COPE: Working with the “CIA” – An ethics review

By Jason Meadors

CIAI’m pretty sure you won’t find what I’m about to say in any Board policy or finding by NCRA’s Committee on Professional Ethics (COPE), in which I have the honor of serving this year. No, what follows are my own views of foundational bases of our ethics, in looking at the ethical frameworks in the Code and Advisory Opinions, and with a few decades of experience in this all-consuming career. I also have a regular ethics seminar that I present, and my views are woven into that as well, and I haven’t been seriously challenged. Yet.

“What are these views?” you might ask. Or you might not. I suspect the latter has the higher probability. But I’m going to tell you anyway. The ethical construct of our sacred court reporting profession has a foundation of three legs. Because Dave Wenhold, our preeminent lobbyist, has taught me that clever acronyms help people better identify and remember concepts, let’s call them the CIA.

Those three foundational legs of our profession are:

  • Confidentiality
  • Impartiality
  • Accuracy

There you go. Our CIA.

Confidentiality

Our Code of Professional Ethics (In a slight bit of acronym confusion with the committee, also named COPE), Number 4, addresses this directly. “Preserve the confidentiality and ensure the security of information,” and so on.

This makes eminent good sense, does it not? When we work, we hear dreadful events, shameful secrets, and financial goings-on from hosts of people. If we want the process to have integrity when it comes to the record, if we want our clients and consumers to see us as trustworthy professionals, if we want our profession to continue, we have to ensure that information that we hear doesn’t go where it’s not supposed to go.

It’s so easy to get caught up conversation among ourselves, with our clients, with members of the general public, because sometimes we hear some pretty darned interesting things. May I suggest a little self-administered test when you’re talking with someone and you get the impulse to sneak out a detail from a case, ask yourself: If this person says, “Oh, the reporter told me,” how will that reflect on you?

(There’s actually a simpler practice that doesn’t require retrospection: Just shut up.)

They bring us, outsiders, in to the proceedings, secure in their belief that we will not be the conduit of information to the rest of the world. Let’s keep it that way.

But that’s not the only reason we are called to our professional tasks. There’s the second foundational leg of:

Impartiality

Five of the ten items in the NCRA Code of Professional Ethics encompass impartiality. Indeed, Number 1 of the Code starts with, “Be fair and impartial…”

And this concept really is the linchpin in working at our professional heights, and its existence flows directly to the reliability of the record that we’re preserving.

In the litigation arena, in one certain sense, our presence might seem a bit odd. The parties are presenting their own weighted view of evidence. The attorneys are advocates for their clients. The judge is protecting the public interest. Everyone has taken a side. And still they bring us in, with our mandate of being both disinterested and uninterested, because it’s the only way that the history that they read later has been kept and delivered without bias, without favoritism, without an eye to supporting one side or the other.

“I love a job where I’m actually paid to not be interested in anyone.”

That’s how it must be. Even while immersed in their advocacy, they are paying us to be emotionally distant and removed from the proceedings that we report. All sides have to be able to rely on the integrity of the transcript without a second thought about whether the reporter might be bringing other interests into the legal game.

Sure, there are times when that “not caring” thing gets pushed and emotions run high. We all have our stories. My memorable one, and not in a good way: Within a couple weeks after a family member’s death, I was taking a deposition about a case that involved a fatality, and the grief of the deponent was open and unyielding. Because of my father’s so-recent death, my own emotions were pretty raw at the time, and I struggled to keep my expression impassive. I’m not sure how well I fared.

But the transcript that resulted from that deposition did not, could not, be weighted toward the grieving deponent, toward my client, toward the attorney who represented the sobbing witness, or anyone else in the room. That’s what all parties expect and what they deserve when they hire us, the professionally detached historian in the room.

(At this point, the alert reader may say, “Hey! You just told us not to talk about our cases!” And that is why I kept it so nonspecific as to time, place, parties, and even the type of case.)

Sometimes at introductions in the deposition room, one attorney will tell the witness, “I represent the plaintiff.” The other one will say, “I represent the defendant.” When the deponent looks at me, I introduce myself and say, “I represent the paper that comes out of this.” The integrity of the record is, indeed, the focus of our own advocacy.

But our confidentiality and impartiality aren’t the only reasons we’re being hired, which brings us to:

Accuracy

This leg is the surprisingly more tenuous one to talk about, because nowhere in the Code of Professional Ethics does it actually state that the reporter has an ethical duty to provide an accurate record.

I’m going to pause a moment to let that sink in. Let me know when you’re ready.

Okay, ready?

The reliability of the record is a principle woven into the fabric of our professional product. If the record of proceedings isn’t accurate, the participants might as well be home reading a good book and sipping their favored beverage. The need for accuracy is why we’re so darned impartial; likewise, impartiality helps to guarantee accuracy. The other factor to accuracy, of course, is the combination of skill, conscientiousness, and record-consciousness that we bring to the table.

Putting it all together

So when we’re faced with an ethical issue, we can generally fall back on our CIA to help resolve it.

  • Does the issue compromise Confidentiality?
  • Can it be perceived as a breach of Impartiality?
  • Could it degrade the record’s Accuracy?

If the answer to any of these is “yes,” the issue must be resolved in a way that keeps those principles intact.

My dear colleagues, what we do is important. Way back when, about to finish Marine reporting school and enter my life as a voice reporter in the Marines, a military judge came in to talk to us wide-eyed new practitioners about our importance. I haven’t forgotten the gist of his talk since, and that was early 1975. He told us about U.S. v. Albright, where the Court of Military Appeals stated that the record “imports verity.” In other words, if we say it happened, absent some showing of fraud (so stay impartial!), then what we say goes. How we transcribe it is how history will see it. If we don’t get it right, history will not look correctly upon what went on (so be accurate!).

