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.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Court reporter shares how she found the profession

JCR logoHNGNews.com posted an article on March 12 about how Jessica Bolanos, a graduate of the court reporting program at Madison College, Madison, Wis., found her career as a court reporter.

Read more.

New professional spotlight: Sarah Gadd

By Mike Hensley

SarahGaddSarah Gadd is not afraid of a challenge. As a reporter newly certified by the state of California, she has obtained a position as a reporter pro tempore with the Superior Court of California in San Bernardino County. Her schooling took her through both on-campus and online methods and ultimately shaped her into a courageous reporter who handles a large variety of court proceedings for various divisions and departments in her county. Always striving for the best, she hopes to earn her RPR soon as well as realtime certification so that she can provide the best services that our profession has to offer.

How did you get into court reporting?

I wanted to find a career that would set me up for life, and I wanted something that would allow me to help other people. I originally sought out the medical field, but I couldn’t stand the sight of blood. On a random occasion, a friend of my brother mentioned court reporting. Once I looked into it further, I was hooked. I knew it was the job for me.

How long did it take you to complete schooling and become certified?

I would say four and a half years. I started at an on-campus school and flew through theory and speeds. I had to take time off for personal reasons, and when I came back, I found a school with an online program. I even had a moment where I suffered a hand injury. Instead of seeing it as a limitation, I saw it as a challenge that I could overcome. Once I found that focused, determined mindset, I finished school and even passed the CSR exam on my first attempt.

What was the biggest difference you experienced between on-campus and online schooling?

Flexibility. However, that puts the onus on the student to show up and do more than just the bare minimum to make progress. On campus, everything was given to us for what we had to do. Online, you must set up your own routine to get things done. I had to do some very drastic things to make it work. The hardest thing to learn was how to say “no.” I had to remember that I was making sacrifices now so that I could enjoy my success later.

What helped you adjust from on-campus to online schooling?

Online schooling can feel very lonely and isolated. To solve that issue, I forced myself to reach out and find my community. I really am glad there are platforms like Facebook that connect me to groups of reporters who have so much to offer. I’m grateful for those days when I have a question or need a brief and all I have to do is log on, and I get an answer within minutes.

What advice do you have for students who are currently working to finish school?

Practice every single day and analyze your notes. I transcribed everything, and that gave me such great feedback to push me past the finish line. Even now as a professional reporter, I continue to look for ways to boost my speed through shortening my writing and incorporating more briefs. Every little bit helps. Those small pieces really do add up over time.

What do you love about your career as a court reporter?

The pay’s not bad at all, but the best part is the pride I feel when I get to say, “I am a court reporter.” No longer am I just a student, I am a working professional. There will always be an opportunity to learn and grow and develop my skills, but now it’s part of my job. I also love that my job is part of a solution. Every day I help create justice for those who need it most. Also, as a pro tem reporter, I get to support other reporters in various situations of need. My job is not just about me — it’s a part of something much greater.

Mike Hensley, RPR, is a freelance reporter in Evanston, Ill., and a member of the New Professionals Committee. He can be reached at stenomph@gmail.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.

Court reporters and legal videographers

jcr-publications_high-resJD Supra Business Advisor posted a blog by Kramm Court Reporting on Jan. 19 that discusses what legal videographers can do to help the court reporters they work with succeed.

Read more.

Give an NCRA Firm Owners Executive Conference registration this holiday season and save $100

Still searching for the perfect gift? Register now for NCRA’s 2017 Firm Owners Executive Conference, save $100, and give the perfect get-a-way and networking experience the New Year has to offer, while taking advantage of the lowest registration rates offered for this event since 2012. In addition, you can arrive early or extend your stay as NCRA has negotiated the opportunity for a special room rate to apply three days prior to and three days after the conference.

The 2017 event is being held Feb. 12-14 at the gorgeous Loews Ventana Canyon Resort in Tucson, Ariz., which features an array of guest amenities, including waived resort fees on self and valet parking, fitness center access, yoga classes, and tennis court rentals. Other amenities include a free shuttle service to beautiful Sabino Canyon as well as discounts on golfing, spa facilities, and more.

The conference also features a program packed with networking opportunities, award-winning speakers and authors, cutting-edge educational content, vendor speed dating, and more. This year’s program also features more free time in the afternoons for attendees to network with each other on their own, and tangible takeaways designed to ignite productivity and energize the business bottom line.

