REPORTING: Are you ready for daily copy?

By Brenda Rogers-Fiscus, Deborah Smolinske, and Beverly Thomas

It’s Friday at 7:30 p.m. The weekend has officially started. You’re just kicking back to relax with a movie and some popcorn. Then this email hits your inbox:

“We need someone to cover a three-week asbestos trial starting Monday, daily copy, rough at close of each day, four realtime feeds plus judge, multiple copy orders. Are you available?”

Your first reaction: Woot! You can’t type fast enough: “Yes! I’ll take it!”

daily copyAs you hit the send button, your eye falls on the postscript you somehow missed on the first reading: “And, oh, by the way, they need the final no later than 10 p.m. every night.”

Are you thinking: “When will I sleep? When will I eat? Will my family remember what I look like when the trial is over? Will I still have a family? Will the dog remember who I am? What was I thinking? I can’t do this!”

Yes, you can

With a seasoned team of scopists and proofreaders, a little prep work, and the latest technological advances in CAT software, you can do this — and live to tell the tale with a smile on your face.

The first step is to start preparing now, before you get that call or email. A small investment of time and effort now will pay off huge when the big day does arrive.

“But why do I need to prepare now?” you may ask. “I may never need such a team. I don’t even work with a scopist/proofreader on a regular basis. What’s the point in spending time on it now? I’m sure I can just post on Facebook or another forum and find all the help I need at a moment’s notice.”

Maybe; maybe not. Most quality scopists and proofreaders keep a full calendar of work. Forming a good team is always a challenge, even more so at the last minute. Searching for superb help when there is no time for due diligence is a sure recipe for disaster. And, as we all know, even the most foolproof technology can behave like an unruly child, especially when there’s no time to troubleshoot or learn.

Get ready before it happens

First, begin lining up a team of scopists and proofreaders who have extensive knowledge and experience with daily and immediate turnaround work. Do your due diligence. Get references, read testimonials, and pay attention to how questions in groups and forums are answered. You can choose to assemble your own team or you can contact a ready-made team geared exclusively toward daily work.

Second, agree upon a form of communication that will afford all parties the fastest response time possible. Applications like Google Hangouts, Yahoo, AIM, Facebook IM, and Skype are all good options.

Third, have a frank conversation with your team about your expectations and theirs during the course of the job. How do you want to be notified of questionable spots to check before sending out the final? How much — or how little — research do you expect from your team? Do you expect scoping to be done with full audio? How firm are you about having your specific preferences followed to the letter? How will files be transferred back and forth? Who is responsible for putting together the rough? How and when will invoices be sent and when is payment expected?

Fourth, verify your team’s availability as soon as you learn of an impending daily. Send your team any word lists, prior transcripts, and any other information you have that may contain spellings/terms/parties pertinent to the case.

Fifth, set up a short practice session with your team to ensure that you have all the correct settings for your CAT software when performing realtime or daily work.

Finally, relax. You’ve got this! With a solid team behind you, you can focus all your attention on your writing. When there’s a break or it’s lunchtime, you can actually get up and move around, eat a real meal, make a phone call, go outside and enjoy some sunshine. Your team will be there doing the heavy lifting while you get some much-needed downtime to gather your strength for the next round.

You’ll emerge from this experience with a new level of confidence in your skills, your marriage will still be intact, the kids will still know who you are, the dog will still recognize your voice. And you’ll actually look forward to the next time you get that crazy email, knowing that you are equipped with a secret weapon: a proven team of scopists and proofreaders working alongside you every minute with one goal in mind — delivering a finished, polished transcript in record time to your adoring fans – er, clients.

Who’s afraid of that big, bad daily trial now? Not you!

Brenda Rogers-Fiscus, Deborah Smolinske, and Beverly Thomas are the primary team members of Perfect Partners Transcript Brigade, which was established in 2014.  Learn more at transcriptbrigade.wordpress.com.

 

 

 

 

 

TechLinks: Keeping organized with technology

TechLinks_logoIf one of your 2017 resolutions is to get more organized, the NCRA Technology Committee has your back.

A trio of tips from makeuseof.com offers strategies to reach inbox zero with your gmail account, use the camera on your iPhone to manage your life and help you remember things, and use Google calendar more efficiently.

A Jan. 10 article from Inside Counsel offers information about three startups that help manage your calendar. While originally written for lawyers, it is easily adaptable for court reporters.

Keep in mind that Acrobat Pro DC allows users to scan or snap a photo of a paper document, then edit the graphics or text with fonts that match the original, which keeps you organized wherever you are.

Celebrating entrepreneurs

“It took a lot of hard work and determination to get through school and to build my skills as a practicing reporter. I’m a reporter business owner, so my approach in working with clients, reporters, and staff is generally directed by the reporter in me,” says Jan Schmitt, RPR, owner of the Schmitt Reporting & Video in Vancouver, Wash.

