Overcoming challenges: An interview with Kim Falgiani

Kim Falgiani, RMR, CRC

Kim Falgiani, RMR, CRC, became a court reporter in 1980 and then became a broadcast captioner in 2002. After some years in broadcast captioning, she went through a series of medical situations, including tendinitis, that derailed her career and nearly ended it. She shared her story of how she overcame these challenges and offered some advice for reporters and captioners to stay at the physical top of their game.

JCR | What challenge have you overcome to be a successful captioner?

FALGIANI | Captioners must overcome many challenges in their careers. Longevity, professional fulfillment, and reasonable compensation are the goals. Everyone wants to be paid what they’re worth.

The obvious answer, which is true for every successful captioner, is the transition into quality realtime writing, staying relevant and updated in the profession, and keeping up with new technology. For me, the most difficult obstacle I had to overcome was tendinitis. Rehabilitation was a long-term process. Ultimately, I had to:

  • complete rehab successfully
  • regain my speed and confidence
  • regain my certifications
  • upgrade my software, paying back
    software support
  • upgrade my computer system and phones
  • renew my referral sources to find jobs as
    an independent contractor

JCR | How did this challenge make captioning difficult for you?

FALGIANI | The solution for tendinitis is rest, so I could no longer write. Recovery time surely varies, but it may stretch into months; it took me 14 months of rehabilitation to recover from bilateral wrist tendinitis, bilateral elbow tendinitis, shoulder tendinitis, adhesive capsulitis, and a strained neck. Within a few months of slowly beginning to write again, as an independent contractor now instead of an employed broadcast captioner, I suffered a dislocated shoulder and spiral-fractured my upper humerus. I chose a nonsurgical route with that break, so the rehab was a bit longer.

JCR | What strategies or changes did you use to overcome this challenge?

FALGIANI | I needed to find a way to stay informed and relevant in the profession. At that point in time, I had 30 years of progressing through our field as an official, freelancer, business owner, and then a broadcast captioner. I looked for a way to offer my skills without writing. I consulted on captioning programs, advisory committees, anything to not lose the “pulse” of the captioning field.

Everything I did while rehabbing led to me becoming a better and more health-conscious writer. I say better writer because I was always very stroke-intensive, so I began to incorporate writing techniques that reduced my stroke counts, better theory, and things like that.

Instead of captioning, or any writing at all, I started looking into how to help educate future court reporters and captioners. Fortunately, I was hired to be part-time adjunct faculty in a court reporting program in my state during healing time. After about another year of rehab, I began to edit realtime files for quarterly financial reports and rebuild some speed and endurance by writing offline files for projects, such as tutorial videos, etc.

Dealing specifically with my injuries, I took the advice and relied upon my doctor’s and physical therapists’ forms of rehab, but I also changed my diet to help keep inflammation away. This included juicing; finding suggested natural remedies, such as ginger, turmeric, and pineapple; and learning what foods are best. I started using wrist supports and support gloves. I avoided heavy lifting; anything that required any movement of my wrists or elbows now was a conscious thought. I paid attention to what foods really did make my fingers or wrists seem achy!

I found better ergonomic setups, such as monitors that didn’t make me tilt my head back but were more at eye level; I tried to be aware of sitting up straight! I switched from a traditional steno machine to the Lightspeed, but I was too far gone with the traditional touch to adjust to that, so the Luminex is what became right for me. The tilt and the touch on that is fantastic — I can position that machine where it is comfortable for me, and I don’t get that familiar wrist pain.

JCR | Did you receive any outside support in overcoming this challenge?
FALGIANI | I went into physical therapy three times a week for well over a year, before having to re-enter therapy just months later after my dislocated shoulder and broken arm.

As mentioned, I was able to become involved in a court reporting and captioning program as adjunct faculty. And the faculty was kind and patient. I had all the years of knowledge in my head, but they had the knowledge about how to help me express that in a classroom format. Kudos to our schools for educating our future writers!

I would love to name colleagues who helped me through this difficult time, but I fear I might miss someone and I don’t want to do that. But to my colleagues who stayed in contact, those who pared down my schedule, or hired me knowing I wouldn’t offer more than a few hours a week and then increasing my hours as I became stronger, I am forever grateful. To our community that helped me transition into remote and on-site CART captioning and internet and online broadcast captioning, I am so happy I found this part of captioning — thank you.

And as always, my husband, John, who has always been my biggest supporter, and our children. Without their support of taking over household chores, cooking, cleaning, listening to my frustrations, encouraging me to persevere, I could have easily faded out of the profession. Thank you for that never-ending support.

JCR | What advice do you have for someone else struggling with this particular challenge?

FALGIANI | Captioning is an investment in your future self, and tendinitis is a possible reality from all those hours at a desk and on a machine, so there are many things:

  • Stay healthy: If you are having pain in your wrists, arms, seek medical advice. Don’t let this get to a point that your career is in jeopardy. Use preventative measures. Learn what sorts of foods have anti-inflammatory properties. Drink plenty of water. Follow a healthy lifestyle.
  • Exercise: With so many hours spent at your desk, you need to be conscious of really stretching, getting up, and moving. Have a daily exercise routine, whether it is walking, yoga, biking.
  • Ergonomics: Assess your workspace ergonomically: the height of your monitors, the chair you sit in, your mouse, and your keyboard.
  • Stay informed and educated: If you must take time off for any sort of recovery, stay informed by reading articles, volunteering your time to our students, joining focus groups or committees, getting involved with the Deaf/hard-of-hearing communities as advocates, etc. Continue to earn your Continuing Education Units to ensure your certifications don’t lapse. (Retraining your mind to take Q&A testimony after strictly captioning can be a task for some reason!) Don’t let the ever-changing technology get ahead of you.
  • Avoid injury: Be smart about your activities, and try to avoid risky behavior.

But mostly, for me, after resuming a captioning schedule, it was more of a reduction in hours and/or the way my hours are spread out. There is always the question of employee vs. independent contractor. Independent contracting is allowing me to control my schedule so it works best for me.

JCR | Do you have anything else you’d like to add?

FALGIANI | Sitting all day can be a health issue, as well as the repetitive motion, so educate yourself on short exercise routines to do at your desk or in your surroundings, or just using a few extra minutes to stand up instead of sitting and waiting, if appropriate. Find your niche with either yoga, stretch bands, walking, something to keep you active. It is really easy to find information on things like one-minute workout routines, or seven 60-second moves, things like that. I haven’t tried a stand-up desk, but I have read that some really love that sort of thing.

When your shift for the day is done, make that stretching, at least, a part of your shutdown routine. And don’t get caught up in one form of captioning. With the forward march of technology, there are so many captioning opportunities. If you are able, keep a variety of jobs in your schedule just to help break up very difficult routines, and try not to work ten-day weeks.

Kim Falgiani, RMR, CRC, is a captioner in Warren, Ohio. She can be reached at kfalgiani@gmail.com.

 

NCRA Launches Online A to Z Intro to Steno Machine Shorthand Program

NCRA launched an online version of its popular A to Z Intro to Steno Machine Shorthand program on March 30, increasing the accessibility of the free six-week course to interested participants. The program provides the opportunity for participants to learn the alphabet in steno, write on a real steno machine, and decide whether an education in court reporting or captioning is for them.

The NCRA A to Z online program is a hybrid course combining both live online instructor sessions with videos and dictation materials for self-paced practice. The class meets online live once a week for 60-90 minutes.

“The online A to Z Intro to Steno Machine Shorthand program complements NCRA’s popular onsite program,” said Cynthia Bruce Andrews, NCRA’s Senior Director, Education and Certification.

