NCRF accepting nominations for Frank Sarli Memorial and Student Intern scholarships

The National Court Reporters Foundation (NCRF) is now accepting nominations for the Frank Sarli Memorial Scholarship and the Student Intern Scholarship. The deadline for both these scholarships is Dec. 1.

Frank Sarli Memorial Scholarship

NCRF’s Frank Sarli Memorial Scholarship of $2,000 has benefited court reporting students nearing graduation for 20 years. The award honors the late Frank Sarli, a court reporter who was committed to supporting students at the highest level of their education. Sarli, who was studying to become a professional pianist, turned to court reporting 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 the first Floridian to earn NCRA’s Distinguished Service Award.

“This scholarship helped me immensely because I was able to use some of the funds for my professional machine, which helped me enter the workforce without being in debt, the first leg of my RPR, and my airfare to attend the NCRA Convention in Chicago, which was incredibly inspiring and motivating for a new reporter/recent grad,” said Nicole Bulldis, RPR, an official court reporter in Pasco, Wash., and the 2016 recipient of the Sarli scholarship.

Court reporting students must be nominated by an instructor or advisor and meet a number of specific criteria to be eligible, including:

  • enrollment in an NCRA-approved court reporting program
  • passing at least one of the court reporting program’s Q&A tests at a minimum of 200 words per minute
  • having a GPA of at least 3.5 on a 4.0 scale,
  • demonstrating the need for financial assistance
  • possessing the qualities exemplified by a professional court reporter, including attitude, demeanor, dress, and motivation

Submit a nomination for the Frank Sarli Memorial Scholarship

Student Intern Scholarship

Each year, NCRF awards two $1,000 scholarships to students who have completed or are currently performing the required internship portion of their court reporting program. They must also meet other specific criteria, including:

  • current membership in NCRA
  • having a grade point average of at least 3.5 on a 4.0 scale
  • attending an NCRA-approved court reporting program

A generous annual donation from the Reis Family Foundation helps fund these scholarships.

“Receiving [this scholarship], was a financial boon for my transition from student intern to working reporter,” said Stephen Sudano, a freelance court reporter from Bohemia, N.Y., and one of the 2016 recipients of the Student Intern Scholarship. “A career as a freelance court reporter requires a substantial investment to get off the ground. This scholarship helped pay for my professional equipment, and I appreciate it to this day.”

Submit a nomination for the Student Intern Scholarship

NCRF’s scholarships and grant are supported by donations to the NCRF Angels Drive and other fundraisers. To learn more about these scholarships, and to find the nomination forms, please visit NCRA.org/NCRF/Scholarships.

Access to a master: The value of having a mentor

Man in a suit sitting at a steno machine next to a screenBy Joshua Edwards

Back in 2016 before giving my first speech at my local Toastmasters club, I emailed a draft of my speech to my assigned mentor, Jason. Jason is a seasoned member of our club and has given dozens of speeches over the years. He had developed a keen eye for how to craft an effective speech. Jason redlined through several paragraphs of my speech and typed a note about getting right to the point. I accepted his input and rewrote the speech. Had I not worked with a mentor and done it on my own, I would probably have droned on and on about things that are interesting to just one person — me — and barreled through the four- to six-minute time limit.

In the field of court reporting, I am a mentor to several students through both NCRA and the New York State Court Reporters Association. I try to give them the same beneficial insight in reporting as Jason gave me in Toastmasters: to avoid pitfalls, discover best practice habits, and stay disciplined and focused. I’ve heard anecdotes of students spending precious time in useless practice habits like sitting in front of a television and writing the news while the writer is turned off. (How do you know what you are writing?) A student may think that is effective practicing, but without the feedback of either paper notes or a realtime display, it is just a vain exercise.

All of us know how hard court reporting is. In fact, speedbuilding can be just as nerve-racking as public speaking. We can all empathize with the student who has been stuck at a particular speed for what feels like eons and the bitter disappointment of failing that speed test week after week. That student may be just one more failed test away from jumping ship and abandoning a significant investment of time and money. The difference between walking away in frustration and becoming a successful court reporter often hinges on wise input from a mentor.