To mark Women’s Entrepreneur Day, an international day celebrated with a worldwide social media campaign on Nov. 30, the JCR reached out to several of NCRA’s firm owner-reporters — both male and female — to get their take on what entrepreneurship means to them.

While the people identified themselves foremost as reporters, they had many traits that transfer over to being an entrepreneur. “When I tell people what I do, I always explain the reporting part. Telling them I am business owner comes later in the conversation when I explain that I don’t work in a courthouse but for myself,” says Cassy Kerr, RPR, CRR, CRC, a freelancer and the owner of Russell Court Reporting, Inc., in Tulsa, Okla. “And I never even thought of myself as an entrepreneur until about a year ago when a friend introduced me as one.”

But reporters shouldn’t fear the term entrepreneur. Small businesses contribute to the global economy and make up about half of all U.S. jobs.

Attributes of the entrepreneurial court reporter

Only nine months into her career, Katherine Schilling, RPR, a freelancer in Richmond, Va., explains entrepreneurship this way: “In my mind, an entrepreneur is someone who offers a one-of-a-kind service that furthers their industry as a whole. This, too, is something that I feel comes with time and experience. These are the real-timers, the multiple hook up-ers, the three-scopist team-ers, the daily copy turn around-ers! At present, I’m focusing purely on advancing my own skills, but once I’m at a point where I’m offering something revolutionary to the court reporting industry, maybe then I can start considering such a prestigious title as entrepreneur.”

Entrepreneurship matches many of the attributes that reporters already have — at least according to the Small Business Administration, which lists persuasiveness, risk-taking, independence, creativity, and being supported by others as important traits for entrepreneurs.

“You are very much a salesperson as a reporter, and that is the start of being an entrepreneur,” says Donna Linton, RMR, a freelancer based in Ashburn, Va. “You start at the beginning of the day selling yourself by being on time and prepared for the case, having your exhibit stickers and equipment ready to go. What is hard for a lot of reporters is to know you have the skill at the end of the day to sell your product by asking, ‘Do you need a rough draft’ or ‘Would you like to expedite this?’”

But there are many more traits that reporters and firm owners list as important in addition to those mentioned — with organization and planning topping most people’s lists. “The most important in my view are focus, persistence, determination and patience, planning, and dealing with many types of individuals, as well as being accountable,” says Grant Morrison, CRI, a freelance reporter in San Antonio, Texas.

“I’m big on planning ahead, especially for trials,” says Linton. ”Working with other reporters to get as much information ahead of time from clients helps us be consistent and produce the best product we can under pressure.”

“I believe the most important attributes of being an entrepreneur in the field of court reporting start with integrity and a commitment to the legal process,” says Kathy Reumann, RDR, a freelancer based in Rock Island, Ill.

“Punctuality is extremely important. It shows respect and readiness to tackle the job at hand,” says Lisa B. Johnston, RMR, CRR, CRC, a CART captioner based in Melbourne, Fla. “Being able to keep calm in a situation that may not be going as planned and focusing on how to solve the problem and move on.”

“Entrepreneurs are the trailblazers of any industry, so they need all the following attributes to make their business a success: self-motivation, discipline, time management, and a passion to keep learning and improving,” said Schilling. “Court reporters have these traits in spades. Due to the nature of the court reporting field, we are often the only ones driving ourselves to do our best, through school and even decades into the working world. The job is also a very solitary one, especially for freelancers, so we have only ourselves to rely on in order to stay focused on the job and stay organized when those high page counts and expedites start rolling in.”

“A reporter skill that translates to an entrepreneurial skill is perseverance,” says Kerr. “No matter how difficult a deposition may be with the terminology or people speaking at once, I don’t give up, and I follow that same thinking with running a business.”

Advice for entrepreneurs

Many stressed the importance of being a reporter first. “You have to know how things are going out there in the field working an actual job so you can understand what the reporters are dealing with and what the clients are really expecting from their reporters as well as the judges,” says Linton.

Finding good support is essential to supporting the entrepreneur, whether it’s additional reporters to build your business or hiring a scopist or proofreader to keep up on your deadlines. Linton notes that these investments are about knowing that time is money — and saving time is key.

“The ability to attract and keep good reporters and staff is key. Endless determination, good vision and leadership — ‘Where there is no vision, the people perish’ (Proverbs 29:18) — knowing your strengths and, more important, knowing your weakness and being willing to seek help in those areas. Some creativity and an ability to sell go a long way,” says Schmitt.

Linton advises finding a reliable and fantastic scopist and proofreader: “Do not be afraid to use one and find a favorite or two.”

“Know your CAT software to save you time so you can take more work to make more money,” Linton also suggest. ”For an agency, it means knowing skilled reporters who are reliable and keeping them happy. It saves the agency time finding coverage and means fewer headaches when producing their work for your clients.”

