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.

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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.

NCRA announces the winners of the 2017 CASE scholarships

Lisa Erickson

Lisa Erickson

The Council on Approved Student Education (CASE) has selected Lisa Erickson, a student at Prince Institute in Elmhurst, Ill., as the first-place winner of the 2017 CASE Scholarship. Maggie DeRocher, of Des Moines Area Community College in Newton, Ia., earned second place, and Meredith Seymour of Lakeshore Technical College in Cleveland, Wis. earned third place. The first-place winner will receive $1,500; second place, $1,000; and third place, $500.

“Words fail to adequately express just how blessed I am to have received this award,” says Erickson. “As a double-duty parent, so many odds are constantly stacked against me. What this means to me is a bright start to the future I dream for my family. Thank you to all who helped make this possible.”

“I’m so honored to be a recipient of the CASE scholarship,” DeRocher tells Up-to-Speed. “It’s great motivation to continue to constantly learn and grow in this great profession.”

Meredith Seymour, who has worked as an American Sign Language interpreter, says she is “humbled and thankful to be granted this scholarship, yet also honored to be given this opportunity to spread awareness on behalf of the Deaf and hard-of-hearing community.”

maggie derocher_cropped

Maggie DeRocher

As part of the application process, students submitted an original essay on the topic “Describe what the professions of court reporting and captioning are like today from your perspective. What do you think those professions will be like in the next ten years?”

All three winning essays focused on the growing demand for reporters and captioners as well as a positive outlook for the future. “I conclude that in ten years and beyond,” Erickson writes, “this remarkable field will continue to turn heads and strengthen the backbone of the community.” Erickson’s instructors rated her as “exceptional” and used words such as “stupendous,” “persistent,” and “committed” to describe her.

Meredith Seymour

Meredith Seymour

Another common theme among the essays was the effect that technology will play in the future of the court reporting and captioning professions. Seymour points out the shortcomings of digital audio recordings in courtroom settings: “Although once thought as a convenient and inexpensive route, [technology] has been continuing to prove how inadequate and untrustworthy it is a reporting device for the court system.”

DeRocher, on the other hand, sees social media as a way to share information within the community: “There is camaraderie, punctuation and grammar advice, suggestions how to handle different situations that arise in the profession, discussions of the newest technologies, and everything in between.”

Applicants were also required to be current students at an NCRA-approved court reporting program, hold student membership with NCRA, write between 140-180 wpm, and submit three recommendation forms, among other criteria.

Scholarship recipients will be formally announced at the 2017 NCRA Convention & Expo in Las Vegas, Nev. Visit the Student Resources page for more information about the CASE Scholarship and other scholarship opportunities.

Always go the extra mile — it’s never crowded up there

Runners wearing athletic apparal in a race down a narrow paved road with grass on either side

U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Alexy Saltekoff

Practicing, staying motivated, meeting target speeds. Networking, handing out résumés, taking skills tests. Court reporting students have a lot on their minds. And getting ready to graduate adds another whole dimension to school life. Students reflect on the challenges they are leaving behind and look forward to the opportunities that lie ahead.

Attending a court reporting program can sometimes be a lonely road, but students find the camaraderie of their classmates to be a good source of motivation. “The most difficult thing about being in school,” explains Sara Simoni, a student at Bryan University in Tempe, Ariz., “is that the people in your circle don’t quite understand what you’re going through. Even though you may explain what it’s like time and time again, they will never quite understand.” Perhaps friends and family may not be able to relate, but nearly 40 percent of students answering a poll in April’s issue of Up-to-Speed reported that their court reporting classmates are “a great source of inspiration.”

Ask just about any court reporting student what his or her biggest hurdle in school is and the answer is usually speed plateaus. Most students also agree on the way to overcome that hurdle: Put in more practice time. Students differ on the details, however. “Maybe instead of writing at only 20 wpm above my goal speed for 5+ minutes, I do short bursts of 40 or 60 wpm over,” says Lauren Mancusi, a student at the College of Court Reporting in Valparaiso, Ind.

Simoni takes the opposite approach. “I would take a one-minute exercise and work it 20 wpm below my target speed … then bump it up in increments of 10 all the way up to 20 wpm above my target speed.’

Of course, there is more to staying motivated than just getting over speed plateaus. “The best tip for getting though school is to forget the bad days,” suggests Celeste Poppe, a recent graduate from Bryan University. “Cry for only an hour, and move on and keep going. It’s hard not to get swallowed up by the ‘I’m not getting it’ or ‘I’m stuck’ feelings, but you just have to keep your eyes on what’s in front of you and keep on stenoing.”