And really, we are not just important. We are vital.

If the adage is correct about what is the “oldest profession,” then we can look at cave wall paintings and see what the second oldest is. It is the people who make the record of humanity itself. We bear a direct lineage from those short, stocky folks facing the rock walls, ochre at their sides, painting what happened to Thag Simmons. That tradition carries on through the scribes of ancient Egypt, the courts of the Khans, through the ages of petroglyphs, obelisks, clay tablets, papyrus, rice paper, parchment, paper from pulp, and through the spectra of electronic media that we use today.

Our all-important record preserved through our grand legacy is the singular method by which society can learn from its mistakes and build on its successes. And so, through our near-incomprehensible skills, and with the guidance of our solid ethical foundations, let’s make that record a good one.

Jason Meadors, RPR, CRR, CRC, is a freelance reporter in Fort Collins, Colo., and a member of NCRA’s Committee on Professional Ethics. He can be reached at jason@reporterworks.com.

 

COPE: Missing deadlines and the Code of Ethics

By Cassy Kerr

The timely delivery of a transcript from a reporter to a reporting firm can be a stressor in the life of a firm owner. “I want to add another pressure to my day-to-day responsibilities of owning a reporting business,” said no firm owner ever.

Also, no reporter wants to be in the uncomfortable position of missing a deadline with a firm. So fear not. There are ways, along with common sense, to avoid these issues for both firm owners and reporters in NCRA’s Code of Professional Ethics (COPE), the COPE General Guidelines, and specifically Advisory Opinion 20.

The first thing a firm owner can do, when looking for an outside reporter to cover a deposition, is personally know or know someone who personally knows the reporter. This is why networking is so important. Whether you need a reporter in an adjoining city or many states away, having a referral from a trusted resource is essential. Attending your state and national seminars, conventions, and get-togethers or volunteering for state or national committees are great opportunities to build your circle of contacts. Next, when you are speaking with the reporter, inquire whether he or she is a member of his or her state and national organizations. Those who aren’t have the ability to say, “State or national association’s guidelines and opinions don’t apply to me.”

Agencies should also advise the reporter of the deposition’s subject matter and verify that the reporter is capable of producing a quality product and delivering it within the requested timeline. If the reporter finds him- or herself in a highly technical video deposition without the required experience, the reporter will spend an excessive amount of time researching terms, which will delay the transcript delivery.

The reporter also has responsibilities when it comes to the timely delivery of a transcript, the first of which is letting the agency know whether he or she has the skills to report the deposition.

Section I.1 of the guidelines reads, “Accept only those assignments when the Member’s level of competence will result in the preparation of an accurate transcript”; and also, the conclusion in Advisory Opinion No. 20 says, “… the individual reporter … has a duty to … refrain from accepting engagements with which the reporter knows he or she is unable to comply.”
Reporter, it is okay to tell the firm: “I appreciate the opportunity to work for you, but I will be in over my head with this assignment.” In fact, the agency will appreciate your truthfulness and that leads to COPE No. 9, which says, “A member shall maintain the integrity of the reporting profession,” and there is no better way to do this than by being honest.

Further, being forthright about your skills and level of competence adheres you to Guideline No. I.5: “Meet promised delivery dates …” Finalizing a transcript can be time-consuming enough without extra time spent googling on a subject matter.

Likewise, if the reporter knows that he or she cannot deliver the job by the requested date, he or she should decline the engagement as expressed in Advisory Opinion No. 20.

Again, reporter, express your appreciation for the chance to work together, but let the firm know you are unable to meet the deadline. If you accept the job knowing you can’t and won’t meet the firm’s expectation, it puts the firm in the unpleasant position of explaining to the attorney, when contacted by him or her, that it doesn’t have the transcript for production. Avoid putting anyone, including yourself, in this sticky situation, and be upfront and truthful with the firm.

An instance of not meeting a deadline can occur when a transcript delivery date has not been given to the reporter. In this situation, a commonsense approach is for the reporter to ask the agency what the expected turnaround time is. COPE No. 3 says, “A member shall guard against not only the fact but the appearance of impropriety.” It is totally proper if not expected for the reporter to inquire of a deadline if it
is not given by the agency.

Reporter, save yourself the panic of an unforeseen request to have the transcript delivered the next day and inquire of the transcript deadline. NCRA’s Ethics Committee concludes in Advisory Opinion No. 20 that “… the individual reporter that subcontracts with an agency has a duty to meet promised delivery dates whenever possible and to refrain from accepting engagements with which the reporter knows he or she is unable to comply; so the burden lies with the reporter, not the agency, to ensure he or she meets the requested or a timely transcript delivery.

Sometimes, however, try as reporters might to meet his or her transcript deadlines, life happens. Urgent care visits occur. Children’s games go into overtime. Another transcript needs to get bumped to the front of the line to meet an unexpected expedited request. This is when common sense, Opinion No. 20, the COPE, and the COPE guidelines all mesh into one message: communication.

Section I.5 of the guidelines reads, “A member should … provide immediate notification of delays.” Will the reporter dread letting the firm know he or she cannot meet the deadline? Maybe.

Will the agency be frustrated that a deadline can’t be met? Probably.

Will the attorney be upset that the transcript isn’t available as requested? More than likely.

But this is when COPE No. 9 again comes into play. Be honest, reporter, as to the delay. Explain the situation, accept responsibility, and come to an agreement with the firm to a new delivery date. As long as your delivery delays are not a habit, the firm will understand and be happy to call you again the next time they need your help.

