older brother became a certified shorthand reporter years after I did, and I remember every day answering a seemingly endless number of questions regarding the tiny, important details of working as a court reporter and how jobs actually happen on a day-to-day basis. There were times when the answers I gave him almost stunned him. Even with his four-plus years of intense training as a stenographer, he was still learning things about the industry that befuddled him. I could almost see the battle taking place in his mind between his expectations of responsibilities as a court reporter and the reality of them.

What’s more interesting to learn about many reporters is how long it actually took for them to feel remotely competent at their job — or not. A seasoned Washington, D.C., court reporter candidly told me, “After five years, I was amazed that every day was worse than school, and I was writing like the wind constantly. I was exhausted, discouraged, and ready to quit.” Meanwhile, another reporter said to me, “The real coldwater shock was how long it took me to get comfortable with the job — probably five years.” Just between these two court reporters, after more than 1,800 days on the job, one is barely coping with their assignments while the other is just realizing that they finally feel confident with the day-to-day workload.

What is it like, then, for court reporters who have only been doing it for a week?

The undeniable current of truth underneath all of the confusion, pain, and astonishment of transitioning from a stenography student to a professional is that they are desperate for information, for guidance, for a helping hand. Some court reporters reveal that they may not still be doing what they are doing if it were not for those that helped them along the way. One reporter emphasized to me that her mentors — two veterans who gave her a steady stream of kindness and help — were the deciding factor in keeping her in the business. “If it weren’t for these two gentlemen, I don’t know if I would have stayed in reporting.”

Today’s digital age allows for all sorts of people with commonalities to come together and help each other, especially court reporters and court reporting students or the newly certified. The exchange of information going from wise working reporters to those who just became licensed is encouraging and sometimes moving. You can see the relief when a newbie reporter thanks everyone so much for their feedback and help after posting their current questions and frustrations. I gladly participate in the daily encouragement and guidance of students and new reporters. Telling a new reporter where to place a comma in a witness’s answer can be more than a brief lesson in grammar; it can be a reassurance that they are not alone.

In my mind’s eye, I sometimes look back on the young man who unintentionally threw up in the attorney’s guest restroom on his very first job. I would have gotten on the phone with him that night and asked him how his first day went. I would have encouraged him to laugh about it, convince him that it will make a great story for other new reporters in the future. Then I would have shown him how to handle things like that in the future if the occasion should arise.

Someone trying to pass their court reporting certification exam once wrote me after I offered them advice and said, “You are a blessing to the court reporting community.” While that is a very kind thing to say, it made me realize that is actually exactly what we are: a community. Communities thrive by being self-sustaining and self-healing, by letting the stronger portions support weaker portions, by having its inhabitants serve one other whenever they can. Everyone can contribute something in their own unique way, even if it is just a little.

There is no doubt: Offering your unique help to those who need it in our precious community goes a long, long way.

Student Report: Launching your court reporting career

Looking for a job in today’s competitive market can be difficult. So how do you make yourself stand out among the competition? How do you get a potential employer to take interest in you and want to interview you? According to the pros, the best way is to differentiate ourself. Focus your résumé around your strengths and goals. Let your unique skills and abilities shine, every step of the way — from your résumé to the follow-up after an interview.

Résumé

Positive first impressions can help you stand out among the competition. Your first opportunity to make a good impression is with your résumé. The person reviewing your résumé is generally the one who will decide whether you will get an interview or not. So consider your résumé your first interview, as well as the first opportunity to promote yourself. Pay attention to detail. A résumé should be easy to read, concise, neat, and well organized. Undoubtedly, a future court reporter should use proper grammar and correct spelling. When a résumé is free of errors, it allows the reader to focus on the content.

Michelle Grimes, a recent graduate of the College of Court Reporting, located in Hobart, Ind., feels that proofreading your résumé is of utmost importance because it demonstrates use of correct spelling, grammar skills, attention to detail, thoroughness, and a strong integrity to make your work “sparkle.”

In addition, résumés should be tailored to each specific job or position you are applying for — they are not one size fits all. Read the job description carefully and figure out what qualifications the employer is looking for and what you can offer them. Then tailor your résumé around the skills and experience you have specific to that position.

Be sure to showcase your skills and abilities. List any credentials you have, as well as membership in any court reporting or other professional associations and any relevant experience. It is also important to include the court reporting program you graduated from and your academic achievements. In addition, make note of any efforts you are taking to further your skills, and include activities that reflect good social skills such as groups for which you volunteer or social groups with which you are involved. Along with listing your skills and experience, consider including how those skills can benefit your potential employer.

