FOOD FOR THOUGHT: 100-plus years of our profession (and counting)

By Diana Netherton

The duties of a court reporter, often referred to as a stenographer, have essentially remained the same for the past 100 years. The primary task of a court reporter is to capture the spoken word.

Technology, of course, has made the job of a court reporter much easier. From feather quills to computers, the evolution of the profession has been quite remarkable. Before the invention of an official shorthand, court proceedings were taken down in full writing. Of course, getting everything accurately was probably a stretch, but a basic summation of what occurred was recorded. The proceedings were then put into some form of a legible document, today referred to as a transcript, which could later be reviewed by the attorneys and judges for appeal purposes.

In the early 19th century, an American by the name of Isaac Pitman invented a phonetic shorthand theory that enabled stenographers to record proceedings at quicker speeds. This theory of shorthand was adopted by pen writers throughout the English-speaking world. Pitman then produced a varied number of new “editions” of his theory. However, some of his modifications did not bode well with the international shorthand community. One of the major changes was the placement of dot vowels. He reversed the order of the dot vowels and published his new theory in his following edition.

This slight modification rattled a few foundations throughout the steno community. After spending months, even years, crafting their skills with the original version, writers were faced with having to adopt these basic changes if they wanted to keep up with progressing trends. The British, in traditional stiff upper lip fashion, accepted the changes, stating that the modification would be the last they would accept. The Americans, however, in true rebellious fashion, were less accommodating. Some adopted the new theory, however, others produced their separate shorthand versions, keeping the vowels were they originally were. This resulted in several different versions, although not too dissimilar to the original version.

Fractions of these shorthand theories were used for many years until the arrival of a young, ambitious Irish immigrant called John Gregg. Often referred to as the “Apple MacIntosh of the 19th Century,” a new version of shorthand that Gregg created had many more appealing factors. Still phonetic in nature, Gregg’s shorthand proved to be more efficient than Pitman. It allowed the stenographer to keep the pen on the surface of the paper, so hand movements flowed easier. Pitman’s version had both thick and thin lines, whereas Gregg’s version depended on lighter strokes. Although both versions were utilized, in the end it was Gregg’s creation that won the popular vote. Gregg still remains the most popular version of pen shorthand to this day in North America.

Despite these advances in efficient notetaking, the pace technology quickly caught up with stenographers at the dawn of the 20th Century with the invention of the first functional stenotype machine. Created in 1877 by an American named Miles Bartholomew, this remarkable machine, comprising only ten keys, enabled the user to utilize the keys depressed singularly or simultaneously to capture the spoken word with a combination of dots and dashes. There were various improvements to this original prototype over the ensuing years. The modern steno machine keyboard that most resembles the keyboard utilized today by stenographers made its debut a few decades later in 1939. Still based on the use of phonetics, the machine enabled the operator to create “briefs,” allowing for entire phrases to be taken down at once. Extra keys were added, to a total of 26, and letters were assigned to each key or a combination thereof. A typical brief, for example, is the phrase beyond a reasonable doubt. These four words can be written simultaneously, and would look like this on a typical stenotype machine: “kwr a eu r d.” All it took to record this simple phrase was one stroke; all relevant keys being depressed at once. This was transferred to a roll of paper, similar in appearance to a grocery store bill, which was then typed up by the stenographer or a note reader, who could decipher these mysterious combination of letters.

The demise of Pitman/Gregg shorthand pen writers in the court systems began in much earlier, however, in 1914 at a national shorthand speed competition. Hundreds of hopeful pen writers crowded the convention, when in walked a group of teenage competitors. Sponsored by the Universal Stenotype Company, these upstart youths were trained to operate steno machines at equal or in excess speeds of the most seasoned of pen writers. These machine writers managed to win every contest and walked off with all of the awards. Alarmed at this new technological development, and fearing for their very livelihood, contest organizers pulled the plug on the national competition for five years. However, by the time the next national competition returned in 1919, the point had been made. Even though machine writers were banned from the competition, it was too late. Machine writers had already begun to replace pen writers in court rooms across America.

Today there are thousands of court reporters employed in various aspects of the profession. Increasing computer technology has enabled court reporters to be useful in other areas besides the courtroom. One of these areas is called CART, or Communication Access Realtime Translation. This enables the end user to read almost simultaneously what is being spoken on a computer or television screen. Specialized software is programmed to translate the reporter’s machine strokes, turning the seemingly unintelligible mass of letters into a comprehensible language. This is particularly helpful for the hearing impaired, who use the services of court reporters to follow live proceedings such as the news, government hearings, sporting events, and even in university settings.

Because of these rapid technological advances over the past 100 years, the future of the court reporting has remained a pertinent concern for those in the profession. There has always been speculation of what new invention could completely take over the duties of a court reporter. Budget cuts, lack of funding, and the economy have all played a part in the reduction of reporters and many government entities are implementing the use of electronic recording device systems. However, headways in technology have also assisted the profession. The widest area of changing direction is in the captioning field. Several captioning services are finding that there are more captioning hours to fill than trained stenographic captioners.

Despite the shifting trends that have affected the reporting profession, there is one fact that cannot be disputed, and that is the accuracy of having a live reporter at a proceeding. In the words of Vykki Morgan, RDR, CRI, CPE (Ret.), a court reporting instructor at Cerritos College in California: “Costs and technology can’t completely wipe out a reporter’s work duties as long as an accurate record is treasured and regarded as essential.” And because the profession of reporting has evolved and grown with the modern innovation, it is almost certain that reporters will be utilized and will remain essential for an accurate record for hopefully another 100 years or more.

Diana Netherton, RPR, is an official reporter based in Lancaster, Pa. She can be reached at NethertD@co.lancaster.pa.us.