Simoni also says to focus on the positive. “The best tip for surviving school is to remember to reward yourself for even the smallest accomplishment. With all the tests you will fail during your court reporting school journey, you have to take time to celebrate even the smallest achievements.”

Focusing on the positive also means looking to the future. One of the best ways to get a jumpstart on a career is to start earning certifications, like the Registered Professional Reporter (RPR) or the Certified Shorthand Reporter (CSR), while still in school. The experience of regular testing, in addition to the wide range of resources available in the school environment, makes this the perfect time to take those tests. “I am currently a licensed California CSR and working as a freelance deposition reporter. I also obtained my RPR during the time I was waiting for my CA CSR results, having passed each leg on the first time starting with the 225 leg and ending with the Written Knowledge Test leg,” said Poppe. Simoni found her internship to be an invaluable experience in preparing for her certification. “I loved interning. I had friends who were officials at my local courthouse. They couldn’t wait for me to start my interning journey, and they placed me right in on a jury trial. It definitely uplifted my confidence as well. I remember passing one of my last 225 tests right after interning.” She is planning to begin her RPR testing as soon as possible.

Those last few months of school are also the best time to search for a job. Students suggest getting out of the classroom and into the courtroom. “I am currently job hunting!” Simoni announces. “I am handing out résumés, and I am sitting in court with my friends who are officials. I’m working on my professional wardrobe and trying to gather all the necessary things to help me succeed as a new reporter. I know networking is huge in our industry, and I can’t help but be overly excited to hand out my new business cards!” Mancusi and Poppe also recommend attending state association conventions and seminars as a way to network with working reporters who can connect them with jobs.

For some students, the last piece of the puzzle is graduating from court reporting school. Every student takes a different path through the wickets of dictation, speed tests, internships, and graduation requirements. Often, the trickiest thing about graduating may actually be the timing. “To me,” admits Mancusi, “the hardest part of being in school is trying to explain to others why I don’t know my exact graduation date.” When Up-to-Speed polled readers about how important it is for them to graduate from court reporting school quickly, about 34 percent replied that they had people depending on them to graduate as soon as possible. But an almost equal number responded that they had “set a goal to graduate by a certain date, but things may change.” The remaining students were split almost evenly between a determination to graduate by a certain date “no matter what” and the more laid-back approach of “I’m in no rush. It will come when it comes.” Lauren Mancusi is firmly in the “no matter what” camp: “A comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there.”

How to make a smooth transition from student to reporter

new professionalBy Jacqueline Timmons

I have trained many new reporters over the years, so I have had a firsthand view of the transition from student to working reporter. I gained much insight as I was training and mentoring these new reporters, and this is my advice on what students should know as they prepare to start their careers in reporting.

Tip No. 1 Ensure that your equipment is properly maintained so it is not too loud or making noise when you are writing in the courtroom. If you buy new equipment and software right after graduation, make sure you know your machine and software before going to your first assignment. You don’t want the bad experience of walking into a room filled with attorneys and not knowing how to set up your equipment. There is a natural tendency to panic when all eyes are on you. Practice setting up your equipment before your first assignment.

Tip No. 2: If your software program has audio, do not rely solely on it for your transcript. It is a great tool as a backup, but remember, you may have to read back a question or an answer. If the audio fails, it might be that the microphone was not turned on or was not plugged in correctly or there was background noise that distorted the recording. With or without the audio, you will have to produce the transcript.

Tip No. 3: Make sure you know the appropriate oaths for swearing in witnesses and translators. Practice saying the oaths before you go to your first deposition. Make a note card with the oaths on it to keep in your briefcase so you can review them before the deposition starts. Once you get used to reciting them, they will become second nature. In fact, you may have to make sure you don’t say the oath so fast that the witness misunderstands the words. Occasionally, an attorney may state something for the record first and then ask you to swear in the witness. If an attorney starts questioning and forgets to have the witness sworn, interrupt and ask if he or she would like to have the witness sworn in.

Tip No. 4: You will find that not all witnesses speak in complete sentences, which makes it difficult to punctuate. If a witness pauses in his or her answer, it may not necessarily mean that a comma belongs in that space. The witness may just be thinking about how to phrase the answer or may be ready to change his or her thought altogether, in which case you need to place a dash.

Tip No. 5: Probably the most difficult barrier to overcome is learning to interrupt. But remember, if you cannot hear the witness, mostly likely the lawyers are having the same problem. They will invariably ask you to read testimony back. If you are having difficulty hearing, ask the witness to repeat an answer or to speak more loudly or more clearly.

