Overcoming your fear

By Linda A. Kaiser

What is fear? Webster’s defines fear as an unpleasant, often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger. In the verb tense, fear is defined as to be afraid or apprehensive. I’d like us to focus on two words in each of those meanings: anticipation and apprehensive.

When you anticipate something, the outcome of that event can either be good or bad. At the conclusion of that event, the anticipation dissipates. To anticipate is to be active. You can either anticipate something with excitement or anticipate something with trepidation. You are in charge whether you put a positive or a negative spin on your anticipation. I suggest you go forward with an expectancy versus an expectation, thereby alleviating a possible disappointment due to your expectations.

To be apprehensive puts you in a position of being afraid, reluctant, thus holding you back and ultimately aversive.

I would like to help turn your fear and apprehension into motivation. Fear can be highly effective. We are taught at a young age that fear is something to take heed of, as in the instance of don’t touch the stove top or you’ll get burned. You are motivated to not touch the stove top so you don’t get burned.

I propose to you that the fear of realtiming is a fear you can overcome. Here are some basic steps that I utilize, even to this day, in my fight to overcome fears of realtiming.

I first start the day out with some “self” talk. I focus on my strengths and my abilities instead of focusing on where I perceive my weaknesses are. I spend ten minutes, before even rising, to pronounce to myself that I can conquer whatever may come my way that day.

As I enter whatever arena I am writing in that day, I am reminded of my “self” talk that morning and that I can proceed with confidence to tackle whatever comes. This confidence also encourages me to continue to educate myself about the ins and outs of realtiming. If I encounter a problem while setting everyone up, I then put into play the education I have about troubleshooting. While I am writing, I focus on what is translating correctly, but also take note on areas that may need some improvement. It’s at that point that I incorporate some of the tricks I’ve learned and incorporate those in helping me achieve a better translation rate. My improved skill set has opened up a vast amount of opportunities to stay alive in our great profession.

There is a method to this madness. To sum it up, “self” talk has built my confidence. It has built my desire for knowledge, which has built up my abilities, which has moved me into new opportunities.

Your method of madness may be slightly different. The key is to keep striving to find what works for you and to stay motivated to overcome fear.

Lastly, fear isn’t an emotion that will ever go away. You have the power to either let it reside in you or use the powers in you and work to conquer it. See where your empowerment will lead you.

Linda A. Kaiser, RMR, CRR, is an official in Cedar Hill, Texas. She can be reached at Lmarptr@aol.com.

Conquer your realtime mountain

If fear is what is stopping you from becoming proficient in realtime, all you may need is a little inspiration to conquer your fears. A quote frequently attributed to sales guru Zig Ziglar is: “F-E-A-R has two meanings: ‘Forget Everything And Run’ or ‘Face Everything And Rise.’ The choice is yours.” Let’s customize that for us to “Face everything and realtime.”

To help you do so, six reporters offer their takes on how to scale the heights of realtime and overcome your fears.

The fear factor, by Debra A. Levinson

Rise to the occasion, by Kristy Clark

The no excuses guide to conquering your fear, by Tammy Clark August

The thrill of the chase, by Mary B. Bader

Is your fear real or imagined? by Ron Cook

 Overcoming your fear, by Linda A. Kaiser

Is your fear real or imagined?

By Ron Cook

Providing realtime for the first (and second, third, fourth, and so on) time is extremely uncomfortable. It was for me and for whoever I’ve ever talked to about their first attempts. I have never heard of anybody providing realtime for the first time and being completely confident and comfortable.

The fact of the matter is that the first days and weeks of realtime will be uncomfortable. However, the same can be said of the first days at any job. I can remember long ago, before learning about court reporting, when I became a recreation leader at an elementary school. I hadn’t been a recreation leader before; I was totally out of my comfort zone. As the days passed, as I got more and more experience and started to get the hang of it, I became more and more comfortable.

