Court reporting as a second career

The JCR reached out to several members of NCRA who made the decision to switch careers and enter the court reporting, captioning, or legal video professions and asked them to share what they did before, how they decided to make the change, when they knew they made the right choice, and insights they would share with others considering making a change.

Abby Cook
Pittsburgh, Pa.

Abby Cook

Abby Cook

CURRENT CAREER: Student at the Community College of Allegheny County; Plans to work as a freelance reporter
upon graduation in July 2017
PREVIOUS CAREER: Master’s level mobile mental health therapist for about 18 months

After I finished my degree, I was trying to get enough client contact hours to sit for the exam and earn my professional license as a mental health therapist. I was doing anything and everything for the company I worked for, even sitting as a secretary. But they would not fill my client schedule, so I left. I interviewed at another company for a similar position, and they informed me they needed someone with their professional license, which I was working toward, but in order to sit for the exam, you had to complete direct client contact hours. I knew I needed to do something that wasn’t dependent on what others thought I could do or doing something that others had to help me fill my schedule.

My cousin is a court reporter and currently reports on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. I contacted her to get more information because I knew she was making a good living, and I knew she enjoyed what she was doing. I am one of three girls, and my cousin tried to talk all three of us into going into court reporting after high school. It was always sort of in the back of my mind, but I never really knew much about court reporting as a career. But once I realized I wasn’t finding my way as a therapist, I decided to look into court reporting further.

I do think some skills from my previous work transfer. I continue with the need to listen to people, I continue to provide a service for people, I continue to be mobile with that service, and I continue to hear stories about people
(some more awful than others, but I feel my previous experience has prepared me for such things and to not be shocked).

I think I am most excited to be entering a field that is highly valued, highly in demand and highly respected. I look forward to having a full schedule because of a proven, black-and-white skill that I possess. I would say to look at all the options, talk to some people in the field (both new to the field and seasoned professionals), and learn as much as you can. I continued to work in my first career when I started school for the career change and, if it didn’t work out, I would’ve stayed with that job and pushed harder for my chance and what I wanted. It never hurts to try something new and make yourself more marketable.

After the first few weeks in school, I knew that making this change was going to be a good, positive, life-changing choice. I was picking up on this new (steno) language, and all the working court reporters that came to speak to
us about the field only had great things to tell us. Students ahead of me were getting their speeds and passed on advice. There is so much encouragement and happiness and excitement in this field. I can’t wait to get out there and
start working!

Carolyn Kerr, RPR
Buffalo, N.Y.

Carolyn Kerr, RPR

Carolyn Kerr, RPR

CURRENT CAREER: Working as an official court reporter for the state of New York Unified Court System, family
court in Niagara County
PREVIOUS CAREER: Worked in radio and television

I’ve actually had two careers before court reporting. I have my B.A. from the University at Buffalo in communications. Because of my love for music, I became involved with the campus radio station and was soon the program director. I also interned at a local radio station and, while still attending college, was hired full time as a disc jockey and promotions director at that radio station. The radio and music industry is very volatile, and I discovered that while I loved music and the fun of working at a radio station, I wasn’t enjoying the people I worked with very much. Many of my coworkers had drug and/or alcohol problems, had multiple marriages, were not particularly well educated, but they had huge egos. I was 23 years old and decided I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life surrounded by people I didn’t respect. But being in radio did give me a very important skill that I believe carries over to court reporting. That
skill is the ability to perform.

I lucked out and got kind of a weird job next, one that combined my skill in performing with the stability of a real job. I was hired as a traffic reporter, working for the local public transit agency. The bus drivers on the road would call
in the traffic delays they saw, and I would compile traffic reports and provide them to most Buffalo area radio stations and one TV station during morning and afternoon drive times. In return, the public transit system got advertising
on these stations. On some of the stations I would broadcast live; on others I would just provide the information to their on-air personnel, who would read it. I also appeared on the local ABC-TV network affiliate during their morning
show. For three hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon, I was typing up and churning out constant traffic updates to 12 to 15 media outlets. I could always type fast, but this experience really improved that skill. Again, another transferable skill to court reporting.

Eventually marriage and children came along, and I didn’t want to work the split shift this job required, so I bid on another job in the transit agency and became the supervisor of the customer service department. Essentially I ran a
call center and resolved customer complaints. You can imagine the types and amount of complaints a public bus and rail company receives! What I learned from that job is that I do not like supervising anyone and that I missed the performance component of my other jobs. I was a really good typist and enjoyed typing, but I knew there wasn’t much money in it.

While I was at a family party, I was complaining to my sister-in-law about my job as a customer service manager, and she suggested court reporting. It was one of those duh moments, as my sister-in-law was not only a court reporter but also owned a freelance agency. From there everything just fell into place, almost as if it were meant to be. The local school was not too far from my house, not too expensive, and worked with my schedule, and oh, by the way, they were having an open house the following week. I enrolled on the spot, and a little over two years later I began working for my sister-in-law’s company.