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!”

As 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.

 

 

 

 

 

2017 Court Reporting & Captioning Week: It’s been a very busy week

Members of state court reporting associations across the country have spent the week celebrating their profession by participating in career fairs, visiting court reporting schools, hosting Veterans History Project events, and being quoted by local media, in honor of the 2017 Court Reporting & Captioning Week.

State associations and schools around the country promote the profession

For members of the Kansas Court Reporters Association (KCRA), however the week proved to be exceptionally busy. KCRA members kicked off the week by meeting with the state’s governor and securing an official proclamation recognizing 2017 Court Reporting & Captioning Week. In addition, representatives from the association were also invited to visit with members of the state’s Supreme Court where they also secured another official proclamation and pictures with the justices.

Left to right: Cayley Rodrigue, Kelley Morrison, Judge Michael Joyce, Brenda Highberger, Cindy Isaacsen, Judge Thomas Sutherland

Left to right: Cayley Rodrigue, Kelley Morrison, Judge Michael Joyce, Brenda Highberger, Cindy Isaacsen, Judge Thomas Sutherland

KCRA members marched onward throughout the week with other stops. They visited with members of the State Judiciary Committee where reporters provided a realtime presentation that left the attendees mesmerized. They also visited with members of the Johnson Board of County Commissioners complete with breakfast and another realtime demonstration that led to yet another official proclamation recognizing the week.

KCRA members wrapped up their celebration with a special write-a-thon at Neosho County Community College to help raise funds to aid students in its court reporting program.

“It’s been a very busy week,” said Cindy Isaacsen RPR, an official court reporter from Olathe and president of KCRA.

Kelley Morrison provides a demonstration

Kelley Morrison provides a demonstration

“I think I’ve said Court Reporting & Captioning Week about 1.75 million times. This week was just another way to spread the word about court reporting and captioning. It’s not just the young people we have to educate about what we do,” Isaacsen added. “My judge always says that I think court reporting is the best job out there … he’s right.”

2017 Court Reporting & Captioning Week also earned national recognition from U.S. Rep. Ron Kind (Wis.) in a floor speech before the U.S. House of Representatives on Feb. 14, and by state governors in Alabama, California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Washington, and Wisconsin as well as by officials in Bexar County, Texas.

Presentation at Bryan University

Presentation at Bryan University

Other activities included visits with students at GateWay Community College in Phoenix and Bryan University in Tempe, both in Arizona. A number of members who visited with students were in the area attending the 2017 NCRA Firm Owners Executive Conference being held in Tucson. Students at both sites were able to ask the professionals questions and for advice. The panel discussion at Bryan University was open to both on-site and online students.

Members of the Missouri Court Reporters Association visited with state legislators in Jefferson City when they held their annual cookie drop. “We are always warmly received and welcomed, and this time was no different,” said Linda M. Dattilo, RPR, an official court reporter from Florissant, Mo., and the association’s executive director.

Students at GateWay Community College

Students at GateWay Community College

“They know when we’re coming, and we’ve had senators call our lobbyists and ask where the cookies are because they are waiting for them. At the end of the day, we’re always exhausted by all the running around, but satisfied, and hopefully they are too,” she added.

Members of the Wisconsin Court Reporters Association also promoted the court reporting and captioning professions at an open house held by North Wisconsin Technical College in Green Bay.

Finding the spotlight: Court Reporting & Captioning Week in the news

As with all previous Court Reporting & Captioning Week celebrations, the efforts of NCRA members at the state and local levels were also successful in getting the word about the profession and its benefits as a career to media outlets in their areas. Among those:

NCRF Hard-of-Hearing Heroes oral histories project spotlighted

The Andrews Gazette (Easton, Md.) posted an article about the Hard-of-Hearing Heroes Veterans History Project event that NCRF and the Hearing Loss Association of America will host on Feb. 18 in Bethesda, Md., as part of NCRA’s 2017 Court Reporting & Captioning Week.

DMACC hosting activities for National Court Reporting & Captioning Week

The Newton Daily News posted an article on Feb. 9 announcing that the Des Moines Area Community College, Des Moines, Iowa, is hosting several events to mark 2017 Court Reporting & Captioning Week. Among the activities will be two information sessions where prospective students can learn about the court reporting and captioning professions.

Illinois governor recognizes 2017 Court Reporting & Captioning Week

In an article posted Feb. 13, the RegisterNews.com, Mt. Vernon, Ill., announced that Gov. Bruce Rauner has designated Feb. 11-18 as National Court Reporting & Captioning Week. The article also noted that several court reporters from the 2nd Judicial Circuit will promote the profession at an upcoming local career fair.

Planet Depos announces success of court reporter mentoring program

In a press release issued Feb. 13, Planet Depos reported that its Planet Institute, a student-to-career mentoring program, has had a successful first year.

Oklahoma court reporting firm launches education and advocacy effort

In a press release issued Feb. 10, NCRA member Ginger Baze, owner of Steno Services in Hugo, Okla., announced that her firm is launching an outreach and education campaign for National Court Reporting & Captioning Week.

Court reporting schools to exhibit at career day event in Texas

The Gilmer [Texas] Mirror posted an article on Feb. 13 about the Texas Supreme Court holding a formal court session to hear oral arguments in two cases at LeTourneau University in Longview, in conjunction with “Law as a Career Day” being held on campus. Numerous law schools, paralegal schools, and court reporting schools will have recruiting booths on-site.

Celebrating the silent keepers of the record

Star Levandowski, director of marketing at Stenograph, posted a blog on Feb. 3 highlighting the top three reasons to admire the stenography profession in honor of Court Reporting & Captioning Week.

But wait … there’s more

Read more about how national and state associations, schools, and vendors have celebrated Court Reporting & Captioning Week. You can also follow along on Facebook and Twitter.