Mind you, I still have twinges of anxiety when an attorney looks at his screen and I think I may have made a misstroke (or more than one). It’s at that time that I need to remind myself that I’m not perfect, and I’m never going to be perfect, and I need to just keep writing. In fact, there have been numerous times when I’ve messed up, and the attorney needed the testimony right at that spot, and it either wasn’t there or wasn’t there correctly. Every single time that has happened, the attorney was able to read through it and figure it out or rephrase the testimony to verify it with the witness. Never has an attorney turned to me and suggested that I messed up and/or that I was incompetent.

As with any job, as I’ve gone from a new realtime reporter to an experienced realtime reporter, the anxiety has lessened over time. One reason for that is that I always strive to write to the best of my ability and look for ways to improve my realtime. Another reason is the realization that attorneys typically aren’t mesmerized by the realtime screen any longer. It used to be so novel that they would just stare at the screen as the words would come up. In fact, early on, I had one client that almost fell off his chair, he was so entranced! Nowadays, most attorneys have experienced realtime, so it’s not novel, and they’ve trained themselves to look at the screen only when needed.

In fact, if I have an attorney who is trying realtime for the first time, I recommend that he or she put it out of the direct line of sight between him/her and the witness. If it is located out of the direct line, then the attorney has to actually make the effort to turn away from the witness to read the screen, thereby not allowing him/her to read the screen word for word throughout the deposition. The added benefit to that realtime screen placement is the comfort I get in knowing that the screen isn’t going to be stared at.

It is pretty clear that realtime is our future. I heard a saying once, long ago, that so pertains to our court reporting industry: Dig the well before you need the water.

Ron Cook, FAPR, RDR, CRR, is a freelance court reporter and agency owner from Seattle, Wash. He can be reached at rcook@srspremier.com.

The thrill of the chase

By Mary B. Bader

When it comes to being fearful of sending realtime translation to the judge or anyone else, you will never meet a bigger chicken than I am. Unlike many of you who share my dread, I have no choice. My judge demands it. Not only does my judge require realtime, many judges across my district ask for it. If they are used to having realtime in their courtrooms, they want it, whether you are their assigned reporter or not. Could I say, “No, your Honor, sorry, but I do not have to do that”? Sure I could, but to what end? Why are we so afraid of realtime?

In a locker room speech, the immortal Vince Lombardi spoke these words to his team: “Gentlemen, we will chase perfection, and we will chase it relentlessly, knowing all the while we can never attain it. But along the way, we shall catch excellence.”

Excellence. Why are we not satisfied with excellence? Why must we always keep striving for perfection, especially since we know we can never achieve it? Many of us who chose court reporting as our career did so because we are perfectionists. That trait is one of our greatest assets, but it is also one of our biggest faults. From my own experience, the more I try to be perfect, the worse things get for me. Always striving to be better is what we need to do to improve our skills. In no way am I suggesting that we not keep trying to reach that unattainable goal of perfection, but we cannot get lost in that struggle in our journey to excellence.

If you are constantly striving to improve your realtime skills – and I know you are – you have what it takes to make that giant leap and start sending realtime to your judge, to the clerk of court, or to your clients in a deposition. Give yourself a break. You are a professional, and you are good!

I am sure you have heard this advice before, but it is so true: Let your first hook-up be to someone with whom you are comfortable. Let your trial run be on your terms. Do not wait until your employer demands it. I know you will be amazed by how dazzled they are by your skill. Only you see your flubs. They see your brilliance.

How will we ever know how good we are and how much our skill is appreciated by others if we never give ourselves the chance to find out? Make the commitment to hook up and send out your realtime. You can do it. Throw caution to the wind, and just roll with it, baby!

Mary B. Burzynski, RPR, is an official based in Medford, Wis. She can be reached at  marypat.42797@gmail.com.

The no excuses guide to conquering your fear

By Tammy Clark August

Being nervous or fearful of displaying your realtime screen the very first time is very normal. Feeling nervous about doing just about anything for the first time is normal, particularly if you are doing it in front of a highly educated audience.

Here is some great advice from some very qualified realtime reporters that I received with suggestions on how to overcome the fear of someone reading and critiquing your work.