At its heart, court reporting is a performance job. The skills from my broadcasting career definitely have translated to court reporting. And while we do interact with judges, clerks, lawyers, the public, and other reporters, court reporters are essentially solo workers. It’s us and the machine, and then it’s us and the transcript. I found from working in customer service that I really like working independently, and court reporting fulfills that preference.

What most excites me about court reporting is my certainty that I am performing an essential but unique service. Keeping the record is one of the main principles of our legal system. The written word allows ideas and facts to be conveyed and shared through generations. In 2015 we marked the 700th anniversary of the Magna Carta, the document upon which our nation and many other democratic nations are defined as a nation of laws, not of man. Someone wrote that down. Scribes were the early court reporters. Without them, where would our understanding of history be? I am very proud to be a part of this institution. I also love that court reporting is both a physical and mental job. While our fingers are flying over the keyboards with a profound dexterity, our minds are working in dual tracks. One track is hearing and committing the spoken word to writing, the other is devising a way to create a shortcut or inserting punctuation. That makes our job feel like a craft or skilled trade to me, which I love and value.

The advice I would give to someone considering a court reporting career is to, first of all, do an honest assessment of what’s going on in your life. Court reporting school is difficult. In our class of 30, only two of us graduated, and I am the only one still working. I believe you must have almost no distractions to get through school. No small babies. No ongoing divorces. No financial problems. Secondly, I believe that you must be ambitious and committed. Once you start working, take the difficult job. It will make you a better reporter. Take the certification exams. Those letters after your name will make you feel so good. And finally, you must view court reporting as a profession, not just a job.
Professions require ongoing development, investment, and education. For a job, you just show up. If you view yourself as a professional, I believe you will have a more realistic understanding of what it takes to get through school and to succeed once you’re working. The point at which I knew I made the right decision for a career in court reporting was the first time I looked down at that old borrowed manual machine and hit that initial key. I knew immediately. It just felt right. It was me. Having said that, it wouldn’t have been the right choice for me at the age of 20 or 25. I needed that experience of working in radio and television, and I needed to learn I hated being a manager.

Angeli English
D’Iberville, Miss.

Angeli English

Angeli English

CURRENT CAREER: Freelance reporter
PREVIOUS CAREER: Secretarial

I am a freelance reporter, but I cover various courts sometimes if they need me and if I don’t already have a freelance job. I’m on the coast and I’ll drive up to two hours for a good job.

I had a secretarial background originally. I went to a vocational school and learned typing, shorthand, etc., in the mid-1980s. Then I just worked part time at various jobs while raising four boys. I always worked a secretarial job
full-time till I started having kids in 1990. After that, I took a few years off and had three more kids in two years (twins in there) and then worked part-time till 2010 when I decided to pursue court reporting.

When two were in college, I decided to consider a second career. My boys were getting older; I had more time, and I wanted a good paying job that offered flexibility. I had never been exposed to court reporting. When I was considering a second career, I did some online research.

I would say my secretarial background and good command of grammar, etc., helped in my career as a court reporter. Just know it takes self-discipline and constant practice and self-confidence.

I never know when I walk out the door what story I’m going to hear that day. It’s like being a fl y on the wall and getting a peek into someone’s life.

I never doubted court reporting would be my second career. I remember being on my first job and thinking, yes, I did it, and pinching myself!

Kerry Irizarry, RPR
Jacksonville, Fla.

Kerri Irizzary, RPR

Kerri Irizzary, RPR

CURRENT CAREER: Freelance reporter
PREVIOUS CAREER: AT&T customer service representative, 11 years

Our office was closed, and everyone was laid off. As part of our compensation, we were offered money to go back to school and/or start a new business. I had seen court reporting commercials on television and thought it looked interesting. And after my experience with corporate America, I decided I wanted to go out and get a skill that was valuable and that would give me flexibility.

I had no idea what court reporting was about. I was always fascinated with closed captioning and when I learned that captioners were court reporters, I was hooked.

Working customer service required we use a computer all day. I became very adept at typing and operating computer software, which is beneficial to our profession. I also got experience interacting with people and resolving problems. These skills come in handy when interacting with attorneys and judges.

I love to read back. Our profession is stressful and comes with a lot of responsibility, but I love it when I can help an attorney out with a question or answer they repeated. Audio recordings can’t do that. I would also like to move into captioning or providing CART services. Ours is one of the few professions that we can provide a service for those with a disability.

I love court reporting, but it was a very hard road to travel to become proficient. Court reporters have to be very dedicated and meticulous in their work. They need attention to detail, flexibility, and good interpersonal skills.
Someone who has these qualities would probably be a great court reporter.