Cassy Kerr, RPR, CRR, CRC, is a freelancer and agency owner in Tulsa, Okla. Kerr is a member of NCRA’s Committee on Professional Ethics.

Five steps to build a million-dollar court reporting business

By Cassandra Caldarella

Some reporters go their entire lives without earning a million dollars, so it sounds crazy that some court reporters might be able to achieve this milestone in a few short years. But it is possible. Plenty of court reporters have achieved this goal, and you can too!

Pay attention to the following tips and use them to help ramp up your revenue growth:

  1. Find a growing market

five-ways_1One of the simplest ways to build a million-dollar court reporting business in such a short period of time is to find a growing trend and ride it to the top. Take me for example. As a former official for Los Angeles Superior Court, I saw the privatization of the reporters in civil courtrooms and getting laid off from the County as an opportunity. I went from a salaried position making $97,000 a year with the county to making more than $200,000/year. I took my lemons and made a whole bunch of lemonade. Certainly, part of my success comes from turning out a great product and service, but it also comes from timing. When I was laid off in July 2012, a $75+ million-dollar market for civil reporters in L.A. opened up and more than 12,000 attorneys in the Los Angeles market were scampering for coverage of their motions and trials. Along with many colleagues, I experienced a 125 percent annual revenue growth that first year and ever since. Finding a growing market of your own like this can put you on the fast track to massive revenue growth.

  1. Think monetization from the start

It seems strange to think about monetization objectively, but some court reporters operate without any obvious monetization strategies. Twitter is one example of this phenomenon, but countless other companies out there are building up their free user bases, hoping that inspiration – and, consequently, financial stability – will strike along the way.

five-ways_2Most profitable companies operate from one of two models: either they sell a lot of inexpensive products to a lot of people or they sell a few big-ticket items to a more limited buyer list. Neither model is easier or inherently better than the other. What’s more important than choosing is having a defined plan for monetization. Knowing what the plan is to make money from the start will prevent wasted time spent hoping that something profitable will come together.

For court reporters, we have some limitations: what we can charge may be limited; we can’t give away our services for free; and we can’t participate in gift giving more than a certain amount each year. To work as a pro tem in court, most of the page rates are set by the Court Reporters Board in California. One of the free user bases court reporters can set up for themselves is a vast network of referrals. So when an attorney calls requesting your services, and you are already booked, you can tell him that you have a friend who just became available. And the same goes with agencies who call you for work.  It can be a mutually beneficial situation. Or, if you prefer, you can offer to cover the job for the attorney, find a reporter that you network with, and take a cut. Do whatever works best in your situation.

  1. Be the best

five-ways_3There are plenty of mediocre court reporters out there, but the odds are good that these reporters aren’t making a quarter of a million dollars a year. If you want to hit these big potential revenues, you’ve got to bring something to the table that wows customers and generates buzz within your marketplace.

How can you tell if you’ve got a “best in breed” service? Look to your current customers. If you aren’t getting repeat business from attorneys and agencies and getting rave reviews or positive comments sent to your inbox, chances are your clients aren’t as ecstatic about your service as they need to be to hit your target sales. Asking your existing customers what you can do to make your service better and then put their recommendations into place. They’ll appreciate your efforts and will go on to refer further jobs to you in the future.

Improve your skill level. Focus on getting your realtime certification and then offering realtime on every job. Get as many certifications as possible. Be a member of your national and state associations. Join the state bar associations and trial lawyers associations.

Beyond our skill level is making an emotional connection with your clients. We reporters have very little time to communicate with attorneys while we’re working. The entrances and exits are sometimes all the time we have with them. Make it count. Make eye contact. Smile. You’ll be surprised what an impact a simple smile can have.

 

  1. Hire all-stars

Hitting the $200,000 in revenue per year is no small feat. You aren’t going to achieve this goal alone and you certainly aren’t going to get there with a team of underperformers. Yes, hiring less expensive scopists and proofreaders (or none at all) will be cheaper and easier, but you’ll pay for this convenience when your end-of-the-year sales numbers come up short.

five-ways_4Instead, you need to hire all-stars, and the fastest way to do this is to ask around for referrals. The really good ones will be busy and will turn you down at first. You need to use your referrals to let them know that you know someone they work with and can be trusted. Get them on board with incentives such as higher than usual rates. This will not only get them in the door, it will ensure that you have them on your team when that daily trial starts tomorrow. They will make you a priority. And treat them like gold by remembering their birthdays, sending holidays cards, gifts, and bonuses, and just by having open and direct communication with them. If you have the time to “interview” scopists and proofreaders by starting them out with small jobs to test the waters, and you find one that has potential, this could be your opportunity to turn them into exactly what you need and want by gentle coaching and instruction and slowly giving them more and more to do for you. The training you put into them will be rewarded with loyalty. You need to be absolutely certain that you can go after those all-day, realtime, same-day expedite jobs because you can rely on your team to be there when you need them. You need to be able to get those jobs day after day after day without missing a deadline. One missed deadline could be the end of a relationship with an agency or an attorney. When every penny counts towards reaching your million-dollar goals, you’ll find your team of subcontractors to be worth their weight in gold.

  1. five-ways_5Consume data

Finally, if you want to shoot for the revenue moon, you need to be absolutely militant about gathering data and acting on it. If you want to make $250,000 a year, then do the math. There are 2,080 working hours per year, which is $120.17/hour. There are 12 months per year, which would be $20,833 per month. And there are about 20 working days each month, which would be $1,041.66 per day, 240 days per year. As the ebb and flow of reporting goes, so go our predictable numbers, so we must constantly take measure of where we are.