“Having the right people working for me,” says Kerr. “Those include everyone from my scopist and proofreader to my CPA. Delegating responsibilities to the people I can count on to get the job done and done correctly so I can focus on reporting and other aspects of running a business is so essential. I tried doing everything by myself, and it made life very difficult.

Organization is also important, mentioned by almost everyone. “Being organized in your scheduling is important,” says Johnston. “Personally, I have three calendars with all of my work appointments and jobs: one paper calendar, one smartphone calendar, one whiteboard calendar in my office. Reporter work days are anything but routine, so if you’ve committed to something, keep the commitment. Your reputation is of utmost importance.”

“Other important attributes are being wise with your finances and having confidence in your ultimate success,” says Kerr.

“Higher education and certification in your field shows dedication to your career,” says Johnston. [Ed. Note: NCRA offers education specific to firm owners at is Firm Owners Executive Conference, being held at Loews Ventana Canyon Resort, Tucson, Ariz., Feb. 12-14, 2017.]

“Luckily for court reporters, there are always plenty of industry conventions to attend in order to expand our knowledge and improve our skills for the job,” says Schilling. “By continuing our education, we improve our product and can deliver top-notch work that will wow our clients and push the court reporting profession to new heights!”

Manage your time to manage your life

Photo by Ryan Hyde

Photo by Ryan Hyde

Ann Gomez, a productivity consultant who presented at the NCRA Firm Owners Executive Conference in April 2016, offered tips about time management to NCRA staff, and several of her suggestions can be adopted by anyone. Early on in her presentation, she noted that our attention is split between wanting to be accessible and needing to focus. Several studies over the past decade show that focused attention is important to everyone’s daily lives. Email, Gomez points out, is one of the new technologies that drive people to feel the need to be available to anyone all the time, as are cell phones and so many of the social media networks.

Productivity studies in recent years have offered new insight into the way we work. For instance, Gomez pointed out that your willpower and the ability to work on hard tasks are highest in the morning, and that adopting this daily habit of tackling the worst task early in the day prevents procrastination and, in the long term, burnout. Alternatively, using this information, some people instead choose to set aside time each morning to work on their most important long-term goals.

Gomez also suggests calling your to-do list a master plan to help change your mind-set about tackling what you need to do. The master plan should work on the five C’s:

  1. Have only one place where you keep all of your lists about what needs to be done. It can be a physical notebook, an online note program, or even an Excel or Word document where you include everything that needs to be done. It’s important to find a system that works for you.
  2. Write everything down. Don’t rely on your memory.
  3. Figure out your categories, which help you to prioritize. You might have a section for projects, phone calls, personal to-do lists, or more. (When asked, she said that some people might find it better to keep one list for work and one for personal, but that it was mostly personal preference.)
  4. Have a deadline. You can use deadlines as a proxy for priorities; if a deadline passes, renegotiate the deadline. If it’s a large project, add interim deadlines if they aren’t already assigned. When you note that you don’t have enough time for a project, work with the person to manage expectations and prioritize your work.
  5. Use it, look at it, cross it off, and consult it on a real-time basis. Gomez suggests looking at your plan at least once a day, maybe three or four times a day.

Once you have an established system, Gomez advises that you figure out your top priorities – maybe two or three things – and determine what action is needed. Once you have your priorities, take time each day to focus and move forward on your priorities, and find ways to protect that time.

Gomez admits that you have to figure in time for work that doesn’t fit with your top priorities — perhaps you need to respond to emails or make calls. How you plan your day should reflect those realities, and you can add those tasks to your agenda to make sure that those things are taken care of too.

As she closed the session, Gomez reminded attendees: Is the goal to just get by, or is the goal to thrive? Get in tune with what works for you, so you can improve your focus and gain more energy.

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.

GRAMMAR: How important is punctuation?

By Santo J. Aurelio

Punctuation is extremely important. Without it, sentences cannot be understood. The job of a reporter is basically twofold: to capture all of the spoken words and then to transcribe those words correctly using correct and understandable punctuation. Yes, I know that it takes a bit longer to “think” about the words and how they should be properly punctuated. But isn’t that what reporters are being paid to do – to capture words and to put them in a form that others can readily understand?

I was a reporter for 39 years before I had to retire because of hearing problems that could not be remedied. During those years I frequently worked with other reporters and had many opportunities to view their work. By and large, their work was satisfactory, but I confess that some reporters, even though they had fine reputations, did not transcribe with the proper amount (read: the highest amount) of correct punctuation. Pushing the work out too quickly and without following the rules of punctuation is not professional.

Court reporting is a profession, and it must be treated as such. If we want to receive the trust and respect of judges, attorneys, and, in fact, everyone, then we must do the best possible job of taking down all of the words and transcribing them for any reader to fully understand. Yes, I know that many speakers do not finish their sentences, and that is exactly where our special knowledge of punctuational rules will come into play. If a speaker doesn’t finish a sentence or if he or she is interrupted or simply trails off, the only way to transcribe that is by a dash or two hyphens. Using a few periods to show that is incorrect. Why? Because three or four periods (…or ….) is strictly reserved for ellipses.