I didn’t realize I had a thyroid condition, and my work was suffering. I believe it had been going on so long that it had prevented me from graduating from court reporting school sooner. I had trouble focusing, which is crucial in our job. It really had me doubting my decision to pursue this as my second career. Thankfully, I found a doctor that straightened me out. Now I absolutely love my job and have no doubt this was the right decision for me.

Dave Leyland, CLVS
Kansas City, Mo.

Dave Leyland, CLVS

Dave Leyland, CLVS

CURRENT CAREER: Legal videographer
PREVIOUS CAREERS: Director of a nonprofit and state child welfare administrator

I had formerly worked as a director of a nonprofit for more than 19 years, and before that I was a child welfare administrator in the state of Missouri. I am currently owner of Kansas City Legal Videography.

Soon after leaving my nonprofit job, I began working with a certified court reporter company as their manager of production. I became very interested in legal videography when scheduling and interacting with video specialists. I always had a fondness for the legal profession, videography, and technology, and I realized that I could pursue all of these as a video specialist. I soon started researching how to pursue this interest and one of the first things on my list was to become certified as a legal video specialist through NCRA.

I’ve always believed that you gain so much value by associating with people in your trade. Professionals of all kinds must also keep up to date with the latest technology and equipment to be used on the job. I successfully passed the written test and went on to also pass the production test in Chicago at last year’s NCRA Convention & Expo.

I’ve had a lot of opportunities to use the skills that were first taught to me at the three-day training in Reston, Va. I’m constantly learning new techniques and upgrading my skills as I gain experience as a legal video specialist. Every job that you have comes with its challenges. I still have so much to learn because I always want to deliver the very best product to the client.

I can’t say how much I enjoy this profession and the great interactions I have with other litigation professionals, especially the court reporters who are the hardest working people in the room.

The 2017 NCRA Convention & Expo is the place to earn new certifications

Professionals seeking to add nationally recognized certifications to their résumés can choose from several opportunities to work toward them at the 2017 NCRA Convention & Expo being held Aug. 10-13 at the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino in Las Vegas, Nev.

Programs and certifications opportunities available this year include the Certified Realtime Reporter (CRR), Certified Realtime Captioner (CRC), Certified Reporting Instructor (CRI), and Certified Legal Video Specialist (CLVS). Note that many certifications require multiple steps to earn, so one or more components of testing may not be available during convention.

Certified Realtime Reporter Boot Camp

For those interested in learning how to pass the CRR, a three-hour long boot camp is available on Aug. 12. The CRR is recognized in the industry as the national certification of realtime competency. Taught by Kathryn Sweeney, FAPR, RMR, CRR, who helped develop the boot camp program, the course has enabled many to successfully pass the test on the first take. Sweeney is a freelance reporter and agency owner from Action, Mass.

Convention learning2In the course, Sweeney explains the testing requirements, covers NCRA’s What is an Error?, discusses what is not an error, and talks about the new online testing process. She also offers tips for self-preparation, including what to have on test day, what to do and not do on test day, and how and why candidates fail. Participants in the session should bring their equipment with them so they can take a couple of practice tests and learn how to adjust their system settings and dictionary entries. Skills testing for the CRR is offered online.

“I strongly believe taking the CRR Boot Camp will increase the chance of passing this test. When I finished my presentation in Georgia, a woman who already had her CRR came up to me and said that she wished this seminar was around when she was preparing for the test; that it had all of the information and steps that she muddled through on her own. She said it took years of figuring out what was being asked of her and then changing her writing and learning her equipment and software in order to pass,” Sweeney said.

“With this boot camp, I can help you in three hours,” added Sweeney, who also served as a beta tester for NCRA’s online testing system and as CRR Chief Examiner on behalf of the Association for 17 years.

Certified Realtime Captioner Workshop

Convention participants seeking the CRC certification can attend a 10-hour Workshop held Aug. 10-11 and take the Written Knowledge Test on Aug. 11, completing two of the three steps to the certification. (The third step, a Skills Test, can be taken anytime online.)

Leading the workshop are: Deanna Baker, FAPR, RMR, a broadcast captioner from Flagstaff, Ariz.; LeAnn Hibler, RMR, CRR, CRC, a CART captioner from Joliet, Ill.; Karyn Menck, RDR, CRR, CRC, a CART captioner from Nashville, Tenn.; and Heidi Thomas, FARP, RDR, CRR, CRC, a CART captioner from Acworth, Ga.

Convention learning“I know you will learn something new, no matter how long you have been captioning,” said Carol Studenmund, FAPR, RDR, CRR, CRC, a broadcast captioner based in Portland, Ore. Studenmund heads the Certified Realtime Captioner Certification Committee. “Then take the Written Knowledge Test right after the workshop — while the material is fresh in your mind — and before you know it, you are two thirds of the way to earning the certification.”