Nine tips for attorneys about realtime reporting

jcr-publications_high-resA blog posted Feb. 7 by Kramm Court Reporting offers nine tips for attorneys to know about the realtime services court reporters offer.

Read more.

Nashville’s Elite Reporting Services sees boost in requests for realtime court reporting

jcr-publications_high-resNashville, Tenn., court reporting firm Elite Reporting Services issued a press release on Jan. 30 stating that it has experienced a trend in requests for realtime court reporting since 2016.

Read more.

Realtime writing and realtime scoping in Jamaica

By Linda Bland

It isn’t unusual for me to receive a call from a court reporter asking how to upgrade his or her writing to offer realtime writing as a service or how to transition to captioning or CART providing. However, I was very pleased when I received a call from Ms. Tessa Lewin of the U.S. Embassy, asking me if I would be interested in discussing how the Court Reporting at Home Realtime Writing Professional Development Program might train 44 official reporters for the Supreme Court of Jamaica. I immediately responded, “Yes! Absolutely! I would love to develop just this kind of project.” Having previously trained realtime writing court reporters in Zambia and Sierra Leone, Africa, my mind began immediately thinking how this might be accomplished.

Justice Bryan Sykes and his committee had determined that their reporters could benefit from upgrading their skills for realtime writing and speed, as well as other areas. Just the idea of the project was exciting. A great deal of thought and planning had already been developed by Justice Sykes and his committee, comprised of reporters, justices, IT department personnel, etc. By the time I was contacted, the committee had already had established a series of goals. When we met via video conferencing, I made a few more recommendations.

The Chief Justice of the Jamaican Supreme Court was so committed to the project, she allotted time during the workday for all reporters to be able to practice. How generous was that? Each morning, one group of reporters/students would be allowed to practice while other reporters covered court, and each afternoon they reversed roles. Being paid to train — who could refuse that offer?

A few months later, we entered into an agreement, and on Jan. 5, 2015, the project began. I had agreed to seven goals:

  1. Assess the reporters’ current speed writing level
  2. Assess the reporters’ realtime writing proficiency
  3. Train the reporters in Eclipse Audio Synchronization
  4. Make necessary steno dictionary conversions, build dictionaries, and make modifications
  5. Train two official supreme court reporters as trainers in all aspects of training, with emphasis on developing speed tests (writing the tests, counting in word and syllabic count, dictating the tests and proctoring speed tests)
  6. Implementing speedbuilding via the CRAH student platform
  7. Train two official supreme court reporters/trainers to update academics and customize them for Jamaican legal terminology, including study materials and tests.

I have learned during my many years of training reporters, captioners, and CART providers that all projects have challenges, and this one was no different. It would never have gotten off the ground without the dedication of Ms. Tanya Chung-Daley and Ms. Deline Cunningham, RPR, the court reporters designated as the two individuals who would be trained to be trainers of all future reporters for the court.

Our almost daily meetings, which later evolved into weekly meetings over the Internet, became an exciting, enjoyable part of my day. These ladies, fortunately, are so talented, it mde training them tremendously easier. In addition to handling their daily duties covering court, they had to go home to develop and dictate tests, or modify academics for the Jamaican judiciary, and countless other assignments I heaped upon them. They were working extended hours daily and weekends for months and months. And when I asked for materials back by Friday, I received them on Tuesday or Wednesday instead. My job was to stay ahead of them, to ensure that the next step in the training process was already prepared to prevent anyone from having to wait on any component of the project.

Our first two goals were to determine the reporters’ current speed and accuracy in translation. Imagine how difficult it is to schedule tests for this many reporters who have daily, ongoing court assignments including transcripts. Many of these reporters did not work in the Supreme Court in Kingston, Jamaica, but rather were in the circuit courts in cities all around the country.

Any court administrator knows the difficulty in simply keeping all courts covered. However, covering all the courts and scheduling the reporters for testing purposes was quite a feat. We had to test on three different dates, utilizing three different tests for speed at three different speed levels, as well as for realtime. The tests were graded utilizing NCRA grading guidelines, “What Is an Error?” as well as with a view toward the number of large and small drops the reporters were experiencing, how many of the errors were written correctly in steno but not contained in their dictionary, punctuation, and so on.

We then had a basis from which to work. We knew the speed levels we needed to address and the degree of the reporters’ translation accuracy. Knowing that the reporters and justices would benefit from audio synchronization, our first step was to introduce that feature. However, just as with all of us, some of us know our CAT software better than others, and it appeared some of the reporters required a review of some of the basic Eclipse features before we could introduce audiosync. Therefore, although basic training on the software was not a component of our agreement, I knew it was imperative, so I decided to employ someone who could refresh and walk the reporters through the basics.

Who could train my Jamaican reporters/students? I contacted an old acquaintance who put me in touch with Dineen Squillante, who is a certified Eclipse trainer. After one conversation with Dineen, I knew she was perfect for this project. Dineen developed a checklist for what we felt every reporter needed to know for basic realtime setup and editing, steno dictionary preparation, and so on. Each reporter was asked to fill out the checklist, designating which areas they felt needed additional training. Upon receipt of that information, Dineen developed multiple webinars that she presented to the trainers and that were recorded and provided for the trainers’ use in training the remaining reporters.

After the trainers determined that all the reporters were proficient in the basic features, we turned to dictionary building, conversion, and modifications, working on numbers, punctuation, etc. Dineen said, “Working on this project was one of the most enjoyable assignments of my entire career.”

