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,, 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






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.

New professional spotlight: Jennifer Esquivel

By Cheryl Haab

Jennifer Esquivel has been a certified shorthand reporter in the state of California since October 2014 and is currently working towards her RPR. While in school, Jennifer faced a variety of challenges during her student career, from raising a daughter on her own to navigating a potentially devastating breast cancer diagnosis. Despite these difficulties, however, Jennifer successfully completed the court reporting program at Sage College in 2014 and is now a working deposition reporter in Southern California. I took a moment to sit down with Jennifer to garner her perspective on her journey thus far, and what it means to her to be a court reporter and a member of NCRA.

jesquivel pictureCourt reporting is often touted as a great career for parents – in particular, single parents. As a single mom and new reporter, do you agree with this assessment?

As a single parent for the last 13 years, there are two things I strived to achieve when choosing a profession to train for: financial independence and the freedom to be present for my daughter whenever possible. Every single parent has lost sleep, wondering how they’re going to make rent; every single parent has felt the pangs of disappointment when they weren’t able to attend an important awards ceremony or a championship game because of their job’s demands. Now that I have been in the field as a working reporter for almost two years, I’m proud to say this profession has afforded me both of those luxuries. Less than a year after I received my license, I had saved enough money to pay for my daughter to travel back east with her 8th grade class for a whirlwind week of touring historic places and visiting New York — something I, myself, have never had the privilege of doing. And I’ve found as a freelancer, I’ve been blessed to be able to simply remove myself from the calendar on certain days so my daughter can look out into an audience and see me, most likely sitting in the front row, and know that I’m there to watch her receive the recognition and awards she has worked so hard to earn. So, yes, court reporting has served to be the perfect profession for me as a single parent — one that I feel fulfills me in every way I had hoped a career would.

Finding out you had been diagnosed with breast cancer must have been emotionally devastating, to say the least. In the face of such adversity, what gave you the strength to continue with your court reporting studies?

I always like to say, “Nothing lights a fire under your butt to get something done like thinking you might die before you finish it.” Some may perceive it to be a grim thought, but it’s true. Having been diagnosed at 36, it had never before occurred to me I might not live to see my 37th birthday. And if you were to ask me to share the details of the events leading up to my diagnosis, I would be able to give you ample description of some and have no recollection of others. I think this is because once I learned my cancer had advanced to Stage IV, my mind and body reacted much like stenographers do when the speed picks up and the voices start to blend — we rely on muscle memory to get it down and get it done. I don’t purport to accurately represent how all cancer patients react to such news because I have learned we all deal with this difficult news differently. But being diagnosed so young, in the middle of my journey through court reporting school, and with a 10-year-old daughter, there was never any question in my mind about how I would react. It’s as if I was being told, “It’s now or never.” I instantly knew that regardless of whether I lived another six months, six years, or 60 years, I was going to live a life that made my daughter proud, my family and friends proud, and — most importantly — a life that, at the end of each day, I could lay my head down and know that should my eyes never open again, I had lived each day the best way I knew how and had made every effort to be the best mother I could be to my daughter. Lying in bed after treatment, catching glimpses of my Diamante set up across the room and knowing the neuropathy in my fingers from chemotherapy was preventing me from practicing, the fire in my spirit to finish what I had started only continued to grow; it never wavered. Giving up — on anything — was simply never, ever an option.

How do you balance your transcripts with your busy schedule?

Ah, this is the million-dollar question. For me, balance comes with allowing change each day. Some thrive on consistency, but I find that flexibility has been the key to finding a sense of fulfillment in all of the parts of my life: family, friends, work, health, “me” time. When I evaluate my schedule daily and rearrange my priorities on a regular basis, I find I am much more productive and, more importantly, happy with how I’ve spent my day. Now, that doesn’t mean you won’t ever find me hunched over my laptop while I sit in the stands, watching my daughter’s basketball practice. But because I’ve recently adopted a new goal of scoping my transcripts as soon as possible after taking down a job — say, within two days — and then sending them off to a proofer immediately after, I’ve given myself much more lead time to get them turned in and lessened the amount of frantic last-minute scrambling to get one finished before a deadline.