Certified Reporting Instructor Workshop

Educators interested in earning the CRI can attend a two-day Workshop, Aug. 10-11, designed to expand their level of knowledge for becoming more effective realtime reporting instructors. The Workshop covers information about the learning process, how to develop court reporting syllabi and lesson plans, and how role playing a variety of courtroom scenarios can aid students’ understanding.

“Those who attend and participate in the CRI Workshop will gain wonderful insight and skills for training the future of our profession,” said Dr. Jen Krueger, RMR, CRI, CPE, who will lead the session. Krueger is a full-time faculty member at Cuyahoga Community College, Parma, Ohio,

“The CRI credential demonstrates excellence and dedication in teaching, assuring students they are benefiting from the best instructors available and others that the court reporting profession is in good hands as those learners prepare to continue the noble and fine work of court reporters and captioners everywhere,” she added.

CLVS SeminarCertified Legal Video Specialist Seminar and Production Exam

Participants interested in earning the CLVS certification can attend the required three-day seminar from Aug. 11-13. The CLVS production exam is also available on Aug. 11 and 12, for those who are qualified. The CLVS program sets and enforces standards for competency in the capture, utilization, and retention of legal video and promotes awareness of these standards within the legal marketplace. Legal videographers often partner with court reporters to ensure the integrity of both the video of legal proceedings and the official transcript.

“Attending at the CLVS Seminar is beneficial to both experienced legal videographers as well as novices to the profession,” said Jason Levin, CLVS, with Virginia Media Group, Washington, D.C. Levin is one of the instructors leading the seminar.

“Our goal is to prepare videographers for the production and written exams, and on the last day of the seminar we actually conduct mock depositions where the attendees can operate the equipment in a deposition environment. Earning the CLVS certification sets yourself apart from noncertified videographers.  The networking opportunities of attending an event like this are well worth the investment,” he added.

 

Don’t miss the savings on lodging at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino, the host hotel for the 2017 Convention. Attendees who register to stay at Planet Hollywood on Friday and Saturday nights are eligible for free breakfast and to win one of six new Kindle Fire tablets in a giveaway. Visit NCRA.org/Convention to register now.

Imagine that

Imagine that
By Katherine Schilling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And just imagine what will come next.

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

 

A fresh and tasty baker’s dozen

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

Proofreading is the last step in the finalization of your transcript. The proofreader’s eyes are the last ones to review the final product. It’s important to set the stage and do the most thorough job possible in order to produce the best transcript. We offer the following tips to make the task more efficient, more thorough, and more foolproof.

donut1Scoping and proofreading are not the same function. For the best results, scoping should be done by someone else and at a different time than when you proofread.

 

donut2Create a comfortable environment with good lighting and seating. Minimize distractions and interruptions. Try to ensure you are fed and well rested prior to starting your proofing session.

 

donut3Determine which method works best for you: in the software on your computer; using an app on a tablet device; printed on paper.

 

donut4Allot sufficient time to do the job thoroughly. Slow and steady wins the race every time over fast and sloppy. Take breaks — don’t try to read 400 pages all at one go.

 

donut5Complete all research prior to commencing proofreading. You will lose the flow necessary for contextual reading if you’re stopping every half page to double-check a spelling or perform an online search for a term.

 

donut6Choose a reputable primary dictionary to follow (Merriam-Webster, American Heritage, Oxford) when making decisions on spellings, hyphenation, and one word/two words rather than stand-alone books that may be outdated or unsupported by references.

 

donut7If you encounter a word/term with which you are unfamiliar, be wary of accepting the first word that pops up in a Google search that seems to fit your phonetic. Be sure to check the definition in a reputable dictionary, and make sure it fits the context.

 

donut8While spot-checking the audio can be helpful, listening to continuous audio is not recommended. It is difficult to read for context, pay attention to punctuation, and listen to audio at the same time.

 

donut9Be aware of your weaknesses. If you habitually misstroke things like “they’re/there/their” or “it’s/its,” pay special attention to occurrences of those words. Also watch for incorrect small words like “as/at,” “it/is,” and missing words like “a” and “the.”

 

donut10Keep in mind the common words that are often transposed (I did/did I) and words that are only one or two letters different (formal/former, contact/contract), and pay special attention when they occur.

 

donut11If you’ve used more than one scopist to get the job done, pay special attention to consistency in capitalization, hyphenation, and other potential differing styles among scopists.