I keep an Excel spreadsheet with my running monthly totals of jobs invoiced and money received ,and I put that on a side-by-side comparison of the last year’s numbers. I always know where I stand each month. If my job cancels today and I’ve only made the $300 per diem appearance fee, and I know I still have to get to my $1,041.66 goal for the day, then I text message all my agencies to let them know I’m available. I try to double- and triple-book myself, so I’ve got 3-6 motions in one day or a trial with dailies and realtime. I don’t stop until I’ve hit my goal. But then there are days where I get 5 copies and realtime and roughs, and it makes up for those days where everything falls apart. But I never stop trying to hit my daily goal. Always check your statistics to see how your day impacted your revenue. Add up your per diems and make a note of how many pages and calculate how much you earned at the end of each job. It may not be too late to pick up another one before you head home. Check your phone frequently for text messages and emails from agencies. Keep track of your key performance indicators (KPI’s) and push your metrics even higher every day. Keep a score card for yourself. Always keep your numbers in mind and know where you measure up each day.

I’m constantly picking up new agencies and making cold calls to agencies I hear other reporters talking about. I send them a resume and list of references, but I tell them what I want. I send my rate sheet, work preferences, geographical areas, and tell them about my experience. I try them out. I always invoice agencies and don’t rely on their worksheet. I know down to the penny what I earned on each job. I always negotiate rates with new and old agencies, with each job. I know what the going rates are by constantly doing market research, talking to other reporters, networking. You have a veritable gold mine of information just hanging out in the various Facebook groups, so put it to good use.

Growing your freelance court reporting business to million dollar revenues isn’t easy, but it is possible. Stick to the tips above – even if you don’t hit this particular goal, you’ll earn the strongest sales results possible for your unique business.

Cassandra Caldarella is a freelancer and agency owner from Santa Ana, Calif. She can be reached at cassarella11@hotmail.com.

California law lets parties to an arbitration use a court reporter

A blog posted on Oct. 3 by JD Supra Business Advisor provides insight into a new law passed in California that gives a party to arbitration the right to have a certified shorthand reporter transcribe any deposition, proceeding, or hearing as the official record. The blog was written by Kramm Court Reporting.

Read more.

COPE: Why ethics matter for CART captioners

JCR publications share buttonBy Cecilee Wilson

Through the course of my 39-year career as a professional reporter, as well as my 20 years providing broadcast captioning and CART services for many organizations and television stations, I have developed a strong conviction of the importance of our role in the Deaf and hard-of-hearing community and our responsibility to provide ethical, professional services to our clients.

In March of 2015, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), with extensive input from the NCRA, made significant rule changes regarding broadcast captioners. While these rule changes did not directly affect CART providers, the NCRA Board of Directors in November of 2015 approved and adopted a Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct based partly on these rule changes. This code was adopted for both CART and broadcast captioners to set a standard of quality and professionalism in our field.

While there are not currently any interstate or federal requirements for CART providers, some states have adopted standards in order to maintain the quality of services offered beyond basic certification.

As our field has developed and changed, many CART providers and captioners no longer understand the relevance of NCRA in their professional lives.

Many times we hear, “Where was NCRA when…” in conversation or on social media, in cases where the role of the Association would not have been applicable.

What can NCRA do? Influence legislation, build up and promote the profession, and search out new applications for the court reporting profession are a few things that NCRA does on an ongoing basis. In fact, the CART and captioning segments of the profession would not be even close to where they are today without the influence that NCRA has had on federal law and in Deaf and hard-of-hearing groups. That’s why it is more important than ever that we continue to support the policies established by NCRA to maintain a high standard of work across our profession.

In my work, the biggest problem I see first-hand is the provider who misrepresents their level of expertise, leaving the consumer with less-than-adequate accommodations. Judicial court reporters and deposition reporters are generally heavily regulated by individual states. In the “olden days” if a student felt they could not pass the rigorous testing of their state CSR laws or NCRA testing, some would choose to go into CART as a “fall-back” so as to be less regulated and get through school early. Unfortunately, taking the easier path has resulted in a wide variety of skill levels in our profession. Our clients, without the necessary tools and information to adequately judge the providers and services, are the ones who end up suffering for it.

Though the word “accurate” is present in both the FCC rules and the guidelines established by NCRA, there is no set standard for accuracy or untranslate percentages, either for CART or broadcast captioning. In many instances the absence of a legally enforced standard is an asset due to the increased costs and time that would be needed to enforce the standards. But that does not mean that we are unable to hold ourselves and our community to higher expectations.

Deaf groups that I have worked with have expressed a desire for standards for CART providers, even at different skill levels, in an effort to have an established level that would be commensurate with remuneration; to show the clients in the community that “you get what you pay for” when it comes to the services and skills you will receive and the fees associated with hiring a highly skilled professional. In my state it is not uncommon for clients to call a non-]certified CART provider because they would like to save their resources (money) and hire me when it is “really important.” Many consumers are also unaware of the NCRA services locater that lists its certified CART captioners.

The pitfall comes when a provider promotes themselves as highly skilled and charges accordingly, but provides services that are substandard and ineffective. This not only frustrates clients and other providers who may have been better able to offer the necessary services, but it also creates an atmosphere of distrust between clients and providers because of prior bad experiences.

I recall one conference in particular, where I was providing CART for a young person from another state, who was accompanied by his mother. She had been skeptical about hiring a CART provider because she had typically been unable to get high-quality CART services in her home state. She was very impressed that someone would provide that level of service, since she was unable to get that in her locale, regardless of the cost. She and her son would have benefitted from an established standard across our profession so that she was confident in the services she could expect to receive.

In my opinion the most effective way to increase the quality of the CART and captioning profession is to encourage others in our profession to become members of NCRA, and for all of us to sincerely adopt the ethics and professional guidelines in our everyday practice.

