A to Z: Creating our own success

A group of students sit in a circle

You don’t need to take Nancy Varallo’s word for it. We have heard from several of the A to Z program leaders about their experiences.

“It is my very strong opinion that this program is the key and the missing link to the shortage of students in our schools. I believe our Steno A to Z students will be strong, successful students who start way ahead of the game. Whatever needs to be done to expand the number of attendees needs to be done. It is purely a numbers game. Only a percentage will go on, so the higher number of people that participate, the better,” says Meredith Bonn, RPR, who is an official in Rochester, N.Y., and was recently installed on NCRA’s Board of Directors.

Bonn has taught three groups of trainees, about 25 people, so far. “The one high school student I have had so far, who is a musician, was able to learn it the quickest and fastest,” she says.

“Two out of our seven participants have now enrolled in accredited court reporting programs in Wisconsin! Another person is very seriously looking into signing up for fall classes,” says Lori Baldauf, RMR, an official reporter based in Appleton, Wis. “All seven students arrived on time and attended each class — with just a couple excused absences — and obviously worked hard to learn the material.”

“I think this A to Z program is one of the best projects NCRA has shared with its members and I’m grateful to have had this opportunity to lead a group in the Fox River Valley area of Wisconsin,” continues Baldauf. “I’d like to personally urge other reporters across the country to get more sessions started in their area as well!”

Kathy May, RPR, a freelancer and agency owner based in Memphis, Tenn., has only just begun recruiting trainees but considers what they have accomplished so far a success. “We set up a booth at our court reporting conference in June promoting the program, and from that we received donations of paper as well as the offer to loan machines,” says May. “We even had a reporter express an interest in putting together a program for her market.”

When asked for advice for other program leaders, Baldauf says: “Simply share your enthusiasm and sincere adoration for your profession! It’s contagious and will motivate your students to succeed in the program.”

“Set the expectations for the participants so they understand they cannot miss a week with lots of notice before they begin and so they can plan. Make-up sessions are too difficult and time-consuming,” says Bonn.

“Surround yourself with great reporters to help,” says Lois McFadden, RDR, CRR, an official from Marlton, N.J. “The volunteers who helped were so great. They really committed themselves to the program, and other reporters jumped in to fill in for vacations. Without the support and commitment of the instructors and the reporting firm that lent us office space, it would not have been possible.”

Rivka Teich, RMR, a freelancer based in Brooklyn, N.Y., says: “Accept more than the recommended 10 students, because just like real court reporting school; there is a drop-out rate. I had 12 people sign up, 10 people show up, and 4 people finish.”

“Start planting the seeds well in advance of offering the program. We have prepared flyers that are letting our markets know that there will be a free program coming soon. We have already gotten several names of people who are looking forward to the program,” says May. She adds that program leaders should understand that it’s important to talk about what you are doing and leverage the power of word of mouth. She says: “You never know who might know someone who knows someone who would be perfect for this profession. We just have to
find them!”

The Wisconsin Court Reporters Association used Facebook as one means of reaching potential participants. The organization also contacted the guidance offices of local high schools and emailed blasts to members asking them to reach out and network in their communities, according to Baldauf.

McFadden agrees that using Facebook is key but adds: “We have gotten leads from NCRA [and from] calls to our executive director. We also had success posting flyers in local courthouses.”

“Talk about A to Z with everyone! Your friends and family can be great A to Z messengers. Before your first class, practice on friends or family members. I had two high school seniors in my office for four days of immersion/mentoring/shadowing in a professional office. In addition to taking them to court to observe, they became my first A to Z students. Have fun rediscovering your early days of the wonder and newness of steno,” says May. “It’s infectious.”

RELATED:

A to Z: Recruiting the next generation

Thanks to the leaders who have already hosted A to Z programs

Is your fear real or imagined?

By Ron Cook

Providing realtime for the first (and second, third, fourth, and so on) time is extremely uncomfortable. It was for me and for whoever I’ve ever talked to about their first attempts. I have never heard of anybody providing realtime for the first time and being completely confident and comfortable.

The fact of the matter is that the first days and weeks of realtime will be uncomfortable. However, the same can be said of the first days at any job. I can remember long ago, before learning about court reporting, when I became a recreation leader at an elementary school. I hadn’t been a recreation leader before; I was totally out of my comfort zone. As the days passed, as I got more and more experience and started to get the hang of it, I became more and more comfortable.