What are your ultimate goals for your court reporting career?

One of the things I absolutely love about this profession is that it allows you and even encourages you to keep learning. Now that I’m a licensed certified shorthand reporter, my next goal is to obtain my RPR and CRR. To date, I have passed the written exam of the RPR and look forward to taking the skills portion in the next few months. Having purchased some of the equipment necessary to provide realtime last fall, I am eager to move forward with becoming a realtime reporter, something that I firmly believe will open new doors and provide new opportunities for me as a court reporter. Hopefully, as my experience in this profession grows and I learn about the legislative and political aspects of keeping our profession healthy, I will be given the chance to serve on committees and trade association boards, providing me with the opportunity to serve this profession and the students who are about to join it much like those before me have.

How has continued involvement with state and national reporting associations benefited your career thus far?

Some of the best advice — some of the most useful advice I’ve ever received — has come from seasoned court reporters. And it wasn’t until I found myself standing in the middle of my first annual convention for one of my local trade associations that I realized how much there is to absorb when you’re in the presence of reporters who are there with you, hoping to hone their skill and find ways to become an even better reporter than they have been for the last five, ten, fifteen, or twenty years. And while I’ve always been outgoing and eager to socialize, court reporting — especially as a freelancer or student — can be very isolating. So it’s been through my membership with the Deposition Reporters Association, the California Court Reporters Association, and the National Court Reporters Association that I’ve been able to meet new people, find a few outstanding mentors, and store “emergency” numbers in my phone for those moments when I find myself needing last-minute advice. And it’s because of the networking I am able to do when I attend trade association events that I’m able to find the kind of work or jobs I’m looking for, produce accurate and high-quality transcripts, and provide feedback about my experience as a reporter to the key members who are in a position to make changes for the better.

If you weren’t a court reporter, what career would you be interested in pursuing?

While I have always loved the law, I come from a family of educators. And during my time as a court reporting student, I worked part time as a classroom aide, helping elementary school students who had fallen below grade level improve their reading and comprehension skills so they wouldn’t continue to fall behind and, hopefully, catch up to their peers. Education is very much an under-paid profession, but the fulfillment I felt in my heart and spirit more than made up for what my bank account lacked. Should my court reporting career end before I’m ready to retire, I would return to the world of education in hopes of finding a place where my desire to help children learn and grow would be appreciated and useful.

Cheryl Haab, RPR, is a freelancer in Westminster, Calif., and a member of the NCRA New Professionals Committee. She can be reached at

MEMBER PROFILE: Kristin Humphrey

Kristin Humphrey at the Orange Bowl

Kristin Humphrey at the Orange Bowl

Currently resides in: Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

Employment type: Sports reporter

Member since: 1994

Graduated from: Triton College, River Grove, Ill.

Theory: Wiley

What are your favorite briefs?

Sports words that I hear every single day: defense (TKAO-EF), offense (A*UF), ESPN (SP-EPB), NASCAR (TPHA-SBG), PGA (PA-G) … too many to list.

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

I started at a large freelance firm in Chicago (McCorkle), who sent me in 2001 to do transcripts of press conferences at the John Deere Classic in Moline, Ill. Eventually my current company took over the John Deere Classic job, so I investigated that company to whom we’d lost that client. Since ASAP Sports was a non-competing company with my litigation firm, McCorkle had no problem with my working for both companies. After five years I had fallen in love with my sports job and took it on full time.

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

I’m a golf nut, so working events on-site at the Masters, the British Open, the U.S. Open Championship, and the Ryder Cup for the first time were all larger-than-life dreams come true.