  • Know that repetition is key. The more you write realtime, the more you will become at ease with others viewing your translation. Do realtime on every single job. Set up your laptop, iPads, and tablets on the table; get used to having them in front of you, facing in whatever direction you feel most comfortable.
  • Benefit from working with client attorneys from an older generation. They typically are not interested in technology and are the perfect ones to practice on. They will not pay attention to what the purpose of realtime is and certainly not touch anything for fear of messing something up. When the deposition is over, go ahead and give them a brief description of how very beneficial this technology is. It is likely they will share their realtime experience with their younger associates, who will be familiar with technology and excited to learn that you can provide this latest service to them.
  • Provide your iPad to the paralegal or associate who is attending the deposition. Ask them to navigate the screen, and elicit their comments about its functionality. They will be intrigued viewing the iPad and pay little attention to your writing.
  • Provide your iPad to a videographer. Videographers are well aware of how difficult our jobs can be. The next time you are working on a videotaped deposition, ask the videographer for some feedback. You won’t feel the same pressure you might feel from an attorney, and you will have begun sharing your realtime screen with someone else.

The more advanced we are with our technology, the better the chance of increasing our client base. So no more excuses! Go out and conquer your fear. Don’t let it conquer you.

Tammy Clark August, RDR, CRR, CRC, is a freelance court reporter and agency owner from Killen, Ala. She can be reached at tammy@clarkcourtreporting.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.

The fear factor

By Debra A. Levinson

Facing fear is a given as a court reporter. No matter how credentialed you are, no matter how many letters you have attained, there will always be some level of fear prior to any job. Why? We are not taking down a prepared script. We are writing words on the fly and rightly fear the unknown. We fear not hearing clearly or fear speakers testifying at near-lightning speeds. We fear having to process unfamiliar vocabulary or garbled speech or technical matters in nanoseconds.

What we really need to focus on is self-confidence. We have an amazing skill set that impresses the masses, and yet that’s still not good enough. So please allow me to share my favorite adage to accept and adjust. Simply put, accept the fear and imperfections of what we do. Make adjustments and change what is not realtime-friendly. Then proceed forward.

The result of not taking chances or pushing ourselves beyond the comfort zone is tantamount to being stuck in a rut. Remember that nothing ventured is nothing gained.

Writing what I call readable realtime requires practice and commitment that will pay off both literally and figuratively. Here are some basics to add to your practice. You will gain that confidence and begin refining your skills to help accomplish your goals and eliminate that fear factor.

  1. Begin by identifying your problematic translation areas (such as speed, conflicts, word boundaries, and prefixes and suffixes), and you will become empowered to change.
  2. Maintain an ongoing commitment to retrain, and you will write faster and cleaner and shorter.
  3. Stay focused and write realtime on every job, and you will challenge yourself to translate at higher and higher percent rates.
  4. Input proper case names and designations prior to start time, and you will save time later.
  5. Purge and modify entries and edit on the job, and you will ensure what’s in your dictionary will translate properly.
  6. Make weekly revisions, and you will feel accountable having set goals.
  7. Brief repetitive words and phrases and use Auto-Brief or Brief-It, and you will save valuable energy.
  8. Monitor your screen throughout the proceeding, and you will identify where to check trouble spots.
  9. Use the Internet to research proper names on the job, and you will have gained an edge.
  10. Learn how to finger-spell, and you will eliminate puzzled looks when nonsensical words appear.
  11. Sign up for the free Word-of-the-Day (my personal favorite is from Merriam-webster.com), and you will become familiar with many esoteric words without having to wait until you’ve heard them for the first time.

Debra A. Levinson, RMR, CRR, CMRS, CRI, is a freelance court reporter and agency owner from White Plains, N.Y. She can be reached at dal@dalcoreporting.com.

The sport of realtime

By Ron Cook

Before I even knew what court reporting was, I majored in physical education in college. It was then that I started to see advertisements for court reporting school, and I began to think, “Hey, I could do that.” Shortly thereafter, I dropped out of the college I was attending and began court reporting school, never to look back.