“The virtual program provides the opportunity for those who do not have access to an onsite program to experience it online. The self-guided curriculum is easy to follow and has been designed to let participants learn the basics of steno writing. With the increase of online education, NCRA felt strongly that the A to Z program would be a natural fit to an online method of learning.”

Students who sign up for the online A to Z program can lease a steno machine for $50 for the duration of the course from NCRA partners Stenograph and ProCat. Students will also need a computer (camera is optional), microphone, and headphones or earbuds.

Students interested in the A to Z online program can sign up for sessions in their time zone. April 16 is the deadline to register for the first program that begins on the dates below.

  • Monday, April 23 at 6:30 PM ET
  • Tuesday, April 24 at 6:00 PM MT
  • Thursday, April 26 at 8:00 PM CT
  • Thursday, April 26 at 6:00 PM PT

“NCRA wants to thank its program partners, Stenograph and ProCAT, for assisting with the success of the A to Z Intro to Steno Machine Shorthand by helping to make machines available at little cost to program participants,” said Marcia Ferranto, NCRA Executive Director and CEO.

“NCRA would also like to thank The Varallo Group, Worcester, Mass., especially Cedar Bushong, CLVS, and Patrick Blaskopf, CLVS, for their work with the online dictation, and the College of Court Reporting, Hobart, Ind., for its support in helping to make the online program a reality with the use of their learning management platform Moodle,” Ferranto added.

The Association also sends a huge thank you to the members of its A to Z Task Force who include: Chair Nancy Varallo, RDR, CRR, Worcester, Mass.; Mary Bader, RPR, Eau Claire, Wis.; Huey Bang, RMR, CRR, Pass Christian, Miss.; Jen Krueger, RMR, CRI, CPE, Parma, Ohio; Jeff Moody, Valparaiso, Ind.;  Kelly Moranz, CRI, Parma, Ohio; Jonathan Moretti, CLVS, Kalamazoo, Mich.; Kathleen Silva, RPR, CRR,  Andover, Mass.; Doreen Sutton, RPR, Scottsdale, Ariz.; Stacy Drohosky, RPR, CRR, CRI, Hammond, Ind.; Lynette Eggers, CRI, CPE, Chicago, Ill.; and Eileen Beltz, CRI, CPE, Avon, Ohio.

“Together, NCRA and its partners and member volunteers are committed to increasing the number of students entering court reporting and captioning programs to help fill the growing number of jobs in these fields,” Ferranto said.

NCRA launched its onsite A to Z program in February 2017 in conjunction with Court Reporting & Captioning Week. Volunteer NCRA members serve as program leaders working with small groups of participants as they learn how to write the alphabet in steno. The program does not follow any particular theory. NCRA provides program leaders with free training materials after completing and submitting a program leader Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). There are onsite programs currently available in approximately 15 states.

NCRA is currently seeking 10 to 12 member volunteers with online teaching experience to serve as online facilitators for its virtual A to Z program. If you are interested in volunteering or learning more about the program, contact Cynthia Bruce Andrews at candrews@ncra.org.

Additional information about both the onsite and online A to Z programs, including volunteering to become a program leader, registering for a class, and frequently asked questions, can be found at www.atozdiscoversteno.org, or by contacting schools@ncra.org.

Realtime: It’s worth it

By Keith Lemons

THE STRUGGLE IS REAL. That’s a saying for just about everything nowadays. As court reporters, we know that it is real every day, all day long. When I was a puppy reporter, I had a judge who used to tell me, “Don’t interrupt anymore. Just throw up your hands when they’re talking too fast or on top of each other.” The problem with that is that whenever she said that in a transcript, the appellate court would naturally wonder what I left out. So I decided that I had to get better. I concentrated on learning how to brief on the fly, get longer phrases in one stroke, and write for the computer instead of myself.

I started out my career with the wonderful world of court reporting computers. All of them were written in dedicated computer systems that did not cross over for any other CAT program. As a matter of fact, you couldn’t even search the Internet or type a Word document or run an Excel spreadsheet because none of that had even been thought of yet. But we, the court reporters, had a marvelous new toy that made our work both harder and more meaningful. Imagine, if you will, being able to type two pages a minute when you used to only get one page per five minutes.

The struggle was real to try to figure out how to load a dictionary, how to write a dictionary, how to use a dictionary, how to edit a dictionary — all on a 2-megabyte disk — how to remember to plug in the machine, how to figure out if the cassette reader was really writing or reading that 300-page medical malpractice trial day you just had. But we learned. We adapted. We had to if we wanted to help our agency pay for that $50,000 Baron Data Center.

Later, when I became an official, I wrote for my newest piece of technology, the Baron Solo. It had 5-½-inch, dual floppy drives. The struggle was real to remember how to use this new technology and never, ever, ever use your magnet in the same room as your computer. (We had an electronic magnet system that bulk-erased our cassette tapes for the machines. If you used it near the computer, you risked either wiping out your floppies or causing damage to the electronics in the computer itself.) Then came the Microsoft revolution. We had yet one more machine to buy and one more operating system to learn. This one came with WordPerfect and learning the wonderful works of macros. No more Cardex! The struggle was so real that I accidentally wiped out my entire operating system trying to clear a message that popped up on my welcome screen.

Now we had to buy a new machine with a floppy disk drive in it. The struggle was real. In the early days of these marvelous inventions, we spent tens of thousands of dollars upgrading, upgrading, upgrading, all with no such thing as a legacy fallback.

The 24-pin dot matrix printer revolutionized multiple copy printing — that is, unless you figured in the hours spent trying to separate those carbon pages without destroying your clothing in the process. That struggle was real. So was ink in the machine. Try changing a ribbon without making everything around you purple.

Then the struggle became really, really interesting. In the latter half of the 1990s, a CAT program made real-time court reporting a reality. I got to watch a reporter write from her machine and have real words show up within seconds on a computer screen. I have no idea if her writing was pristine or 1 percent or even 5 percent untranslates. All I knew is it was beautiful. Music filled the skies; my heart was full. For the first time in a long time, I really wanted to be a part of something. It wasn’t just about the money anymore. It was something so new and so grand that I couldn’t even envision the possibilities of the future with it.

So I learned it. I bought more equipment, and I learned wiring and splitting and sending and receiving. It was a real struggle. I showed it to my boss, the judge. She didn’t want to have anything to do with it. But I was enthusiastic about it, so I kept asking her if I could just put a computer on the bench to see if my wiring was correct. She relented, but she made me turn the monitor to where she wouldn’t have to look at it. But she didn’t ever tell me to take it down. Pretty soon, she wanted me to angle the monitor so it would be more visible when she wanted to see the attorneys’ objections. Then she wanted to learn how to scroll backwards, then to search, then to write notes. Eureka!

Realtime (without the hyphen) had come of age. Next struggle was to get other court reporters to accept that our future was in realtime reporting. I felt like the most hated court reporter in the state at times because I provided something that 16 other judges in Wyoming weren’t getting. But when they saw it, they wanted it. (Without extra compensation, of course.)

Little did I know that this struggle would become the thrust of my presentations and seminars for the next 16-plus years. Of course, I’m talking about realtime for the average reporter.

Now the struggle is real because in order to become a realtime writer, we need to put away the things that we learned as a new reporter, that we thought as a new reporter, that we expected as a new reporter. We need to remember that the struggle is not with the machine, it is with our own expectations. We need to struggle to get to the next level of court reporting to make a difference, either in writing realtime or captioning.