Mind you, I still have twinges of anxiety when an attorney looks at his screen and I think I may have made a misstroke (or more than one). It’s at that time that I need to remind myself that I’m not perfect, and I’m never going to be perfect, and I need to just keep writing. In fact, there have been numerous times when I’ve messed up, and the attorney needed the testimony right at that spot, and it either wasn’t there or wasn’t there correctly. Every single time that has happened, the attorney was able to read through it and figure it out or rephrase the testimony to verify it with the witness. Never has an attorney turned to me and suggested that I messed up and/or that I was incompetent.

As with any job, as I’ve gone from a new realtime reporter to an experienced realtime reporter, the anxiety has lessened over time. One reason for that is that I always strive to write to the best of my ability and look for ways to improve my realtime. Another reason is the realization that attorneys typically aren’t mesmerized by the realtime screen any longer. It used to be so novel that they would just stare at the screen as the words would come up. In fact, early on, I had one client that almost fell off his chair, he was so entranced! Nowadays, most attorneys have experienced realtime, so it’s not novel, and they’ve trained themselves to look at the screen only when needed.

In fact, if I have an attorney who is trying realtime for the first time, I recommend that he or she put it out of the direct line of sight between him/her and the witness. If it is located out of the direct line, then the attorney has to actually make the effort to turn away from the witness to read the screen, thereby not allowing him/her to read the screen word for word throughout the deposition. The added benefit to that realtime screen placement is the comfort I get in knowing that the screen isn’t going to be stared at.

It is pretty clear that realtime is our future. I heard a saying once, long ago, that so pertains to our court reporting industry: Dig the well before you need the water.

Ron Cook, FAPR, RDR, CRR, is a freelance court reporter and agency owner from Seattle, Wash. He can be reached at rcook@srspremier.com.

Expectation versus reality: A year of working in review

By Katherine Schilling

Recently, I hit my one-year mark as a working deposition reporter in the Richmond, Va., area. Over the course of that one year, there have been a lot of firsts (first doctor depo, first out-of-state job, first pro se, etc.,) a lot of triumphs, and a lot of “oops.”

I’ve thought about how my schooling prepared me for the job. Did it teach me the right things? Could I have learned things differently? My school and mentors taught me a great deal, but after a year out in the field, I’m going to share how some of the more memorable lessons I learned as a student were flat-out wrong, could have been improved on in places, or hit the nail right on the head.

Attorneys should be feared!”

For much of my schooling, I was taught that attorneys should be feared and revered. Now, I’m not against respecting people, but the way this claim was propagated made it sound like one slipup from me on a job would spell utter disaster. This had the unfortunate effect of making me feel like I had to keep my mouth shut during a deposition or, heaven forbid, cough. All this walking on eggshells for attorneys is simply unnecessary.

Sure, there will always be a few rotten apples in the bunch, but attorneys are largely just as eager to make a good record as you are. They might not always be as mindful as you’d like, but that’s nothing that a well-timed and tactful reminder can’t fix. They’re human, too, and like a good team player, they’re not out to try to make your job miserable. So let’s turn this phrase around and say that attorneys are on your side.

Don’t rely on your audio.”

Ah, the dreaded audio. While I was a student, the use of BAM (backup audio media) was either never discussed at all or demonized as something that should not be used on the job. I was convinced that the best reporters around, the ones who ran convention seminars or won speed contests, didn’t even own microphones. That all changed when I began working for my agency. When asked if I had all my professional equipment, I listed my writer and software. “What about your microphone?” they asked me. I was shocked by their candidness. They then proceeded to explain that a lot of reporters use BAM. It was an enlightening and, frankly, liberating moment.

I understand that to rely on your audio is a dangerous habit, but it is a far cry from having it as a backup (or a safety net, as I like to put it). Maybe what my instructors were actually trying to say was: “Don’t get in the habit of relying 100 percent on your audio because it will just create more work for yourself on the back end,” which is certainly true. Although you’ve made it through school with a solid set of skills to do the job, you are by no means going to be perfect when just starting out. You will need that BAM, so let’s stop treating it like a taboo.

You should start off slow.”