“This year’s Education Content Committee for Firms Owners has put together an outstanding program designed to help you develop better business skills, network, and have fun,” said Mike Bouley, RDR, Tucson, Ariz., who serves on the committee.

“The stunning Loews Ventana Canyon Resort is the place to be, and with the NCRA room block rate available both before and after the conference, I can assure you Tucson is a lovely getaway when winter is hitting hard. Plus we have outstanding local attractions to see including Kartchner Caverns State Park, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, alpine skiing, authentic Mexican restaurants, and much more.”

Highlights include a dynamic presentation by Susan Solovic, an award-winning serial entrepreneur and best-selling author, and an Internet pioneer. Solovic served as CEO and co-founder of one of the first video-based Internet sites, a company she grew from its infancy to a million-dollar-plus entity. She is also a former small business contributor for ABC News and has hosted the syndicated radio program It’s Your Biz. She appears regularly as a small business expert on Fox Business, Fox News, the Wall Street Journal’s “Lunch Break,” MSNBC, CNN, CNBC, and other stations across the country. She has also hosted her own PBS special called Reinvent Yourself Now: Become Self-Reliant in an Unpredictable World. Solovic is also a featured blogger on numerous sites, including Constant Contact, Entrepreneur, AT&T Business Circle, FoxBusiness.com, MasterCard, Intuit, The Pulse of IT (HP), and Samsung. She has also hosted her own PBS special called Reinvent Yourself Now: Become Self-Reliant in an Unpredictable World. Solovic is also a featured blogger on numerous sites, including Constant Contact, Entrepreneur, AT&T Business Circle, FoxBusiness.com, MasterCard, Intuit, The Pulse of IT (HP), and Samsung.

Laurie Forster, one of America’s leading wine experts and author of the award-winning book The Sipping Point: A Crash Course in Wine, is also on the schedule to host a special fun-filled networking session. Forster has been featured in dozens of publications and has appeared on Dr. Oz., Fox Business, ABC News, and other outlets. She also hosts her own show called The Sipping Point, where she explores recipes, wines, food, travel, and more. Attendees at this session will enjoy teaming up to identify wine selections and then battle to see who can really Name that Wine.

In addition to a look at NCRA’s 2016 Benchmarking Industry Trends Outlook, attendees are welcome to enjoy sunrise yoga sessions and “Mobilizing Your Dreams: A 21st Century Strategic Plan,” an interactive session that will be presented by The Varallo Group designed to  teach attendees how to establish a long-term vision for their firm and more. A second presentation, “Journey to the Center of a Client Decision,” will explore the court reporter hiring decision process.

In addition, Strategic Business Direct will lead attendees in two sessions including “Understanding and Using Financial Statements as a Management Tool,” and “How to Compete.”

NCRA President Tiva Wood, RDR, CMRS, President-Elect Chris Willette, RDR, CRR, CRC, and fellow firm owners will also lead teams on a networking hike/poker run competition. Teams will be assigned clues that will lead them to a location to get their playing cards, with a last stop to determine the winning hand.

A special Valentine’s Day comedy night and closing reception will wrap up the event with laughs and a final networking opportunity.

Registration for the Firm Owners Executive Conference is required to take advantage of the special resort room rates. Multiple registration discounts are also available as long as they are accompanied by one full-priced registration. These discounts include all education sessions, networking events, and access to the exhibit area.

For more information or to register for NCRA’s most elite event of the year, visit NCRA.org/FirmOwners.

 

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.

 

 

Practice: It’s a necessity, not an option

By Dr. Marnelle Alexis Stephens

Growing up in a family of musicians, I was filled with a passion for music at a young age. I started taking piano and theory lessons when I was eight with the hopes of being just like my dad, who is a gifted guitarist and pianist. That didn’t happen. I would love to say that I was being hailed as the next musical prodigy, but it was clear that I was not going to be joining the New York Philharmonic any time soon.

Fast forward 20 years (perhaps a smidgen more), and I am learning to play those ivory keys again with gusto. What sparked this renewed passion? Court reporting.

Since joining MacCormac College five years ago, I have had the privilege of being drawn into this wonderful world. As the first college in the nation to offer a degree in court reporting, MacCormac is blessed to have a remarkably talented faculty and staff who are teaching and mentoring the next generation of stenographic court reporters and captioners.