Tip No. 6: If possible, when reading back on the job, read the question or answer to yourself first before you read it aloud. This may save you from stumbling over a new word, a steno outline, or a mistranslate.

Tip No. 7: Another early lesson to learn is that your working experience will not be like dictation in class; it will not be five minutes at a particular speed. It will vary all throughout the day, depending on who is speaking. The lawyer may be slow and the witness fast, or vice versa.

Tip No 8: You may also be writing for two-hour stints without a break, so you may get tired at first. Writing an all-day deposition or all-day trial certainly can wear you out, especially when you first start reporting. Don’t get discouraged. Once you get used to sustained writing, it becomes much easier.

Tip No. 9: Because you don’t know what the day holds, be sure to eat a full breakfast. You never know if you will get a lunch break, and if you do, it may be a short one. Hopefully, you’ll be asked if you would like to break or you will have the opportunity to ask for a break, but it doesn’t always happen. Sometimes the need for a faster deposition means starting at 9 a.m. and going straight through to 2 p.m. with no lunch break. I have had that happen, and I find in those cases, I was very happy I ate breakfast. If you are not a breakfast person, keep a snack bar or something you can eat at a break.

Tip No. 10: When I started reporting, I acquired reference books, which were tremendously helpful. That was before computers and the internet. Make Google, or whatever search engine you use, your friend. When editing, use it. If you are not sure of something, look it up. For example, I was editing a job and it sounded like the witness said he had an Audi 88. Not being familiar with that car, I Googled it just to be sure. It turned out it was an Audi A8. Don’t be afraid to ask fellow reporters during a break if you need a spelling or clarification, or if you are unsure of a term. We are always willing to help each other.

I hope I have provided some helpful tips to guide you in the transition from student to reporter. And here is just one more: Don’t get discouraged if your first reporting assignment doesn’t leave you with a warm, fuzzy feeling. I have been reporting for over 35 years, and I still love it. That doesn’t mean I haven’t had some difficult assignments that have left me wanting to cry. But those unfavorable experiences didn’t ruin it for the other assignments — ones that have left me feeling that I chose a very rewarding career.

Jacqueline Timmons, FAPR, RDR, is a freelance reporter in Darien, Ill. She can be reached at jmtcsr@cs.com.

Imagine that

Imagine that
By Katherine Schilling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And just imagine what will come next.

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

 

STUDENT REPORTING: Preparing for your first reporting job

 

By Melissa Lee

You can “live and learn,” as they say, each of life’s lessons on your own; or you can learn from the successes and failures of others before you. Keeping the latter in mind, along with the preparedness training you have received from your educational career firmly imprinted in your mind (equipment maintenance/preparation, supplies, professional dress, etc.), the following would be some lessons learned from a working reporter to you, a student reporter, to add to your future check-off list until you build your own routine for success:

  • Always get a good night’s sleep. This may be obvious, but it’s often understated. Days can be long, but focus and stamina are key.
  • Always eat breakfast. You never know if or when a break will be taken.
  • Be sure you have snacks packed in your bag. When you begin to “drag,” this can make a big difference in your energy level.
  • Always carry cash. Sometimes lunch will be ordered in, and you should never assume that someone else will pay for the reporter‘s meal.
  • Dress professionally but comfortably. While you may think your beautiful heels look great with the outfit you have chosen, they could cause for back pain later in the day … or one day down the road.
  • Leave early so you arrive early. This will allow time if you run into heavy traffic, get lost, or have to find parking. Occasionally it has happened that two reporters were called for the same job. Food for thought: As the first of two reporters to arrive for the same job, I have never been asked to pack up and leave.
  • This could be the most difficult one to achieve when you’re stumbling through those “firsts,” but it’s just as important as anything else. As you know, when you are tense, you can see it in your writing, but others can see it on your face. Being relaxed lends confidence to your abilities and skills.

Above all, remember that while we strive to be perfect, we will never achieve perfection; that it is not the obstacles in our path that will define us but, rather, how we choose to overcome them. Always be courteous, kind, and respectful to others, and at all times remain neutral.

Remember: Always offer to provide the same services to all parties involved; the attorney that declines a copy of your transcript today may become your biggest client tomorrow. You are building a reputation that one day will precede you, so make it one that even your grandmother could be proud of.

We, as your future court reporting community, welcome you! We look forward to seeing what you can bring to our profession and wish you all the successes life can offer. Like those before us, we have continued to build a profession that we know you can be proud of, knowing that our behavior and product represent not only us individually, our employers, and our community as a whole, but also those still to come — you, the future graduates. We hope you continue to “pay it forward” and enjoy all that reporting has to offer for a career to come.