If you are a young professional just getting started in your career, outside activities can provide you with the experience to show skills you may not have had the opportunity to use in your professional life, such as leadership, organization, and time management.

Finally, always volunteer a difficult transcript for your potential employers to review. “When a reporter volunteers a transcript, I am always impressed, provided it turns out to be excellent, of course,” said Tiffany Alley, RPR, founder of Tiffany Alley Global Reporting & Video in Atlanta, Ga.

Interview

It is better to be 10 minutes early than 10 minutes late. Being prompt for your interview shows you want to be there and you respect the interviewer’s time. When introductions are made at an interview, be sure to make eye contact, give a firm handshake, and address the interviewer by name.

“It goes without saying that there’s never a second chance at first impressions, so appearance and friendliness must always be tops,” said Robert Gramann, RPR, President of Gramann Reporting & Videoconferencing, in Milwaukee, Minn.

During the interview, convey that you are willing to go the extra mile to keep attorneys loyal to the company you represent. Demonstrate flexibility and a cooperative attitude. Be yourself. Try to relax and enjoy learning about the job opportunity, expectations, and the people employed there.

Focus on what the interviewer asks and then be concise but thorough when answering. If it helps to illustrate your skills, provide an example of the work you have done. Be honest. If you don’t have a particular skill, just state that and follow up with your intentions of future plans to gain the necessary skill set. Research the firm before your interview. During the interview, ask great questions to show that you are familiar with the company and the specific position for which you are applying.

Bring a copy of your résumé to an interview along with two or three business references and their contact information, and be prepared to leave this information with the interviewer. Also, be sure to make contact with your references in advance to tell them you are interviewing and with which firms so they are prepared and not caught off guard.

Finally, ask the interviewer for their business card. Their business card will help you remember their name, provide the correct spelling of their name, and list their street and email addresses. This is all crucial information you will need when you send a thank-you note.

Interview follow-up

Follow up any interview with an email or hand-written thank-you note to each person with whom you interviewed. Since many people don’t follow an interview with a thank-you note, doing so makes you stand out from the crowd and can help reinforce that you’re a strong candidate. A thank-you note shows good business etiquette and reinforces your interest in the position.

A thank-you note can also be used to address any issues or concerns that came up during the interview. Briefly thank the interviewer for their time, restate why you want the job, and write something about how you intend to make a contribution to the firm. If you interviewed with several people, add something specific about that interviewer, making each note unique. Keep it short and simple — a couple of paragraphs is adequate — and make sure to proofread the note before sending it out. Try to send your thank-you note that evening so the interviewer will receive it the next day. If that is not possible, make sure to send it within 24 hours of the interview.

Even if you feel a particular job is not for you, follow up with a thank-you note. Potential employers will remember you and may call you back for another position or recommend you to another firm.

Networking

Personal contacts are invaluable when it comes to getting noticed. It is often said it is not what you know, but who you know. It is never too early to begin networking. Networking is all about building relationships. It goes without saying the more time you have to network, the larger your network is going to be and the greater the potential for launching your career. Networking is an investment in your career and your future. Start networking while you are still in school. One of the best places to network is at your state association events and NCRA conventions. What better place to meet prospective employers? “I’ve found lots of work because of contacts I have made there,” said Joshua Foley, a recent graduate of College of Court Reporting, in Hobart, Ind.

Social Media

Social media sites such as LinkedIn are also a great place to network. Join and actively participate in court reporting forums and other career-related sites. Social media can be used as a tool to promote yourself by connecting to sites like a company’s LinkedIn page. “Social media is like many other forms of advertising. If your name keeps popping up in different but related reporting venues, your chances of obtaining a reporting position increase,” said Gramann.

Make sure to recognize, however, that social media has the potential to make or break your career. Social media should focus on activities and endeavors that show good judgment. Many employers check social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to learn more about potential candidates, so consider social media sites as part of your résumé.

Advice from seasoned professionals

Use your spare time to increase your writing speed. “Extra speed is like money in the bank. Become an expert at using your CAT software by signing up for training, attending webinars, viewing tutorials, and reading the manual,” said Gramann.

In addition, be willing to contact all the major firms in your area and ask to be put on their overflow list. “Take whatever job is offered to you and exceed production expectations,” advises Valerie Seaton, RPR, CCR, president of Moburg, Seaton & Watkins, in Seattle, Wash.

Alley has this final piece of advice for getting yourself recognized and remembered,“ You need a twist — something that makes you unique and attractive to your ideal employer. Training new reporters is a lot of work; give the employer a good reason why they should be willing to invest in you. If you want the job, ask for it.”