Ellipses must be employed when one is quoting and deliberately leaves some words out. If those omitted words come at the beginning or middle of the quote, then three periods (…) must be used to show that there was a deliberate omission. If the omitted words come at the end of the quote, then four periods (….) must be used to show that there were words omitted at the end of the quote (that is, three plus one for the sentence-ending period).

Unfortunately, some court reporting programs are incorrectly instructing reporting students to put in a series of periods to denote an interruption or a trailing off. That is incorrect. And some programs are instructing students that it is proper to have just one space between sentences. That, too, is incorrect. Two spaces should be used after a sentence is finished; after an end-of-sentence question mark; and after a colon.

And, of course, all words should be spelled correctly. Names, especially of the principals, must be spelled correctly.

What I am attempting to do now in writing this article is to encourage and motivate every reporter, whether tyro or veteran, to do the absolute best that he or she can in taking down words and transcribing them with correct punctuation.

Semicolons should only be used if the reporter knows exactly how to use them. There are only three ways to employ them: (1) between two independent clauses (sentences, as, He is tall; she is short); (2) when transcribing series (as, I told her that she was smart; that she was organized; and that she had a great future); and (3) to avoid confusion (as, Ted came from Rome; Bill came from Berlin; Joe came from Arlington, Texas; and Harry from Cairo).

An error that I see frequently in magazines, books, and even the writings of some top reporters is the improper use of a hyphen after an adverb which precedes an adjective. The following sentence is punctuationally correct: The extremely tall girl is only 12 years old. The error that I see often in a sentence of that type is the insertion of a hyphen after (in this case) extremely.

All reporters deserve the greatest respect from all with whom they come in contact and all who read their transcripts. If all reporters want to have the respect of all, whether judges, attorneys, or anyone, then they have to earn that respect; and the way to gain that respect is to do a great job capturing all of the words spoken and transcribing them correctly and punctuationally correctly on every single case.

I was very proud to be a reporter. Each case was a challenge, but it was very satisfying to know that I did my very best on every case. The profession of reporting is just that: a profession. And we should all aspire to be true professionals. My last question to all reporters is: What better way to preserve our reporting profession than to do as perfect and professional a job taking down all of the words spoken and transcribing them with correct punctuation as is humanly possible? I rest my case.

Santo (Joe) Aurelio, RDR (Ret.), is an honorary member of NCRA. He resides in Arlington, Mass., and can be reached at sjaurelio@comcast.net.

 

The court reporter’s easy guide to LLCs, S-Corps and other taxing questions

 

By David Ward

For any court reporter, starting up a firm can end up being more than a full-time job.

In addition to actually recruiting clients and scheduling and handling what hopefully is a steady stream of depositions and transcripts, there’s also the daunting tasks of marketing your business, hiring staff if needed, lining up freelancers willing to step up and take overflow work in a pinch, and in general making sure the checks are coming in and expenses are getting paid.

It’s no wonder many end up putting off the big step of formally incorporating their business for as long as possible.

But any accountant or financial planner worth his or her salt will recommend that decision be made sooner rather than later — and how that’s done can have huge repercussions not only on the reporter’s tax bill, but also how well-positioned the firm in the future for a possible merger or sale in the future.

In general, the consensus seems to be that once a reporter begins generating more than part-time cash flow, they need to start thinking about incorporating — and that decision usually comes down to a choice between either an S-Corporation or an LLC (Limited Liability Corporation).

Phil Liberatore, a certified public accountant based in La Mirada, Calif., who has worked with hundreds of court reporters during the past 30 years, said: “Generally I recommend the S-Corp because it’s a lot cleaner — and even if they have an LLC, I get them taxed as an S-Corp because it’s more favorable for tax purposes.” Liberatore says court reporters making less than $75,000 annually can probably still comfortably operate as an independent contractor and pay their taxes under Schedule C as a sole proprietorship.  “Definitely over $75,000 I would strongly encourage an S-Corp. The IRS is targeting Schedule C filers and the court reporters that are independent contractors are more exposed to an audit than a W-2 court reporter working for a county, state or federal government. That audit exposure is greatly reduced when you incorporate,” Liberatore said. Rhonda Jensen, RDR, CRR, CMRS, founder and president of Jensen Litigation Solutions in Chicago, Ill., said that’s the exactly the advice she got when she first started her business several decades ago. “I’m the sole owner, and right from the get go my accountant suggested I set up as an S-Corp,” she explained. “The benefit is that the company pays the owner’s FICA and Medicare tax and, as an LLC, you must pay Medicare tax on all of your profit.” Jensen’s firm now has 20 employees in addition to the independent contractors who work with her companies as well as others.  “We do a lot through the company,” she explained. “We have 401Ks; it’s a “Safe Harbo”, which is beneficial for the owner of the company. But we also do a 401K match for our employees, matching up to 4 percent of their contributions.”