 

donut12Don’t forget to run a final spellcheck in your software after you’ve finished proofreading. Spell-check is very good at catching double words such as “the the” and “that that,” which are easily missed while reading. Consider running the finished document through Word’s spell-check and grammar checker. While Word does have some unusual ideas about grammar (and should never be taken as gospel), it is very helpful in identifying missing prepositions, “form” for “from” and the like, as well as other small things that can otherwise be missed during proofreading.

 

donut13After you’ve finished your initial proofreading, go back and double check bylines and speaker identifications as well as consistency with any special terms you’ve become aware of during the job. It’s easy to read right past such errors when you’re focused on reading for context.

 

The final proofreading of a transcript is your last chance to ensure you are producing your most complete and accurate product. Don’t shortchange yourself or your clients by glossing over the small details or thinking just a quick pass will be sufficient. As you continue to produce beautiful, error-free transcripts, your reputation among your clients and your peers will flourish. The e­ffort is well worth the reward!

 

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.

Good question: How do court reporters type so quickly?

JCR: Journal of Court Reporting, TheJCR.com, JCR WeeklyOn June 21, CBS Minnesota aired a story about the court reporting profession that featured NCRA member Merilee Johnson, RDR, CRR, CRC, of Paradigm Reporting in Minneapolis, Minn.

Read more.

Reporting the Keystone pipeline public comment meetings

By Sheryl Teslow and Lori McGowan

At a long skirted table on an auditorium stage sit five people in professional attire; at a skirted table on the floor sit two court reporters; in front, with their backs to the camera, are a father and his two young sons, all three dressed in jeans, plaid shirts, boots, and ball caps

Lori McGowan, center left, and Sheryl Teslow, center right, write the public’s comments on the Keystone pipeline. Photo courtesy Omaha World-Herald.

In 2013, the U.S. State Department held a public comment hearing in Grand Island, Neb., as part of the presidential permit application. The pipeline is designed to carry tar-sands oil from Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf Coast for refinery and export. Because it crosses the border with Canada, the presidential permit is required.

Latimer Reporting was hired to report the day-long hearing. Lori and I took on the assignment ourselves. We knew it would go all day and into the night, so we knew we wanted two reporters. At first, we thought one would do the first half and the other would cover the second half. At the last minute, we decided to ride out together, so we were both there from the beginning. That turned out to be incredibly helpful. I took the first section of testimony. The first few witnesses were Native Americans who spoke in both Lakota and English, using many unfamiliar names of people and places. When the first speaker finished, Lori had the presence of mind to approach him before he sat back down and asked for the notes he was reading from. We continued that practice throughout the entire hearing. We were not always able to convince the speakers to turn over their notes, but most of them did cooperate. The hearing began at noon and ended at 11 p.m. The transcript was 494 pages.

The pipeline and its route are highly controversial and in 2015, President Barack Obama denied the permit. In 2017, President Donald Trump revived the project, and the responsibility for siting the pipeline through Nebraska now rests with the Nebraska Public Service Commission. They scheduled a public comment meeting to be held in York. Latimer Reporting, and Lori in particular, has a great deal of experience with the Public Service Commission, so they asked us to cover this hearing. The hearing began at 9 a.m. and ended at 7 p.m. The transcript was 406 pages.

Since Lori and I had the experience in 2013, we, of course, took on the assignment again and used the same process. One of us would write the proceedings and the other would track down speakers as they finished and request their notes, and then we would switch off.

As far as preparation, we really didn’t do that much to prepare for the first hearing in 2013. We were familiar with the issue and some of the interested groups. We did do a little bit of internet searching for some possible technical terms that might come up, but there wasn’t much we could do to prepare. There was no list of witnesses and no appearances of counsel. Most of the speakers were concerned citizens and landowners, so there wasn’t a great deal of technical testimony.

The same things were true in 2017. We arrived at the venue two hours ahead of the scheduled start time and made sure that the sound system was in good working order and that we were directly in front of the speaker podiums. We had our job dictionaries from the first hearing and were now more familiar with the names of people and places and technical terms that were likely to come up.

The 2013 transcript was used by the State Department. We were told it would eventually end up on President Obama’s desk and was part of the official record used to deny the pipeline permit. The 2017 transcript will become part of the official record of the Nebraska Public Service Commission in their decision on siting.

Public comment hearings do present some interesting challenges. Speakers are given five minutes to present their testimony. Very few of them are used to public speaking. They are speaking to a very large crowd and in front of many television news cameras, so they are nervous and tend to read from their notes very quickly. The large crowd behind them at times reacts loudly, sometimes in support and sometimes in opposition to what they are saying, sometimes to the point of drowning the speaker out. There are speakers who cry and speakers who are angry and speakers who yell, so it can be a challenge sometimes to hear them. Again, most people were cooperative in turning their notes over to us when we explained it would help us prepare the transcript. When they were reluctant, we offered to give them an envelope and promised to return the original to them. Some speakers would let us take a photo with a phone.

