NCRA MEMBER PROFILE: Shaun Young, RPR

Shaun Young, RPR

Shaun Young, RPR

Currently resides in: Jacksonville, Fla.

Employment type: Freelance reporter in criminal court

Member since: 2002

Graduated from: Stenotype Institute

Theory: Thyra Ellis

What are your favorite briefs?

Instead of making briefs for two-stroke words, I try to make briefs for longer words, especially since criminal court uses a lot of the same jargon. One of my favorite briefs that I use is BEX (beyond and to the exclusion of all reasonable doubt).

Why did you decide to enter this profession and how did you learn about the career?

After graduating from college, I wanted to pursue a career in computers, but it was hard finding a job with computers as a recent graduate, especially since I had no experience. One day I was talking with a friend who was a clerk at a courthouse. I told her I wished I could find a job where I could just type all day and make money doing it. That’s when she mentioned that I should take up court reporting, so that’s how I got started in the court reporting field.

What has been the best work experience so far in your career?

I enjoy my career for so many reasons. When people ask me how I like being a court reporter, I usually jokingly tell them I love it because I get paid to be nosy. But in all seriousness, the best part about being a court reporter for me is the friends that I have made along the way. There is nothing better than having a great work family and a job you enjoy going to every day.

What was your biggest hurdle to overcome and how did you do so?

When I was a new court reporter, I did mostly civil litigation, so sometimes transcripts, in my mind, seemed to be a little bit challenging for me, especially when I would get a 100- or 200-page transcript. I felt that was a lot for me, that is, until I did a week-long trial by myself with six attorneys on the case and expert witnesses, etc. When the transcripts were ordered from all of the proceedings, I had over a thousand pages to transcribe. Needless to say, ever since then, there’s been nothing too great for me to overcome transcript-wise.

What surprised you about your career and why?

The greatest surprise I’ve had in my career is meeting my husband through court reporting. I currently work in criminal court. Sometimes I would have to go to our first appearance courtroom. My husband worked as a uniformed bailiff in that courtroom, and that’s where our happily-ever-after story began.

Have you had challenges to overcome in your profession? If so, what was the challenge and how did you overcome it?

I’m sure most court reporters have probably felt this way as well, but reading back was my biggest fear. No matter how confident you feel when you’re writing on your machine, when they ask you to read back, panic kicks in — at least for me it did. Fortunately after court reporting for so many years, I’ve been able to overcome that fear by telling myself to stay focused and pretend that I’m reading out loud to myself. Now the fear doesn’t set in until after I’ve had to read back.

Is there something else you would like to share?

Court reporting is an awesome job for me, but sometimes it can get a little hectic. One thing I enjoy doing, when the weather is right, is driving around in my convertible with the top down. A nice long drive with the family is very relaxing for me and it allows me the opportunity to spend quality time with my family as well.

New professional spotlight: Shelley Duhon

By Danielle Griffin

Megan photoShelley Duhon, an official court reporter, was always interested in court reporting ever since she saw court reporters writing on their machines on TV and in movies such as Ghostbusters II. When she completed high school, she decided she wanted to pursue court reporting school. The only problem: There weren’t any schools available in her area. Without knowing a single working court reporter, she started and completed all of her schooling online! Shelley believes the discipline learned through playing flute and piano from when she was young all the way through high school was key to giving her the tools she needed to practice for many hours and to reach the goal of finishing court reporting school. She is so proud to be a newly working court reporter and loves being in this profession.

Where did you go to school?

I am so proud to say I graduated from College of Court Reporting online in 2015. I started and completed all of my schooling online! I started at the Court Reporting Institute of Dallas and finished at the College of Court Reporting.

Where are you from, and where do you work?

I am from Louisiana, but I have lived in Atlanta for the last seven years. I currently live in McDonough, Ga., and commute an hour each way to work.

I work at Macon-Bibb County Superior Court in Macon. I started working there in September of 2016. I am currently the only stenographer! I feel like this gives me an extra advantage to be able to produce rough drafts or daily copies. Because there is a shortage of court reporters in my area, I have also had the opportunity to travel to the local circuit courts with my judge and love getting the experience traveling.

What’s the coolest experience you have had working in the profession?

Currently, there are a lot of production companies that come out to Atlanta to shoot their films. While I was in school, I had the opportunity to work on the TV sets of:

  • A courtroom scene on the television series "Red Band Society" -- Shelley Duhon is the court reporter behind the bench.