The Code of Professional Ethics includes provisions that we determine fees independently, avoid or disclose conflicts of interest or even the appearance of impropriety, preserve confidentiality, and be truthful when representing our qualifications. We are also encouraged to support the relationships in our community by providing pro bono services when the situation calls for them.

We must also diligently keep ourselves educated on current literature and technological advances and developments in order to offer the highest quality services possible. This should also include awareness of changing regulations and standards. As members of NCRA we are also required to maintain the integrity of our profession, abide by the NCRA Constitution & Bylaws, and participate in national, state, and local association activities. These should be the way each of us, as professionals, run our lives.

This aspect of activism in our Association is vital to our effectiveness. If we do not establish and enforce professional standards ourselves, as well as advocate for our concerns, then these standards are open to being set and enforced by outside interests without the necessary representation from our community.

As NCRA members and broadcast and CART captioners, we need to encourage others in our professional community to become members of NCRA and help to enforce the professional standards we have set, and continue to offer a high-quality service to our clients. This will help alleviate the problems of overstated services being offered, undercutting prices of professionals in our field, and educating consumers so they will not be taken advantage of. We need to educate ourselves on the Code of Ethics and Professional Guidelines, hold ourselves to the standards we have established, and support the work of NCRA through membership and activism. We have to change from being active to being activists.

Cecilee Wilson, RDR, CRR, CBC, CCP, of Kaysville, Utah, is a member of NCRA’s Committee on Professional Ethics.

COPE: Conflict of interest: Remaining professional despite relationships

By Donna Cascio

Many years ago, I was interviewed by a president judge for an officialship in a small judicial district served by two jurists in rural Western Pennsylvania. The judge’s secretary was his wife. Little did I know at that first meeting that I too would enter a lifelong journey of dealing with relationships that linked my professional world with my personal world.

After I was hired by that president judge, I learned that the judge’s brother was a practicing lawyer. The court administrator was careful to make sure that that attorney did not appear in proceedings before that judge. As I was soon to learn, there was another lawyer in that judge’s family. His cousin was the district attorney (DA), but that relationship was deemed distant enough so that the DA was able to prosecute cases in front of either judge. The daughter of our other judge, termed the associate judge, was married to a practicing lawyer; that lawyer was prohibited from appearing before his father-in-law.

Does this sound confusing? Well, wait, because it continues. And I added to the mix.

As time went on, I married a lawyer who was a principal in a local law firm (the Cascio law firm), which included his father and brother, among others. Adhering to Code of Professional Ethics No. 2 (avoid situations that are conflicts of interest or appear to be) and No. 3 (avoid the appearance of impropriety), of course, affected my assignments in certain cases.

When a court reporter has a relationship with a party that compromises the reporter’s impartiality, that relationship at the very least has to be disclosed and an agreement to proceed obtained by the parties affected, and at the very most must be avoided (see Advisory Opinion No. 2, Reporter’s relationship to litigants; 1987, 2013; and No. 3, Reporting for a spouse’s law firm; 1987; 2013).

Continuing in my career, that lawyer I married ascended to the bench. By this time there was a new set of judges and a new president judge. Anticipating the inevitable situation of working together, my husband had sought an opinion from the Judicial Ethics Committee of the Pennsylvania Conference of State Trial Judges. The opinion expressed that there was no violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct if I continued my work as an official reporter and that I could report proceedings that were held in his courtroom. Despite the ruling, our new president judge preferred that I would work in my husband’s courtroom only if absolutely necessary, meaning all other reporters were either absent or swamped with work.

This was in a three-judge county with only three reporters. We called it working without a net. We use a pooling system of reporters. However, my husband’s busy courtroom and my inability to rotate into it regularly created some difficulty with the flow of work in those 15 years until our president judge retired and his rule was abolished.

In 2006, when my husband became president judge, the ruling from 1990 was dusted off, and I began a regular rotation of working for every judge. I guess this means I have more experience than most in evaluating and dealing with appearance of impartiality. However, in a 50-mile radius of my home, I personally know three court reporters married to Pennsylvania State Court trial judges, so I am not alone.

The husband-and-wife relationship in the courtroom may seem curious to some. I always emphasize that the judge and the court reporter are the impartial people in the courtroom. In jurisdictions where there is sufficient staff to adhere to a rule of not working together, that is fine. In my situation living in a small town, that is impossible.

By the way, my brother-in-law is still practicing law at that same law firm, and so I disclose that relationship to every out-of-town counsel even though my husband obviously has no tie to that law firm. But by this time, that relationship is well known. At the current time, our judicial district has sought a ruling from the current Ethics Committee of the Pennsylvania Conference of State Trial Judges on some other relationships. Of our three sitting judges, the current president judge’s ex-wife practices law with the Cascio firm, my husband’s brother continues to practice law with the firm, and our newly elected judge is a former partner from the same firm.

The ruling from the Ethics Committee was that any contested matters emanating from the Cascio law firm must be heard by a specially appointed senior judge.

My point in sharing that bit of confusing data is because jurists in my court are acting with care to adhere to standards of acceptable judicial conduct, so they have sought this ruling to guide the court operations going forward.

There may exist in some states licensure or advisory boards to help guide reporters’ professional conduct. We in Pennsylvania are not so lucky. But just as our state courts have the ability to seek guidance from an Ethics Committee, so too do we reporters on a nationwide basis have the ability to seek guidance from a bona fide body so all actions we take can have sound reasoning and we can avoid the appearance of impropriety.