Each speaker was required to register and received a number. They filled out a sheet with their name, place of residence, speaker number, and whether they were speaking in support or in opposition. Speakers were called up to the microphone in order. They had five minutes to speak. They were instructed to leave those sheets with us at the end of their time. So when we retrieved the notes they had read from, it was easy to keep the notes with the sign-in sheet and the speaker number.

Quite honestly, at the end of the hearing in 2013, Lori and I looked at each other and said, “Never again.” The experience was stressful and draining and a bit out of our comfort zone. But as is usually true, an experience that challenges you is rewarding in the end, and it was interesting and fun to be in the middle of history. So naturally, when our client asked us to do it again, we took a deep breath and said yes.

Sheryl Teslow, RDR, CRR, and Lori McGowan, RDR, CRR, are both owners of Latimer Reporting in Lincoln, Neb.

Court reporting dominates local news in Texas

JCR: Journal of Court Reporting, TheJCR.com, JCR WeeklyNCRA members Cayce Coskey, RPR; Leslie Ryan-Hash; Carol Smith, RPR; and Nardi Reeves were quoted in an article posted June 18 by the Times Record, Wichita Falls, Texas, that showcases the role of a court reporter as well as the speed and accuracy needed to succeed in the profession. Also on June 17, the newspaper posted an article about the salaries of Nueces County court reporters. On June 18, an editorial piece calling the salary assessment “grossly unfair” was published in the newspaper.

PROMOTING THE PROFESSION: My best reporting job ever

By Melody Jeffries Peters

1995 was the first year Professor Greg Munro at the Alexander Blewett III School of Law invited me into the classroom on the University of Montana campus to do a realtime deposition for 85 future lawyers. Though we’ve never kept track, we know we’ve done it for 15 years for sure, so I’ve been afforded the opportunity to address well over 1,200 students.  These students become attorneys, and I’ve subsequently encountered a large number of them in my work.

Each year we do a mock deposition about a real case that Professor Munro had involving drinking in a livestock barn and a subsequent horse accident. The demonstration is interactive, educational, and funny. When they talk about drinking only one beer, I quickly write: “Liar, liar, pants on fire,” and very quickly we’ve got the students’ attention. When the attorneys misspeak, I toss in: “Come on, you gotta spit it out.” Laughter erupts, and we are all truly enjoying this!

After we complete the mock deposition, I’m given the floor. This year, we handed out a number of iPads so the students could view CVNet and try their hand at it. Technology has changed greatly over the years, but I find it’s useful showing the deposition on a big screen of some kind. I explain the challenges of technology and how it’s not my forte and that, by default, since I sign the checks in my office, I am the IT department, but the first two letters are SH! They nod in sympathy.

This is also my chance to explain why reporters can be reluctant to do realtime. I share the story of covering court where the couple’s names were Yvonne and Al. Yvonne and Al did everything together. Yvonne and Al were good parents. My stroke for and is A-N. My stroke for al is A-L. The judge was seeing a number of creative uses of the word anal that day.

Working in Montana, reporters can wear a lot of hats. I get to familiarize the group with all the different kinds of reporting, and I touch on official, freelance, and CART work.

I grab their collective ears and tell them I have to know when the case involves Mr. Pierce and Mr. Pearce, and the key is I need to know ahead of time. “Ankylosing spondylitis”? Share that word with your reporter before the deposition, I tell them. Deadlines? Make sure you address those too, I say.

I cover a vast array of topics from marking exhibits to scheduling, and from enunciating to courtroom protocol. I remind them I’m trying to make a record, not set one, so they need to speak slowly. Videotaping, video conferencing … we cover it all at breakneck speed, violating my own aforementioned rule.

Handouts? You bet. We provide NCRA’s “Making the Record” brochure along with some swag and a few articles on who’s responsible for paying the reporter’s bill. [Ed. Note: The Making the Record materials have been expanded through the National Court Reporters Foundation. See sidebar for more information.] My office creates a legal-sized laminated list of every attorney and law firm in the county that we give to the students. This list is the best marketing tool ever. I provide a transcript of the deposition for the students to work with, which becomes a learning and teaching tool.

The presentations and transcript production I do at the law school are unquestionably the best pro bono work I can do as a firm owner. Because of this exposure, I’ve been asked to do seminars for lawyers, I did a PowerPoint presentation for the New Lawyers Group held at the law school, and I’ve been included as a sponsor for the Women’s Law Caucus, to name just a few. At the law school’s luncheon, I have been recognized, along with other volunteers, as a contributor to the success of the law school.