I have often equated the work that I do at my machine during a deposition with that of an athlete. I’ve always been competitive, and I carried that competitiveness over to my writing. What can I do to make myself faster? What can I do to make myself more efficient? How can I beat this machine? How can I get my computer to work for me instead of me working for it? I’d like to share some of the mental approaches I’ve learned to adapt from sports and life, in general, to reporting.

baseball-680079_960_720First, you may have heard of the expression to slow things down. A batter will try to slow things down as the pitcher begins to pitch. Obviously, that doesn’t mean that the batter has control of the pitcher’s velocity. What it does mean is that the batter, instead of tensing up, stays relaxed and slows things down mentally. When things get going really fast or things start to get heated, that’s when I’ve noticed myself tensing up. That’s when I know it’s time to slow things down mentally.

I can remember back nearly 50 years ago (please don’t do the math!), when I was on the sixth grade track team. I wasn’t a particularly fast runner, but I’ve never forgotten one race over all others. I remember one race where it felt as though I was running above the ground. My touch was so light, and it was absolutely effortless. When things get going really fast these days, I try to liken my fingers to that day when my feet were seemingly floating on air.

I have another analogy that works for me, so I’ll share it here. Picture yourself driving 65 miles an hour down the freeway. As you look directly in front of you, things are relatively calm and slow moving. If you were to look directly to your right or left, it’s amazing how all things are just flying by. Trees go whooshing by. Cars going the opposite direction seemingly are going 150 miles per hour. Relating that to reporting, if you keep your head figuratively looking straight ahead (as in listening out ahead), the words are processed with ease and good rhythm. If you try to get the words as they’re spewing forth (as in looking to the side while driving), it feels as though they’re coming at you at 400 words per minute. I’ve tried to train myself to kind of sit back (as in looking straight ahead) and let the words and phrases flow.

This has been a process for me, as I’d always been the type of writer who tried to write every word as it came out. I’m training myself to sit back just a tad and listen for that next brief or phrase. For about the past 8-10 years, I’ve been working on writing shorter (thus cleaner), and it’s certainly an ongoing process, part of the journey. Try it. You might like it! And it will certainly help with your accuracy in realtime!

Ron Cook, FAPR, RDR, CRR, CRC, is an agency owner and freelancer based in Seattle, Wash. He can be reached at rcook@srspremier.com.

You never know where your next tip will come from

By Cathy Busa

Tips and tricks for writing realtime are something all working court reporters could use more of! So, for that reason, I canvassed some of my fellow officials for realtime tips that they swear by for improving their writing and translation rates.

The first response I received was from a coworker at the courthouse (who also is a part-time broadcast captioner). For her, the key to becoming a more expert realtime writer is learning to fingerspell. While it may seem that this activity would slow you down, it actually keeps you from slowing down because instead of hesitating over an outline that you may or may not have in your dictionary, you can rapidly fingerspell the word and ease on down the road. If you aren’t in the habit of it, start when testimony is not too onerous and just fingerspell little words like that and who to get the feel for it. Along this line, she suggests also using the brief suggestions from your software. As an example, after recently fingerspelling the word tonsillectomy, she immediately requested a brief for it so if it was said again, it would be much simpler and ready for her to use instantly.

Another writing tip I received includes being sure to use the number conversion feature that is now found in virtually all of our software programs. This may take some time to go through your dictionary and remove all entries with numbers attached to them, such as in ’97 or $1500 or two or three. But if you are willing to expend a little bit of effort to work on your personal dictionary ahead of time and then tweak the settings within your CAT software to correspond with your number-writing style, you will find that your numbers will translate almost always correctly — and that will save you precious editing/scoping time from now on.

Word boundary issues are the dreaded area that I think realtimers always have to be prepared for. A couple of examples that I have personally encountered were how to figure outweighs to do new things and keep your ion the situation. While I have changed my writing to correct these two particular mistranslates, I now rarely define homophones as I did here, but try to actually write and define homophones differently to eliminate them altogether.