This was often said in reference to how agencies will be mindful of your fledgling abilities when you first start and that they will accommodate accordingly. In reality, this is not the case. And, to clarify, I don’t think it should be the case. Agencies need to fill jobs, and short of sending a newbie out on a realtime job, it’s all fair game. So I say, if you’re called upon for something you’re not comfortable with, rise to the challenge! It usually won’t be as difficult as you think, and with practically no frame of reference, who’s to say what’s a tough job or a tricky job? My first job was a doctor depo with attorneys attending by videoconference. My second was two corporate designees with tons of exhibits and even more attorneys on videoconference.

I am so happy that those were my first samples of the working world because they exposed me to a slew of circumstances that I was bound to come across eventually, so I was able to cross those “firsts” off my list pretty quickly. I’m a firm believer of the saying: “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” So, why not embrace whatever is thrown your way? If you end up really in over your head, then, by all means, let someone know, but you’ll never know what you’re capable of handling if you don’t try. Your agency will love you for being a go-getter, and you’ll prove that you’re tougher than you give yourself credit for.

Find a mentor.”

I’d beef up this bit of advice by saying, “Find a mentor, befriend your mentor, and make your mentor sign a contract stating that he/she agrees to answer your 1,000,000 questions when you start working!” You will doubt every new thing that comes your way, and trust me, it’s all new when you’re first starting out. Save yourself the trouble of shouting your question into the Facebook void and getting 30 contradicting answers in return. Find a mentor who you respect and trust, ideally someone who works for your future agency, so that you can go to just one person and get that one right answer the first time.

In my situation, I had the immensely good fortune of joining an agency that has its own professional development specialist. This incredible woman fields any and all court reporter questions to make sure that the agency’s standards are carried out across the board. In just a few minutes, I can email her my question and get my answer right back. Find a mentor who can be your own professional development specialist, be upfront about what he or she can expect from you, and then don’t be afraid to ask away.

Know your software.”

CAT software is definitely key to making your job easier. It can save you hours of preparation and editing, and it can even help you improve your writing. As a student, I always loved my CAT class, but I recognize that software can be overwhelming considering how much there is to learn. After my one year of working, if I had to pinpoint the one aspect of the CAT software to master, it’s dictionaries: building a job dictionary, loading dictionaries, and bolstering your main dictionary. You should know how to do these things like the back of your hand by the time you take your first job.

While you’re a student, take the time to input proper names of establishments in your area: hospitals, high schools, shopping malls, universities. Take it a step further and go for as many local medical providers as you can. Why not add the 100 most common medications? The list goes on! These simple steps literally just take minutes to do and will save you hours of editing because these names will come up correctly the first time you take them down.

Prepare for your jobs.”

I’d been told this several times as a student, but it was only when I began working that I finally grasped what that entailed. I’m a very hands-on learner and needed to actually put it into practice in order to understand it. Job prepping is a simple yet vital process to make your life that much easier. For me, it consists of just a few steps:

  • Review the case caption and build your title pages so that they’re all filled out with the proper information before you even get to the job.

BONUS: First learn to read case captions. Understanding who represents the parties will help you prep your appearances pages correctly and give you a sense of what to expect.

  • Put in the proper names of all the participants, company names, locations, and anything else that you can glean from the caption or some good old-fashioned Googling. Got the name of a company? Throw it into Google and see where its local office is, what kind of work the company does, and so on.
  • Look up the attorneys online and see if you can get a picture from their biographies. This always makes a great first impression when you can proudly stick your hand out and greet them by name when they come into the room.
  • Before going on the record, try asking the noticing attorney for some idea of what the case will entail. A “sneak peek,” as I like to call it. Are words such as electrocution, carcinoma en situ, or even something as simple as right shoulder going to be coming up a lot? Now’s your time to slap together some briefs to save your fingers some fatigue.

Beware cancellitis.”

Cancellitis: A long stretch of time where jobs cancel at alarming frequency. Symptoms include discomfort, panic, and boredom.

Yes, it is real. Yes, it sucks. But, yes, it will also pass. This ties into the closely related “feast or famine” phrase that is thrown around when describing freelancing, and truer words were never spoken. Just when you think you’re so busy you can’t possibly take on another job, your entire next week will clear right out, like the attorneys are running for the hills. Cancellitis often strikes without warning, so keep this in mind when shaping your monthly budget.