The struggle is real; the rewards are great. Two months ago, I was taking a medical malpractice jury trial with several prominent attorneys, one of whom was intensely hard of hearing. I’ve been gently suggesting to him that realtime could help him. Finally, I just did what I did with my judge those many years ago. I put the realtime on his table and told him that it was free; but if he liked it, I would start charging the next day.

During the trial, this attorney would bring the iPad to bench conferences so he could see what was being whispered — something he hasn’t been able to do for years. Both attorneys used their iPads during the instruction conference to see what the construction of their sentences would look like on their jury charge. That reluctant attorney? He now has set two jury trials with me for the beginning of the year — with realtime. Two weeks ago, I did a realtime feed for a woman who was profoundly deaf, deaf from birth, who read lips but never learned American Sign Language. She read lips, but watched my screen like a hawk. She even got a kick out of a mistran or two that I made.

I know the struggle is real. This job can be the most difficult struggle day in and day out. But with our own self-improvement, learning realtime and becoming accomplished at it makes that struggle turn into satisfied accomplishment. I’m loving that struggle. You will too.

JCR Contributing Editor Keith Lemons, RPR, CRR, can be reached at k.lemons@comcast.net. This article was written on behalf of NCRA’s Realtime and Technology Resource Committee, of which Lemons is a member.

Giving back to give others hope

Marjorie Peters, RMR, CRR, (in blue jacket) with other participants in Pittsburgh's Light of Life walk

Marjorie Peters, RMR, CRR, (in blue jacket) with other participants in Pittsburgh’s Light of Life walk

Since 2004, long-time NCRA member Marjorie Peters, RMR, CRR, a freelance captioner and court reporter from Pittsburgh, Pa., has volunteered for Light of Life Rescue Mission, a local organization that supports hungry and homeless men, women, and children. She does it, she says, because she needs to know each morning when she gets up that what she is working for is beyond herself.

While the Light of Life Rescue Mission provides a hot meal and a warm bed for the people it serves, Peters said the organization also offers programs and education to help people become independent again.

“Light of Life teaches people to fish. Light of Life keeps families together. Whether they are addicted, in recovery, or through tough life circumstances find themselves homeless, Light of Life makes it a mission to get them back on their feet, living with independence and pride again. They must commit to the program, and so Light of Life brings support, accountability, and hope,” says Peters.

Her commitment to supporting Light of Life began when she met the organization’s head of fundraising. “I said: ‘Don’t send me your pamphlets!  You’re wasting paper on me! I will support you significantly every year.’ So, we started meeting to discuss programs; and by the goodness of God, I hold up my end of the bargain,” Peters said.

Peters said she and her family understand the impact that difficult circumstances can have on people of all ages. Her mother passed away when she and her siblings were in their childhood, and though her dad was great, she said everyone in the family struggled in their own way with that significant loss.

“My younger brother dealt with addiction for many years and at one point did go to jail. I remember buying him new clothes so he could look for a job as he struggled returning to society.  Eventually, I am proud to say, he did win his battle and was a hard-working, independent husband and father.  He took responsibility and worked.  He was respected by the workers he eventually supervised in his shop,” Peters shared. “Sadly, he passed of a heart attack five years ago, while he was still too young. But his story is so powerful, and those co-workers were as devastated as we were. He was a real leader to them because they knew he overcame the struggle. He led by example.”

One of the activities Light of Life holds each year is an annual 20-mile walk through Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods to raise awareness about the mission and its work. Peters said joining her and other volunteers for the event are former NFL Pittsburgh Steelers players Tunch Ilkin and Craig Wolfley, who also work tirelessly with Light of Life.

“Why walk? Because that’s what the homeless do — all day, every day,” Peters explained. “While we are on the Walk, we see the homeless, and wouldn’t you know, Tunch and Wolf often know them by name!”

One of the highlights of working with Light of Life is watching people succeed on graduation day from its programs, Peters said. “It is a fantastic day. I know that every time I help a client at Light of Life, my brother is smiling somewhere, and when my feet hit the cold, hard wood in the morning, it means something.”

Peters, also a long-time NCRF Angel, is active in other areas of her community as well, including supporting Dress for Success and Treasure House Fashions, organizations that help women get back on their feet, and the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix, which raises funds for Autism research.

“It’s a week-long endeavor of classic and antique cars every year that starts with a race, followed by a gala, then a car show mid-week, and culminates with a two-day race on the weekend at a park. Proceeds benefit the Autism Society. I support the car show, and in the past I have sponsored a tent,” Peters said.

The JCR Weekly will run a series of interviews featuring NCRA members who are giving back to their community in addition to an article in the April issue of the JCR.

 

TESTING: When it doesn’t work

By Marybeth Everhart

“It doesn’t work.” That’s a sentence I’ve heard many, many times over the years, as a teacher, long-time CAT software trainer (and user), and marketing manager for Realtime Coach. This phrase, in general, refers to something mechanical that is broken or that has a function that is, well, not functioning. When a technology does not behave as we anticipate, we tend to say, “It doesn’t work!”

I used that very phrase myself recently when driving my new car. One of the features didn’t function as I anticipated, and my first reaction was to fuss about a brand-new car that “doesn’t work.” Okay, there were a few choice words mixed in with my “fussing,” but you get the picture. Fortunately, I read up on the function before calling — or worse, pulling into — the dealership and complaining about the vehicle. Turns out I misunderstood how that particular feature worked. It wasn’t broken at all; it simply didn’t meet my expectations. Once I understood how the feature was supposed to work, I realized “it” wasn’t broken but rather worked just fine. I guess you could say my understanding of “it” didn’t work.

That phrase is also one I hear, and occasionally read on social media, relating to online testing; and I often wonder if what generates the comment is a lack of understanding of the testing process or the process doesn’t meet the test candidate’s expectations. So this article will explore, in detail, who each of the players in online testing are, their role in the process, and what may cause “it” not to work or to meet your expectations.

The players

As has always been the case, NCRA (staff and volunteers) write and record the tests, handle registration, and communicate with test candidates. Realtime Coach is the practice and testing delivery platform, which means myRealtimeCoach.com is where you will go to practice and prepare for, take a skills test, and receive the immediate, electronic feedback. ProctorU is the company providing online test proctoring, which includes verifying and authenticating the test candidate, securing the testing location, and maintaining test security.

Once you register for a test through NCRA.org, you’ll receive an email from Realtime Coach. That email contains some very important information: a link to the testing site, your user name and password, and instructions for how to practice and prepare for a test. Answers to questions you have about registration, cost, frequency of testing, and so on can be found at NCRA.org/OnlineTesting.

There are several reasons why you may not receive the email: One is it ended up in your spam or junk email folder, so always check there before reaching out to NCRA. The other is you may have an old email address in your NCRA member profile, so double-check that the correct email address, and one you check regularly, is included in your profile. You will have an opportunity to review and/or change it at the time you register for a skills test.

Once you receive your login to myRealtimeCoach.com, you’ll want to begin preparing for the test by practicing the testing process, hopefully many, many times. There is one practice test for each type of certification, and there is no limit to the number of times you may access it, so walk through it as many times as you need to. This will help you feel more comfortable on test day. You’ll need to know where to find both the steno note and transcript files on your computer, for both practice and testing. If you don’t know where your particular CAT software houses files on your computer, you’ll find that information in the document “Taking an Online Skills Test with Realtime Coach and ProctorU.”

Once you have practiced the process on Realtime Coach, you have two free proctored practices available before taking a test. Use them! ProctorU requires you download a small applet that will allow your computer to connect to the proctor. You’ll also be using more of your computer’s resources, as well as internet bandwidth, to connect, so it’s better to find out ahead of time what corrections may need to be made.