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

Learning how to perform my job in a media center. Photographers are constantly moving around me with clicking shutters, therefore I wear noise-canceling headphones and get my audio through the mult box (same place the TV cameras plug in). This required cables and equipment not available on the Stenograph website.

What do you consider your greatest professional accomplishment?

A bench trial that I reported in 2012 in Grand Rapids, Mich. I flew in from Florida whenever the judge held court, typically two days in a row, every other week, for about 12 months. I would regularly have 250-300 pages of immediate copy transcript, due to the attorneys by 9 p.m. the same evening, and the judge usually kept us until 4:30 or 5 p.m.. I was never late with a transcript.

Have you had challenges to overcome in your profession?

Learning sports — all of them — and the jargon specific to each.

Is there something else you would like to share?

I met my husband working the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona (Speedway), and we got married 10 months later. Our first date was the day after my best friend, Kim, had passed away after losing her battle with breast cancer. Besides my husband, my loves are golf, music (mostly classical), and my Chihuahua, Felix.


Ingrid HughesLocated: Harrisburg, Pa.

Employment type: CART/Captioning

Member since: 1990

Graduated from: Central Pennsylvania Business School

Theory: Roberts Walsh Gonzalez

What are your favorite briefs or tips?

My favorite tips are, 1. Never stop learning. 2. Embrace the importance of entering word parts into your dictionary so that no matter what subject matter is thrown your way, your realtime product will be beautiful because you’ll have the ability to effortlessly create words that aren’t currently in your dictionary.

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

I’ve always loved doing things that seemed foreign to other people. I was the Gregg shorthand speed champion in my junior year of high school, so my shorthand teacher recommended that I not miss the court reporting presentation on career day. I still remember being intrigued and completely captivated by the presentation on that day way back in 1987. I sat in the front row directly in front of the student reporter and the college representative, Gail Pierce, as they gave the demo and presentation. I was hooked as soon as the student reporter stenotyped my name and handed me that slip of steno paper. My English teacher, Mrs. Murray, created a workplace shadow program and arranged for me to shadow Tiva Wood, further solidifying the decision that court reporting was definitely for me. Tiva became my mentor that day, and she hasn’t been able to get rid of me ever since.

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

My best work experience was in the 1990s when I did my first on-site CART captioning job for the Self-Help for the Hard of Hearing, now called Hearing Loss Association of America. During a break, one of the audience members walked up to me, touched me on my arm, and began to thank me for my service and complimented me on what a phenomenal job I was doing. She even taught me a few ASL signs. She will never know the impact her encouragement had on me that night and on my career from that moment forward. She made me realize the importance of what I do for a living. Tucked away inside of a control room or even from my home office, it’s easy to forget that there are many people who are literally hanging on to my every captioned word. On days when I’m overworked or mentally and physically exhausted, I recall that sweet lady and remind myself that it’s not about me and that I have to do my absolute best because some important people are relying on me.

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

The biggest hurdle was when I was an official. Whenever I was asked to read back testimony, I thought I was going to pass out. I was extremely shy, so I never wanted to be heard nor seen. I overcame the hurdle by practicing readbacks with my colleagues in the office. The more I did it, the more comfortable I became doing it.

What surprised you about your career?

What surprised me about my career was how many avenues this career path can lead one to take. We can be an official reporter, freelance reporter, CART captioner, and broadcast captioner. We can take part in Intersteno, take on-site Guantánamo Bay hearings, and the list goes on and on. Even with being a CART captioner, I can choose from several different venues and types of captioning. We have on-site sports CART captioning, stadium captioning, relay captioning, Internet captioning, and so much more. We can decide to specialize in only one part of this profession or we can choose to specialize in multiple types of reporting/captioning. This was surprising to me because when I first started, I had a myopic view of the profession and focused solely on being an official. I had no idea how wide open this profession could be until several years later.

Have you had challenges to overcome in your profession?