Developing a literary, jury charge, or testimony test involves a great deal more than one can imagine unless you have served on a committee for the NCRA. Thankfully, we have counting software now that counts by word count as well as syllabic count. However, these software programs are not always 100 percent accurate and often require “tweaking.” Because of that, I felt it was important to teach the trainers how to compose a test, count the words in both word count and syllabic count, and dictate it. There is truly an art to dictating correctly and accurately. It can be the difference between being able to pass a test or fail one. It takes a great deal of practice for most instructors, but fortunately, once again, the trainers adapted to dictation quite easily.

Tanya and Deline, as well as the wonderful IT staffer, Duane Carr, teased me often about learning to “speak Jamaican.” When I would think the test “did not make sense,” I would be educated on certain phrases and how “it is spoken in Jamaican.” And without Duane’s IT expertise, we would never have completed this project.

We placed dictation developed by Tanya and Deline on my company’s student platform for the Jamaican reporters to practice, in addition to providing them access to hundreds of hours of our dictation if they chose to practice that as well. Tanya and Deline reviewed and edited our academics to determine what modifications were required for Jamaican law. We modified those and placed those on the platform as well, allowing their tests to be automatically and immediately graded, designating the errors they made and what the correct answer should have been.

And finally, I wanted the trainers to know how to edit or scope realtime. I called upon Dineen once again to train my trainers in realtime editing. If you haven’t tried realtime editing with your scopist, you have to do this. It saves a tremendous amount of time, and it is so easy. Do not be afraid to learn a new feature of your CAT software.

An awards ceremony was held for the reporters after they learned the realtime theory and writing concepts, and Deline and Tanya demonstrated realtime editing/scoping for all those present. While one wrote, the other edited the transcript simultaneously. If you aren’t familiar with realtime editing/scoping, your scopist may be in a different room, a different city, or even a different state, editing while you are writing the assignment.

In February 2016, my work ended. The materials for the Jamaican Project had been provided for realtime writing theory, speed building, and academics. The trainers and reporters had been trained in basic Eclipse, audiosynch, and realtime scoping. However, as we know, the road to building sufficient speed and accuracy and developing one’s steno dictionary are ongoing projects, and I knew Deline and Tanya to be quite capable of handling anything required by the Jamaican Supreme Court.

Deline stated, “The experience as trainers was a challenging and demanding one; however, with encouragement and assistance from Court Reporting and Captioning at Home, we were able to triumph over all the hurdles.” Tanya added, “Yes, and we are truly grateful for this experience.”

So, “Mon,” I didn’t get a trip to Jamaica, but I made a lot of wonderful Jamaican friends along the way, and we spread realtime writing to yet another part of the world. I am so grateful Court Reporting and Captioning at Home was chosen for this project and grateful also for all the assistance through the State Department, U.S. Embassy, the Jamaican Supreme Court, their IT Department, and of course, all 44 of the Jamaican Official Court Reporters.

My advice to you: Don’t stagnate! Realtime is attainable for anyone who is willing to put forth the effort. Don’t think that you can’t change your style of writing or that you are “too old.” You don’t have to change your entire theory at all. However, in all likelihood, you probably need to add a few realtime writing concepts to your theory. Remember, we all modify our theory somewhat, don’t we? We think of new briefs, or find another way to write our numbers, or a new way to write a “family” of words or contractions. We find new groups of phrases that work well for us.

If you want it, realtime is there for you to master – even from the comfort of your home. It requires taking one realtime concept at a time and mastering it to prevent you from causing hesitation in your writing. Writing realtime well isn’t accomplished in a one-day seminar, or even a week or a month. It can take anywhere from 90 days to a year or longer, depending upon how much work you need to employ to update your theory, how much time you make to practice, and how disciplined you are to completing your training. Every realtime writing concept you incorporate into your writing improves the translation, reduces the amount of time it takes to edit a transcript, and provides you more time to practice. It’s a win-win situation. However, you must take the first step to begin your journey.

Linda Bland, RMR, CPE, is the owner of Court Reporting and Captioning at Home, SSD Enterprises, LLC, Fla. She can be reached at LindaB@courtreportingathome.com.

 

 

Get realtime-capable now: Tips for learning brief forms for court reporters

By Lynette Mueller

Being realtime-capable should be the goal of every court reporter. My realtime goal is to always strive for 99.8 percent translation rate on every job. The prep work is essential to maintain or exceed that goal. My writing is constantly evolving (even after 30 years of reporting). Writing short is paramount to the success of my translation rate, for keeping up with the fast talkers, and also being kind to my body — specifically my back and hands.

The Oct. 2015 JCR has an article, “Preparation guide for flawless realtime output,” with lots of great tips from some amazing court reporters across the country. Definitely worth the read!

Recently, I’ve focused on brief forms. Creating briefs on the fly is an acquired skill, for sure. The BriefIt feature in my Case CATalyst software (and other CAT software vendors have similar features) is an integral and valuable resource and helps immeasurably with my high translation rate, even though the proceedings could be a fast-paced deposition. (It takes focus and dedication to be able to look at the screen during the proceedings and capture those suggested briefs. During a recess is a good time to take a few minutes to go over the suggested briefs. With my software, the phrases I stroke out the most (with a suggested brief) are highlighted in a bolded color. Genius! It’s easy to concentrate on the strongest colors and make a note of the suggestions.

One may ask, “Okay, how do I memorize and keep track of all the brief forms I want to add to my dictionary?”

Our minds have great capacity to recall all kinds of information. I feel it’s good to have a multi-prong approach to memorizing brief forms. Remember to take a handful of briefs at a time to incorporate into your writing; otherwise, you’ll be overwhelmed and could end up dropping important testimony.