Court reporters have the NCRA Code of Professional Ethics as well as the set of Public Advisory Opinions, conveniently accessible on NCRA’S website. In addition, NCRA’s Committee on Professional Ethics stands ready to discuss any situation brought before them by any member (if not already addressed in a current public advisory opinion).

According to Priority #4, Advocacy, in Vision 2018, NCRA’s Strategic Plan, NCRA will continue to “establish, perpetuate, and promote standards of conduct for court reporters.” In Priority #5, Professional Development, it is clear that “NCRA will establish and refine standards of knowledge, competence, and professional practice.” Thus, we can be assured going into the future that NCRA will remain our guide for any questionable issue.

Donna Cascio, RDR, CMRS, is an official court reporter in Somerset, Pa. She is also a member of NCRA’s Committee on Professional Ethics.

 

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Code of Professional Ethics

A Member Shall:

  1. Be fair and impartial toward each participant in all aspects of reported proceedings, and always offer to provide comparable services to all parties in a proceeding.
  2. Be alert to situations that are conflicts of interest or that may give the appearance of a conflict of interest. If a conflict or a potential conflict arises, the Member shall disclose that conflict or potential conflict.
  3. Guard against not only the fact but the appearance of impropriety.
  4. Preserve the confidentiality and ensure the security of information, oral or written, entrusted to the Member by any of the parties in a proceeding.
  5. Be truthful and accurate when making public statements or when advertising the Member’s qualifications or the services provided.
  6. Refrain, as an official reporter, from freelance reporting activities that interfere with official duties and obligations.
  7. Determine fees independently, except when established by statute or court order, entering into no unlawful agreements with other reporters on the fees to any user.
  8. Refrain from giving, directly or indirectly, any gift or anything of value to attorneys or their staff, other clients or their staff, or any other persons or entities associated with any litigation, which exceeds $150 in the aggregate per recipient each year. Nothing offered in exchange for future work is permissible, regardless of its value. Pro bono services as defined by the NCRA Guidelines for Professional Practice or by applicable state and local laws, rules and regulations are permissible in any amount.
  9. Maintain the integrity of the reporting profession.
  10. Abide by the NCRA Constitution & Bylaws.

No. 2 Reporter’s relationship to litigants (Originally written 1987; Revised 2013)

Statement of Facts

Upon appearing for a deposition or any other proceeding, the reporter finds that the reporter is related to one of the attorneys.

Is it the reporter’s responsibility to advise counsel of the relationship?

Discussion

If the reporter becomes aware of any relationship that may reasonably call into question the reporter’s impartiality, it is incumbent upon the reporter to disclose that relationship as soon as known. This gives counsel the opportunity to object or waive any objections on the record to the reporter’s reporting of the proceeding. If any objection is raised, the reporter must withdraw and offer to attempt to obtain another reporter. Counsel may elect, however, to select a reporter of their own choosing.

Reasons requiring disclosure include, but are not limited to:

  1. The reporter is related by blood or marriage to an attorney of record, an attorney present at the deposition, a party or a deponent. “Related by blood or marriage” is defined as including a parent, child, grandparent, grandchild, great grandparent, great grandchild, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, niece and nephew or the spouse of any such person.
  2. Any other relationship which may reasonably cause the reporter’s impartiality to be questioned.

Obviously, it is not possible to list all relationships that may be a conflict of interest or give the appearance of a conflict. Therefore, the Committee recommends that whenever a reporter is unsure of whether to disclose a relationship, the reporter should disclose the relationship as soon as known. For further discussion on this topic, please refer to Public Advisory Opinion No. 3.

Conclusion

It is the Committee’s opinion that failure to disclose any relationship that might reasonably call into question the reporter’s impartiality is a violation of Provisions 1 and 2 of the Code of Professional Ethics. These provisions state that the member shall:

No. 1. Be fair and impartial toward each participant in all aspects of reporting proceedings, and always offer to provide comparable services to all parties in a proceeding.

No. 2. Be alert to situations that are conflicts of interest or that may give the appearance of a conflict of interest. If a conflict or a potential conflict arises, the member shall disclose that conflict or potential conflict.

No. 3 Reporting for a spouse’s law firm (Originally written 1987; Revised 2013)

Statement of Facts

A reporter’s spouse is a member of a law firm that schedules a reporter for a deposition or other proceeding. Because the spouse will conduct the proceeding, the reporter refrains from taking the proceeding but requests another reporter to cover it, from whom a percentage commission is to be received. When other members of the spouse’s law firm schedule proceedings, the reporter reports them.

Is it a violation of the Code of Professional Ethics (1) for the reporter to schedule proceedings for the law firm of the reporter’s spouse, (2) for the reporter to send another reporter and retain a commission therefor, or (3) for the reporter to report proceedings for other members of the law firm?

Discussion

With respect to the facts cited above, the reporter may schedule proceedings for the spouse’s law firm. Second, the reporter was acting prudently by requesting another reporter to cover the proceeding, and the retention of a commission is permissible. The reporter should not personally cover the proceeding, but should request another reporter do so. The reporter may report proceedings for other members of the law firm only if the following three conditions are satisfied:

  1. Full disclosure of the relationship is made as soon as known.
  2. An agreement is reached by all counsel that there is no objection to the reporter’s taking the deposition (which should be stated on the record prior to commencement of the deposition).
  3. The reporter’s certificate conforms with the above facts.

If the reporter does not follow these steps, it would constitute a violation of Provisions 1 and 3 of the Code of Professional Ethics. These provisions require that the reporter be impartial in all aspects of reported proceedings and guard against not only the fact but also the appearance of impropriety.

Conclusion

It is the Committee’s opinion that scheduling proceedings for the law firm of a reporter’s spouse and requesting another reporter to take the proceedings being conducted by the first reporter’s spouse, and the acceptance of any part of the fee therefor by that reporter, does not violate any provision of the Code of Professional Ethics.