But look on the bright side. During these dry spells, you’ll find yourself with more free time than you know what to do with. Now you have time to build your dictionary, practice speedbuilding, or attend a CAT webinar. Just kidding! Catch up with old friends or indulge in your personal hobbies. Remember, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

Attend conventions.”

Everything you hear about conventions being a worthwhile investment is true, period. Conventions are where you’ll find the brightest and most passionate reporters, all gathered in one convenient place for your learning pleasure. These events take on a new slant once you begin working, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn a lot while you’re still a student — and at a fraction of the cost with those student registration rates! Attending conventions will also jump start your networking by making those connections that will carry on through your budding career. Conventions are key at every stage of being a court reporter, so why not start early?

You’ll love your job!”

This is without a doubt one of the truest thing I was ever told. When graduates would come into the classroom to share their wisdom, they all invariably finished off their speeches with this statement, and they weren’t exaggerating. Maybe because it feels like a reward for all the hard work I put in during school, or maybe just because the job is that much fun and that satisfying, but now that I’m a working reporter, every day is like a dream. I’m always learning something new from the array of attorneys and deponents I meet. It’s easy to measure the progress of my skills through ever-increasing words per minute and translation rates. And the job itself feels like a game. How many lines can I get clean without a single error? No matter how far away the job is or how incoherent the witness, I can say with pride at the end of the day, “I love my job.” And I know that you’ll be saying the same thing, too.

So there you have it. I found that after I started working, some of what I was taught in school differed drastically from reality, some was a little off, and then some was completely spot-on. In the end, no school experience can possibly prepare you for everything you’ll discover when out in the real world, but hopefully you can apply some of these tips to your own steno journey.

Now to see what the second year holds!

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

The thrill of the chase

By Mary B. Bader

When it comes to being fearful of sending realtime translation to the judge or anyone else, you will never meet a bigger chicken than I am. Unlike many of you who share my dread, I have no choice. My judge demands it. Not only does my judge require realtime, many judges across my district ask for it. If they are used to having realtime in their courtrooms, they want it, whether you are their assigned reporter or not. Could I say, “No, your Honor, sorry, but I do not have to do that”? Sure I could, but to what end? Why are we so afraid of realtime?

In a locker room speech, the immortal Vince Lombardi spoke these words to his team: “Gentlemen, we will chase perfection, and we will chase it relentlessly, knowing all the while we can never attain it. But along the way, we shall catch excellence.”

Excellence. Why are we not satisfied with excellence? Why must we always keep striving for perfection, especially since we know we can never achieve it? Many of us who chose court reporting as our career did so because we are perfectionists. That trait is one of our greatest assets, but it is also one of our biggest faults. From my own experience, the more I try to be perfect, the worse things get for me. Always striving to be better is what we need to do to improve our skills. In no way am I suggesting that we not keep trying to reach that unattainable goal of perfection, but we cannot get lost in that struggle in our journey to excellence.

If you are constantly striving to improve your realtime skills – and I know you are – you have what it takes to make that giant leap and start sending realtime to your judge, to the clerk of court, or to your clients in a deposition. Give yourself a break. You are a professional, and you are good!

I am sure you have heard this advice before, but it is so true: Let your first hook-up be to someone with whom you are comfortable. Let your trial run be on your terms. Do not wait until your employer demands it. I know you will be amazed by how dazzled they are by your skill. Only you see your flubs. They see your brilliance.

How will we ever know how good we are and how much our skill is appreciated by others if we never give ourselves the chance to find out? Make the commitment to hook up and send out your realtime. You can do it. Throw caution to the wind, and just roll with it, baby!

Mary B. Burzynski, RPR, is an official based in Medford, Wis. She can be reached at  marypat.42797@gmail.com.

The no excuses guide to conquering your fear

By Tammy Clark August

Being nervous or fearful of displaying your realtime screen the very first time is very normal. Feeling nervous about doing just about anything for the first time is normal, particularly if you are doing it in front of a highly educated audience.

Here is some great advice from some very qualified realtime reporters that I received with suggestions on how to overcome the fear of someone reading and critiquing your work.