Mentors guide students, and they offer encouragement and practical advice based on personal experience. When a student works with a mentor, that student has prime access to an individual who has mastered the craft of court reporting and worked in the field long enough to know a thing or two. A well-qualified mentor has operated in a wide variety of settings and has faced and survived both the tedious routine and the exciting challenges that can happen in the course of a court reporter’s day. Think of a young voice student who had the chance to work with the legendary opera singer Luciano Pavarotti. Pavarotti had a passion for singing and for encouraging young singers to refine their craft. He not only performed in major opera houses across the globe, but he coached many voice students as well.

Whether a reporting student needs help, an occasional pep talk, or a serious high-voltage motivational speech, the mentor is willing to commit the time and to be responsive to the student’s needs. It goes without saying that the student must be equally committed and willing to put in his or her due time and effort. Remember this is a volunteer effort. Time is valuable to us all, and being a mentor means being willing to give some of that precious time for free. Likewise, the student needs to respect the time and energy given by the mentor for his or her benefit.

I have a mentee* who occasionally sends me her transcribed assignments to look at the punctuation. While reviewing a jury charge, she had put in so many underscores denoting drops that I had to stop marking the grammar. Instead, I wrote a note in red ink: “It is critically important that you practice at a speed you can actually get down.” Her practice habits were not going to yield much success if she continued practicing at too-high speeds, dropping too many words, and trying to learn punctuation from incomplete passages.

*(Yes, mentee is a real dictionary word. Be sure to define it so you don’t get minty, men tea, men tee, or heaven forbid, meanty.)

Communication is key for a mentoring relationship to be successful, whether it happens by email, phone, text, video conference, or in person, if possible. Each week I send an email to a list of more than 90 students and working reporters. The email may cover anything related to the field. After coming back from NCRA’s Convention in Las Vegas, I wrote a lengthy piece summarizing my experiences there. Being a mentor means sharing your professional expertise to help a student reach his or her goals. Being a mentee means receiving valuable tutelage, for free, from a pro who has already been there. So go ahead and sign up. Your future may well depend on it!

Joshua Edwards, RDR, CRR, is a captioner in New York, N.Y. He can be reached at joshua@jbreporting.com.

Convention conversations

This year, students attending the 2017 NCRA Convention & Expo in Las Vegas, Nev., were treated to a range of different seminars aimed at preparing them for testing, contests, and the real world beyond graduation. Up-to-Speed asked attendees for feedback on the student experience and they shared their highlights of the Convention.

Group photo of students and the NCRA Board of Directors posed with enthusiasm

Students pose with the NCRA Board of Directors after a special meet and greet

The opportunity to network was one of the benefits students mentioned most. “The Convention was very motivational for me,” said Hailey Treasure, a student at MacCormac College in Chicago, Ill. “It was awesome to see how excited all the working reporters were to meet students and to hear them talking about what a good career reporting is and how much they love it after all these years. It was also nice to hear all the tips they had to share for practicing speed.” Meeting other reporters at the Convention was an especially useful opportunity for online students.

When asked to share her best takeaway from the Convention, Lindsay Pepe, who studies with online program SimplySteno, answered, “So many things! Being an online student, I don’t get a lot of interaction with other reporting students or actual reporters, so it was such a great experience being surrounded by them.” Brianna Carpenter, also with SimplySteno, agreed: “I enjoyed the opportunity to be around reporters because being a student is very isolating with schools switching to an online environment.”

Attending the social events such as the Awards Luncheon and the “Only New Once” Reception was also a great way to meet and talk with other working reporters. At the reception, first-time attendees shared drinks with the NCRA Board of Directors and the NCRF Board of Trustees. “They were so welcoming and encouraging,” Pepe commented.