    Shelley Duhon, to the left of the flag, in “Red Band Society

    Drop Dead Diva on Lifetime

  • Rectify on Sundance
  • Satisfaction on USA
  • Game of Silence on NBC
  • Red Band Society on ABC
  • The Jury on ABC
  • Tyler Perry’s The Haves and Have Nots on OWN Network

This all came about from a casting call that went out on the local news station. I sent in my information, and I got a call to work on the set of Drop Dead Diva! I was so excited to be there, and I ended up meeting and becoming acquaintances with the producers on the TV show. Since that time, they must have put me on their list because they have continuously called me ever since. It has been an experience I won’t ever soon forget.

What is something you wish you would have known before you started working as a new professional?

One thing I wish I knew is that it is okay to move my chair and sit closer to the jury during voir dire. Make sure you sit where you can hear. Get a digital recorder. It is nice to have a second or third backup just in case.

Never be afraid to interrupt and tell the judge to get a witness to speak up, especially when they are giving nods of the head.

Find out if there is a time limit on getting transcripts turned in, so you won’t have to rush last minute.

Get a mentor and work with them. Meet them for lunch on the weekends. Call and ask questions. There is never a stupid question.

Stay current with your national and state association policies. They are there to assist you.

What is your favorite part about working as a court reporter?

I feel most accomplished when I am writing clean. Some days, attorneys will request of me to get out a daily copy, and it makes me so thankful for the skill I have as a court reporter. This is truly why I went to school.

What are your next goals as a court reporter? What are you working towards next?

After I pass my last test of the RPR, I will be working on getting the CRR. I would like to provide realtime on a continuous basis in the future.

I am also trying to work on balance between my work and personal life. I knew coming into this industry that I wouldn’t have much of a life starting off, but now that I am settling in, I am trying to work on finding more balance. Meeting with other working reporters and mentors helps too. It is always so nice to be able to hear other perspectives.

I am planning on attending the NCRA Convention & Expo this year in Las Vegas and can’t wait to meet more reporters. I am so proud to be a working court reporter and a new professional!

Danielle Griffin, RPR, is a freelancer in Phoenix, Ariz., and a member of the New Professionals Committee. She can be reached at danielle.griffin@gmail.com.

 

NCRA MEMBER PROFILE: Andrea Couch, RDR, CRR, CRC

Andrea Couch, RDR, CRR, CRC

Andrea Couch, RDR, CRR, CRC

Currently resides in: Boise, Idaho
Employment type: Firm owner, freelance reporter, and CART and broadcast captioner
Member since: 2000
Graduated from: Boise Court Reporting Institute
Theory: Phoenix

What are your favorite briefs or tips?

My theory taught me to always come back for my endings, but just recently, I’ve started “tucking in” all of my endings, and it’s made a huge difference in my writing.

Why did you decide to enter this profession and how did you learn about the career?

I had just turned 16 when I finished high school, and my parents were terrified to send their little girl off to some big university. My mom did some research and discovered our local court reporting school. I had grown up playing the piano and always had a love for English and grammar, so it was truly a match made in heaven.

What do you consider your greatest professional accomplishment?

I truly believe that obtaining all of my certifications has been my greatest professional accomplishment. So much work goes into each one, but it is by far the most worthwhile thing I ever could have done, especially so early in my career. My certifications — and the knowledge and skills I gained in achieving them — have opened so many doors and given me opportunities beyond my wildest dreams.

What has been your best work experience so far in your career?

I have had many wonderful experiences in my nearly 15 years as a reporter, but I would definitely say one of the highlights was working for VITAC and having the opportunity to caption many major events happening in the United States and all around the world, including getting to caption the Olympics on two different occasions. It’s a very humbling experience to know that you’re a part of documenting history.

Do you have a favorite gadget or tool? Why is that your favorite?

I am an absolute realtime nerd, so I think my favorite gadgets would have to be my iCVNet and iPads for streaming realtime. They are so versatile and can be used in so many different ways, from providing realtime in depositions to doing CART in a wide variety of settings.

Would you like to share something about yourself?

In our profession, stress relief is a must. For me, that stress relief comes in the form of kickboxing, much to the dismay of my wonderful parents who are forever concerned about my precious hands. My clients have been known to warn witnesses at the beginning of depositions that: “You better not talk too fast. Andrea has a mean right hook.”

An added bonus was my ridiculously handsome kickboxing instructor, who subsequently became my husband! We just celebrated our two-year anniversary this past September.