Finally, there are several sources of briefs according to the subject matter and case you are going to be working with, such as legal, medical, asbestos, financial, and so on. Take advantage of your JCR articles and learn and use the briefs others ahead of us have found to be helpful. Join Facebook pages and network with other reporters also for writing tips. A favorite part of our state association’s annual convention is the steno swap session, where people ask for and others assist with shorthand briefs for those pesky phrases and long words that invariably try to trip up even the best realtime writer.

If you really want to accept the challenge to improve your writing and become the best, most professional realtime reporter that you can be, stretch yourself and begin to implement small changes to your dictionary and your writing one step at a time. Perhaps the final and best word of advice is this: “If nothing changes, nothing changes.”

Cathy Busa, RPR, is an official court reporter from Plantersville, Texas. She can be reached at cmbusa@sbcglobal.net.

Court reporting as a second career

The JCR reached out to several members of NCRA who made the decision to switch careers and enter the court reporting, captioning, or legal video professions and asked them to share what they did before, how they decided to make the change, when they knew they made the right choice, and insights they would share with others considering making a change.

Abby Cook
Pittsburgh, Pa.

Abby Cook

Abby Cook

CURRENT CAREER: Student at the Community College of Allegheny County; Plans to work as a freelance reporter
upon graduation in July 2017
PREVIOUS CAREER: Master’s level mobile mental health therapist for about 18 months

After I finished my degree, I was trying to get enough client contact hours to sit for the exam and earn my professional license as a mental health therapist. I was doing anything and everything for the company I worked for, even sitting as a secretary. But they would not fill my client schedule, so I left. I interviewed at another company for a similar position, and they informed me they needed someone with their professional license, which I was working toward, but in order to sit for the exam, you had to complete direct client contact hours. I knew I needed to do something that wasn’t dependent on what others thought I could do or doing something that others had to help me fill my schedule.

My cousin is a court reporter and currently reports on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. I contacted her to get more information because I knew she was making a good living, and I knew she enjoyed what she was doing. I am one of three girls, and my cousin tried to talk all three of us into going into court reporting after high school. It was always sort of in the back of my mind, but I never really knew much about court reporting as a career. But once I realized I wasn’t finding my way as a therapist, I decided to look into court reporting further.

I do think some skills from my previous work transfer. I continue with the need to listen to people, I continue to provide a service for people, I continue to be mobile with that service, and I continue to hear stories about people
(some more awful than others, but I feel my previous experience has prepared me for such things and to not be shocked).

I think I am most excited to be entering a field that is highly valued, highly in demand and highly respected. I look forward to having a full schedule because of a proven, black-and-white skill that I possess. I would say to look at all the options, talk to some people in the field (both new to the field and seasoned professionals), and learn as much as you can. I continued to work in my first career when I started school for the career change and, if it didn’t work out, I would’ve stayed with that job and pushed harder for my chance and what I wanted. It never hurts to try something new and make yourself more marketable.

After the first few weeks in school, I knew that making this change was going to be a good, positive, life-changing choice. I was picking up on this new (steno) language, and all the working court reporters that came to speak to
us about the field only had great things to tell us. Students ahead of me were getting their speeds and passed on advice. There is so much encouragement and happiness and excitement in this field. I can’t wait to get out there and
start working!

Carolyn Kerr, RPR
Buffalo, N.Y.

Carolyn Kerr, RPR

Carolyn Kerr, RPR

CURRENT CAREER: Working as an official court reporter for the state of New York Unified Court System, family
court in Niagara County
PREVIOUS CAREER: Worked in radio and television

I’ve actually had two careers before court reporting. I have my B.A. from the University at Buffalo in communications. Because of my love for music, I became involved with the campus radio station and was soon the program director. I also interned at a local radio station and, while still attending college, was hired full time as a disc jockey and promotions director at that radio station. The radio and music industry is very volatile, and I discovered that while I loved music and the fun of working at a radio station, I wasn’t enjoying the people I worked with very much. Many of my coworkers had drug and/or alcohol problems, had multiple marriages, were not particularly well educated, but they had huge egos. I was 23 years old and decided I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life surrounded by people I didn’t respect. But being in radio did give me a very important skill that I believe carries over to court reporting. That
skill is the ability to perform.