Lori Luck, an accountant based in Portland (ore. Or Me.), has worked with a number of different small businesses, including court reporting firms, and said: “Most service businesses are pretty similar with respect to setting up a business; however, since it seems that court reporting or captioning may be less risky from a standpoint of malpractice, the legal liability issues may not be as high of a motivator for incorporating.”

Luck, who works at CLS Financial Advisors, adds that even freelance court reporters could benefit from incorporating, though she tends to recommend an LLC for those individuals.

“If they are working alone as an independent contractor, they get some liability protection as an LLC by asking their attorney to prepare this paperwork for them, but they still file a Schedule C on their own individual tax return to report their business income,” she says. “This is much more straightforward than an S Corporation.  Also, they can have their own retirement plan for only themselves and choose an IRA, SEP/IRA or 401k depending on how much they want to contribute.  This is very flexible if you don’t have any employees, and you would pay income taxes via quarterly estimated tax payments.”

Matthew Alley, who along with his wife, Tiffany, co-founded Atlanta-based Tiffany Alley Global Reporting and Video, has experience with both LLCs and S-Corps and suggests from his experience, most court reporting firms of any size will tend to do better as S-Corps.

“We were always structured as an S-Corp in order to enjoy the benefits of pass-through income,” explains Alley, who served as CFO of the firm before it was sold to Veritext in 2015. “We have several LLCs also, perhaps a dozen, in the real-estate markets, but I prefer the S-Corp for the type of high-cash-flow business that court-reporting firms represent.”

There are other factors that also need to be considered, Jensen says, adding her accountant pointed out that if there’s real estate involved, or if there’s foreign ownership, then an LLC is probably the best option.

Incorporating a small business, especially a court reporting firm, is generally done for tax and possible liability issues, but it can also with it other advantages, including the ability to better organize what can be a complex flow of receipts and payments.

Denise Phipps Hinxman, CRR, CRC, currently runs Reno, NV-based Captions Unlimited in Reno, Nev., and said: “I was advised over 20 years ago — way before I had a firm and was an independent freelancer — to set myself up as an S-Corporation.  I followed my accountant’s advice and have been very happy with my decision.”

Hinxman notes that prior to becoming an S-Corporation, she often struggled with paying quarterly IRS payments, adding, “I don’t know about other small businesses, but I have encouraged other top-wage earners to go the route of an S-Corporation and they have seen a difference on April 15 as well.”

Hinxman says incorporating a business should only be the beginning of a regular relationship between a firm owner and their accountant. “Many people aren’t aware of some of the laws that I’ve been able to take advantage of because I use a CPA who is a very knowledgeable tax accountant,” she explains. “I was able to pay my children a salary up to X amount of dollars per year for work they did for me in my firm.  Everyone should ask their accountant these questions because there are ways to pay your children through your company.”

Hinxman adds her accountant also alerted her to the tax advantages when she purchased a new SUV for business-related travel.

When it comes to state taxes, the laws can vary, making it important for firm owners with clients in multiple states to understand the tax implications and complexities of each place they work in, which once drives home the importance of finding the right accountant for your business.

But an accountant can only do so much, and Liberatore says the mistake he sees most from court reporters isn’t so much whether or not they’ve incorporated, but rather a lack of financial planning.

“A common mistake — among new court reporters especially — is they don’t set aside money for taxes,” he explains. “And once they get behind for one year, they’re playing catch-up. You don’t know how many court reporting clients we’ve had that have come in owing multiple years of taxes, and they end up on a merry-go-round they can’t get off.”

Liberatore notes one of the first court reporting clients he ever worked with who owed the IRS more than $50,000.  “She was convinced she was going to be working for the IRS for the rest of her life. She was doing her own taxes and I went back and amended three years of her tax returns and reduced her tax debt in half — and within five years she was getting refunds back. So it’s very important not just how you’re doing your tax planning and your tax preparation, but also to make sure you set aside money for taxes.”

Luck agrees, adding, “Many people are used to a W-2 where their taxes are withheld from their paychecks and they don’t have to think about it very much. Sometimes people may borrow money to help get up and running, and when they finally make enough money to pay some or all of the loan back, they don’t realize that just like the cash from the loan isn’t taxable income, repaying the loan is money that can’t be deducted from their taxable income. Consequently, it is confusing to many when they have to pay taxes when they might not have much cash.”

As daunting as all that can be, especially when they’re also focused on running their day-to-day business, firm owners and reporters do need to work regularly with their accountant and financial advisor to plan for their long-term future.

That could involve the eventual sale or merger of their business, but at the very least should include some pathway to a comfortable retirement.

Alley say he and his wife, Tiffany, began preparing their firm for sale six years before it actually occurred, adding that included not only making sure the books were in order and taxes up to date, but also that an experienced management team was in place to help the new owners.