  • Know that repetition is key. The more you write realtime, the more you will become at ease with others viewing your translation. Do realtime on every single job. Set up your laptop, iPads, and tablets on the table; get used to having them in front of you, facing in whatever direction you feel most comfortable.
  • Benefit from working with client attorneys from an older generation. They typically are not interested in technology and are the perfect ones to practice on. They will not pay attention to what the purpose of realtime is and certainly not touch anything for fear of messing something up. When the deposition is over, go ahead and give them a brief description of how very beneficial this technology is. It is likely they will share their realtime experience with their younger associates, who will be familiar with technology and excited to learn that you can provide this latest service to them.
  • Provide your iPad to the paralegal or associate who is attending the deposition. Ask them to navigate the screen, and elicit their comments about its functionality. They will be intrigued viewing the iPad and pay little attention to your writing.
  • Provide your iPad to a videographer. Videographers are well aware of how difficult our jobs can be. The next time you are working on a videotaped deposition, ask the videographer for some feedback. You won’t feel the same pressure you might feel from an attorney, and you will have begun sharing your realtime screen with someone else.

The more advanced we are with our technology, the better the chance of increasing our client base. So no more excuses! Go out and conquer your fear. Don’t let it conquer you.

Tammy Clark August, RDR, CRR, CRC, is a freelance court reporter and agency owner from Killen, Ala. She can be reached at tammy@clarkcourtreporting.com.

Rise to the occasion

By Kristy Clark

“Ready? Begin.” These two simple words strike fear in my heart. But why do these seemingly innocuous words unhinge not only me but also countless other court reporters across the country? Because they denote that a test is ready to begin. And regardless of whether a court reporter is taking the RPR, RMR, CRR, or local state exam, there is a sense of pressure associated with having one’s skills tested.

For me, I was the court reporting student others hated. I never stressed about tests and had a seemingly natural ability at taking tests during school. That all changed when I hit 200 wpm, however. But yet even at that speed, I never experienced test anxiety. I merely experienced the realization that I needed more practice to achieve that next speed goal. Fast forward 13 years after court reporting school, and I have taken three separate state exams and the RPR with minimal test anxiety and the knowledge that I knew that I was fast enough to take any test thrown my way. That is, of course, until the dreaded Certified Realtime Reporter exam.

My first realtime test experience was the very last exam that NCRA gave as a Literary at 180 wpm. I took this test merely to see what it was really about and why other court reporters always said it was “the easiest test you’ll ever fail.” Due to this carefree attitude I had going in, I came relatively close to passing. The next exam, six months later, was the first as 200 wpm Q&A. Well, isn’t this what we do as court reporters in the freelance world as well as the courtroom? Shouldn’t this be a piece of cake? For goodness sake, I’ve written cardiopulmonologists speaking at 250 wpm. This was exactly my thought process going in. And then those two words: “Ready? Begin.”

I was cruising right along just fine until that first misstroke.

“Oh, no. Let it go! Let it go!”

And then I was back in my groove of writing, all the while telling myself to concentrate. But then the mental talk began.

“This is a good test, Kristy. You’re totally getting this. Oops! Wait! Was that a one-word or two-word hyphenate? Do I have that defined in my dictionary? Oh, crud! I wonder if my artificial intelligence (in my software) picked the right one? Just look at your screen and see. Oh, no! That other word didn’t translate because you dragged your L.”

And so my first failure occurred. And although I would love to share with anyone reading this article the very happy ending that I overcame all of my fear and am the proud recipient of my CRR, the sad truth is, it still eludes me.

And now you may ask as you read this: Why is a court reporter that cannot pass the CRR test on the NCRA Realtime TRAIN Task Force? Trust me, I asked the very same question. But the answer I came up with should be shared freely and without reservation to every court reporter out there: Although I do not have that wonderful acronym of “CRR” after my name, I do provide realtime to my judge, attorneys, and anyone who asks. I do this to hone my skills and become a better court reporter. I do this to combat the electronic recording that threatens our prestigious profession across the states. I have proven myself invaluable to my judge, and he sings my praises to attorneys and other judges. He tells attorneys that a court recorder will never be able to take the place of a court reporter. How could they, when a reporter can provide you exactly what was spoken at the very moment it was spoken?

So to those court reporters who have never tried realtime for fear that their writing is “not good enough,” I say, if this four-time-realtime-exam failure can do it, then so can you!

Kristy Clark, RPR, is a freelancer based in Las Vegas, Nev. She can be reached at krorper74@cs.com.