NCRA MEMBER PROFILE: Cheryl Haab, RPR

Cheryl Haab, RPR

Cheryl Haab, RPR

Currently resides in: Orange County, Calif.

Employment type: Freelance court reporter

Member since: 2009

Graduated from: Bryan College

Theory: StenEd

What are your favorite briefs or tips?

NOIMD – “not calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.” It is a godsend to brief this onerous phrase!

Why did you decide to enter this profession and how did you learn about the career?

In 2007, I was a single parent with a son entering kindergarten. I had been working in the restaurant industry, bartending and waiting tables, and I had made a promise to myself that when my son entered school, so would I. I learned about the profession, however, from a patron of the bar at which I worked. She was always happy and smiling and seemed to have plenty of leisure time for lunch (I’m not sure how, as I rarely get long lunches myself!), and it seemed like a career worth pursuing based on my skillset. I always had a strong grasp of the English language, and I had played the piano since childhood. I was fortunate enough to find Bryan College, one of the few schools at that time to offer online courses. I signed up in April of 2007, and I graduated and passed the California CSR in 2010.

What has been your best work experience so far in your career?

In my short career, I consider myself very blessed to have had a host of opportunities to give back to the profession through my volunteer board service. Working with the Deposition Reporters Association of California as their incoming president-elect and serving on various NCRA committees has been invaluable to me in building my professional network and expanding my understanding of the industry. Interfacing with student membership and observing their enthusiasm always galvanizes me to continue my volunteer pursuits within the profession. In addition, I have also had the fortune of forming a handful of lifelong friendships in the time that I’ve served on the board with some of the most amazing minds in the business. I can’t emphasize enough how influential these experiences have been in both my professional and personal life.

Do you have a favorite gadget or tool? Why is that your favorite?

Two things definitely come to mind. In terms of sheer efficiency, my Dymo Labelwriter has been singularly the best investment I’ve made thus far. Writing out exhibit stickers can be such a pain! But overall, I am most thankful for access to LiveLitigation and their realtime system. Using LiveLitigation’s equipment to provide realtime to my clients (including their new, compact realtime router) has been immensely rewarding, both professionally and financially, and their customer service is unparalleled.

What is your favorite book or movie?

I have NCRA to thank for the discovery of my all-time favorite book. I had picked up Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff to read in order to obtain CEUs for my RPR certificate, and I was hooked from the very first chapter. Wolfe’s chronicle of the inception of manned spaceflight, from Yeager to Gagarin, is simply spellbinding.

Is there something else you would like to share?

I am a busy girl outside of court reporting! I love to crochet, play the piano, and work out at my local CrossFit gym. I am an avid Jeopardy! watcher. I also have two of the cutest cats on this side of the Mississippi and an almost 15-year-old son who challenges me to be better every day.

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.

NCRA MEMBER PROFILE: Brandi N. Bigalke, RPR

Brandi Bigalke, RPR

Brandi Bigalke, RPR

Currently resides in: Minneapolis, Minn.

Employment type: Freelance court reporter

Member since: 2013

Graduated from: Rasmussen Business College

Theory: Computer-Compatible Stenograph Theory

What are your favorite briefs or tips?

I recently purchased Ed Varallo’s books, and I’m slowly integrating his writing tips. I am already benefiting from this investment – both in time and money.

Why did you decide to enter this profession and how did you learn about the career?

In middle school, as an assignment I had to write to a college and request information.

The college I contacted had a court reporting program, and I became intrigued. After that, I also found out a family acquaintance was a court reporter, and my parents encouraged me to try it.

What has been your best work experience so far in your career?

In 2016, I worked on a large case, spanning over a couple of months. It included multiple realtime hookups, both in the room and streaming. While I had numerous realtime jobs under my belt, this was a first I had to stream a live realtime feed.

A job of this magnitude can be intimidating at first, but the process of learning new technology enhanced my love for what we do. It is rewarding to be challenged and successful in this type of setting.

What was your biggest hurdle to overcome and how did you do so?

One of the biggest hurdles I’ve overcome in this profession is rediscovering my love of it. A few years ago, I let the job get the better of me and had to take a step back from reporting. I was burned out and pursued other business.

Stepping away from court reporting allowed me to see this career through a different lens. I was reminded that as reporters, we possess a unique skill set and I realized I needed to embrace my skill, not waste it. The insights I gained from stepping away reshaped my outlook not only on this profession, but what I wanted out of my career.