Even if you plan on keeping your business for your entire career, Luck stresses that every small business owner needs a financial plan for the long term.

“Planning for a retirement plan of some sort, figuring out how much to save both for income tax savings provided by a retirement contribution and for the future before all the money is spent –and developing lifelong good saving habits — will greatly benefit a new business owner,” she said.

One way to do that is to meet with your accountant every autumn, well before the beginning of tax season, to work on year-end planning.

“Meet in October or November and predict how much money you will make before the end of the year,” Luck says. “Once you see that number, you can plan about how much income tax you might owe, and perhaps accelerate paying some expenses you would normally be paying in early January so you get an earlier tax deduction. You can also look at your retirement plan to figure out how much tax savings a retirement contribution would provide and evaluate the various income tax consequences of the contributions.”

David Ward is a journalist in Carrboro, N.C. Comments on this article can be sent tojcrfeedback@ncra.org.

 

 

 

TRAIN: No fear! Getting past realtime roadblocks

What’s preventing you from providing realtime? The Technology Subcommittee asked realtime providers through the TRAIN program for their best tips in getting past the roadblocks and into the groove.

How do you fight the fear of your realtime feed not being perfect? Breathe! After 32 years of reporting, I still get nervous for the first five minutes of any deposition. How in the world am I supposed to make my realtime feed readable when they are speaking at breakneck speeds (and they are often mumbling or their speech is unintelligible)? First, take a deep breath, and know everything will be okay. I promise! Once you administer the oath in a very slow-paced and methodical way, you set the stage for counsel to
continue in a slow-paced and methodical way.

Also, make sure you are prepared. Do your case preparation before the deposition starts. They don’t have a prior transcript? Get the complaint. They don’t have a copy of the complaint? Google the case name/number. There’s so much information out there these days, there’s no reason you can’t prepare (creating brief forms for tricky words you might come across). It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you put your mind to it!

Lisa Knight, RDR, CRR
Realtime Systems Administrator
Co-chair of the TRAIN Subcommittee
Littleton, Colo.

When asked what holds reporters back from providing realtime, the nearly universal answer is fear; fear that your writing isn’t completely conflict-free, fear that you aren’t comfortable with the technology, fear that your translation rate isn’t good enough, fear of having someone watching your screen, let alone judging your untrans and mistrans.

This feeling also applies to other areas of your life. Trying something new always causes some sort of anxiety, but if it’s something you want to do, excitement overrides that fear. Realtime is no different.

Take it one step at a time, and don’t expect perfection in the first week, month, or year, but go ahead and take your first step. Start by setting up realtime for yourself and get used to seeing your writing on your screen. Slowly address your untrans and mistrans, and watch for trends in your writing that you can improve upon. Once you’re comfortable with that, set up a second screen next to you so you get used to the
technology. Eventually, slide that screen in front of someone. Before you know
it, realtime will become your new norm, and you will be encouraging others to get started as well.

Merilee Johnson, RMR, CRR, CRC
Realtime Systems Administrator
Co-chair of the TRAIN Subcommittee
Eden Prairie, Minn.

Do you remember the first time you tried to ride a bicycle? When you knew the training
wheels were off or your mom or dad had let go of you, did you panic and fall to the ground? Many of us did, but we got up again, dusted ourselves off, and tried and tried again until we were sailing down the street on our own power. That’s how it is with writing realtime.

Nothing that is good, challenging, or worthwhile comes easily. It takes practice. It takes
perseverance. It takes endurance. It takes grit. Don’t be consumed by your fear. Embrace the challenge just like you did when you overcame the fear of riding your bicycle without the training wheels. Don’t let a less-than-perfect translation defeat you. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and try, try again.

You can do it! It might not be easy, but it will be rewarding. As you see the translation
percentage on your screen getting better and better, you will be saying to yourself, yes, I
knew I could do it!

Mary Bader, RPR
TRAIN Subcommittee member
Medford, Wis.

I think this affects us all in individual ways. Some are afraid of making an error; others get nervous when they know their work is on display and they have to be kept on their toes at all times; some might feel intimidated walking into a medmal or a pharmaceutical case and are hoping the words come out right. Whatever the case may be, I have learned that fear can be a good thing.

I watched a TED talk once about stress and how you can make it your friend, and that put realtime into a whole new perspective for me. Instead of seeing stress as this horrible anxiety taking over your writing, you have to be the one to conquer your stress and fear and turn it into adrenaline.

As an adrenaline junkie, I can tell you that I absolutely love everything about realtime. I
love the way I get a little nervous, I love the way it keeps me sharp throughout the day, and I love that my writing is even better because I am editing on the fly, trying to make my transcript as flawless as possible for less editing time later. Grab ahold of your fear and don’t let it conquer you. Sometimes you have to fake it till you make it and simply believe in yourself and know that you are competent and capable of doing a stellar job.