This year Professor Munro’s thank-you note said that he’d received the most comments ever about our demonstrations and he couldn’t thank me enough. However, I am forever grateful for the chance to strengthen the relationship between attorneys and court reporters. Every lawyer loves to win in court, but who doesn’t love a win-win situation? The law school gets a relevant presentation in realtime, I get to meet aspiring lawyers about to enter the field, we promote NCRA, and everybody is better off because of our collaboration. That’s a win in my book!

 

Melody Jeffries Peters, RDR, CRR, CRC, is an agency owner and freelancer in Missoula, Mont. She can be reached at mjeffries@montana.com.

 

 

Making the RecordNCRF’s “Making the Record” tools help reporters teach lawyers

The “Making the Record” brochure, originally created in 1937, has been updated over the years to help the bench and bar better understand the factors that make a clear record and is now housed as part of the Legal Education program materials provided by the National Court Reporters Foundation. The materials include not only a free, downloadable pdf of the brochure, but a Powerpoint presentation that can be adapted by reporters for the audience, outlines, and handouts that can be presented as part of a presentation. Materials are available at NCRA.org/NCRF/LegalEd.

NCRF’s programs are supported by tax-deductible donations to NCRF.

 

New professional spotlight: Aimee Edwards-Altadonna

By Rachel Barkume

Aimee Edwards-Altadonna headshotFreelance reporter Aimee Edwards-Altadonna, from Modesto, Calif., came to reporting as a second career, looking to blend her creative side with her interest in the legal field. She talks a little about how she entered the field, what she loves about reporting, and how she and her husband Vinny balance home, family, and work life.

What made you want to become a court reporter?

I came to court reporting in one giant full-circle moment. I wanted to be a lawyer in college and maybe become a lobbyist for the National Organization for Women (NOW) or work for NOW as an attorney fighting for women’s rights and equal pay. I even went so far as to have submitted my law school application and completed the LSAT. While wrapping up my college career, I started working for lawyers as a legal assistant/secretary so I could get a good feel for what that world would be like — and to be honest, I didn’t love it. Right about the time I had to make the call to start law school, I found a new hobby — glass fusing. I fell hard and my hobby quickly turned into an obsession. So much so that I decided to take a year off after college and just play with it. That year off turned into seven years, and I found myself running a full-time small business selling fused glass artwork and jewelry in my galleries in Monterey and Carmel, Calif. It was a great time, and I learned a lot about what it takes to be a small-business owner in California. I eventually closed the business when my first son, Owen, was born. I’ve always been an ambitious person and, for me, I needed to do more than be a full-time, stay-at-home mom. I started thinking about going back to school. I knew I did not want to go to law school anymore. I did some research and started considering court reporting. I started court reporting school online when my son was 10 months old, and it was the perfect combination of the legal world and artistry in becoming proficient on the steno machine.

What tips would you give to a new professional who is trying to maintain a healthy work/life balance?

Get a massage. Get a massage. Get a massage! Did I mention, get a massage? You have to take care of your body. I started out getting routine massages every month, and then every two weeks, and now I get one almost every week. It makes a huge difference in the discomfort I feel from sitting all day during depositions and driving all those miles.

I also think it’s important to always have something to look forward to such as a trip to a convention or a little ocean getaway with the whole family over a weekend. Having those plans in place reminds you why you are working so hard all the time and reminds you that there is life outside of work and a light at the end of the tunnel or editing cave.

What are your future goals for your court reporting career?

In the short term, I would like to complete the last leg of my RPR. When I am finally certified, I put it in my five-year plan to be a realtime reporter. The first two-and-a-half years have flown by, but I’m steadily improving my skillset.

What are some of your favorite time-saving practices, techniques, or gadgets?

I love Cozi, a calendaring app. Our whole family uses it, and it makes coordinating our life so much easier. It lets you set reminders for things on your calendar and manage your grocery list at the same time. I calendar out my due dates, and it dings and reminds me as they approach.

I also love the Expensify app. I use it to manage all my receipts and mileage log. I take photos of my receipts and then make reports for myself at the end of the year based on categories I chose. It’s fabulous during tax season. I love not having to keep a giant stack of receipts. You can even email the digital receipts for stuff you buy online right into the app.

Do you have a mentor?

Yes, I have a mentor! I found her when I was already nearing exit speeds, but her constant advice has been invaluable to me as I transitioned from a student, to a student and a proofer, to a student and a proofer and a scopist, and all the way out into the working reporting world. She has guided me and been the most amazing sounding board. She has talked me off many ledges and became one of my very best friends, too. One of the best things she instilled in me was to work hard and play hard. She has always said that some days you are the bird, and some days you are the statue. So when I have a fabulous day and passed a test or nailed readback like a boss, I am the bird flying high. And when I have a horrible, rotten, no good, very bad day, I am the statue below the bird. It has taught me to take each day as it comes knowing that the bad day will be over soon, and I will be back to a fabulous day very soon. Having a mentor is very important for a student and a new reporter. There are so many little things that will come up as you go along, and having someone who just gets it and can help you through will save your sanity.