When I ask industry professionals to explain the mental process of court reporting, they often liken it to learning another language and training to be a concert pianist at the same time. So it is unsurprising that many successful students have musical backgrounds as well as an aptitude for learning languages. I am truly humbled when my associates share their individual journeys from student to certified reporter. It takes utter immersion and the dedication of a star athlete to reach the necessary levels of peak performance. Just as practice is the foundation for athletic success, likewise it is the case for success in court reporting.

Students who have traditionally done well at MacCormac are those that eat, sleep, and breathe steno. They understand that if they are to finish court reporting school in a timely manner, cramming will not cut it. This is a hard concept to sell to some students. For this reason, as educators, we ought to observe, listen, and welcome their thoughts. They provide opportunities for all of us to learn and grow, and we can both mentor and learn from one another.

According to one of MacCormac’s court reporting student Brianna Uhlman, it is important to have discipline when it comes to practicing on the steno machine: “I dedicate two to three hours outside of class to practice. If I begin to get sloppy because I’m tired, taking a break gives some relief.” Uhlman suggested that the practice time factor is personal to every individual. She also shared a useful tip: Sometimes when it becomes difficult to keep going, she finds that rewarding herself for practicing helps.

Practice is a necessity, not an option. It is clear that most program influencers understand this, as demonstrated by their top findings noted in survey outcomes. The National Court Reporters Association Instructional Best Practices Survey Executive Summary, published on March 20, 2015, stresses that practice and speedbuilding are essential components of a court reporting education and have a strong bearing on graduation rates.

A state speed champion, national speed medalist, and past president of NCRA, Melanie Humphrey-Sonntag suggests that a maximum of four hours of practice time a day should prove beneficial for students. She advises students to be consistent and dedicated, stating that “the more you practice to cement your theory principles and muscle memory, the quicker you’ll progress and the more accurate a professional you’ll be.”

On top of this, NCRA suggests that in order to see positive student outcomes, program instructors need to ensure that students have access to continuous support for speedbuilding and actively intervene if they suspect outside practice hours are not being observed.

I suspect that program educators’ deeper concern is getting faculty to rethink the entirety of curriculum development and teaching in the midst of the long-standing debate about the length and frequency of practice.

If you’ve participated in recent discussions about court reporting curriculum development, inevitably you have witnessed the deliberations. Many seasoned court reporters argue that it’s essential for students to “practice, practice, and practice some more.” On the contrary, recent reporters share Brianna Uhlman’s sentiment in stating, “It’s not necessarily the amount of practice time that makes a difference, but the quality of your practice time that counts.”

While there are many schools of thought concerning the methods and how much time reporters should spend practicing, what is abundantly clear is daily, disciplined practice sessions leads to student success.

Leaders should think critically about how to deliver the structure that provides the greatest opportunity for achievement and the best outcomes for students.

I firmly believe that the purpose of systematically thinking about practice is not to establish a one-size-fits-all model for practice but simply to determine situationally what works to help students to achieve at their individual level. In my perfect world, learning, rather than practice or seat time, will be the core measure of progress, and students will be able to demonstrate in dynamic environments what they’ve learned from outset through to proficiency.

What’s more, I’m in accord with Humphrey-Sonntag’s assertion: “Practice does not end when you graduate. Most professional reporters, captioners, and CART providers continue to hone their skills through regular practice and continuing education regimen throughout their careers.” I assert that practice beyond school should be viewed not as a static, one-time experience but as a life-long journey of building one’s knowledge and skills.

As I reflect on my life-long journey toward piano mastery, I realize the importance and necessity to practice regularly. It was during my tenure at MacCormac College that I decided to try again. Witnessing the hard work and dedication of court reporting students gave me the inspiration I needed to take practicing seriously. At times, when I’m dragging to get to my instrument, I often think about the time and effort court reporting students are putting into practice and that gets me motivated. I have found my music again. I have court reporting to thank for that.

Dr. Marnelle Alexis Stephens (known affectionately as ‘Grace’) is chancellor and former president of MacCormac College. She specializes in higher education administration, ministry leadership, strategic planning, and turn-around management. Stephens can be reached at malexis@maccormac.edu.