I’ve had to overcome the challenge of unhealthiness. This profession requires quite a bit of sitting for prolonged periods of time. The atypical hours plus working from home led to a significant weight gain and an unhealthy, sedentary lifestyle, which caused my doctor to issue a health warning. A promise I made to my dying dad forced me to reclaim my health through proper nutrition and making time for exercise, and it prompted me to even pay it forward by helping others do the same.

Do you have a favorite gadget or tool?

My favorite gadget is called a Page Up. It holds up my schedule or rosters so that I can read them while on air. My favorite tool is a foam roller. It works out the kinks in my arms, neck, shoulders, and legs that tend to form when writing for extended periods of time.



Profile - FriedmanCurrently resides in: Montclair, N.J.

Position: CART provider, open captioner, remote CART provider

Member since: 1978

Graduated from: Heffley & Browne

Theory: computer compatible

Favorite tip:

Practice every work day. Use book practice to gain rhythm and to enter the zone of concentration; then do speed practice. I like YouTube interviews, as they give the flavor and experience of real people’s rhythms, tones, cadences and pauses.

Breathe and relax when it gets fast.

Glue yourself to the speaker like a great dance partner; move with them.

Write rhythmically.

How did you learn about the career?

Don Depew, a New York freelance court reporter, was donating his services pro bono. He provided open captioning for the Paper Mill Playhouse, which preceded his doing open captioning for Broadway shows. He also was open captioning for MoMA and the Metropolitan Museum of Art and was covering a law student at New York University. He asked me (for two years until I went from terror to just scared and finally said yes) to cover the student. Two years later I “debuted” at the Met.

Do you have a favorite gadget? A salt rock that plugs into my USB port – it turns different colors and reminds me to smile and breathe.

What book are you reading right now? Prison Diary.

Have you accomplished something not related to your career that you would like to relate? I did my first aquabike event this past spring. I hope to do a 3-mile swim next summer.


New professional spotlight: Jennifer Dentino

Jennifer Dentino and Nicole Rotoli

Jennifer Dentino (left) and Nicole Rotoli

By Melissa Foley

Jennifer Dentino studied court and realtime reporting, along with obtaining her associate degree in applied science, at Alfred State College, Alfred, N.Y., from 2010 to 2012. After graduation Jennifer, along with fellow court reporter and best friend Nicole Rotoli, moved to Goshen, N.Y., to work for Cummings Reporting. She worked for two and a half years on all types of depositions, including personal injury cases, medical malpractice, and matrimonial. She also did public hearings for various townships.

Jennifer is a member of NCRA and NYSCRA and currently lives in Rochester, N.Y., where she is employed with the Rochester Police Department as a police stenographer.

  1. What made you want to become a court reporter?

My grandpa and uncle were both court reporters. I grew up admiring my grandpa and all that he does for our family, and I want to follow in his footsteps. He is a very wise man, and I truly believe court reporting played a huge role in that!

  1. Tell me about your transition from school to the workplace. What was the biggest challenge? What is your current position?

My biggest challenge throughout my transition was probably just getting familiar with designations and who everyone was in the deposition room. It took a while to understand what role everyone played and why they were there, etc.

As a police stenographer, I work at the professional standards section office, also known as internal affairs. I work with the staff of police sergeants, under the command of a police lieutenant. My main duty here is stenographic work requiring a high degree of accuracy in taking and transcribing statements in connection with police investigations. When needed, I also take and transcribe verbatim testimony during administrative hearings, recorded phone calls, taped statements, and civilian review board findings.

The average time spent reporting versus transcript production is about 50/50. There may be busy weeks with more reporting and little time for transcript production; however, some weeks may be less reporting, with more time to work on transcripts.

  1. At any point during your court reporting schooling or transition to work, did you have a mentor? If so, how helpful were they to you?

I had a few mentors — one being my grandpa, and a couple other court reporters I knew before going into court reporting. I love to ask questions, so whenever I had a question, I would never hesitate to call a fellow court reporter, as I still do!