Here are a few suggestions to help with that memorization:

  1. Be sure you want to improve your realtime writing and are invested in the process.
  2. Set a goal for yourself.
  3. Write out the brief forms you wish to incorporate into your writing.
  4. Make notes to yourself.
  5. Apply repetition to your practice. As I said, make sure you start with small bits before moving on to the next round of briefs. Keep this in your memory banks before moving on to the next set.
  6. Do most of your studying in the afternoons. One study suggested your ability to memorize relates to the time of day you study, with the afternoon appearing to be the best time of day.
  7. Ensure you are well rested in order to retain the memories. Make sure you take breaks and come back to it later in order to find out how much you actually retained. Then you can focus on the briefs you might have more trouble with.

Next are the steps I’ve implemented that have greatly improved my ability to incorporate new briefs into my writing.

  1. Use your briefing software feature all the time during the job and add the briefs that make sense to your personal dictionary. Dictionary building is key to the success of a higher translation rate.
  2. Make sticky notes and attach to your writer or computer.
  3. Use the app like Sticky Notes. This is a great tool to use because you’ll never lose that physical note again. Simply open the app and move it to the side of your laptop screen. Multiple colors are available for families of briefs!
  4. I like to use my Recorder app on my iPhone to dictate the briefs I want to work on. By recording the words and phrases, it is an easy task to set up my writer to practice on those briefs. You will get instant feedback if you are writing the briefs correctly when you are hooked up for realtime during your practice session.
  5. The last prong of my process is a cool app called Tinycards. This is a free flashcard app to help make memorization more fun! This app is a game where you can unlock new levels and keeping your memory strength bar full! Tinycards uses spaced repetition and other smart learning techniques to help you master new material efficiently. You can create your own decks and share them with friends or pick from a variety of collections exclusive to Tinycards. You’ll find constellations, country capitals, history, and lots more.

I’ve already created two Tinycards called Steno Brief Forms – Part 1 and Steno Brief Forms – Part 2. When you set up your new (free) account, simply search for these and any other topics to add to your stream and start memorizing those briefs today!

Technology is great!

Lynette L. Mueller, RDR, CRR, is a freelancer reporter in Johns Creek, Ga. She can be reached at lynette@omegareporting.comShe reports that a short video will be on her blog at the beginning of the article.

The latest on speech recognition

By David Ward

Earlier this year, Watson, the IBM artificial intelligence computer that first gained fame in 2011 by beating past champions in the TV game show Jeopardy, publicly returned to the stage. The category: Speech recognition. At a San Francisco tech conference this past spring, IBM officials announced that Watson is now able to hold conversations in English with a word error rate of 6.9 percent.

Watson’s latest feat of 94.1 percent accuracy is fairly impressive — though it should be noted, it’s still well below the 98.5 percent accuracy rate required by many captioning companies.

But Watson and IBM are not alone. During the past five years, speech recognition has emerged as a hot industry, with progress being made on issues such as accuracy and noise filtering, and not just by established players like Nuance, but also from major tech giants like Apple, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and the Chinese search/e-commerce firm Baidu.

A recent study, Global and China Speech Recognition Industry Report 2015-2020, projected the global intelligent voice market will grow from $6.21 billion in 2015 to $19.2 billion in 2020. In China alone, voice recognition is expected to be a nearly $3.8 billion market within four years.

The good news for court reporters is that, thus far, few of these new speech recognition breakthroughs seem to be aimed at their livelihood of transcribing spoken testimony into 100 percent accurate and properly formatted legal documents. Instead, most of the focus is on speech recognition as a consumer tool by getting smartphones or car entertainment systems to respond to verbal commands. The highest profile example of this trend is Siri, the Apple app (based on Nuance software) now built into iPhones, iPads, and iPods that lets the owners use their voices to send messages, make calls, set reminders, and more.

“In the past, the growth of speech to text was fairly slow, and the main reason for that was that the improvement in accuracy hadn’t happened,” explains Walt Tetschner, president of Voice Information Associates, one of the leading analyst firms covering the automated speech recognition industry. The company is based in Acton, Mass. “It’s only been the last couple of years that you’ve seen dramatic improvements in accuracy — and I would attribute that not to speech to text, but to the demands of mobile.”

Tetschner, who’s also editor and publisher of the trade magazine, ASRNews, adds that voice recognition is now attracting interest more than from Silicon Valley, saying, “The auto industry is big on speech recognition as a way to control the infotainment system within a car, so they’re putting in a lot of resources.”

Because so much of the current focus is on voice recognition — getting a device to understand what a person is saying — little of this is likely to have an immediate impact on the court reporting industry. But Tetschner does note: “Whether it’s used in an automobile or call center or wherever, the basic speech recognition principles are the same, so when you make gains in one area, it will help the others.”

Outside of the consumer space, the segment where speech recognition has been gaining the most traction is as a personal productivity tool for busy professionals, especially those in the medical/healthcare industry.

“The push in the medical field for electronic medical records makes it a great market to be in,” says Henry Majoue, founder and CEO of Voice Automated based in Lake Forest, Calif. Majoue adds that doctors and other medical professionals use software customized by his company to dictate notes and other directives that are automatically turned into electronic text and included in patient files and other medical records.

Peter Mahoney, Nuance senior vice president as well as general manager of the company’s Dragon Desktop division, adds that the improved accuracy of speech recognition is helping to drive adoption in a host of other industries as well.

“There are plenty of areas where we’re seeing a lot of growth, including the public safety and financial service professionals,” Mahoney says. Those groups now outnumber the people with hearing issues or other disabilities who were previously among of the first adopters of Nuance speech-to-text solutions.

Mahoney says Dragon Desktop is also making inroads in the legal industry. “In litigation preparation, attorneys will often read multiple documents and dictate their notes so they can prepare their arguments,” he says. “We’re also seeing a lot more mobile use, where lawyers dictate notes while outside the office or do case documentation on the go. Lawyers create a lot of texts, and it’s far more productive to be able to use their voices as opposed to having to type.”

