HNGNews.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.
By Mike Hensley
Sarah 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 email@example.com.
JD 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.
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.
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:
- Assess the reporters’ current speed writing level
- Assess the reporters’ realtime writing proficiency
- Train the reporters in Eclipse Audio Synchronization
- Make necessary steno dictionary conversions, build dictionaries, and make modifications
- 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)
- Implementing speedbuilding via the CRAH student platform
- 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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last August, NCRA member Julie Hohenstein, an official realtime court reporter for the Hon. Stephen A. Wolaver, Greene County, Ohio, added a Certified Realtime Reporter (CRR) to the Register Professional Reporter (RPR) certification she already held. Hohenstein said her judge was so happy with her earning the certification that he offered to be interviewed, along with her, to share thoughts on why realtime is a benefit to have as a skill and in the courtroom.
Why did you decide to pursue the CRR credential?
Hohenstein: Ever since the CRR certification became available, I have wanted to achieve it. I think having the CRR says that I am on the cutting edge of my profession both in technology and skill. I think the CRR designation earns me immediate respect among professionals in the court reporting and legal fields.
I had attempted a couple of times when the CRR was first offered, and then I was discouraged because I didn’t pass it. I always knew I could. After attending the 2016 NCRA Convention in Chicago and participating in the CRR seminar and learning more about how the online testing worked, I decided to go ahead and try again.
I really liked the convenience of being able to take the CRR in a setting that I was quite comfortable and familiar with and on a date that I chose. I especially liked the fact that you can take the CRR up to three times in a given quarter.
What do you think are the benefits of realtime?
Hohenstein: For me as the court reporter, I use realtime to improve my writing skills. I watch my realtime to see areas in which I need to improve on my skills. I think no matter who you are, there is always something that we can do to make our writing better.
For the attorneys, I think the benefits are the ability to see and reread what the witness has just said or had said previously.
We use the iCVNet with iPads in our courtroom, and to have at the attorney’s fingertips the ability to search back through the transcript for certain areas of testimony and mark it and then be able to refer to it is an indispensable tool. Also the ability to search a word or phrase and see every single time it is used and to be able to go to that spot with just a tap of the finger is invaluable.
Judge Wolaver, when you first saw realtime, what was the most exciting part of it for you?
Wolaver: Having the knowledge that I would not miss anything, that I could see testimony immediately, it would aid me in making rulings and also the ability with the iPads to search back through the day’s transcript for any discrepancies in witnesses’ testimony. I find that having the iPads with the realtime gives me the flexibility to take the transcript into chambers to review before I make a final ruling, if necessary.
How often do you use realtime, and who in the court uses it? What is your setup like?
Hohenstein: In our courtroom, I provide realtime to the judge and both plaintiff’s and defendant’s counsel on a daily basis. All parties involved use the realtime whenever they feel the need to. Our courtroom is setup with the judge and both counsel having an iPad to receive the realtime feed via Wi-Fi and ICVnet. There have been many times that I have noticed that the defendants themselves have used my realtime.
Have any attorneys, clerks, or deaf or hard-of-hearing jurors or parties used the realtime feed?
Hohenstein: Yes. I have watched both plaintiff’s and defendant’s counsel use the realtime that I provide. Just recently, we had a trial where a potential juror had a severe hearing loss and tinnitus. The juror could let us know that they could not hear any of the Voir Dire examination that was being conducted, and they were able to follow along with the iPad to complete the Voir Dire process.
We also had a 14-day civil trial where both plaintiff’s and defendant’s counsel wanted realtime and a daily rough copy of the day’s proceedings by the end of the day.
What situations do you think that realtime is especially helpful for?
Hohenstein: I find that in all situations realtime is helpful. Realtime helps me if I mishear something a witness says. I can immediately look at the screen and read it again to confirm what I thought I heard the witness say.
Why do you think that realtime is so important that you wanted Julie recognized for pursuing being certified in it?
Wolaver: Julie goes above and beyond and excels in all aspects of her job duties. She has great dedication and respect for her job and wants to always improve her realtime skills for everyone that comes into our courtroom, and the public we serve should know of her dedication to justice.
At a time when many courts are replacing court reporters with ER systems, I find Julie’s realtime skills to be an invaluable asset for what she brings to my courtroom every day. I can’t imagine not having her here.
What would you say to encourage other court reporters to pursue this certification?
Hohenstein: Have the confidence to try it and achieve it. I never thought I would, but deep down I had the desire to pursue and achieve it. I think the sky’s the limit. Just keep working on your writing skills and keep practicing and you too will achieve it. Not everyone can do what we can do, or everyone would do it. Be proud of what you have accomplished.
Dictation is a gift that keeps on giving. That was the message shared by official court reporters Karen Morris, Sonia Trevino, and Kimberly Xavier, RMR, CRR, CMRS, CRI, during a session held at the 2016 Texas Court Reporters Association’s Convention in San Antonio, Texas, held this past July.