Possible hiccups

Stuttering or no audio. Let’s say you hear the words “Ready, begin” but nothing after that. Stuttering or choppy audio or video playback is most often a computer performance issue, but it can be any one of the following:

Poor internet connection speed: Your internet connection should be at least DSL/cable or equivalent. It might be helpful to test your connection speed at a website that provides this service, such as speedtest.net. You might also test the playback when no other programs are running.

Computer performance: Even if your computer meets or exceeds the minimum system requirements, it’s still possible that the choppy playback is the result of poor computer performance. While capable hardware is required, performance is governed by how efficiently the software makes use of the hardware’s resources. Having multiple applications or processes running simultaneously will consume your system resources (particularly CPU and RAM usage), sometimes to the point of degrading overall performance. Most computers will have dozens of processes running silently in the background that each consume available memory and processing power.

To view the impact of the various processes that are running, begin playing an exercise — one of the practice tests will do just fine — and press Ctrl+Shift+Esc to open the Windows Task Manager. On the Processes tab, you will see everything currently running, along with the percentage of CPU power being consumed by each process at any given time. If you suspect that your computer’s performance is being degraded by running processes, you will want to disable all unnecessary or unwanted applications and to remove them from Startup when your computer boots up.

If you are unfamiliar or not comfortable with identifying and disabling background processes, ask someone appropriately knowledgeable and qualified to assist you. Once a process is identified and disabled, be sure to remove it from Startup so it does not load the next time your computer boots up. Another very helpful tip is to reboot your computer. If you’re like me and you put yours to sleep rather than turn it off, you’ll notice over time that things begin to run slowly and, in technical terms, it’s just not very happy. Go to the Start menu and choose Restart, which will shut down everything that’s running and start anew.

The test won’t load.

Check your browsing cache: The first time you visit a website, the browser will save pieces of the site because the browser can display the files stored in its cache much faster than it can pull fresh files from a server. The next time you visit that site, the cached files will help cut down the page load time. Sounds helpful, doesn’t it? Yes and no. Helpful, yes, if there have been no changes to the site or in what you are to have access to. Not helpful if any changes have occurred. For example, perhaps you’re taking your second online certification exam, the first being the RPR and the second being the CRR. The cached version of Realtime Coach may show you enrolled in only the RPR, so there’s no CRR for you to take, even though you’ve registered and paid for it. Clearing your cache is the first place to start. If you don’t know how to clear the cache in your browser, simply perform an internet search on clearing cache in Chrome, Firefox, or Edge — whatever browser you use — or refer to this section of the Realtime Coach website.
Update your antivirus software: Run the update procedure, and fully scan your system for viruses. Take the course of action recommended by the software if any infections are found. If you don’t have an anti-virus program, get one as soon as possible. There are several high-quality free programs out there — just do your homework before you select one. Scan your entire system with one or two reputable anti-spyware programs. Be sure to run the update procedure before scanning so that the software can detect the latest threats. After scanning, perform the recommended actions if anything is found. You’d be surprised how many people have viruses or malware on their computers without even realizing it.

ProctorU

As mentioned previously, ProctorU’s role is that of test security. They proctor hundreds of thousands of exams each year for hundreds of institutions, so don’t expect them to understand what it is we do. That’s not their job. Their job is simply to verify that you are, indeed, the person who registered to take the test, to secure the test site, and to monitor the testing process to ensure no one cheats.

Know that they will ask to see your driver’s license to confirm your identity. It is helpful to have a second form of ID handy just in case you do not pass the authentication quiz. They will also ask you to perform a 360-degree pan of the room using your external webcam. What they’re looking for is other people in the room with you, any paperwork on your desk that might assist you in any way, even what cables are attached to your computer and what devices they are connected to.

Once the proctor is comfortable that you are who you say you are, that you are alone, and that you have no outside assistance, they will ask you to set the camera at an angle that allows them to see both your face and your hands on your machine as you write. It’s helpful to have a camera with a built-in, adjustable stand for this purpose. Knowing this, you can practice setting up your camera that way when you use Skype or Zoom, once again raising your comfort level when the actual test rolls around. You should know that connecting to the proctor, passing the identification and authentication process, and preparing for the skills test can take some time — perhaps even 30 minutes or more — so be patient.

A lot of the testing stress has been eliminated by allowing you to take it on a day and time and in a location that suits you best, and by reducing the distractions, like other test candidates in the room. That said, you’re still likely to be a bit nervous, so just remember to practice, be patient (with yourself and your proctor), and be persistent. Data shows that pass rates have increased since moving tests online, so the odds of passing are increasingly in your favor. Ready, begin!

Marybeth Everhart, RPR, CRI, CPE, is the national marketing manager at RealtimeCoach, a realtime trainer, and a former court reporter. She can be reached at meverhart@learnrealtime.com.

I just had a bad day: Overcoming the fear of failure

By Cassy Kerr

Success means different things to different people, but my success story is overcoming my fear of failure. Having done that has opened up a whole new professional world!

My turning point came when I saw baseball pitcher Randy Johnson give an interview to a TV journalist after playing a horrible game years ago. “I had a really bad day,” he said. For some reason, that statement clicked with me. Johnson is an accomplished professional pitcher with many awards who plays in front of thousands of people in the stands and millions of people watching on TV, and he had a bad day in front of all of them. But he still had a job. He still had people who liked him. The earth didn’t open up and swallow him.

Thoughts of losing my job, people judging me or laughing behind my back, or wanting the earth to open up have all run through my head when I have had a bad day at work, but if Randy Johnson can have a bad day, so can I, and I will survive it too.

Overcoming the fear of failure and persevering through the bad days are what help me each time I hook up to write realtime for anyone. The fear of anyone seeing my mistakes is horrifying, but I can’t dwell on that because I inevitably envision the worst-case scenarios; so instead, I do more preparation — work on my job dictionary or hook up and unhook all connections until I feel comfortable with the process — and remind myself that my identity is not my job.

I am also determined to want to better myself to provide the end result. I had the honor of CARTing for my friend’s father, who is hard of hearing, during his divorce trial. When she asked me if I knew if the courthouse had any assistive devices to help him, I immediately explained to her what I was able to provide for her dad and volunteered to do it. I didn’t let fear of failure deter me. I have a talent that could help her dad; so with preparation, grit, and help and encouragement from friends, I made it happen. Unfortunately, everything didn’t go as planned. The connection from my router to the client’s computer kept dropping. After the third time, I placed my connected computer in front of him, and he read from it as I kept writing.

Was it the perfect outcome? No, but Dad had the words in front of him and could follow along with the trial, and the earth didn’t open up to swallow me whole after the setback. Knowing I overcame my fears to provide a service to a person in need is the greatest success I can ever imagine.

Cassy Kerr, RPR, CRR, CRC, is a freelance reporter and the owner of StenoLogic in Tulsa, Okla. She can be reached at stenologic@cox.net.

High-profile trials in a high-profile city

By Monette Benoit and Anthony Frisolone

They say, “The lights shine brightly on Broadway.” Those people have obviously never been inside a courtroom in New York City where on most days, high drama plays out across the city, and the official court reporters of the federal and state courts are there to cover every word of the action!

Just south and east from the stages of Broadway, in Brooklyn, N.Y., at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge, sits the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York (EDNY), where many high-profile cases have taken place. The variety of cases heard there are as diverse as the city itself — organized crime, terrorism, securities fraud, and complex civil cases — and have resulted in many thousands of pages of transcript produced by EDNY’s court reporting staff. Open the local papers or scan the headlines and the names are familiar — Martin Skhreli, John Gotti, Peter Gaitien, Najibullah Zazi, and many others who have all come through these doors of what was once described as a “little country court.”