Upon my return to reporting full-time, I have realized it is up to me to shape my own career and future. I have control as to what kind of work I take, what firms I want to partner with, and embrace the aspects of this career that drive me.

There’s nothing more gratifying than seeing your steno come up in English, and knowing you provide a very incredible service.

Tell us about a challenge you overcame as a reporter.

One challenge I remember is being a new reporter. I was young, just a few years out of high school. I remember feeling out of my league, working with attorneys who had spent decades building their practice and in walks a young 20-something year old. I remember driving to depositions with butterflies in my stomach. I overcame it by faking it, until eventually I didn’t have to fake it anymore. Confidence comes with experience and if you don’t have experience, a good mentor can make all the difference.

Do you have a favorite gadget or tool?

Hands down, my favorite tool is Brief It in CaseCatalyst. The developers at Stenograph deserve an award for this one! The dramatic improvement in my realtime feed is notable, which feeds my desire to want to continually improve my skill. I am being reminded of forgotten entries and adding entries into my dictionary on the fly. Because of Brief It, I’m increasing the value of my dictionary, with no extra work. I just love it!

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.

NCRA MEMBER PROFILE: Susan C. Nissman-Coursey, RMR

Resides in: Christiansted, St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands

Susan Nissman-Coursey, RMR

Susan Nissman-Coursey, RMR

Employment: Freelancer

Member since: 1982

School: Lane Community College Adult Education in Eugene, Ore.

Theory: Definitely not computer-compatible, but have spent my career trying to make it that way.

What is your favorite brief?

NERDZ (In other words)

Why did you decide to enter this profession and how did you learn about the career?

A family friend, who was a civilian court reporter in the Coast Guard, said that I would be good at it, that I’d make a lot of money and travel. Hello? I was hooked.

What has been your best work experience so far in your career?

My best — and most stressful — experience was one month after I had just moved to St. Croix. I came back from lunch and was asked if I’d like to go to Japan the following month to cover depositions of the chief design and testing engineers for Suzuki. I’d never met the attorneys, whom I was supposed to meet up with in the Las Angeles airport. Twenty-five people in the room, two interpreters who fought over technical words, and oh, did I mention no luggage for four days? Yes, it was quite an experience.

What was your biggest hurdle to overcome, and how did you do so?

I used to tolerate bad behavior and constant interruptions during depositions, but over the years, I got over it. I nip that in the bud right away. It just makes for a better record and saves my nerves! Learning accents. We are a melting pot of cultures and dialects here. I do my research and make sure my spellings are as perfect as possible.

What surprised you about your career and why? 

The misconception of our profession. Some think we are overpaid secretaries, and some think we walk on water and really do appreciate what we do. Really, most don’t have a clue of our training and what actually goes into a transcript. Thirty-four years later, I’m still being asked when we will be replaced by a tape recorder.

What do you consider your greatest professional accomplishment?

I’m able to provide top-quality reporting services for a small community. Providing pro bono transcript to the local Legal Aid. And I’m still here despite major hurricanes, constant power outages, and a very, very high cost of living. Believe it or not, I don’t edit on the beach drinking a pina colada.

A well-rounded life

By Aimée Suhie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tips for success

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

MEMBER PROFILE: Chase Frazier, RMR, CRR, CRC

 

Residence: Murrieta, CA

Employment: CART captioner

Member since: 2013

Theory: Mark Kislingbury’s StenoMaster Theory

Favorite briefs: I love phrases. Favorite phrase starter: GAO for “going to” and SGAO for “I’m going to.” Then you have your right hand open for the phrase enders.

Why did you decide to enter this profession and how did you learn about the career?

My mom convinced me to do it when I was in high school, and I am so glad she did because I love my job so much.

What surprised you about your career and why?

I love that I get to caption big, world events. I’ve captioned the State of the Union Address, Nancy Reagan’s funeral, the Pope when he was in America, and many other current events in the short time I have been captioning.

What do you consider your greatest professional accomplishment?

My greatest professional accomplishment was becoming the youngest CRR in the nation at 21.

What is your favorite gadget?

My favorite gadget has to be my steno machine. I can be as creative or weird as I want with it, and it still loves me — I think.

What is your favorite book or movie?

My greatest struggle early in my career was convincing agency owners that I could write realtime. I wouldn’t get a lot of responses back because I was new. When I passed my CRR, I started getting responses back.

Is there something else you would like to share?

Another personal accomplishment was to obtain my RMR, CRR, California CRR, and CRC within a year and a half from the start of my career.