Majoue agrees with this assessment: “Our legal business has been aimed at helping lawyers get their documents done, and that can include any type of legal business that needs a lot of documentation, such as worker compensation firms.”

Virtually all of this speech recognition is occurring in fairly controlled environments — and it involves just a single voice. “It’s extremely accurate for the individual,” points out Majoue. “You could get a copy of Dragon software now and be pretty well dictating at greater than 90 percent accuracy within five minutes.”

With accuracy that’s good but not close to perfect, voice recognition tools could soon help universities and other public and private institutions go through vast archives of video and audio records, including lectures, speeches, and seminars, and make them searchable by keyword.

But the next step, moving from voice recognition using a single user in a controlled setting to one where there are multiple voices in a noisy room, continues to be out of reach.

“It’s still extremely difficult currently for speech recognition to move beyond a single user,” Majoue say. “In order for it to work with more than one voice, each individual user would have his or her own computer and microphone focused on just that one voice.”

Those limitations in a multi-voice environment is one reason why speech recognition hasn’t been even more widely adopted by the deaf and hard of hearing, who were one of the earliest supposed beneficiaries of speech recognition.

“Although, in recent years, deaf and hard-of-hearing people have begun to use speech recognition tools in some limited situations, the technology has not been where it needs to be for practical purposes in most settings,” explains Howard Rosenblum, CEO for the National Association of the Deaf (NAD). “While improved accuracy is, by far, the most needed element in speech recognition software, the NAD is in favor of current developments where the speech recognition software is able to identify and indicate who is speaking, particularly in group settings. The NAD also looks forward to improved speed in converting speech to text so that it is as close to real time as possible. There also needs to be software that can be adjusted to give more weight to specific verbiage when the discussion is in a particular area, such as science, computer technology, medicine, law, psychology, and the like.”
With plenty of pent-up demand for speech recognition tools that can work with multiple voices and in rooms with less-than-ideal acoustics, Mahoney suggests the solution may not be that far off.

“When you listen to a recording of a meeting, it sounds in retrospect like a bunch of crazy people because people communicate half-thoughts and they redirect their comments because people are speaking over them,” Mahoney says. “Because of that, the algorithms that are being used for transcripts even in the very sophisticated machine learning tools used these days struggle to come up with context.”

But Mahoney goes on to predict, “Within five years, you’ll see very, very high accuracy, and that’s being driven by a combination of more advanced machine learning techniques to develop sophisticated speech models combined with the access to lots and lots of data that can be used to train these systems to get smarter and smarter.”

Mahoney adds that the development of voice biometric systems that can identify different voices, separate the speech, and label the speaker could also soon be a key component of speech recognition software from Nuance.

As for the acoustic challenges that may come with speech recognition in settings such as a courtroom, Mahoney says: “We’ll certainly use software to clean up the dirty signals in a noisy environment. But on top of that, there are audio processing capabilities that will allow you to deal with far-field microphones.”

Even with these improvements, Mahoney says there will still be many things that court reporters do today that voice recognition software simply won’t be able to match.

“One thing that current voice recognition systems aren’t good enough at yet is really doing the kind of formatting and labeling of data in the way a court reporter would do to come up with a finished document,” Mahoney says. “To produce the raw text with high accuracy that is readable — that can be done. But to produce a transcript that is formatted and 100 percent accurate, you are going to need a court reporter.”

Speech recognition has been on the radar screen of the court reporting community for two decades or more. Given all the recent improvements in speech recognition technology, is now the time for court reporters to start to worry?

Right now, the answer to that seems to be yes — and no.

There are already companies out there in other parts of the world promising speech recognition as part of their courtroom technology, but given the current technology limitations, most of those claims can easily be dismissed as unproven hype.

Still, Mason Farmani, CEO and managing partner of Barkley Court Reporters in Los Angeles, says: “I do think that we should take speech recognition very seriously. With the exponential growth of the technology, the usefulness of this technology in our profession is not that far away. Between IBM’s Watson project, Google’s Jarvis, and Apple’s Siri, there are many speech databases being built, and some like IBM’s are encouraging and facilitating Watson-based systems. I do think we are much closer than we think. The only issue would be adopting legislations to accommodate these changes, which we all know happens very slowly.”

Farmani stops short of suggesting reporting firms begin investing in speech recognition tools in the same way many have invested in other technology trends like videography and cloud-based storage.

“I don’t think the time has come yet — but when it’s here, we should [invest in it], especially with the continuing shortage of court reporters,” Farmani says. “I think there will come a time where these technologies will be used in legal proceedings, but highly educated, highly professional court reporters will continue to be in demand for more complicated cases.”

Todd Olivas of Todd Olivas & Associates of Temecula, Calif., says he has no plans to invest in speech recognition tools any time soon. “But the reason is not because the technology isn’t there yet,” he says. “In fact, I’ll go further and add to Benjamin Franklin’s famous quote about certitude – ‘in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes’ – and add technology advancements. So for our purposes, we’d be foolish to think that court reporting is immune to technological advancements. Just ask yourself how many pen writers are still working. Steno writers took their places; right? Ask yourself how many steno writers are transcribing from paper notes. Laptops installed with CAT software took that role. Still, the human court reporter is the constant in all of those scenarios.”

Because of that, Olivas recommends that court reporters not fret over changes in technology like speech recognition, but simply be ready to adapt when they do come.

“We perform our duties using a certain set of tools today in 2016,” Olivas explains. “Yes, the various technologies will change, but the core role of what we do will not. Because our real value is not tied to that. Our real value is being the eyes and ears of the judge. There will always be the need to have a neutral, third-party observer at these proceedings who can administer the oath, facilitate the capture of the spoken word, produce a written document, and certify to its accuracy.”
David Ward is a journalist in Carrboro, N.C. Comments on this article can be sent to jcrfeedback@ncra.org.