How does an official reporter or a staff of reporters handle a high-profile federal trial proceeding? Let’s explore some of the procedures that are employed by the EDNY reporters to ensure a successful trial. Initially, after a criminal defendant is charged and arraigned, or a civil case is filed, a district judge is assigned the case via “the wheel.” The wheel is a random selection process to spread the workload amongst all members of the Eastern District Bench. Federal courts also employ magistrate judges who work with the district judges. Their role is to handle discovery issues for the district judge. Magistrates can also take change of plea proceedings and may conduct evidentiary hearings.

The reporters in EDNY work on an approximate 20-week rotating basis, meaning each official serves with a judge for five days, then the reporter moves to the next judge in the schedule. In the context of a trial, the reporter assigned to the court is the principal for that week, who is then assisted by members of the court reporting staff who may have a light calendar and may be available to help the principal.

In EDNY, the staff works in teams of three reporters. Each reporter takes a one-hour portion of the trial, is then relieved by the next reporter, and then the next. This allows the first reporter, the principal, one to two hours to transcribe their portion — depending on how the trial day is divided. Relief times are adjusted according to delays in the proceedings or a shortened or elongated trial day. The goal is that each member of the trial team gets a close-to-equal share of the trial as the other members of the team.

The duties of the principal reporter for the case include: keeping track of each assisting reporter on a case, tracking everyone’s pages using a tally sheet, and communicating with the parties to obtain correct ‘order’ information. A majority of the trials that the reporters cover are ordered as a daily or an immediate copy, so teamwork and communication are the keys to success. The reporters also handle their own production of transcripts, which includes printing and binding of transcripts as well as emailing, troubleshooting realtime connections, billing parties, and paying the assisting reporters. It’s not unusual for one reporter to be underneath a desk troubleshooting a connection while another reporter is writing.

Preparation for a high-profile trial, or any trial, begins with solid preparation. Usually, on Thursday or Friday before each case begins, the principal reporter will create a glossary of terms for the case by scanning the Electronic Case Filing system that the federal courts employ.

We also try to work with the attorneys on each case to get a witness list and possibly a CD or any bindings of any exhibits that will be used during trial. In criminal cases, we understandably won’t receive that information until the day of trial due to rules that the U.S. Attorney’s Office has set as well as the Section 3500 obligations. Once the glossary is complete, it is then distributed amongst the staff members. In cases where technical terms or foreign names will be mentioned, we will research and double-check for the correct spelling.

Sometimes, additional research is required to ensure transcript accuracy. Preparation is made easier thanks to some of the case preparation features now found in our CAT software. These functionalities allow for the analysis of transcripts, and then from the lists, we can build those words into our job dictionaries.

Since the EDNY has the largest terrorism docket in the United States, this is especially important since a majority of cases involve military terms, foreign names, foreign locations, and other foreign terminology. Just as an example, there are at least six ways to spell Mohammed. In one trial, there were two defendants named Sayed and Said as well as a witness named Sayeed — all of them pronounced SIGH-eed.

In terrorism cases, it is required that district official reporters also obtain TS/SCI security clearance in order to report classified proceedings under the Classified Information Procedures Act. TS/SCI stands for Top Secret/Secured Compartmentalized Information. The process for receiving this clearance requires an extensive background check, as well as interviews of each candidate, friends, and past employers.

When realtime is provided, we use a switch box with four connections for the officials to connect their computers and equipment. At the beginning of each day, at least two reporters connect their computers to the switch box. Now, when switching takes place, we do what’s called
a “silent switch” where the switch occurs on the next question. The switch is signaled by a nod of the head or even a tap on the shoulder. When this occurs, the first reporter stops writing and the second starts. In the realtime context, the first reporter then moves the switch box to the letter on the box that the relief reporters have assigned themselves. You know that the switch is truly silent when no one notices us entering or leaving the courtroom!

This is just a quick sketch of how one courthouse handles big cases. The truth is that we handle every case like it is a big case because that’s what we require of ourselves.

Monette Benoit, CRI, CPE, B.A., who is based in San Antonio, Texas, is a captioner and agency owner as well as an author of several books. She can be reached through her blog at monettebenoit.com.

Anthony D. Frisolone, FAPR, RDR, CRR, CRC, CRI, is an official court reporter in the Eastern District of New York. He can be reached at AFrisolone@aol.com. He expresses his appreciation of the 25 official court reporters in the Eastern District of New York who, he says, “are some of the most talented and hard-working reporters I’ve ever had the privilege to work with, and this is why I keep showing up to work every day!”

Interested in covering international depositions? Here are 10 things you need to know

By Ian Hardy

I started covering international depositions as a legal videographer more than seventeen years ago. During the time I was living in Paris, France, and I began by working on international depositions as a young legal videographer. I have had the honor of working with some great court reporters and videographers in the business, covering U.S. depositions in every major country around the world. Now, back in the U.S., I continue covering depositions worldwide through my court reporting firm.

If you’re interested in covering international depositions as a reporter or videographer, I say go for it! It can be a fun and lucrative way to explore the world.

Here are ten useful rules of thumb for working U.S. depositions abroad:

  1. The two busiest regions for international depositions are Europe and Asia. These two places do the most business with the United States, and consequently, they often have witnesses that need to be deposed in American litigation.
  2. If the country is not English-speaking and doesn’t have indigenous court reporters, it’s more likely you’ll be asked to go there. Some countries, like England and Canada, already have their own court reporters who can cover depositions.
  3. Law firms looking for international reporters always ask for two things: 1) A reporter who will get the job done without fail, and 2) Low or no travel costs.
  4. Being based abroad is a huge advantage because you’ll save your clients money on travel. If you have dual nationality or a way to be based abroad in a popular deposition region, take advantage of it. You’ll get more work.
  5. By far the majority of international depos involve willing witnesses, because compelling unwilling witnesses to appear is very difficult for attorneys to accomplish in the international context.
  6. Some countries have special rules for administering the oath, and U.S. notary powers do not extend outside of the United States. In general, the best approach for swearing in your witness in a foreign country is to ask counsel for both sides to stipulate on the record that you, the court reporter, can administer the oath.
  7. If a client asks you to cover a deposition in a foreign country, be sure to educate yourself about the time difference, visa requirements, deposition restrictions (if any), security issues, and electrical system of the country before saying you can cover it for sure.
  8. Three major countries that have restrictions on the taking of depositions are China, Germany, and Japan. China does not allow depositions, while Germany and Japan require that all depositions be taken on the grounds of the U.S. consulate.
  9. Always take direct flights, whenever possible, to minimize the chances of bags being lost or missed connections.
  10. Sometimes international depositions can be taken remotely, via videoconference or telephone; be sure to ask the attorneys if they are interested in pursuing this option in situations where travel is prohibitively expensive or difficult.

Ian Hardy is the founder and president of Optima Juris, an international agency specializing in deposition services for U.S. legal matters abroad. More information on global depositions is available for NCRA members at http://www.optimajuris.com/NCRA/. Hardy can be reached at ihardy@optimajuris.com.

 

 

 

The many joys of working abroad

While there are many attractive attributes to a career in court reporting, perhaps one of the most intriguing is the opportunity to travel abroad for work. While many of the profession appreciate coming home after an overseas assignment, a lucky few NCRA members have made it their mission to work permanently in other countries. The JCR recently reached out to several NCRA members who have established themselves as working professionals and residents outside of their native countries.

