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.

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.