In order to provide excellent realtime, you need to couple control of your fear with preparation. As good as you may be, you will be even better if you are well-prepared. Try to get a list of anything and everything that will be used during the deposition — names, esoteric terms, countries, etc. You won’t always have this luxury, but in most cases, if you are providing realtime, attorneys will be willing to inform you of the content and spellings of words that might come up.

Another way to prepare is to insert all of this information into your software the night
before instead of waiting until the day of. If you can make your caption page and even appearance page beforehand and a list of J-defines ready to go, you can spend your time before the depo making sure your connections are properly hooked up and less time inputting all of this time-consuming information before being bombarded with business cards.

Sharon Lengel, RPR, CRR
TRAIN Subcommittee member
Woodmere, N.Y.

If the fear is ever completely gone, then you’re probably being unrealistic about what you’re providing. Everyone runs into issues that are overwhelming. You lower your fear when you train to address those issues competently with the best effect that you can provide. Then that fear channels into energy to solve the problems that crop up.

Write realtime for yourself first, and practice on the methods that produce the best results on your screen. Mastery of your software and writing methods will reduce your fear.

Talk to other reporters who provide realtime. Expect mistakes to happen. Don’t discount them when they happen, and work to remedy and overcome them, but they will happen. And once you’re providing realtime, constantly work to better yourself with your knowledge, your skills, and your technical know-how, and always with the knowledge that what your clients are seeing is better than what they’d have if you were not there.

Jason Meadors, RPR, CRR, CRC
Fort Collins, Colo.

After more than 30 years of reporting, I still have that uncontrollable fear of providing
realtime. I get that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach before each job — even though I set up the night before, have my job dictionary built, my EZ Speakers defined, input case-specific terminology, and have Googled industry terms on the case.

Fear is normal for everyone. Even the best of the best in our profession, I’m sure, experience that tug of fear every now and then. We must not let fear hold us back, though. Court reporters need to embrace the future of court reporting and move ahead — the future is realtime.

Some reasons cited by other reporters for not taking the leap to realtime:

• My writing isn’t good enough.
• I don’t want anyone to see.
• Hookups scare me.
• I don’t know where to start.
• The realtime feed is not perfect.
• I don’t know how to handle overlapping voices.
• I worry about how to control the environment.

When I do start having that feeling of fear, I take a step back and remind myself to do a few things in order to control the situation — and these are simple steps that you can take too:

1. I do my realtime testing and job dictionary building the night before in order to be ready for the next day’s job. A detailed prep session will relieve the perceived stress.
2. I control my breathing. It has a calming effect on the whole body.
3. I don’t overthink my realtime sessions. Fear and anxiety thrive when I imagine the worst. I go in the deposition setting with the confidence that I will do the best job I can.
I’ve already prepared and done the testing — I know I’ve got this!
4. I think about the last realtime session I provided and how well it went. Yes, the fear was present, but the client was extremely pleased with my output. I get a “high” for a job
well done!

In an article on Inc.com, Geoffrey James says: “Fear is the enemy of success. Large rewards only result from taking comparably large risks. If you’re ruled by fear, you’ll never take enough risks and never achieve success you deserve.”

The benefits of realtiming for your clients and yourself are many.

• improved skills
• less editing time
• improved translation delivery
• quicker transcript turnaround
• job satisfaction
• name recognition (people will ask for you specifically)
• increased income
• phenomenal readback

Overcoming your fear of anything will give you the focus to achieve great things and to do what you really want to do. It takes much effort to strive to become realtime-proficient, but the rewards are worth it!

Lynette L. Mueller, RDR, CRR
TRAIN Subcommittee member
Johns Creek, Ga.

Additional materials from TRAIN for developing realtime skills can be found at NCRA.org/Realtime.

REPORTING: Self-care for court reporters: Finding balance between the mind, body, and spirit

By Megan Rogers

A buzzword that has been floating around recently is self-care, which comes down to meeting baseline needs. The recent American Copy Editors Society conference included a session on self-care for editors, and many of the points can apply to court reporters and captioners as well. These are all professions, after all, with people who spend lots of hours in a day sitting and focusing on a specific task.

Janet Gillett, PsyD, led the session. Gillett is a freelance editor with a background in psychology, and the session concentrated on finding a balance between the mind, body, and spirit. While each area has unique attributes, there is a lot of interplay between how they work together.

Mind

Like editing, court reporting and captioning can be cerebral activities, especially proofreading and scoping. These activities take a lot of focus, but spending too much time in mind mode can be problematic. There are a variety of clear warning signs that it’s time to focus on other areas:

  • eyes start to burn
  • being grumpy
  • boredom
  • headache
  • feeling tired
  • worrying

Gillett pointed out that the mind is good at talking itself out of something, like taking a break, but dedicating too much time to the mind can lead to a variety of results, which range from making people skills suffer to burnout. Gillett suggested taking some time to think about how you notice that you are in mind mode or have spent too much time in mind mode.