I lucked out and got kind of a weird job next, one that combined my skill in performing with the stability of a real job. I was hired as a traffic reporter, working for the local public transit agency. The bus drivers on the road would call
in the traffic delays they saw, and I would compile traffic reports and provide them to most Buffalo area radio stations and one TV station during morning and afternoon drive times. In return, the public transit system got advertising
on these stations. On some of the stations I would broadcast live; on others I would just provide the information to their on-air personnel, who would read it. I also appeared on the local ABC-TV network affiliate during their morning
show. For three hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon, I was typing up and churning out constant traffic updates to 12 to 15 media outlets. I could always type fast, but this experience really improved that skill. Again, another transferable skill to court reporting.

Eventually marriage and children came along, and I didn’t want to work the split shift this job required, so I bid on another job in the transit agency and became the supervisor of the customer service department. Essentially I ran a
call center and resolved customer complaints. You can imagine the types and amount of complaints a public bus and rail company receives! What I learned from that job is that I do not like supervising anyone and that I missed the performance component of my other jobs. I was a really good typist and enjoyed typing, but I knew there wasn’t much money in it.

While I was at a family party, I was complaining to my sister-in-law about my job as a customer service manager, and she suggested court reporting. It was one of those duh moments, as my sister-in-law was not only a court reporter but also owned a freelance agency. From there everything just fell into place, almost as if it were meant to be. The local school was not too far from my house, not too expensive, and worked with my schedule, and oh, by the way, they were having an open house the following week. I enrolled on the spot, and a little over two years later I began working for my sister-in-law’s company.

At its heart, court reporting is a performance job. The skills from my broadcasting career definitely have translated to court reporting. And while we do interact with judges, clerks, lawyers, the public, and other reporters, court reporters are essentially solo workers. It’s us and the machine, and then it’s us and the transcript. I found from working in customer service that I really like working independently, and court reporting fulfills that preference.

What most excites me about court reporting is my certainty that I am performing an essential but unique service. Keeping the record is one of the main principles of our legal system. The written word allows ideas and facts to be conveyed and shared through generations. In 2015 we marked the 700th anniversary of the Magna Carta, the document upon which our nation and many other democratic nations are defined as a nation of laws, not of man. Someone wrote that down. Scribes were the early court reporters. Without them, where would our understanding of history be? I am very proud to be a part of this institution. I also love that court reporting is both a physical and mental job. While our fingers are flying over the keyboards with a profound dexterity, our minds are working in dual tracks. One track is hearing and committing the spoken word to writing, the other is devising a way to create a shortcut or inserting punctuation. That makes our job feel like a craft or skilled trade to me, which I love and value.

The advice I would give to someone considering a court reporting career is to, first of all, do an honest assessment of what’s going on in your life. Court reporting school is difficult. In our class of 30, only two of us graduated, and I am the only one still working. I believe you must have almost no distractions to get through school. No small babies. No ongoing divorces. No financial problems. Secondly, I believe that you must be ambitious and committed. Once you start working, take the difficult job. It will make you a better reporter. Take the certification exams. Those letters after your name will make you feel so good. And finally, you must view court reporting as a profession, not just a job.
Professions require ongoing development, investment, and education. For a job, you just show up. If you view yourself as a professional, I believe you will have a more realistic understanding of what it takes to get through school and to succeed once you’re working. The point at which I knew I made the right decision for a career in court reporting was the first time I looked down at that old borrowed manual machine and hit that initial key. I knew immediately. It just felt right. It was me. Having said that, it wouldn’t have been the right choice for me at the age of 20 or 25. I needed that experience of working in radio and television, and I needed to learn I hated being a manager.

Angeli English
D’Iberville, Miss.

Angeli English

Angeli English

CURRENT CAREER: Freelance reporter
PREVIOUS CAREER: Secretarial

I am a freelance reporter, but I cover various courts sometimes if they need me and if I don’t already have a freelance job. I’m on the coast and I’ll drive up to two hours for a good job.