A large luncheon in a hotel ballroom with people seated at round tables; in the background is the logo for the 2017 NCRA Convention & Expo

Students from MacCormac mingle during the Awards Luncheon

Of course, networking is just one reason students come to the Convention. Another is to attend the student seminars and learn from the best. Speed dating has become a favorite way to meet people, and the “Steno Speed Dating” session proved no less popular. “It was an awesome way to meet working reporters,” said Treasure, “and to ask all the questions you have about their particular area of reporting.” In this seminar, students sat around 10 tables while professional court reporters, CART captioners, and broadcast captioners rotated from table to table every fifteen minutes so that all students had an opportunity to ask each of them questions. Unfortunately, a power outage at Planet Hollywood (along with Paris and Bally’s) shortened the time for speed dating, but the presenters and moderator Shaunise Day, a student at West Valley College in Saratoga, Calif., moved the session along and got everyone back up to speed.

The presenters were:

  • Dee Boenau, FAPR, RDR, CRR, CRC
  • Jo Ann Bryce, RMR, CRR
  • Linda Christensen, RMR, CRR, CRC
  • Rich Germosen, RMR, CRR
  • Cheryl Haab, RPR
  • Melanie Humphrey-Sonntag, FAPR, RDR, CRR, CRC
  • Stanley Sakai, CRC
  • Jennifer Schuck, FAPR, RDR, CRR, CRC
  • Joe Strickland, RPR, CRR, CRC
  • Doug Zweizig, RDR, CRR

Ashley Hurd, of the Long Island Business Institute in Commack, N.Y., gave the speed-dating session a good review: “This seminar provided excellent tips and advice from professional reporters in different areas. Knowing these reporters were once in my shoes as students gives me hope that I can be successful like they are.” The fast pace of the format kept the questions flowing and the reporters on their feet.

A young woman and a young man stand next to each other smiling

Shaunise Day and Stan Sakai pose after the steno speed dating session (photo from Stan Sakai)

Another dynamic session that garnered a lot of attention was “Business of Being a Court Reporter.” Presenters Michael Hensley, RPR; Charisse Kitt, RMR, CRI; Katherine Schilling, RPR; and Jessica Waack, RDR, CRR; demonstrated real-world scenarios in a mock setting to show students the ins and outs of what it’s like on an actual job. The idea was to expose students to the kinds of situations they probably don’t encounter inside the classroom.

For Hurd, this session was a way to extend her learning beyond her coursework. “As a visual learner, having this segment for representation was exciting,” Hurd said. “I was able to see how everything I’ve learned in school came to life.” She added that students often question what are “the proper, respectful, and professional ways to interject as a court reporter,” but this session “answered every doubt in a student’s mind.” Presenters also demonstrated the preferred way to conduct oneself around attorneys, witnesses, and judges.

For Amy Flaherty, of GateWay Community College in Phoenix, Ariz., this was her favorite session: “It really covered the basics in an entertaining way. Having the panel be so diverse was incredibly helpful. The panel members were down to earth and informative.” Pepe agreed. “Really fun and educational session,” she said. “It was great getting the opinions on how each individual would handle the hypothetical situations. Probably one of my favorite sessions at the Convention!” Interactive sessions like this one infused an element of entertainment and kept the students engaged.

What would students like to see more of in 2018? Hurd, the student from Long Island Business Institute, is concerned about scheduling her sessions around her class time and wants to try to avoid any overlap. Pepe, from SimplySteno, would like more time to visit with vendors in the Expo Hall. And Whitney Berndt, a student at Lakeshore Technical College in Cleveland, Wis. is thinking even farther ahead. “I would have appreciated an opportunity to discuss the future of court reporting schools, education, and testing to hear how NCRA is dealing with the lack of new reporters and how to get more students out of school.” Berndt will get an opportunity to share her ideas over the coming year as a member of NCRA’s Student/Teacher Committee.

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

Striking a different key, and hitting a new note

A young woman sits in front of a steno machine poised as ready to write. Her laptop is open on the table in front of her.Brittaney Byers, of Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C) in Parma, Ohio, has been working at the keys since she was 4 years old, practicing her drills and improving her finger dexterity. Before starting at Tri-C, she had been trained by some of the best at Cleveland State University. But Byers isn’t a lifelong stenographer; she’s a pianist who went searching for a different tune.