Melissa S. Lee, A.S., CCR, CRI, is a teacher at the College of Court Reporting. She can be reached at MelissaLeeCCR@gmail.com.

Making a few adjustments

A smiling young adult woman, dressed cassually, sits on a floral couch with a golden retriever at her side.

Kayde Rieken with her seeing-eye dog, Fawn

Long nights of practice and endless speed tests are familiar challenges for court reporting students. But Kayde Rieken, a student at the College of Court Reporting in Valparaiso, Ind., has experienced one that is unique. She was the first student to take the RPR Written Knowledge Test (WKT) in Braille. With her new career, she hopes to make a difference in the lives of other people who are disabled.

  1. What made you decide to go into court reporting?

I have always been an avid reader, and I enjoy expanding my vocabulary. I am also fascinated by technology and the impact it can have on the lives of disabled people such as myself. When I found out that court reporting was a profession that combined these two interests, I was sure I had found where I belonged.

  1. 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?

I was about three-quarters through a bachelor’s degree in Spanish translation when I discovered that it just didn’t feel right for me anymore. Court reporting was one of the things I listed as an interest when I was debating career choices in high school, so I decided to do more research on it. It was a very hard and frightening decision, but I chose not to finish the degree I had begun and start my court reporting education. I have, of course, not regretted it for a moment.

  1. Have you had any special accommodations for classes or testing throughout your court reporting program?

I have not needed many accommodations. Court reporting students are often told during the first few weeks of theory not to watch their hands as they write. I use an ordinary Windows laptop with a text-to-speech screen reader that converts print into synthetic speech. Another essential component of my setup is an electronic Braille display that works in conjunction with my screen reader to convert print into Braille output. My steno machine has a basic screen-reading program on it, although I only use this when changing settings on the machine itself.

There were a few things in my CAT software class I was not able to do, such as use the autobrief feature because I am not able to see suggestions pop up on the screen as I write. However, my instructor provided me with alternative assignments that we agreed would be beneficial for me to do during that week.

  1. What kinds of challenges, if any, have you faced during your court reporting program?

My challenges were mainly what everyone else faces — being stuck at a speed for a long time or that stroke that you can never seem to stop hesitating on. I never felt that my blindness itself presented a challenge in court reporting, as I gain most of my knowledge of the environment through listening anyway. In past college experiences, I sometimes had problems with professors not believing in my abilities; but all of my teachers at the College of Court Reporting have held me to the same high standards to which they hold all their other students.

  1. Describe your experience taking the WKT.

I was initially a bit apprehensive because I wasn’t sure what accommodations could be made. I was worried that the only thing NCRA would be able to provide was someone to read the questions to me. If you stop and imagine only listening to some of those complicated punctuation questions without a “visual” medium in front of you, I think you can see that would not work. However, the people in charge of testing at NCRA could, and did, provide me with a Braille copy of the WKT. I cannot express how grateful I was for this. Then, with that accommodation taken care of, I had a somewhat typical test-taking process. I read the questions in Braille and had a recorder there to mark down my answers in print for me. I went over the questions twice to make sure everything was marked correctly.

  1. Which tests do you plan to take next?

I plan to take the jury charge portion of my RPR next, as I have passed my two online tests and my jury mentor evaluation.

  1. What types of challenges do you anticipate in your career ahead?

I am the kind of person who tries to meet challenges as they come. I can anticipate that the marking of exhibits could be something I may need assistance with, but I don’t see that as being much of a problem. I am glad to know, however, that I have several mentors, blind and sighted, within this profession to answer any questions I may have.

  1. Do you have any advice for people who are blind or visually impaired who are considering a career in court reporting?

As I mentioned earlier, I think Braille is a very important component to this profession for a blind person; so make sure your Braille skills are solid. Also — and this applies to any student — it is important to do your research and find places where you can network and foster mentoring relationships. I had the opportunity to go to the NCRA Convention & Expo in Chicago last year, and it was one of the most overwhelming and exciting experiences of my life; so don’t be afraid to embrace experiences that might be a little scary for you. They are nearly always worth it.

New professional spotlight: Jessie Frey

A young blond woman standing in front of the reflection pool with the Washington Monument in the backgroundBy Jennifer Porto

Jessie Frey has just celebrated her first year working as a freelance deposition reporter. She was a stellar student with infectious enthusiasm. Have you ever met someone who exudes positivity and makes you want to run the extra mile? That is Jessie. She was not immune to the struggles that every court reporting student faces, but she had the will to achieve. By surrounding herself with other mentors who matched her optimism and tenacity, she was able to stay on her path to her goals. Hard work has paid off, and she is living her dream.