So much bigger than the United States

Since 1979, Susan Anne McIntyre, RPR, CRR, CRC, has had the United Kingdom and Europe serve as the backdrops for her work as a freelance court reporter and captioner. Her work ranges from covering U.S. depositions and international arbitrations to work in the criminal courts, as a television captioner, and providing CART services.

How did the opportunity for you to work outside of the United States come about?

There was an article in the JCR in 1978 by the partners of a London-based reporting firm, George Walpole & Sons, who ran the contract to provide reporting services to the Central Criminal Court (Old Bailey). They were looking for reporters to come over and work as there was a shortage of qualified, high-speed reporters. At this time my colleagues were all pen shorthand writers using Pitman.

What made you want to work outside of the United States?

I was a real Anglophile and the opportunity to work in London was an opportunity too good to pass on. 

What was the hardest adjustment you had to make when you moved from the United States?

There were numerous adjustments that had to be made, but leaving my family was the most difficult. I was only 21 when I moved over to London. Some of the less traumatic adjustments were: no shops open on a Sunday, getting used to lunch at 1.00 instead of 12.00 (!), learning the colloquialisms of the language, learning to spell the English way, learning that “pants” and “trousers” were two very different items of clothing, having to flat share and not being able to afford a place of my own – which was the best thing that could have happened ( I made friends that I still have today); and learning to drive on the other side of the car on the other side of the street!

Did you relocate on your own or did you have assistance from a hiring firm?

No, I had no assistance. I did it on my own.

Do you receive benefits such as health insurance, 401K, pension, or are you considered an independent contractor?

I am an independent contractor (self-employed). I work for myself under the name of Ambassador Reporting International. My aim is to let all U.S. agencies know that I’m here and to work with them to provide a professional, high-quality, reliable service to their customers on their behalf.

What has been the best experience in working outside of the United States?

Realizing that the world is much bigger than the United States of America, seeing how other nationalities live and experiencing their cultures, and travelling.

Do you plan to return to the United States to work again?

Unlikely. I have now lived in the U.K. for 38 years – 17 years longer than I lived in the United States. This is my home now.

 Will you retire outside of the United States?

Yes.

What tips do you have for someone considering working outside of the United States?

Do it legally. Find out what your wage is likely to be and then what the standard of living is for someone on that wage. Do not expect your standard of living to be what you have in the U.S. Be aware that court reporting in certain countries just doesn’t exist. Be aware that as a U.S. citizen you are still obligated to file a U.S. tax return.

What is your favorite food there? 

Curry!

From bustling street scenes to sitting alongside a canal

After falling in love with Amsterdam, Rich Alossi, RPR, relocated from California to the Netherlands and now works as a full-time freelance reporter covering patent litigation, technical matters, arbitration, and the occasional captioning/speech-to-text work. His work takes him throughout Europe and occasionally Asia.

How did the opportunity for you to work outside of the United States come about?

My husband and I visited a friend in Amsterdam in 2013 and completely fell in love with the city, the people, and the quiet yet bustling street scenes that are enabled by the cycling culture. Coming from Los Angeles, it was pure joy to sit alongside a canal and listen to the sounds of bikes zipping past. We loved it so much that the next year we returned with the intention of scoping out neighborhoods to live in. After two years of planning and a huge personal investment, we followed through on our dream.

What made you want to work outside of the United States?

 I’ve always wanted to live abroad; it was just a matter of whether my skills would transfer professionally. When we saw an opportunity to make the move, it was a no-brainer. Reporting agencies love using me for jobs in Europe because their clients save on travel fees.

What was the hardest adjustment you had to make when you moved outside of the United States?

First and foremost, I miss my family and friends terribly. Facebook is great for keeping in touch, though. We’re taking time in between working and renovating our apartment to rebuild our routines. The more we travel, the more we realize that having continuity in daily life is more important than we would have expected. Even something as small as having an exact copy of all the personal care products that we use at home, like shampoo and soap, is important. Also, being immersed in another language, I’m finding that I am subconsciously altering my English words and syntax. I’m at a frustrating point of being bad at Dutch and English!

Did you relocate on your own or did you have assistance from a hiring firm?

As freelancers, we made the move completely on our own.

Do you receive benefits such as health insurance, 401K, pension, or are you considered an independent contractor?

As an independent contractor in a socially conscious country, the Netherlands is set up very well with health insurance options and retirement plans for citizens and residents. We have affordable private health insurance, and the market here is well regulated and consumer friendly.

What has been the best experience in working outside of the United States?

I love discovering new cities and planning return trips, and that’s so easy within the European Union’s visa-free Schengen Zone. Sweden has been a surprise favorite. While I think I would have had the ability to see a few of the dozens of cities and countries I’ve been to in the past few years, it would have taken me a lifetime had I not made the move to Europe. In less than two hours from Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, I can be in most destinations in Western Europe.

Do you plan to return to the United States to work again?

I do not currently have any plans to return to the United States to live or work. That said, it’s only a 10-hour flight back to California, so there’s no reason not to visit each year.

Will you retire outside of the United States?

This year we’ll be starting contributions to a Dutch pension, and I’m continuing my intensive language studies. After five years, we will be able to apply for Europe-wide permanent residency. This is for the long haul.

What tips do you have for someone considering working outside of the United States?

My biggest recommendation is to stop comparing things so much to how they are back home, or at least have good humour about it. There will be pros and cons. The grocery store won’t have the products you’ve become accustomed to. You’ll lament the tiny kitchens and strange habits of the locals. But do try to learn the local language; it’ll open doors for you.

What advice do you have for someone searching for work outside of the United States?

Remember that it’s not a vacation. The clients are paying a lot of money for a service, and you must be up to the challenges that travel imposes. What’s your fall back plan if your realtime router gets fried in a puff of smoke as soon as you plug it in on a job in another country? Can you guarantee the job will go forward if your checked baggage is lost or delayed? Will you sleep through your alarm because of jet lag? What if the law firm Wi-Fi isn’t letting you stream offsite? You’ll know the answers to these questions because you’ve planned for them ahead of time.

What is your favorite food there?

Dutch food isn’t known for being too adventurous — lots of potatoes and root vegetables with a little meat — but that doesn’t mean it’s all plain. My favorite Dutch food is the bitterbal, which is a deep-fried breaded ball of gravy that you eat with a beer after work at the local “bruinkroeg,” or brown bar (so named because of the decades of cigarette smoke that have turned the formerly white walls brown). Smoking isn’t allowed inside anymore, thankfully, but the bruinkroegen and their deep-fried delicacies persevere. By the way, a great local brew here is almost always cheaper than bottled water or cola.

Go travel the world

Leah M. Willersdorf is an Australian living just outside of London in the County of Essex. Her location allows her to cover American depositions, arbitrations, caption big-screen events, work courtroom trials and more – throughout the United Kingdom, Europe, Scotland, and Ireland. She is a member of the British Institute of Verbatim Reporters and is currently working on earning her Register Professional Reporter certification from NCRA.

How long have you worked there? How did the opportunity for you to work outside of Australia come about? What made you want to work outside of your home nation?

Well, there’s a story. For those who don’t know it, I trained in Brisbane, Australia, in 1990/1991 at university, having wanted to be a court reporter since watching LA Law in my mid-teens and wondering what the really bored-looking woman was doing as she sat in front of the judge sort of tapping her fingers. I was able to do high school work experience shadowing a real-life reporter, so I first “touched” a steno machine when I was 16. I went on to university, graduated at the end of the two-year course (though I almost threw the machine out the window when I couldn’t get 80 wpm), which began with 90 students and ended up with just 10. Subjects included written English, spoken English, law, economics, management, and of course the machine.