 

 

A well-rounded life

By Aimée Suhie

Tom Crites is a present-day Johnny Appleseed who has planted 2,000 plumeria trees in and around Savannah, Ga., hoping to establish the glorious flowers in the town he loves. So it’s hard to imagine him jetting across the world during his 49-year career, away from home sometimes 300 nights a year. The retired court reporter and firm owner laughs that he has reported in the back of a pickup in the jungles of Panama, under an oil tanker in drydock in Curaçao, on a train from one side of Holland to the other, on the flight deck of aircraft carriers, on airboats in the Everglades, and on the roadside from Delhi to Agra of a horrific bus accident with students on their way to see the Taj Mahal.

“I was blessed with an awesome career,” he says simply. But he does not miss the planes and hotels one bit. He forgets the world when he tends the 1,000 plumerias that surround his 1892 house, one of the most photographed homes in Savannah.

But the accomplishment he is perhaps most proud of is the family he “adopted” in Thailand in the depths of poverty whose members are now not only self-sufficient but true entrepreneurs. “After 15 years of hard work by this family, they now take care of themselves and are waiting to take care of me,” he says only half-jokingly. He says he may very well give up his precious house and gardens and move to Thailand one day.

The Texas native learned about court reporting the way NCRA’s leaders hope all young people do – when a court reporting legend put on a program at his high school. ”When Thyra D. Ellis (‘a true pioneer for all shorthand reporters nationwide’ according to the website of the school she founded) said, ‘Be a court reporter and make up to $10,000 a year,’ I was sold,” Tom relates. He started two months later at her school, the Stenotype Institute of Jacksonville Beach, Fla., and studied for four years. He was reporting, however, after two years and made $1,300 his first day. “That was huge,” he remembers, “in that I lived on $200 a month while going to school.”

His career took him to San Francisco and finally in 1972 to Savannah where he formed Tom Crites & Associates International. He met the right maritime attorneys on a ship fire case covering depositions in Savannah, New Orleans, and New York and was soon traveling all over the world. “Many months of my career I would travel 50,000 miles in a month,” he says. He has worked in hundreds of cities in more than 50 countries, focusing on maritime and mass-disaster litigation, following ships and crew members. At his website, www.critesintl.com, under the case history section are the tales of two of his most famous environmental disaster cases, the 1978 Amoco Cadiz oil spill off the coast of France, and the 2002 Prestige oil spill off the coast of Spain, “which was four times the size of the Exxon Valdez disaster,” he explains. “As a matter of fact, after hundreds of depositions were taken in the Exxon Valdez case, I was asked to provide realtime at the deposition of Captain Hazelwood (the American sailor who captained the Exxon Valdez during its 1989 spill). I asked Sue Terry, RPR, CRR, [NCRA’s Vice President] to cover for me, and for days she performed her magic.”

But Tom’s most enriching experience was his association with a Thai family in the village of Sala in the province of Surin. He met a young man at a restaurant at the hotel where he usually stayed who spoke English very well, and he became Tom’s friend, driver, and interpreter. “After three years he invited me to meet his family,” Tom remembers. “It was shocking to me to see the way they lived. They were the poorest of the poor. The mother was doing her best to provide for her children and grandchildren. She worked 12 to14 hours a day tending to the rice of others for $75 a month. They had no running water, and they all were in rags.”

Tom well remembers his upbringing in a housing project in Texas where people donated food to his family, and he didn’t have a new shirt until he was six years old. So Tom got to work. He promptly had two wells dug and then got the family refrigerators, fans, beds, and linens. He rounded up all 19 family members and headed to a department store 50 miles from Sala. “I had each one get a grocery cart, and we loaded up on clothes, shoes, toiletries, towels and lots of food. I then got them a car and a truck.” Next he helped them to buy parcels of land. “On my 60th birthday, we began the planting of 60 acres of rubber trees,” he says and, instead of patting himself on the back, says only “I have been blessed to have the Lai-Ngam family in my life.”

The family now has more than 100 acres of farm land and a rubber tree plantation. All are on computers and receiving a good education. Tom even put the kids to use in his business. “I had an office set up in Bangkok, and these smart children scanned all my exhibits, transferred my steno, etc., to the United States, so I never had to hurry back home,” he recounts, “often going off to work from Bangkok to Singapore, Hong Kong, Seoul, Tokyo, and to many cities in India.”

In addition to his 43 trips to Thailand, Tom worked often with different governments, and he says many waivers were made so that he could report in venues that most reporters could not. At the same time, however, for seven years he was on the board and executive committee of the Savannah College of Art & Design, with campuses in Savannah; Atlanta; Lacoste, France; and Hong Kong. The College dedicated the performing arts center named in his honor, Crites Hall, in 2000, which houses the 150-seat Mondanaro Theater, set design and scene shop, dance studio, classrooms, and a costume studio, where 92 classes are taught each week. He also received the Pepe Award from the college that year for his work. “I often traveled to New York, London, Paris, and Lacoste on the business of the college,” Tom remembers. “And on the local scene, I entertained and dined with many visiting movie stars and fashion designers who came to visit the school, including Debbie Reynolds and Diane von Furstenberg.” Tom adds, “The college has more than 10,000 students and 1,100 employees on our four campuses. It will always be a big part of my life.”