What was life like as a student?

Time goes by fast when you’re having fun and loving the career that you worked so incredibly hard for. I just celebrated my one-year anniversary as a California CSR. I was born and raised in Los Angeles, and I decided to begin my court reporting journey at South Coast College in Orange, California.

As a new student, my biggest stumbling block was learning how to prioritize getting out of school. Getting through court reporting school is a whole ‘nother ballgame versus getting my undergrad degree. I quickly learned that in order to get out of school, I needed to center my life around classes and practice, and I made sure my friends and family knew it. My mission was to get out of school and not get buried in student loans.

Speedbuilding was an exercise in realigning my attitude when I’d reach the inevitable plateaus. The roller coaster of passing a test and then getting bumped into a class where you immediately started to fail again was the strangest and most difficult mental battle I have ever endured. The idea of quitting or giving up was never an option. I had to constantly remind myself to keep pushing past the negative self-talk and the self-doubt. To burst through these plateaus, I made sure to transcribe every single test. I always analyzed my (sometimes many, many) mistakes to see what I was doing wrong, and eventually the amount of those errors would get smaller and smaller until I passed.

What did you do to remain positive and motivated?

One of the most valuable and important decisions I made as a student was to start getting to know working reporters in my state associations. I went to as many functions and networking events as I could. By taking advantage of student discounts, I was able to go to conventions, English seminars, student picnics, and even small networking happy hours that were hosted by some amazing court reporters.

One of the coolest things I experienced as a student was sitting in a seminar listening to reporters who worked at Guantanamo Bay. I left the seminar feeling exhilarated because of the possibilities and options that I would have. I didn’t have to limit myself to one path. That same day was a seminar presented by four CART captioners. It was the first time I truly grasped that side of reporting. I’ll never forget their stories about how grateful their students were to be able to follow along during class because of the captions these reporters were providing.

The beauty of doing these things as a student is that so many of these reporters are willing to help you. As a student, school feels like it is never going to end, but by surrounding myself with actual working reporters, I was able to visualize myself out in the real world too, and I knew there was light at the end of the court reporting school tunnel. By their association, I was able to keep the spark I needed to stay motivated.

It is all about staying positive. When I felt down about a test, I had people I could reach out to for words of encouragement or advice. As I passed more and more tests, these same reporters were just as excited about it as I was (maybe even more so). These are the same reporters that I now consider to be some of my closest friends. I can rely on them when I have questions that come up about depositions, procedures, or when I just need someone I can vent to about having to cancel plans to get out an expedite.

After you passed the CSR, what reporting path did you choose?

When I got my license, I decided to be a freelance deposition reporter. I find it thrilling to be in a new place, with new people and a new case every single day. No two days are alike. I never know what to expect.

As a freelance reporter, I am able to work for multiple agencies. I am completely free to pick up jobs when I want, take additional work, or enjoy a few days off when I feel overwhelmed or buried with pages — or simply want a long weekend. I love that I have that flexibility. I love not having a boss. I have complete freedom to pick and choose my own schedule, where and when I want to work and how much, but I do miss having the benefits that an official would have. There are no limits to what the reporting road may lead to. I’m happy as a freelancer for now, but I find comfort in the fact that I have a variety of career paths to choose from within court reporting.

What has been an obstacle for you as a new reporter?

As a new reporter, I have struggled with time management and balance. I want to take every job that is offered and work every day, but I have had to learn to gauge the amount of pages versus the time it will take to edit so I can meet my deadlines. It is all about figuring out the balance and what is within reason. I’m still learning how to juggle working, editing, and trying to find the time to practice shortening my writing.

One of the biggest things I had to overcome and learn that wasn’t taught in school was how to interrupt and ask questions in a depo setting. It took me quite a while to feel comfortable being assertive with attorneys. I “faked it ‘til I made it.” Now I have no issue interrupting when there are multiple people talking at once or asking an attorney to speak louder when he thinks I can hear his whispering objection as well as the ongoing testimony.

I’m so thankful I put in the hours of practicing and studying in school to be where I am today. The struggles and ups and downs of court reporting school were worth it, and I’m part of a wonderful profession where I learn something new every single day. My career has only just begun, but I know I have the skills and ability to become a great reporter. There are so many wonderful opportunities in this field that I can’t wait to take hold of.

Jennifer Porto is a freelance reporter in Long Beach, Calif., and a member of the NCRA New Professionals Committee. She can be reached at jenn0644@gmail.com