I had a secretarial background originally. I went to a vocational school and learned typing, shorthand, etc., in the mid-1980s. Then I just worked part time at various jobs while raising four boys. I always worked a secretarial job
full-time till I started having kids in 1990. After that, I took a few years off and had three more kids in two years (twins in there) and then worked part-time till 2010 when I decided to pursue court reporting.

When two were in college, I decided to consider a second career. My boys were getting older; I had more time, and I wanted a good paying job that offered flexibility. I had never been exposed to court reporting. When I was considering a second career, I did some online research.

I would say my secretarial background and good command of grammar, etc., helped in my career as a court reporter. Just know it takes self-discipline and constant practice and self-confidence.

I never know when I walk out the door what story I’m going to hear that day. It’s like being a fl y on the wall and getting a peek into someone’s life.

I never doubted court reporting would be my second career. I remember being on my first job and thinking, yes, I did it, and pinching myself!

Kerry Irizarry, RPR
Jacksonville, Fla.

Kerri Irizzary, RPR

Kerri Irizzary, RPR

CURRENT CAREER: Freelance reporter
PREVIOUS CAREER: AT&T customer service representative, 11 years

Our office was closed, and everyone was laid off. As part of our compensation, we were offered money to go back to school and/or start a new business. I had seen court reporting commercials on television and thought it looked interesting. And after my experience with corporate America, I decided I wanted to go out and get a skill that was valuable and that would give me flexibility.

I had no idea what court reporting was about. I was always fascinated with closed captioning and when I learned that captioners were court reporters, I was hooked.

Working customer service required we use a computer all day. I became very adept at typing and operating computer software, which is beneficial to our profession. I also got experience interacting with people and resolving problems. These skills come in handy when interacting with attorneys and judges.

I love to read back. Our profession is stressful and comes with a lot of responsibility, but I love it when I can help an attorney out with a question or answer they repeated. Audio recordings can’t do that. I would also like to move into captioning or providing CART services. Ours is one of the few professions that we can provide a service for those with a disability.

I love court reporting, but it was a very hard road to travel to become proficient. Court reporters have to be very dedicated and meticulous in their work. They need attention to detail, flexibility, and good interpersonal skills.
Someone who has these qualities would probably be a great court reporter.

I didn’t realize I had a thyroid condition, and my work was suffering. I believe it had been going on so long that it had prevented me from graduating from court reporting school sooner. I had trouble focusing, which is crucial in our job. It really had me doubting my decision to pursue this as my second career. Thankfully, I found a doctor that straightened me out. Now I absolutely love my job and have no doubt this was the right decision for me.

Dave Leyland, CLVS
Kansas City, Mo.

Dave Leyland, CLVS

Dave Leyland, CLVS

CURRENT CAREER: Legal videographer
PREVIOUS CAREERS: Director of a nonprofit and state child welfare administrator

I had formerly worked as a director of a nonprofit for more than 19 years, and before that I was a child welfare administrator in the state of Missouri. I am currently owner of Kansas City Legal Videography.

Soon after leaving my nonprofit job, I began working with a certified court reporter company as their manager of production. I became very interested in legal videography when scheduling and interacting with video specialists. I always had a fondness for the legal profession, videography, and technology, and I realized that I could pursue all of these as a video specialist. I soon started researching how to pursue this interest and one of the first things on my list was to become certified as a legal video specialist through NCRA.

I’ve always believed that you gain so much value by associating with people in your trade. Professionals of all kinds must also keep up to date with the latest technology and equipment to be used on the job. I successfully passed the written test and went on to also pass the production test in Chicago at last year’s NCRA Convention & Expo.

I’ve had a lot of opportunities to use the skills that were first taught to me at the three-day training in Reston, Va. I’m constantly learning new techniques and upgrading my skills as I gain experience as a legal video specialist. Every job that you have comes with its challenges. I still have so much to learn because I always want to deliver the very best product to the client.

I can’t say how much I enjoy this profession and the great interactions I have with other litigation professionals, especially the court reporters who are the hardest working people in the room.