Also, I was very fortunate to have my best friend by my side throughout this journey. Nicole and I have been friends since 6th grade, and we decided we would go into court reporting together. We were two out of the three students who graduated in our court reporting class of 2012. It was very helpful to have a buddy system and peer support along the way; we were in this together. We also moved downstate after school, where we lived together and both worked at Cummings Reporting. It was the best experience I could have ever asked for, and what better way than to do it with your best friend! We parted ways last year — Nicole is now freelancing in Buffalo, N.Y., and I came back to Rochester. I don’t think I could’ve done it without her.

  1. If you could go back and do something differently in terms of school or your first years of court reporting, what would it be?

Take as many tests as you can during school or immediately after graduating. Once you get working, it’s harder to find the time to study for the RPR Exam or any type of certification. It is also helpful to get familiar with test taking for the future.

  1. What advice would you give to any court reporting students now?

Practice, practice, practice, and don’t get discouraged. There will be hard days, easy days, boring days … every day is different. Don’t get discouraged, and love what you do!

Also, don’t think coming out of school you will be making six figures. You start from the bottom, just like any other job. Stay determined and have patience.

  1. What was the best piece of advice you received from another court reporter that helped you?

Get right back up after a hard day; it will make you stronger for what tomorrow has to offer.

  1. What do you like best about your career as a court reporter?

Every day is different. You learn something new as well as meet someone new almost every day. I also love the fact that we do something nobody else can do. Our skill is so unique, and it amazes me every day that I am one of the few who can do it.

  1. What do you like to do when you’re not court reporting?

I love to be with family and friends, and I love to work out. Living a healthy lifestyle and balancing work with fun is important to me. You will go crazy working all the time. Have some fun — we deserve it!

Melissa Foley, RPR, is an official in Rochester, N.Y., and a member of the NCRA New Professionals Committee. She can be reached at


Currently resides in: Brooklyn, New York

Position: Official reporter, Kings County

Member since: 1999

Graduated from: South Coast College of Court Reporting, Anaheim, Calif.

Favorite briefs: SPAG (Special Agent)

N-FT (informant)

K-FT (confidential informant)

K-FS (confidential source)

POD (purposes of disposition)

F-LT (field test)

F-B (Facebook)

EP (especially)

UFT (unfortunate)

UFL (unfortunately)

VA add the G, S, D (vacate)

How did you learn about the career?

I grew up with my parents telling us over and over that you must have a skill — whether you’re a doctor, plumber, or court reporter. I wasn’t interested in a traditional four-year college and so opened the yellow pages under trade school. There was court reporting. Years earlier my father attempted adult night school for court reporting, and I had an ancient (even then!) LaSalle machine in the garage. So I went the next day to the school and signed up.

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

I currently work as an official in criminal court. But for the 15 years prior, I worked in federal grand jury in the Southern District of New York (i.e., Manhattan). We covered every major case that hit the papers. I worked on real-life, Jason Bourne-esque assassination cases; every Mafia family in the tri-state area; the largest securities fraud schemes in the United States; takedowns of huge drug cartels flying commercial aircraft of cocaine; and 30-defendant indictments of gang members.

I met people from all federal agencies and interesting witnesses. This by far was the highlight of my career … so far.

What was your biggest hurdle to overcome?

When I first started working doing freelance, I was new to New York City. I was getting lost going to my jobs every day; it was so stressful. And the work was intense medicals, which was not my strong point. A few months into that, my office mentioned working for federal grand jury. I went through the paperwork to be cleared and started my new journey. That’s when I found my niche. I loved criminal and being in the same place (and not carrying my equipment). And so I tell reporters who are not happy in their current position to find another area/branch of reporting that works for them.

What surprised you about your career and why?

How proud I am to be a reporter.

What do you consider your greatest professional accomplishment?