Can you talk a little about your background? Did you start the program straight out of high school or did you have another career first?

When I came out of high school, I was originally aiming for a career in music therapy. However, that didn’t work out. I ended up studying at Cuyahoga Community College after leaving my previous university, originally for a degree in liberal arts, and then switching to the court reporting and captioning program.

How did you first get the idea of being a court reporter?

When I was studying at Tri-C, I was kind of unsure about what I should focus on studying while I was there, and I was looking for a career that would allow flexibility in my schedule and a lot of typing, which I enjoyed. (At the time, I had no idea that writing on a steno machine was any different than writing on a QWERTY keyboard.) I happened to be looking at television one day, saw the captions running across the bottom of the screen, and thought, “I wonder who does that, and I wonder if I could do that.” I looked up stenography and found out there was a court reporting and captioning program at the school I was already currently attending! I just decided to go for it!

How does being a pianist translate into stenography? What about it makes it easier (or harder) to write?  

I think I’m better able to learn briefs and finger combinations than I would be if I didn’t study piano. I also think I’m at a better place with my finger dexterity. However, the thing that helps the most is not from a writing perspective. Studying piano in school was very similar to studying stenography. Most of the things that my professors ask me to do now are the same as what my music professors asked me to do. Things like keeping a practice journal, reading back (or listening to myself) for feedback, using a metronome, isolating problem areas, and many other practice techniques are all things that I was introduced to (and continue to learn and work on now) while I was studying piano.

What other skill sets do you think would be helpful for a court reporter to possess?

The more I learn about this field, the more I realize how critical good organizational skills are to a successful court reporter. This is definitely something that I am still working on and will probably be working on for a very long time to improve. I can only imagine how much it takes to keep your schedule together for jobs (especially if you work with more than one agency), organize taxes and other financial things, and keep the rest of your life in order.

What kinds of challenges have you faced during your court reporting program?

My biggest challenge is trying to find a healthy balance between work, school, and life. I am currently working full time, which is not something I was doing when I was studying music, so trying to find the correct balance between earning enough income and having enough time and energy to practice is something that I am working to perfect.

What is the best advice you’ve been given so far?

I’ve been hearing this piece of advice in different forms and different places recently, but it still rings true. The biggest battle you have to fight will be with yourself. I have to continuously believe that I can do it. The speed is not going to be my biggest problem; it’s going to be my mindset. I have to battle myself to get on the machine after a long day of work, to stay encouraged after a bad test, or to do just five more minutes of writing when I feel I can’t anymore. I know if I can win the battle within myself and develop a positive mindset, and continue to improve my discipline, I will be able to succeed, no matter what.

If you were to go to a high school career fair to recruit students, what would you say to them about a career in court reporting and captioning?

I would let them know that if they wanted a career that would grant them a lot of flexibility and a high earning potential, they should join the court reporting field! We need more new faces! Of course, I would let them know that learning stenography and getting up to speed require a lot of discipline, but for the people who stick it through, there is great reward. I would tell them about the amazing experience I’ve had here at Tri-C and the awesome and supportive staff I’ve had the pleasure of working with. They will really do their part to make sure you have the best chance at success.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

In five years, I hope to have passed the RPR Exam, and to have finished the court reporting and captioning program at Tri-C. I really want to go out to southern California and work there either doing freelance work or CART.

Speed challenge gives students serious practice time by treating it like work

Collage of photos: In one, a groupd photo of people standing around a chair covered in red velvet cloth (one person is sitting in the chair); everyone is wearing gold plastic crowns and there is an open treasure chest. Along the side are three individual photos of smiling students sitting in the red velvet chair next to the treasure chest and holding a plastic sword or a ribbon streamer.

Tri-C students who participated in the “Slay a speed in seven hours” event. Right, top to bottom: Tara Harris, Nicole Parobek, Brittaney Byers

Eleven students from the Cuyahoga Community College, Parma, Ohio, committed to participate in a challenge dubbed “Slay a speed in seven hours,” designed to focus them on serious practice time while treating it like the work it is.