The fear factor

By Debra A. Levinson

Facing fear is a given as a court reporter. No matter how credentialed you are, no matter how many letters you have attained, there will always be some level of fear prior to any job. Why? We are not taking down a prepared script. We are writing words on the fly and rightly fear the unknown. We fear not hearing clearly or fear speakers testifying at near-lightning speeds. We fear having to process unfamiliar vocabulary or garbled speech or technical matters in nanoseconds.

What we really need to focus on is self-confidence. We have an amazing skill set that impresses the masses, and yet that’s still not good enough. So please allow me to share my favorite adage to accept and adjust. Simply put, accept the fear and imperfections of what we do. Make adjustments and change what is not realtime-friendly. Then proceed forward.

The result of not taking chances or pushing ourselves beyond the comfort zone is tantamount to being stuck in a rut. Remember that nothing ventured is nothing gained.

Writing what I call readable realtime requires practice and commitment that will pay off both literally and figuratively. Here are some basics to add to your practice. You will gain that confidence and begin refining your skills to help accomplish your goals and eliminate that fear factor.

  1. Begin by identifying your problematic translation areas (such as speed, conflicts, word boundaries, and prefixes and suffixes), and you will become empowered to change.
  2. Maintain an ongoing commitment to retrain, and you will write faster and cleaner and shorter.
  3. Stay focused and write realtime on every job, and you will challenge yourself to translate at higher and higher percent rates.
  4. Input proper case names and designations prior to start time, and you will save time later.
  5. Purge and modify entries and edit on the job, and you will ensure what’s in your dictionary will translate properly.
  6. Make weekly revisions, and you will feel accountable having set goals.
  7. Brief repetitive words and phrases and use Auto-Brief or Brief-It, and you will save valuable energy.
  8. Monitor your screen throughout the proceeding, and you will identify where to check trouble spots.
  9. Use the Internet to research proper names on the job, and you will have gained an edge.
  10. Learn how to finger-spell, and you will eliminate puzzled looks when nonsensical words appear.
  11. Sign up for the free Word-of-the-Day (my personal favorite is from Merriam-webster.com), and you will become familiar with many esoteric words without having to wait until you’ve heard them for the first time.

Debra A. Levinson, RMR, CRR, CMRS, CRI, is a freelance court reporter and agency owner from White Plains, N.Y. She can be reached at dal@dalcoreporting.com.

Complete coverage of the 2017 NCRA Convention & Expo

NCRA Convention & Expo attendees enjoy a moment catching up with friends

NCRA Convention & Expo attendees enjoy a moment catching up with friends

Explore coverage of the 2017 NCRA Convention & Expo, held Aug. 10-13 in Las Vegas, Nev., with the stories below.

Awards and scholarships

Information about voting

Special events

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Reporters on the red carpet: Writing the Oscars

2017 Oscars reporting and scoping team

2017 Oscars reporting and scoping team

By Megan Rogers

In 1996, Tera Walker was a former court reporting student working as a flight attendant for United Airlines. She’d just launched a reporting company called Steno Scripts and had sent a proposal “to every awards show,” she said. The Oscars contacted her because they didn’t understand what exactly she was proposing to do.

Walker grabbed a couple of court reporting students and drove to Beverly Hills to demonstrate. They wrote about seven to ten minutes of The Usual Suspects with Kevin Spacey, cleaned it up, and printed it out. Walker recounted with a laugh that the transcript was still pretty messy, but the folks at the Oscars didn’t read it — they were impressed with the quick turnaround.

At the time, individual journalists in the backstage pressroom would have tape recorders during the interviews. The result is easy to guess: The celebrities were often misquoted in the next day’s newspapers, and their publicists weren’t thrilled. Now, Walker and her team produce one verbatim transcript that gets distributed from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) to the media.

“We write the questions and answers between the International Press and the Oscar winners for AMPAS,” explained Erika Sjoquist, RPR, CRR, who typically works as a freelancer in Camarillo, Calif. “After our product is finished, AMPAS puts it up on its website, and members of the International Press are able to get copies of the interviews as well.”