Although I’m very proud of my RMR, when I got that passed notice for the RPR years before, that was a huge day for me.

Do you have a favorite gadget or tool?

I’m not very technical, but I love doing realtime and using realtime. I think it’s important to have your software current. I always write realtime and test myself daily to get the untranslate rate as low as possible

Is there something personal you would like to share?

I am very proud that my husband and I raised and are raising our five kids (from 9 to 20 years of age) all while having a great career. Also, I have a hobby of designing and painting interiors of houses and furniture, starting with my own — and making my house a place that reflects me.

MEMBER PROFILE: Jennifer (Jenny) Vail-Kirkbride, RMR, CRR


Currently resides in: Wellsburg, W.Va.

Member since: 1981

Graduated from: National Legal Secretarial School, Hagerstown, Md.

Theory: Don’t remember, it’s been so long ago! But it was not computer-compatible, although we did learn to write a long A (I guess the rest of the vowels didn’t matter).

A tip: When a long number keeps coming up again and again and it’s a pain to write, try making a brief by writing out the first number in words and then the next number with the number key, and that is all you will probably need for the brief. E.g.: 1099 to TEPB/9. You can do the same with phone numbers, Social Security numbers, patent numbers, etc.

Why did you decide to become a court reporter? How did you learn about the career?

I really liked Gregg shorthand in high school. One Sunday in our regional newspaper, there was a two-page spread about the official court reporters. It really piqued my interest, so I went to our guidance counselor about finding a school, and she had just gotten some literature from the school that I wound up attending, which had a copy of the NSRA publication. I checked out the salaries and how much court reporters were paid and decided to give it a try.

When I started at National Legal Secretarial School, I was lived in Dagmar Hall, an old hotel that they tried to turn into a dorm. My mom and dad couldn’t believe that they were leaving me there! We had our own dorm song that went like this: “Oh, I’m a Dagmar girl, so pity me. There are no guys in this vicinity. Every night at 11:00 they lock the door. I don’t know what the hell I ever came here for. And when I’m on that bus and homeward bound, I’m going to burn that damn dorm to the ground. I’m gonna smoke, drink, pet, so what the heck, I’m a wreck, I’m a Dagmar girl! Hey!” And we also had a “third floor” song that I better not give you the whole thing that starts out, “We are the girls of the third floor [bleep-rhyming word] corp…” and that’s all I’m going to reveal!

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

In my 32 years as an official in state and then federal court, I have been blessed more than you can imagine by working with wonderful judges and staff. They made coming to work every day a joy. I called them my court family. When I moved to a different judge, even though I was in a different court or different city, my friends have continued with me throughout my life’s journey. I will love them and never forget them.

What are you most proud of in your career?

I am most proud of the respect and support that I have been shown by my judges and colleagues. In the 1990s when realtime had not become an everyday occurrence in court and I provided my judge with realtime, he realized when attending judges’ conferences around the country that I was going out of my way for him and truly appreciated it. When I reported a daily-copy/realtime pharmaceutical patent infringement trial that involved line-and-a-half chemical formulas and was asked to read back the question, which I had gotten perfectly, but the terms were tongue twisters and I stumbled on the pronunciation of a word, the attorney said, “For the record, I want to apologize to the court reporter for the terms in this case,” which made me chuckle and think to myself, Thank you, ain’t that the truth. When I was selected as one of three federal official court reporters by the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts to participate in the study in the 1990s, where our jobs were truly at risk and official court reporters won and no changes were made. And when the West Virginia Court Reporters Association gave me a surprise retirement gift when I retired as an official, that truly touched my heart.

What is your favorite book?

My favorite book is the Bible. I have tried to live out my faith by my actions and words and the love that God puts inside each one of us. We all know this can be quite challenging at times, but with God’s help every day, I try to do just that, maybe with a smile or a kind word, a random act of kindness, or praying for someone and giving thanks for all that God has given me.