Your husband, Vinny, has been a prominent supporter of you in your court reporting career. How do you feel that has helped you in your court reporting endeavors? What advice would you or Vinny give to a significant other of a court reporter?

Vinny has kept me sane and fed! He went to culinary school, so we eat really well. He celebrated every little victory along the way to me becoming a reporter and continues to be my biggest supporter and cheerleader. He also lets me vent on the bad days. I would not be a reporter if he hadn’t had my back from the very start. Plus, he doesn’t complain when I travel for jobs or conventions. He and the kids take it in stride, which makes it so much better.

Vinny’s advice for court-reporting significant others:

As the husband of a full-time court reporter, there are three things that I’ve had to learn:

  • Keep it in perspective — Aimee is constantly dealing with all the little ups and downs of her career. She’s constantly juggling jobs, transcripts, scopists, proofers, daily travel schedules, invoices, cash flow, expenses, conventions — the list is endless — and sometimes she gets caught up in that. It can be a bit overwhelming. I try to look at the big picture and keep her motivated and know that by month’s end, we’ll be good.
  • Be flexible — my depo lovin’ court reporter does not have a set schedule, and that means I need to be able to flex and adjust as needed. My work schedule can flex at times, and this allows us the ability for her to pick up that last-minute, out-of-town job. It also helps to have a support structure around us as well.
  • Team effort — Aimee and I are a team, and as the husband-unit in this team, I often have to fill in when she’s out of town. We don’t break up our relationship into “things she does” and “things I do.” We just get it all done. Wash those dishes, clean those clothes, pick up/drop off the kids, go shopping, make dinner, go to that parent-teacher conference solo — it’s part of the game, so just get it done!

What do you like best about being a court reporter?

I love how every single day is different. I am a bit of a road warrior and love exploring new cities, so I will happily cover work all over California — Central Coast, Central Valley, the greater Bay Area, and Sacramento. I cover from Fresno to San Jose to San Francisco and love it all. Every day I am in a new location if I am not at home editing away.

I love the freedom reporting affords me as well. If I want to go to Monterey for a day or two, I can pick up a job by the sea and work a little, too. I also love the fact that if I have a terrible day with an attorney who won’t stop talking over the witness, I never have to go back and work with them again. I have total control in who I will and won’t work with, and that feels amazing!

Court reporting has also brought me the most wonderful group of friends and colleagues ever. I have never met a group of people who are so wonderfully supportive and always trying to lift each other up. I stand in awe of the tribe I have created and their accomplishments as reporters and in life.

What do you like to do when you’re not reporting?

When I am not reporting, I am home with my family, curled up with a book or binge watching a show with my menagerie of fur babies smothering me with love. We have three dogs, a cat, an 85-pound sulcata tortoise, and a baby sulcata tortoise. (The tortoises do not cuddle.)

We also love to take family day trips to Monterey, our happy place. Earlier this year, my husband and I started selling LuLaRoe clothing after I purchased a new wardrobe slowly last year. So now we can be found selling the LuLa in our Facebook group or out of our home boutique in our “spare time.” I even took it to the California Deposition Reporters Association conference in Napa a couple months ago and shared it with my fellow reporters. It was so much fun!

Can you tell us a little about your background and current position?

I have a B.A. from California State University Monterey Bay in human communications with a concentration in women’s studies. I did the majority of my reporting education online through Bryan College and College of Court Reporting. I qualified at West Valley College in Saratoga. I broke my ankle in three places and dislocated it the very same night I qualified so I didn’t return to West Valley to prep for the Certified Shorthand Reporter (CSR) due to my injury and the distance — up to three hours one way in traffic. I prepped for the CSR at Humphreys College in Stockton, 25 minutes from my home, after I recovered enough to do so. I passed all three legs of the CSR on the first try after I won my appeal on the machine portion of the test.

Vinny and I have been married for 17 years and have two pretty awesome spawn. Owen is 9 and loves science and math and karate and basketball. Chloe is 7 and loves all things artistic, from drawing to dancing to singing. They both devour books at a startling rate just like their parents do, and they are way into technology and computer and video games.

I currently freelance for multiple firms. I am a deposition reporter only. I do not cover court work or hearings. I go everywhere for work. I love to work full-day jobs a couple times a week and frequently cover video jobs. I have done everything from work comp at the beginning to doctors to asbestos work to prison jobs and construction defect jobs in a room with 17 attorneys. I am always up for a challenge and will try most any type of job at least once.

Rachel Barkume, RPR, is an official reporter from Oakhurst, Calif., and a member of the New Professionals Committee. She can be reached at rachel.barkume@gmail.com.

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.