Even though he is now retired, his firm continues on, a “small agency that handles big work,” Tom says. They have a reporter based in Germany covering most of their work in Europe and have had reporters and videographers simultaneously covering assignments on four continents. But on any given day, you’ll find Tom working in his gardens or helping a new graduate paint his house in the 100-degree heat of an August day. “It wears me out, and some days I feel I’m as old as this house,” he says in his smooth Southern drawl. “But I try to keep myself busy. I still work very hard, and I believe in hard labor. Now I grow tropical flowers, prepare meals and entertain. I have always had a colorful life, and everyone says I should write a book. But after 700,000 pages of transcripts, my writing days are over!”

Tips for success

Tom says “The last 15 years of my reporting career, I always took an assistant with me to handle everything, and that is why I lasted so long.”

He passed the Certificate of Profiency five decades ago and is certified in Georgia but let his California license lapse. “I would urge all court reporters to never let any license lapse. Concentrate on getting your certifications from NCRA; find a niche in the legal field and concentrate on that; attend as many attorney functions as you can searching for the right people with the right cases. And invest your money wisely in real estate and art, and hold on to it for a long time. All will appreciate. When you have a huge case or year, donate pieces of art, and your tax savings can be great.”

Tom says you can also pray. “My momma prayed for me and the business all the time,” he remembers. “But when things got busy, my reporters would say, ‘Tell your mother to cool it on the prayers because we’re just swamped.’ She’s gone now, so I have to do it on my own.”

Aimée Suhie, RPR, is a freelance reporter from New Fairfield, Conn., and a regular contributor to the JCR. She can be reached at suhieaimee@gmail.com.

 

 

 

A judge and his court reporter weigh in on realtime in the courtroom

Last August, NCRA member Julie Hohenstein, an official realtime court reporter for the Hon. Stephen A. Wolaver, Greene County, Ohio, added a Certified Realtime Reporter (CRR) to the Register Professional Reporter (RPR) certification she already held. Hohenstein said her judge was so happy with her earning the certification that he offered to be interviewed, along with her, to share thoughts on why realtime is a benefit to have as a skill and in the courtroom.

Why did you decide to pursue the CRR credential? 

Hohenstein: Ever since the CRR certification became available, I have wanted to achieve it. I think having the CRR says that I am on the cutting edge of my profession both in technology and skill. I think the CRR designation earns me immediate respect among professionals in the court reporting and legal fields.

I had attempted a couple of times when the CRR was first offered, and then I was discouraged because I didn’t pass it.  I always knew I could.  After attending the 2016 NCRA Convention in Chicago and participating in the CRR seminar and learning more about how the online testing worked, I decided to go ahead and try again.

I really liked the convenience of being able to take the CRR in a setting that I was quite comfortable and familiar with and on a date that I chose.  I especially liked the fact that you can take the CRR up to three times in a given quarter.

What do you think are the benefits of realtime?  

Hohenstein: For me as the court reporter, I use realtime to improve my writing skills. I watch my realtime to see areas in which I need to improve on my skills. I think no matter who you are, there is always something that we can do to make our writing better.

For the attorneys, I think the benefits are the ability to see and reread what the witness has just said or had said previously.

We use the iCVNet with iPads in our courtroom, and to have at the attorney’s fingertips the ability to search back through the transcript for certain areas of testimony and mark it and then be able to refer to it is an indispensable tool.  Also the ability to search a word or phrase and see every single time it is used and to be able to go to that spot with just a tap of the finger is invaluable.

Judge Wolaver, when you first saw realtime, what was the most exciting part of it for you?

Wolaver: Having the knowledge that I would not miss anything, that I could see testimony immediately, it would aid me in making rulings and also the ability with the iPads to search back through the day’s transcript for any discrepancies in witnesses’ testimony.  I find that having the iPads with the realtime gives me the flexibility to take the transcript into chambers to review before I make a final ruling, if necessary.

How often do you use realtime, and who in the court uses it? What is your setup like? 

Hohenstein: In our courtroom, I provide realtime to the judge and both plaintiff’s and defendant’s counsel on a daily basis.  All parties involved use the realtime whenever they feel the need to.  Our courtroom is setup with the judge and both counsel having an iPad to receive the realtime feed via Wi-Fi and ICVnet. There have been many times that I have noticed that the defendants themselves have used my realtime.

Have any attorneys, clerks, or deaf or hard-of-hearing jurors or parties used the realtime feed? 

Hohenstein: Yes. I have watched both plaintiff’s and defendant’s counsel use the realtime that I provide. Just recently, we had a trial where a potential juror had a severe hearing loss and tinnitus. The juror could let us know that they could not hear any of the Voir Dire examination that was being conducted, and they were able to follow along with the iPad to complete the Voir Dire process.

We also had a 14-day civil trial where both plaintiff’s and defendant’s counsel wanted realtime and a daily rough copy of the day’s proceedings by the end of the day.

What situations do you think that realtime is especially helpful for? 

Hohenstein: I find that in all situations realtime is helpful. Realtime helps me if I mishear something a witness says. I can immediately look at the screen and read it again to confirm what I thought I heard the witness say.

Why do you think that realtime is so important that you wanted Julie recognized for pursuing being certified in it? 

Wolaver: Julie goes above and beyond and excels in all aspects of her job duties. She has great dedication and respect for her job and wants to always improve her realtime skills for everyone that comes into our courtroom, and the public we serve should know of her dedication to justice.

At a time when many courts are replacing court reporters with ER systems, I find Julie’s realtime skills to be an invaluable asset for what she brings to my courtroom every day.  I can’t imagine not having her here.

What would you say to encourage other court reporters to pursue this certification? 

Hohenstein: Have the confidence to try it and achieve it. I never thought I would, but deep down I had the desire to pursue and achieve it. I think the sky’s the limit.  Just keep working on your writing skills and keep practicing and you too will achieve it. Not everyone can do what we can do, or everyone would do it. Be proud of what you have accomplished.