In 1994 I said to my mum that either I must go travel the world or I stay in Australia and achieve what we call the Great Aussie Dream – buy a big plot of land and build your dream house.  I’m sure with some trepidation, my mum said, “Do what I never did and travel the world.” My brother was also here at the time, so that did help.

I applied for my two-year Working Holiday Visa and was London-bound in March 1995 at the ripe old age of 22. Twenty-two years later I’m still on that working holiday…and loving it. Not only do I not regret a single day – not even the bad ones – but I look around me constantly and realize how very lucky I am to be living my dream.

What was the hardest adjustment you had to make when you moved outside Australia?

Two main things come to mind immediately. In Adelaide at the Courts Administration Authority, where I began my career, we used to have three reporters on a team in court. We would usually do 20-minute turns and then be transcribing our turns when not in court, so that the final transcript was ready at the end of the day for the parties (after they had filled in a requisition form, of course). On my first day at Inner London Crown Court, I asked, “So what time will someone be in to take me off?” (Weird jargon we reporters use, isn’t it?) Well, you can imagine the look on my face when I was told that I’m in this courtroom all day on my own! Needless to say, back in those days I quickly had to build up my stamina, and I’m glad I did; some assignments I’ve done sit crazy hours!

The second thing I had to adjust to was not only the currency exchange rate (don’t convert when you start working in another country) but getting paid monthly, and a different amount each month, whereas back home it was fortnightly and the same amount each fortnight because it was a governmental position. Nowadays I think I would struggle going back to fortnightly!

Did you relocate on your own or did you have assistance from a hiring firm:

No, I received no assistance from a firm; however, I did have interviews/exams lined up for when I first arrived in London.

Do you receive benefits such as health insurance, 401K, pension, or are you considered an independent contractor?

As a self-employed freelancer, all those types of things are my own responsibility now; which is another thing I kind of miss about my time of working back home as well. We had a thing called Leave Loading where you would actually get extra money when you took your statutory leave.

What has been the best experience in working outside of Australia?

The opportunity to travel the world with my quirky non-KWERTY, and that includes around the state of South Australia. I could be in a London black taxi going past Big Ben or Buckingham Palace, and I still have to pinch myself that I am living in London. Being Australian, when I travel abroad I am fortunate enough to get stamps in my passport for every time I enter/leave a country; I will be able to look back on all of my travels just in those little books, which fill up quite quickly!

Also, I have had the opportunity to work alongside a couple of great expat American reporters particularly over the last couple of years. It was an absolute pleasure to be able to do double- and triple-tracked depositions in Stockholm (twice) and The Hague with Rich Alossi. This can be such an isolating profession sometimes, but when you get to work with other reporters it’s just such a wonderful experience. 

Do you plan to return to Australia to work again?

One day I will. I would love to go back to Adelaide and see all the gold-standard reporters who inspired me to always be the best I can be and to always have affection for that weird-looking machine.

What tips do you have for someone considering working outside of Australia?

First, make sure you have the necessary work visas/permits to allow you to work in your country of choice, whether it be for a week or for a year. To this day, I still have to show my documents, and I always will have to, I imagine. The rest of the world does not have the reporter population which America has, and to go in and not have the required documents yet still work is taking work away from the locals. Also, over here in Europe, and I know in Australia and Asia as well, realtime (in whatever sphere of the profession) is in high demand.  If you can provide very clean and readable realtime, you practically have a foot in the door. Do what you love and love what you do!

What advice do you have for someone searching for work outside of Australia?

Make it known to the agencies who you work with that you are willing and able (and have a passport with a good few months’ validity) to travel for work. You never know, they may send you to a city/country which you fall in love with and then decide you want to move there. Or, better still, you could fall in love with a local. I fell in love with a Parisian and now his Paris is one of my favourite cities in the world…though my French could do with a lot of help!

What is your favorite food there?

It’s not so much a food, but Twinings English Breakfast tea – I couldn’t start my day without it! (And the British version tastes so much nicer than the Aussie version!)

My wonderful home in Asia

After scanning the JCR job ads for interesting opportunities, Mary Allred, RPR, from Alberta, Canada, relocated to Japan in 2015. As a reporter for Planet Depos, she provides realtime services in the areas of depositions and arbitrations not only in Japan, but in Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Guam, Singapore, and Macao.

How did the opportunity for you to work outside of Canada come about?

I was living and working in Calgary, Alberta. The posting for Asia was advertised in the JCR, and when I saw it, I sent an email with an inquiry for details. The rest fell into place from there.

What made you want to work outside of Canada?

I have always had the travel bug, and I had obtained the RPR certification with the intention of traveling and working around the world, including in the United States.

What was the hardest adjustment you had to make when you moved outside of Canada?

I had to learn quickly how to handle the heat and humidity.  Not a single piece of clothing I brought with me is still in rotation in my wardrobe. Also, there was a drastic but pleasant lifestyle change going from a car society to a train society. The public transport system in Japan is famous for a reason. It can take you anywhere! It also requires a lot of walking. I’ve made more than my fair share of train mistakes and ended up in strange places, but each one was its own adventure.

I was surprised that the language barrier was not as much of a challenge as I thought it would be. Everyone has probably heard the saying that most of communication is non-verbal, and I have definitely learned this is true. I was lucky as well that several phone apps are available that can take a photo and translate text to semi-readable English. I have managed to avoid washing my hair with laundry detergent for two years due to their assistance!

Did you relocate on your own or did you have assistance from a hiring firm?

The firm took care of all relocation details. I moved to Japan sight unseen and with only the knowledge I accumulated from long forgotten school information and old samurai movies. Housing and flights are covered by my firm to help ease the transition. 

Do you receive benefits such as health insurance, 401K, pension, or are you considered an independent contractor?

As a resident of Japan, my health insurance is covered under the National Health Service, which is included in taxes.

What has been the best experience in working outside of Canada?

It has been such an adventure living and working in Asia. I have worked through many earthquakes and a few typhoons. I have loved the ability to experience other cultures much more in depth than is possible during a short trip. My work takes me all over Asia, and I have been able to see shrines and temples, castles and skyscrapers in some of the world’s most beautiful places.

Do you plan to return to Canada to work again?

At this time I have no plans to leave my wonderful home in Asia.

Will you retire outside of Canada?

I’m sure someday I will return to my home in Canada, probably around the same time I finally start to enjoy the heat!

What tips do you have for someone considering working outside of Canada?

Have patience! Some days even the simplest thing can turn into an ordeal as you learn different ways to do things. Do not ever be afraid to ask for help. The language barrier can be a challenge, but being polite and understanding will make the people helping you more willing to go the extra mile to make your job easier.

What advice do you have for someone searching for work outside of Canada?

The JCR job bank was an excellent resource for me. Once you are there, there are amazing tools nowadays for meeting people and trying new things. Sign up for Meetup.com and join local Facebook groups, and in no time you’ll build a network of friends making your time in your adopted country the most amazing experience possible.

What is your favorite food there?

Impossible to list it all! Asian food is amazing.  In Japan my favorites are Japanese curry and tonkotsu ramen. In Taiwan I always look for a 50Lan tea shop and get Yakult lemonade or a bubble tea. In Korea, be prepared to burn all your taste buds off with some spicy fried chicken and in Hong Kong get the Michelin Hong Kong Street Food Guide and try everything!

 

Off to Africa straight out of school

NCRA member Shane Madill, RPR, RMR, has been based in the Netherlands for nearly a decade. From there, his major job is providing realtime court work for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. He has also worked at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the International Criminal Court, and the Special Court for Sierra Leone in Freetown, Sierra, Leone. Every now and then he also does some court and arbitration work in the courts in Singapore. He also occasionally works in Asia.