It is also the opinion of the Committee that for the reporter to report proceedings involving other members of the spouse’s law firm would be a violation of Provisions 1 and 3 of the Code of Professional Ethics unless:

  1. Full disclosure of the relationship is made to all parties as soon as known.
  2. An agreement is reached by all counsel that there is no objection to the reporter’s reporting the deposition, and that such stipulation is stated on the record prior to commencement of the deposition,
  3. The reporter’s certificate conforms with the above facts.

The applicable provisions of the Code of Professional Ethics state that the member shall:

No. 1. Be fair and impartial toward each participant in all aspects of reported proceedings, and always offer to provide comparable services to all parties in a proceeding.

No. 3. Guard against not only the fact but the appearance of impropriety.

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COPE: Like, share, post

By Marianne Cammarota

One of the first things I do when I log on to my computer is check my social media pages. I like to see the beautiful pictures of the flora and fauna of Nevada my friend Karen Yates has posted. I can’t wait to see the Case CATalyst tip Cindi Lynch has posted. And of course, all my stitching friends have posted their wonderful handiwork for me to ooh and aah about. I like to read about what my friends are doing because they keep me on a positive path, they inspire me, and they bring joy into my life.

Social media and technology have brought us all closer together, even though we may be thousands of miles apart or in another country. We are just a click away from our best friends 24/7.  It’s so easy to say whatever is at the forefront of our minds, sometimes without thinking about how it may appear to thousands of others who may be reading it.

I have been a reporter for a long time, longer than I like to say. Attorneys in New Jersey know me, and they talk to me about all kinds of things. It is distressing to hear them speak about court reporters texting while reporting a deposition – and I don’t mean during a break. No one would like a plastic surgeon to be texting while getting a rhinoplasty.

I have seen some reporters post messages that are less than courteous responses to others simply because they think their opinion is more worthy. And at the worst end of the spectrum, I’ve read some grievous posts that could be considered criminal in nature.

The profession doesn’t look good when an attorney says, “Do I now have to have a paralegal scanning the court reporter forums for posts about what may have happened during my deposition that he or she feels is unfair, unjust, or just plain doesn’t like me?”

We are sometimes caught up in the nitty-gritty of our everyday reporting life, keeping up with the latest and greatest technology. We must learn all the rules and regulations of our local, state, and national associations and boards. Sometimes all this information bears down on us so heavily that we forget the simplest rules that do us the most good.

Our Code of Professional Ethics states: A member shall maintain the integrity of the reporting profession. Sounds simple and easy. But every time we write an angry response, post a nasty, ill-natured complaint, or do a discourtesy, we chip away at the profession.

A Mexican proverb says, “Tell me who your friends are and I’ll tell you who you are.” If we can keep our posts positive, we can do no harm.

Marianne Cammarota, RDR, CRR, is a freelance reporter in Bridgewater, N.J. and a member of the NCRA Committee on Professional Ethics.

How to schedule Chinese depositions

A blog posted May 4 by the JD Supra Business Advisor addresses how to schedule Chinese depositions since they are illegal in mainland China. Author Suzanne Quinson from Planet Depos in Washington, D.C., suggests instead moving deposition locations to Hong Kong where the proceedings are legal.

Read more.

New Professionals: Tips from the pros

By Annemarie Roketenetz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Developed in coordination with the Corrinne Clark Professionalism Institute

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

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

Tips, tricks, and the latest in trends shared with attendees at 2015 NCRA Convention & Expo

The wide array of sessions and presentations adorned with tips and tricks as well as the latest in trends at the 2015 NCRA Convention & Expo, held July 30-Aug. 2 in New York City, provided the nearly 1,200 attendees with a varied selection of educational choices.

NCRA member Gail Verbano, RDR, CRR, a freelance reporter from Boothwyn, Pa., led a lively discussion of what-if scenarios in a session called 25 Years On-the-Job Training in One Seminar, as part of the Judicial Track. Attendees discussed what to do when people speak too fast, if a lawyer answers for a witness or says ‘strike that,’ or asks the court reporter to leave a blank in the transcript. Other scenarios discussed included how to handle interpreters when witnesses answer in English and when and how to interrupt.

She also shared pointers from 25 years of being on the job, tips for producing cleaner writing, and a glimpse into what she packs in her case each time she takes on a realtime job.

According to Verbano, “we try to protect the record, but we can’t make the record.”

Captioners Linda Hershey, RDR, CRR, CBC, CCP; Jennifer Schuck, RDR, CRR, CBC, CCP; and Steve Clark, along with sign language interpreters Jana Owens and Rita Jo Scarcella, led on a panel entitled You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know – Ethically Speaking, as part of the Realtime Track. The members were representing CART Ethics Task Force, which was charged with creating a NCRA Code of Professional Ethics for CART and Broadcast Captioners, recognizing that the ethical issues that captioners face are often different than those faced by judicial reporters.

According to the presenters, many elements of the captioning NCRA Code of Professional Ethics for CART and Broadcast Captioners are similar to those on the judicial side. Some of the important differences are the higher emphasis on confidentiality and privacy, concerns about working with a minor rather than an adult, or the difference between a file and a transcript (which Schuck wrote about in the July 2015 issue of the JCR).

Because the Task Force was essentially developing ethical professional standards for the captioning industry, they included their partners in accessibility – sign language interpreters. The interpreters helped the captioners with discussions about verbatim transcripts, for example. A common misconception about sign language interpreters is that their interpretation is verbatim, which is not possible since American Sign Language and English have slightly different grammar and syntax. The sign language interpreters commented that working on the task force was a learning experience for them as well, providing them new insights in how captioners work with a similar client base.