During the event, which ran from 7 a.m. until 2:30 p.m., each student was given an individualized practice plan and goal by their instructor. After each hour, progress was evaluated and any adjustments were made accordingly, explained Kelly Moranz, CRI, Tri-C program manager and adjunct faculty.

“After lunch, speed tests were taken for the remainder of the day. Stroke/word counts were tallied for the day, and 152,203 strokes/words were written,” Moranz said. “All students demonstrated progress in their writing, and 12 speed tests were passed — one being a 225 Q&A!”

According to Tri-C Associate Professor Jen Krueger, RMR, CRI, CPE, the idea of the challenge grew from discussions with students about ways to approach practice time seriously.

“The challenge seemed a good way to demonstrate that practice takes a lot of work, by offering students a seven-hour workday. Lots of practice occurs, but in evaluating practice times and habits from homework, it was realized that a focused, longer day of skill development was needed,” Krueger said.

According to Moranz, Tri-C offers its court reporting and captioning students similar challenges from time to time, such as seeing who can practice the most hours, who can write the most strokes, and who can practice the most days in a row without missing a single day.

“Students who passed a test received a specially created certificate with a graphic of a sword going through the steno machine. Our focus was to motivate them for the sake of learning and recognize their efforts toward success, with a tangible prize secondary to the personal reward of gaining speed and accuracy,” Moranz said.

“I attended the ‘Slay a speed’ event, and it was beneficial for me because I passed a speed test,” said Tara Harris, a student in Tri-C’s court reporting program. “I think it helped to be away from home in a classroom setting or maybe it was the structure of the event with the mission to write as much as you can each hour. Also, our phones were confiscated upon arrival, and that helped because I didn’t even think about my phone.”

“Challenges provide the opportunity for students to focus on the positive aspects of their work, recognize their successes as well as their challenges, build camaraderie, and strengthen their commitment to complete the program and reach their goals,” said Krueger.

Krueger added: “Veering away from the usual routine of school work can be invigorating as the personal, academic, and physical skill improvements are seen as positive and motivating.”

Highlights from the 2017 NCRA Convention & Expo: A student’s experience

Four young women pose in matching light blue shirts with steno written on the front

MacCormac students wear matching shirts at the 2017 NCRA Convention & Expo: (l-r) Ariel Kraut, Brianna Uhlman, Marissa Loring, and Hailey Treasure

By Ariel Kraut

I am very appreciative for the time I got to spend at the 2017 NCRA Convention & Expo in Las Vegas. What a fun and vibrant location for court reporters to come together and connect as a community!

On our first day, we visited the Expo Hall and got to explore many innovations in reporting technology. Things that I never even thought of, like ergonomic machines, different types of travel bags, all kinds of software, and much more, were on display. We got some great swag and were able to connect with vendors from all types of companies related to the field. I loved the neon light-up writer!

It was amazing to see all of the different types of new technology associated with the Stenograph machines knowing that I will soon be purchasing my own when I finish school. I really enjoyed watching a demonstration involving the audio-recording capabilities of the Luminex writer. Not only can you direct it to go back to the last question you asked in a testimony dictation, but the audio-sync feature allows you to listen to the actual dictation in addition to seeing the question on your screen. If only I had that available during tests!

My favorite part of the Convention was the being able to speak with reporters from all different fields. It was exciting to have so many people come up to us, knowing that we were students, and introduce themselves. All of the pros were so warm and welcoming to us. People from all over the country were so happy to see us students and had nothing but the most encouraging things to say. I even spoke with the President of NCRA multiple times and felt great about it. It was inspiring to see that many of the people we spoke with actually won awards for the Speed and Realtime Contests and were honored during the luncheon.

An especially good time for networking was in the “Steno Speed Dating” part of the first day of the student track. We got to sit with very successful reporters, including speed contest winners, realtime writers, captioners, and even a court reporter who worked in the House of Representatives. It is inspiring to see the places that this career can take you if you apply yourself. I also appreciated hearing about these professionals’ school experiences and what the biggest struggles were for each of them. I got some practice tips and some great advice as to how I can clean up my notes and build my speed at the same time.