How did the opportunity for you to work outside of Canada come about?

When I was a student at NAIT in my second year, my teacher used to work at the SCSL (Special Court for Sierra Leone). Knowing that I wanted to get out of Canada and try something new, she encouraged me to apply. At first I didn’t get accepted, and I was pretty disappointed. But then two months later they e-mailed me asking me if I was still interested and off I went to Africa fresh out of school for my first job.  

What made you want to work outside of Canada?

The opportunity to work outside of Canada was one of the principal reasons why I chose to get into court reporting. In NAIT’s brochure, they advertised students who had gone on to work in Australia and Europe, and that sounded right up my alley. I knew from high school that outside of Canada is where I wanted to go.

What was the hardest adjustment you had to make when you moved outside of Canada?

Being fresh out of school and going straight into an international environment, there was a steep learning curve. I was extremely fortunate to have the chance to work with some absolutely amazing reporters, who taught me how to adjust my writing style for foreign names and places that I’d never heard of and other ways to continue to shorten my writing. Also, learning how to deal with thick accents, different speaking styles, and new phrases had to quickly become second nature.

Did you relocate on your own, or did you have assistance from a hiring firm?

When I left Canada to Sierra Leone, I was 20. I didn’t have anything other than a suitcase, so there wasn’t much relocating to do. The people from the SCSL helped find me a place to stay to start off with, and I moved around down there eventually on my own. 

Moving to The Hague in the Netherlands from Freetown in Sierra Leone was much the same experience. The firm I work with had an apartment at that time that I could stay in until I managed to find my own flat.

Do you receive benefits such as health insurance, 401K, pension, or are you considered an independent contractor?

I receive no benefits and am treated by my firm as a contractor. I receive a living allowance and a food allowance. 

What has been the best experience in working outside of Canada?

Being able to develop myself professionally and meeting other court reporters from all over. I don’t know where I would be without a lot of the help and mentoring I received from my colleagues from different parts of Canada and the world. I know you can develop yourself professionally anywhere you are based, but working in different countries and having to adjust my writing style and my ears to different names and accents and having to quickly adjust to different cases focused in different continents and regions of the world has helped me to believe in my ability to do my job accurately in almost any situation and provide a product that the client will be happy with, which always leaves me with a smile because I feel like I accomplish something every day.    

Do you plan to return to Canada to work again?

Not in the near future, or hopefully distant. I’m pretty happy overseas right now.

Will you retire outside of Canada?

Yes, something about the south coast of France has always appealed to me. I’m hoping to somehow manage to get there!

What tips do you have for someone considering working outside of Canada?

Research the country or city you’re thinking of moving to and the culture, and be prepared for some inevitable cultural misunderstandings to come about. I’d also advise anyone moving abroad to also look into how the income tax in that country works, because it can get tricky!

What advice do you have for someone searching for work outside of Canada?

Keep trying and searching. It can be pretty hard to get the overseas job, but once you get in and get known in the circuit, the rewards are well worth the struggle and you may never want to go back.

What is your favorite food there?

Kibbeling. It’s a snack consisting of battered chunks of fish, commonly served with a mayonnaise-based garlic sauce or tartar sauce. My personal preference is the mayonnaise-based garlic sauce. 

 

Exiting from your court reporting firm

By Terry McGill

Exiting your business is a hot topic for many owners that seems fairly simple at first glance. You start your firm, let it grow for 25 or 35 years, and then sell it to someone while you quietly walk into the sunset with a pocket full of cash.

But the reality is more complicated. When you started your firm, it was unlikely you were thinking about what you needed to do to sell in the future. And you might have assumed that there would just be someone to buy your firm at your price when you were ready to sell. That’s not always the case.

Let’s run through some of the things that you, as a court reporting firm owner, can do to make the whole process smoother.

The first question that we may ask is: How soon are you planning to leave your business? If you want out today and you started thinking about an exit last week, this is a different scenario than if you have been planning and engineering your firm for exit years in advance. Most of the time, owners have not planned ahead for the best possible exit.

When an owner exits a business, there are many, many considerations to be taken into account.  Here are a few questions you should think about:

  • What is my firm actually worth to an outside entity?
  • How would a deal be structured if I were to sell?
  • Is the buying firm a cultural fit with my existing firm?
  • What will happen to my staff and reporters?
  • Will my clients be treated in the same way that I have treated them through the years?

You may have even more questions, but let’s start with these.

What is my firm actually worth to an outside entity?

Unfortunately, it might not be as much as you think. Most owners want to be compensated for the years spent building their firms. Instead, the market is concerned with evaluating a firm’s value, usually using something called the EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization). An interested buyer will probably offer a multiple of that number to come up with a value that he/she is comfortable with. Both parties should consider many factors when coming up with a deal.

How would a deal be structured if I were to sell?

The structure of one deal can be different from the next. There isn’t a standard deal structure. If you are offered $1,000,000 for your firm, that $1,000,000 can be paid out in many different ways over a period of time. It may be in an upfront payment, or a smaller portion may be given at the beginning with the remainder being paid out over a period of time (for example, three to five years) to the owner. There may also be certain levels of revenue and earnings that are a part of the deal that could affect an owner’s payout over time. The main point here is that deals are created differently and structured differently based on an acquiring firm’s goals and directives.

Is the buying firm a cultural fit with my existing firm?

This is a valid question and concern for any owner. It’s important that the firm being acquired and the firm acquiring it are a good cultural fit; that is, they should have similar values. It’s to the benefit of both firms to explore this issue thoroughly. A transition to new ownership should be as seamless as possible — to benefit the staff, reporters, and clients. Many deals have gone off the rail because there wasn’t a cultural fit and similar mindsets moving forward. This is one of the reasons due diligence on both sides is very important to the acquisition or merger being a success. The financial aspect is extremely important, but the cultures should mesh as well and not be overlooked.

What will happen to my staff and reporters?

Again, this is a valid concern for an owner. You have built your staff and reporters over many years, and they have become part of your family. Most firms are respectful of current staff and reporters and are not interested in anything that would be disruptive to any potential acquisition of your firm. Your staff and reporters have helped build the firm to the point where an outside entity would be interested in acquiring your firm. It would not be to the acquiring firm’s advantage to make wholesale changes to the very people who contributed to the success of the firm. Having said that, other factors could affect the acquisition downstream.

Will my clients be treated in the same way that I have treated them through the years?

The clients are always a concern on both sides of an acquisition. They are the lifeblood of the industry. That’s one of the main reasons that the cultural fit is so important to ensure clients remain. An acquiring firm is taking risks because there is no guarantee that clients will continue to be clients. As owners, all of you take the same risk with clients every day. The client who is with you today is not guaranteed to be your client next month. Everyone in the industry understands the value of protecting the client base. This is an additional reason that due diligence is so very important in any exit strategy. Many of the potential negative issues can be avoided at the beginning instead of putting out fires at the end.

What we have tried to illustrate is that there is not a “one size fits all” type of deal. There are many different factors in many different areas to consider before you exit. Educate yourself as much as possible to ensure you understand the process and the components of the process before you move too far down the exit pathway.

Many owners are not prepared for all of the ramifications and, therefore, not ready to exit. If you are thinking about an exit, make sure you go into any potential situation as an informed and educated owner with the right questions.

Terry McGill is a small business consultant and managing partner of Strategic Business Directs. He assists court reporting firm owners with operational, financial, organizational, growth, marketing, sales, and exiting issues. He can be reached at terry@strategicbusinessdirects.com or 614-284-0846.