Getting called to work the Oscars is a good example of “it’s who you know.” Both Sjoquist and Diane Rugh, RMR, CRR, a freelancer in Snohomish, Wash., got the job via Jeff Cobb. “He knew I had moved to California, but wasn’t sure where,” said Sjoquist. “Jeff was working with Tera Walker at that time, and the team needed a reporter to fill one of the spots.” He reached out to her asking how close she was to Hollywood.

Rugh had a similar story. “I worked for a freelance firm in Seattle, and one of the reporter owners, Cheryl Mangio, RMR, CRR, CMRS, knew I loved movies. She knew the Oscars team that Jeff Cobb worked for was looking for a reporter, so she suggested me,” she said, adding, “I knew I had been given a golden opportunity.” Rugh recommended Carla Wallat, RPR, CRR, a freelancer in Federal Way, Wash. “Diane suggested that I would be a good fit to work with the team,” said Wallat. “Ultimately, Tera Walker asked me to join.”

The team is a mixture of veterans and newbies, but after a couple decades, there’s a definite system. “After working the Awards for as many years as I have, the best part about it is being with the team,” said Sjoquist. “Our team is like family that I get excited about seeing and catching up with every year.” Team members travel from California, Washington, North Carolina, and Virginia. “We’ve turned Oscar Sunday into an Oscar weekend, usually beginning Friday evening, where we make sure we have time to visit, socialize, and have fun with some crazy activity before work on Sunday,” said Sjoquist.

The team is comprised of several reporters, scopists, notetakers, and a runner (usually a court reporting student), and they work with the AMPAS librarians. “The Academy librarians are incredibly knowledgeable about every category nominated, including past and future movies that the nominees have or are working on,” said Wallat. Wallat worked as a notetaker in 2009 and then as a scopist for the team. “The notetaker is tasked with jotting down notes, such as the order of the speakers when they enter the room, spellings that need to be researched. Everything is at such a quick pace that the reporter does not have much time before the next winner may enter the room,” said Wallat. The scopists “work closely with the Academy librarians and research staff to finalize the interviews.”

Wallat said: “In my everyday work, I use a scopist on a regular basis, and after scoping for the Oscars, it has made me realize how valuable my scopist is. It challenges me to write cleaner so it makes her job easier, which in turn produces a quicker turnaround time on the transcript.”

“The three reporters tag team, so I get every third interview that comes up,” explained Rugh, which means, of course, that the reporters have to be ready for anything. “There might be two, three, five, or more people who show up for the interview of, say, the winner of Visual Effects, Sound Editing, Costume Design, and Motion Picture, and you need to know by the time they walk up on the stage, usually about three seconds, who each of them are and get their designations down,” said Sjoquist. “The notetakers are very helpful in this regard. They match names to faces so that we can designate who is talking.”

Jennifer Smith, RMR, CRR, CRC, an official in Mukilteo, Wash., found some similarities between writing the Oscars and both her work in the courthouse and her previous experience in captioning. “This assignment was more similar to closed captioning in the sense that you can’t always see the questioner, only the Oscar winner who is answering the questions. In court, you see everyone who is speaking. Additionally, as in closed captioning, if you can’t hear something or don’t understand something, you cannot interrupt as you could in a courtroom. It’s similar to court in that it’s Q&A and verbatim.”

“The writers have one shot to get all that they can from the interview. It’s not like deposition or court work where you can interrupt the talent and say, ‘Excuse me. Will you please slow down?’ or ‘What was that? I didn’t catch that word.’ Oh, no. You’re hoping to be able to understand and write accents from all over the world: French, Japanese, Indian, Spanish, Australian, English, Arabic, and Farsi, just to name a few,” said Sjoquist. “The winners of the prestigious Oscars are excited. Can you blame them? And so, they often speak extremely fast. They’re expressing gratitude to many people, whose names you hope to find the spellings of because you certainly can’t ask them.”

Rugh also added that the Oscars are different because “at a deposition, I’m not usually starstruck by the deponent whose acting has moved me to tears or that they are so stunningly beautiful or handsome I can’t do anything but stare or have a stupid grin on my face!”

Preparation for an assignment like this begins with ensuring that equipment is in working order and gathering information. “We are required to have the latest update on our software,” said Sjoquist.

