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.

Overcoming your fear

By Linda A. Kaiser

What is fear? Webster’s defines fear as an unpleasant, often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger. In the verb tense, fear is defined as to be afraid or apprehensive. I’d like us to focus on two words in each of those meanings: anticipation and apprehensive.

When you anticipate something, the outcome of that event can either be good or bad. At the conclusion of that event, the anticipation dissipates. To anticipate is to be active. You can either anticipate something with excitement or anticipate something with trepidation. You are in charge whether you put a positive or a negative spin on your anticipation. I suggest you go forward with an expectancy versus an expectation, thereby alleviating a possible disappointment due to your expectations.

To be apprehensive puts you in a position of being afraid, reluctant, thus holding you back and ultimately aversive.

I would like to help turn your fear and apprehension into motivation. Fear can be highly effective. We are taught at a young age that fear is something to take heed of, as in the instance of don’t touch the stove top or you’ll get burned. You are motivated to not touch the stove top so you don’t get burned.

I propose to you that the fear of realtiming is a fear you can overcome. Here are some basic steps that I utilize, even to this day, in my fight to overcome fears of realtiming.

I first start the day out with some “self” talk. I focus on my strengths and my abilities instead of focusing on where I perceive my weaknesses are. I spend ten minutes, before even rising, to pronounce to myself that I can conquer whatever may come my way that day.

As I enter whatever arena I am writing in that day, I am reminded of my “self” talk that morning and that I can proceed with confidence to tackle whatever comes. This confidence also encourages me to continue to educate myself about the ins and outs of realtiming. If I encounter a problem while setting everyone up, I then put into play the education I have about troubleshooting. While I am writing, I focus on what is translating correctly, but also take note on areas that may need some improvement. It’s at that point that I incorporate some of the tricks I’ve learned and incorporate those in helping me achieve a better translation rate. My improved skill set has opened up a vast amount of opportunities to stay alive in our great profession.

There is a method to this madness. To sum it up, “self” talk has built my confidence. It has built my desire for knowledge, which has built up my abilities, which has moved me into new opportunities.

Your method of madness may be slightly different. The key is to keep striving to find what works for you and to stay motivated to overcome fear.

Lastly, fear isn’t an emotion that will ever go away. You have the power to either let it reside in you or use the powers in you and work to conquer it. See where your empowerment will lead you.

Linda A. Kaiser, RMR, CRR, is an official in Cedar Hill, Texas. She can be reached at Lmarptr@aol.com.

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

Back view of runners against the sun, so the runners are in shadow

U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard

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 Bader, RPR, is an official based in Eau Claire, 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.

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