Body

The next area that Gillett focused on was the body, the physical entity that we inhabit. She pointed out that the body is often invisible until something goes wrong. It’s easy to ignore what the body needs in favor of something else — how often have you told yourself you’d go to the bathroom after proofing just a few more pages? There’s also a lot of misunderstanding about the body: While nutrition and exercise are important, they aren’t the only parts of the body that need attention. Areas of the body that need attention are:

  • sleep: get enough to be rested the next day
  • movement: sitting still for too long can be harmful
  • posture: prevent unnecessary stress throughout the body
  • food: fuel to keep the body working

To find balance with the body, it’s important to embrace the body. This comes down to first being aware of what the body needs, listening carefully enough to notice the moment the body needs something, and understanding why the body feels a certain way. With practice, all of these steps can begin to happen simultaneously to be truly grounded in the body. Gillett suggested thinking about ways that you can pay attention to the body. This can be as simple as taking the time to close your eyes, sit quietly for a few moments, and listen to the body. Consider whether anything hurts or aches, whether your stomach is growling, or if you have had enough water.

Spirit

Third, Gillett talked about finding balance in the spirit. Love, energy, inspiration, excitement, and passion are all linked to the spirit, as is feeling connected to something greater. There are several ways to access the spirit:

  • play
  • laughter and smiling
  • meditation or prayer
  • concentrated breathing

Gillett mentioned that the new trend of adult coloring books is an example of a good way to get in touch with the spirit; coloring a beautiful or meditative picture for a while can be calming and playful. Another way to connect with the spirit is to (re)awaken a new or existing passion, which could be related to an occupation (Gillett’s example for editors was a common passion for words and reading) or could be a hobby or other interest. Gillett suggested thinking of ways in which you can reconnect with your spirit.

Finding balance

These three areas — mind, body, and spirit — are all connected and overlap with each other. Gillett suggested thinking about how much time you spend in your mind, body, and spirit, perhaps creating a pie chart. Ideally, all three should be more or less in balance. I found, however, that I tend to spend the most time in my mind (I approximated about half), another third or so tending to my spirit (through hobbies or taking the time to recharge each day), and the rest of my time to my body (clearly not enough).

Some activities, however, can fulfill the needs of more than one area at a time. For example, going for a walk is good exercise for the body, but spending the time in nature is also good for the spirit. Spending too much time in the mind can negatively affect people skills, but playing a strategic game with someone else is a good way to feed both the mind and the spirit.

Finding balance can be challenging, but making sure the trio of mind, body, and spirit all are getting the attention they need is a good start.

Megan Rogers is NCRA’s Communications Assurance Specialist. She can be reached at mrogers@ncra.org

TIME MANAGEMENT: Be the reporter who can be counted on

 

By Denyce Sanders

If you’re not managing your time — or, more particularly, if you are not managing your backlog of transcripts — you can easily fall behind. As a profession, we don’t need any black marks against us. Be responsible. Don’t offer excuses. If you worked in an office and didn’t get your work done, you wouldn’t be working there very long, would you? You would be either verbally reprimanded, written up, or fired. Depositions should be no different.

Here are some commonsense suggestions.

  1. Don’t take more work than you can turn in on time. Hire a scopist if you are behind on your transcripts. Hire a scopist if you know you have rushes coming up or if you’re planning a vacation.
  2. Use a proofreader! I cannot stress this enough. It’s not smart to take, edit, and proof your own work.
  3. If you have a deadline, meet it. If you can’t, immediately call the firm. Be straight with the staff members, and keep them informed of your situation. They will appreciate it, and they will know what to tell the client if the client calls.
  4. Don’t go on vacation without turning in all your work.
  5. Respond to emails and text messages and phone calls. Imagine if it were you on the other end of that phone wondering where your online order was or if you have a problem with your computer and you need help.

The other side of being the reporter is to always be prepared. Do your paperwork correctly. Label your exhibits properly. Firms don’t like it when reporters turn in a job with no exhibits or no paperwork. Your job is not the only job the firm has to produce.

I have started leaving out all my paperwork on the table under my notepad. If the attorneys want something special, I will pull out my exhibit form and write it down immediately. Colored, double-sided — I will check that box at my first opportunity. If the attorneys are talking about future depositions, maybe you should think about getting that job done quickly, so that you don’t get that phone call when you are on another deposition. Use sticky notes. Find any little trick to help you stay organized and get things right. If things are crazy and you use a scopist, write them a note while on the job and ask them to send you an email to remind you of something important.

The next time work is slow and the firm only has a few jobs or when a big job comes in, who do you think that firm is going to call — the reporter who was uncommunicative and blew past the attorney’s deadlines, or the reporter who turns in work on time and can communicate? In this day and age of computers and email, there’s really no excuse. Do what you say you will do. Be the reporter who can be counted on!

Denyce Sanders, RDR, CRR, is a reporter in Houston, Texas. She has also earned NCRA’s Realtime Systems Administrator certification.