“I managed to watch more movies this year than ever before, although I only ended up seeing one of the Best Picture nominees! Other than that, I built a dictionary of all the movie titles, nominee names, and then spent a bit more time researching the foreign films,” said Smith. “The other reporters, Erika and Diana, helped me prep my dictionary for those the morning of. We sat in our hotel room and found out what we could. Lucky for me, Erika got to report the foreign film interview! Hands down, she had the hardest of the bunch.”

“Carol Stone, the head scopist, prepares a list of the nominees every year and makes sure any new team member has the right layouts. Having done this for 11 years, I finally realized I don’t need to put every single movie and nominee in my job dictionary because I will only end up using maybe 5 percent of it,” said Rugh. “I have usually seen most of the nominated Best Pictures, but some of the things that come up during the interviews, such as names and places and people that the winner has collaborated with over their career, is beyond any prep I could do. That’s where our talented and capable scopists come in, with the help of the AMPAS librarians.”

“The day prior to the Oscar broadcast, we meet with the Academy personnel to go over the layout of the room, make sure internet connections work, and confirm the reporters’ audio and page layouts,” said Wallat.

Sjoquist is also on the team that covers the awards for the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA), also a Steno Scripts assignment, which turns into good preparation the month before the Oscars. “The team we have for SAG-AFTRA is much smaller than our Oscars team: three versus 12. To me, it’s not as stressful as working the Academy Awards,” said Sjoquist. “We write the acceptance speeches for SAG-AFTRA. Security is lighter there, too, so we can walk freely among the talent for the most part, and then SAG-AFTRA has a party at the venue for its employees that we go to after the show.”

Perhaps the most fun part of prep work? “Find a dress and shoes!” said Wallat.

“We have so much fun when we play together, but we all individually take very seriously the work portion, which lasts on Oscar Sunday from 4 p.m. to after midnight,” explained Rugh. “I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the three reporters are usually done writing the interviews around 10 p.m., but the scopists are still working for up to three to four hours after the live show has ended.”

“The winners may not arrive to the press room until well after the broadcast is over. This puts a lot of pressure on our team because the press is anxiously awaiting the transcripts,” said Wallat. “We have two hours after the broadcast is over to complete the transcripts.”

Despite the fast-talkers, the long hours, and the pressure to deliver, working the Oscars provides memorable moments unlike any other assignment.

“The writers and notetakers sit in the front row, about 3 feet from the stage where the winners are standing. We are so close to the winners that one year, one winner, Jared Leto, actually handed me his Oscar so that I would confirm how heavy Oscar really is,” said Sjoquist.

“We loved Jared Leto; he just stole our hearts. And it wasn’t just because he gave Erika the statute to hold,” remembered Rugh. “She was trying to write, by the way, and I was too enthralled to try and take over writing for her! He was just so magnetic. And those eyes!”

“My most challenging year was 2011 when The King’s Speech ruled the night with Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Director. The interviewees had heavy accents, which made it take longer to finalize the transcripts,” said Wallat. “The year Sandra Bullock won for Best Actress, she looked stunning in her gorgeous form-fitting gold gown, but she said she wanted to relax and eat a burger.”

“My most memorable Oscar moment was reporting the interview of Viola Davis. First, from a reporting perspective, she was a dream to write,” said Smith. “I was so completely mesmerized by her grace and class that I literally forgot I was writing! There was a huge sense of relief when I looked at my realtime screen and realized I hadn’t stopped.”

“One year we all wore red dresses, and Meryl Streep, as she was walking offstage after her interview, said we all looked beautiful and reached out and took Tera’s hand,” said Rugh. “That was thrilling for all of us to even be acknowledged, but especially for Tera!”

Megan Rogers is NCRA’s Communications Assurance Specialist. She can be reached at mrogers@ncra.org.

Court reporting as a second career

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

Abby Cook
Pittsburgh, Pa.

Abby Cook

Abby Cook

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carolyn Kerr, RPR
Buffalo, N.Y.

Carolyn Kerr, RPR

Carolyn Kerr, RPR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Angeli English
D’Iberville, Miss.

Angeli English

Angeli English

CURRENT CAREER: Freelance reporter
PREVIOUS CAREER: Secretarial

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kerry Irizarry, RPR
Jacksonville, Fla.

Kerri Irizzary, RPR

Kerri Irizzary, RPR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dave Leyland, CLVS
Kansas City, Mo.

Dave Leyland, CLVS

Dave Leyland, CLVS

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

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

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

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

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

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