Another very beneficial session was “Business of Being a Court Reporter.” There, we got to see a mock deposition take place with a panel of professional reporters pausing to explain certain parts of the process. They would also tell us what they would do if something unusual would happen and frequent issues that may come up on the job.

I am very thankful that I was able to attend this Convention as I found it reinvigorating for me as a student. School can be stressful sometimes, but seeing all of these successful women and men in the field made me feel like I was on the right track and I have a great life to look forward to in this field.

Ariel Kraut is a student at MacCormac College in Chicago, Ill. She can be reached at akraut@maccormac.edu.

Read “Finding court reporters’ paradise” by MacCormac student Brianna Uhlman.

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

Finding court reporters’ paradise

By Brianna Uhlman

The NCRA Convention & Expo is like the Shangri-la of court reporting. The things you learn, the relationships you build, and the experiences you take with you are irreplaceable. You leave motivated to finish school and determined to make the most out of your time in this profession.

Four young women pose in matching light blue shirts with steno written on the front

MacCormac students wear matching shirts at the 2017 NCRA Convention & Expo: (l-r) Ariel Kraut, Brianna Uhlman, Marissa Loring, and Hailey Treasure

The Expo Hall at the NCRA Convention is truly a magical place. Even as a student, the exhibitors are so willing and eager to talk to you and show you all that is new in the world of court reporting. In the Expo Hall, you can learn so much about the newest technology, whether it’s machines, updates in software, etc. You get to test out different machines from all different vendors. You have the opportunity to learn about several different companies that are involved in the court reporting world. You have the opportunity to talk face-to-face with some of the business owners and representatives who you will be working with for the rest of your career. And you can win so much free stuff!

Getting the chance to mingle with some of the top reporters around the country and the globe is such an invaluable experience. Talking with members of the Board, speed contest champions, and the like is extremely motivational. For me personally, I come from a small town with small dreams and not a lot of opportunity. When first enrolling in court reporting school and joining the court reporting community, I had no idea where this career could take me. But at events like the NCRA Convention, you get to know these amazing and successful people who may have come from a situation similar to yours. But because of this profession and all of the opportunity and their personal hard work and dedication, they have taken themselves so far. It makes you dream bigger and work harder for those dreams. It shows you that no matter your background or your current standing, there is no limit to where this profession can take you. If you work hard, stay motivated, and keep pushing yourself to get through school, you can have a very successful and fulfilling career.

Having the opportunity to talk to other students from all over the country is so encouraging. It really makes you realize that you are not alone in the struggles of court reporting school. There is a whole community of students who are having difficulty with speeds, getting stuck in similar areas, and experiencing the same discouragements you are experiencing. But being able to discuss these experiences and learn about other people’s techniques and tricks is so helpful. They are there to encourage you to keep going. Seeing the resilient spirit of other students is inspiring. Experiencing the genuine care and comradery from other students creates such an honest atmosphere of support and sincerity. It truly is a community of people that want to see you succeed in this profession, and that is just not something you see very often.

I am so thankful for the court reporting community. And I am so thankful for the NCRA Convention & Expo that creates the opportunity for this community to come together and create positive, long-lasting impacts on its members and their profession.

Brianna Uhlman is a student at MacCormac College in Chicago, Ill. She can be reached at brianna.uhlman@gmail.com.

Read “Highlights from the 2017 NCRA Convention & Expo: A student’s experience” by MacCormac student Ariel Kraut.

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

DMACC court reporting student receives scholarship

JCR: Journal of Court Reporting, TheJCR.com, JCR WeeklyThe Newton Daily News posted an article on Aug. 15 announcing that Maggie DeRocher, RPR, of LeMars, Iowa, received a $1,000 scholarship from the National Court Reporting Association Council on Approved Student Education. DeRocher is a graduate of the Des Moines Area Community College Newton Campus court reporting program.

Read more.

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.

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.