Audience questions also promoted a discussion on issues related to accessibility and advocacy.

The Task Force submitted the NCRA Code of Professional Ethics for CART and Broadcast Captioners for the NCRA Board of Directors’ approval and has gone to the next step towards implementation. Look for more information in the near future.

Bruce Balmer, CLVS, led a practical session on video files in legal videography where he reviewed the different types of video files currently used in the industry. During the session entitled I Have a Video File, but What Should I Give My Client? as part of the Business Track, Balmer said that authored DVDs are the most common formats, but predicted that MPEG-4 will become more common in the future. He pointed out that if videographers offer other formats – including multiple MPEG versions and synced versions of all formats – then clients will ask for them.

Balmer also ran through a series of questions that the videographer should ask the client to determine which format to use, such as what the video will be used for (for example, whether a trial is bench or jury), the client’s playback equipment, and if the video should be synced. He also addressed questions that the client should ask of the videographer, such as whether the videographer uses standard or high definition.

Balmer also provided a step-by-step demonstration of the TMPGEnc Video Mastering Works software, which is the industry standard for converting from the video source.

A wide range of national and international court reporting educators attended Motivating, Coaching, and Mentoring for Student Success, a session led by Marybeth Everhart, RPR, CRI, CPE, and Karen Sole, RPR, CRI, CPE, which was part of the Teachers’ Workshop. Everhart and Sole began the session with a puzzle to encourage creative thinking and discourage the mindset of “that’s the way we’ve always done it” or “this is how we did it when I went to school.”

The interactive session covered topics ranging from types of engagement to the importance of setting high standards and appropriate boundaries to intrinsic verses extrinsic motivation. Attendees shared specific tips, such as using a school social media page to share briefs or celebrate student accomplishments (while keeping in mind FERPA privacy issues).

Everhart reminded attendees, “What we’re training our students to do is really difficult,” and it can be tempting for a student to fall under the trap of thinking, I’m not progressing because of the way the school or program is run. In court reporting, the honeymoon phase ends quickly, especially in theory. While instructors should find ways to provide their students with regular individualized feedback and support, at the end of the day, students need to spend the time in school thinking and behaving like their future profession. This includes tracking and assessing their own progress and connecting with their local, state, and national court reporting communities.

Maureen Walsh, CLVS, and Chris Willette, RDR, CRR, CCP, teamed up to show the strengths of court reporters and legal videographers working together in the deposition setting during The Reporter and the Videographer Partnership, a session included as part of the Business Track. Walsh and Willette shared the workflow before, during, and after a deposition for both court reporters and legal videographers, as well as which certifications to look for and the types of questions to ask to find the right teammate. Both presenters emphasized the importance of using a CLVS, citing the quality of the CLVS Seminar and the rigorous exam. Walsh explained that, unlike any other legal videography organization, the NCRA program was developed specifically to help CLVSs support court reporters.

A common theme throughout the session was how court reporters and legal videographers can help each other. Willette suggested that the Realtime Systems Administrator certificate is valuable not just for a court reporter to earn, but also for a legal videographer to earn, explaining that an RSA-certified videographer who is working with a CRR-certified court reporter can assist with troubleshooting. In addition, the court reporter can hook into the videographer’s audio mixer (Walsh suggested bringing a splitter, 25-foot cord, and ¼-inch adaptor), which is higher quality sound than any audio backup system a court reporter may be using.

Marilynn Larkin from PosturAbility presented a session entitled Power Up Your Posture where she noted that good posture involves the entire body, that it’s dynamic and interactive, and that it can help relieve some body problems while preventing others, like back soreness. Attendees had the opportunity to practice specific stretches, both sitting and standing, to do before or during work, while Larkin continually reminded everyone to breathe and keep their shoulders down and core activated. She also reminded attendees to make their environment work for them rather than trying to fit themselves into the environment, offering tips like asking for a different chair if necessary or wearing comfortable clothing. The session was part of the Judicial Track.

Members who are interested in Larkin’s session can view her two-part series of posture available in the NCRA e-seminar library.

As part of the Realtime Track, Brenda Brueggemann, a professor at the University of Louisville and a CART consumer, led a discussion-based session entitled Composing Sound – A Workshop on Creative and Critical Thinking. Part of the session focused on adding “flavor” while captioning, an issue that was well-illustrated during the session itself. After attendees discussed a series of high-level questions about captioning in small groups, Brueggemann said that for a group in the back, she could hear words from the discussion, but she had no idea what the tone of the discussion had been. When one participant from the group said that they had been confused by the questions, Brueggemann said that the word confusion added just the right amount of context to interpret the words better. The attendees discussed the difficulty in adding flavor while captioning, first because captioners are so focused on capturing the words that it can be difficult to also catch ambiance, and also because it can be difficult to avoid using personal judgment while trying to add in flavor. One example would be how to describe background music while captioning.

Brueggemann also pointed out that sound studies are garnering more attention in the university and that recently captioning has been seen as an integral part of video rather than an afterthought.

During a session entitled Best Practices for Remote Reporting, NCRA members and Realtime Systems Administrator certificate holders, Robin Nodland, RDR, CRR, and Christine Phipps, RPR, attendees were provided with an overview of what remote reporting is and what it is not, why best practices are needed to ensure quality realtime is provided, and what business models currently exist in the realtime world.

Nodland and Phipps also shared best practices as they relate to protocols for attendees and working with audio proceedings.

Handouts and presentations for many of the sessions held at the 2015 Convention & Expo are available online at NCRA’s Convention & Expo Web page.