The trio, along with a number of others, has been volunteering to provide live dictation to high-speed court reporting students for several years now and agree that there is no greater gift than giving a small amount of time to help court reporting students be successful.
Morris, who first began offering live dictation to high speed court reporting students in 1985, six days a week to assist students preparing to take the state’s CSR exam, recruited Trevino, Xavier, and others, as the effort evolved over the years. Today, the labor of love is dubbed the Confidence Dictation Sessions.
“I volunteered to work Karen on Monday night dictations in the summer of 2015, to help students prepare for the October CSR 2015 exam. Shortly thereafter, I started hosting my own sessions and was working with students in varying speeds, and it wasn’t limited to Texas. I had students from all over the country join in on sessions,” said Trevino, who has since taken the lead on organizing the sessions started by Morris.
Trevino said she was happy to take over as organizer when Morris contacted her to say that a family matter would prevent her from continuing her volunteering as often. At that point, said Trevino, Morris’ students began contacting her regarding live dictation opportunities. In turn, she suspended her sessions with lower speeds and students from around the country and began working solely with Texas CSR testing students.
“Karen didn’t have to ask. Her heart is so big for these students, and helping her has given me clarity as to how I could best help this profession,” added Trevino, who resides in Corpus Christi, Texas.
“There have been very positive responses from students saying that the dictation classes are exactly what they needed to help them pass the state CSR exam. So, it’s a great thing Karen started,” said Erminia Uviedo, RMR, CRR, a freelance reporter from San Antonio, Texas, who also volunteers as a live dictator for the Confidence Dictation Sessions. She also serves on San Antonio College’s (SAC) Court Reporting Program Advisory Committee.
Currently, the volunteers offer dictation live via Zoom Video Conference Sunday through Wednesday evenings and again on Saturday evening. The sessions are then posted on Facebook page and uploaded to Speed Steno Divas, a site that was started by Uviedo during a mentorship at SAC. The site is available free to students from anywhere who are seeking dictation sessions for practice use.
Trevino also mentors students at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi through a group that meets monthly called Best of the Best Court Reporting Students. She provides live dictation at the meetings and also works to find convention sponsors for the students, organizes fundraisers to help pay for hotel room costs, and has also been known to show up the night before a state CSR exam to meet with students planning to take it and provide them with encouragement and often food. When Trevino can’t be there, she often finds a volunteer who will.
She said she can’t even put into words how much her volunteering has meant to her. “It’s one of those things that the only expectation you have is that maybe you can make a difference in someone’s life, and I hear it over and over again how our sessions helped get them to where they needed to be to pass this exam or to pass a certain speed in school.”
Uviedo agrees. “I looked over at the screen of one of our students I was sitting next to once when I was dictating. I saw she was a clean writer, and I told her, ‘Keep up the practicing on speed; you’re going to be a realtime writer one day.’ That same student wrote me a Facebook message after she found out she qualified for the state CSR exam and said, ‘Wow, thank you so much for believing in me like that! Your words to me back then meant so much they stuck with me all this time. You had faith in me when I didn’t really have faith in myself, and you commented on the one thing I was good at but wasn’t sure if I was wasting effort on — having good realtime. It’s made my life so much better with test-taking since the beginning, sticking to that style of writing. Thank you for your kind words then and now.’”
Trevino said that she believes since she began offering live dictation that about 13 students she has worked with have successfully passed the state CSR exam. She said she has also spent countless hours on the phone with many students to help ease their fears and frustrations.
“Those who pass are, of course, extremely happy. Those who don’t quite make it come back. They don’t quit, they come back. We work on so much more than just speed. We work on their confidence. The students know that we’re doing this because we want to help them and are very grateful that we take the time to do all of this. The words ‘I believe in you’ really can make a difference,” she said.
Uviedo added that the mentorship program at SAC that began last summer has also catapulted students to succeed. In July, five students sat for the state CSR exam, a feat she said hasn’t happened in San Antonio in years.
“I would encourage reporters, if you live near a court reporting program (or even if you don’t), to please reach out to our court reporting students (or reach out online), offer some dictation, look over their work, offer tips, advice, writing tweaks. It can make a world of difference to a court reporting student and their success in school. You can change a student’s life just by looking over their work and giving them advice on their writing, test taking, or attitude. You might hold the advice that becomes the key to their success.
For Morris who started the volunteer dictation effort rolling back in 1985, she said she was recently contacted by the head of the court reporting program at SAC.
“She wanted to attend our sessions to see what our secrets were, because, a student who attends SAC had progressed so rapidly after attending our tutoring sessions for just six weeks,” said Morris.
A blog posted on Oct. 3 by JD Supra Business Advisor provides insight into a new law passed in California that gives a party to arbitration the right to have a certified shorthand reporter transcribe any deposition, proceeding, or hearing as the official record. The blog was written by Kramm Court Reporting.