New professional spotlight: Aimee Edwards-Altadonna

By Rachel Barkume

Aimee Edwards-Altadonna headshotFreelance reporter Aimee Edwards-Altadonna, from Modesto, Calif., came to reporting as a second career, looking to blend her creative side with her interest in the legal field. She talks a little about how she entered the field, what she loves about reporting, and how she and her husband Vinny balance home, family, and work life.

What made you want to become a court reporter?

I came to court reporting in one giant full-circle moment. I wanted to be a lawyer in college and maybe become a lobbyist for the National Organization for Women (NOW) or work for NOW as an attorney fighting for women’s rights and equal pay. I even went so far as to have submitted my law school application and completed the LSAT. While wrapping up my college career, I started working for lawyers as a legal assistant/secretary so I could get a good feel for what that world would be like — and to be honest, I didn’t love it. Right about the time I had to make the call to start law school, I found a new hobby — glass fusing. I fell hard and my hobby quickly turned into an obsession. So much so that I decided to take a year off after college and just play with it. That year off turned into seven years, and I found myself running a full-time small business selling fused glass artwork and jewelry in my galleries in Monterey and Carmel, Calif. It was a great time, and I learned a lot about what it takes to be a small-business owner in California. I eventually closed the business when my first son, Owen, was born. I’ve always been an ambitious person and, for me, I needed to do more than be a full-time, stay-at-home mom. I started thinking about going back to school. I knew I did not want to go to law school anymore. I did some research and started considering court reporting. I started court reporting school online when my son was 10 months old, and it was the perfect combination of the legal world and artistry in becoming proficient on the steno machine.

What tips would you give to a new professional who is trying to maintain a healthy work/life balance?

Get a massage. Get a massage. Get a massage! Did I mention, get a massage? You have to take care of your body. I started out getting routine massages every month, and then every two weeks, and now I get one almost every week. It makes a huge difference in the discomfort I feel from sitting all day during depositions and driving all those miles.

I also think it’s important to always have something to look forward to such as a trip to a convention or a little ocean getaway with the whole family over a weekend. Having those plans in place reminds you why you are working so hard all the time and reminds you that there is life outside of work and a light at the end of the tunnel or editing cave.

What are your future goals for your court reporting career?

In the short term, I would like to complete the last leg of my RPR. When I am finally certified, I put it in my five-year plan to be a realtime reporter. The first two-and-a-half years have flown by, but I’m steadily improving my skillset.

What are some of your favorite time-saving practices, techniques, or gadgets?

I love Cozi, a calendaring app. Our whole family uses it, and it makes coordinating our life so much easier. It lets you set reminders for things on your calendar and manage your grocery list at the same time. I calendar out my due dates, and it dings and reminds me as they approach.

I also love the Expensify app. I use it to manage all my receipts and mileage log. I take photos of my receipts and then make reports for myself at the end of the year based on categories I chose. It’s fabulous during tax season. I love not having to keep a giant stack of receipts. You can even email the digital receipts for stuff you buy online right into the app.

Do you have a mentor?

Yes, I have a mentor! I found her when I was already nearing exit speeds, but her constant advice has been invaluable to me as I transitioned from a student, to a student and a proofer, to a student and a proofer and a scopist, and all the way out into the working reporting world. She has guided me and been the most amazing sounding board. She has talked me off many ledges and became one of my very best friends, too. One of the best things she instilled in me was to work hard and play hard. She has always said that some days you are the bird, and some days you are the statue. So when I have a fabulous day and passed a test or nailed readback like a boss, I am the bird flying high. And when I have a horrible, rotten, no good, very bad day, I am the statue below the bird. It has taught me to take each day as it comes knowing that the bad day will be over soon, and I will be back to a fabulous day very soon. Having a mentor is very important for a student and a new reporter. There are so many little things that will come up as you go along, and having someone who just gets it and can help you through will save your sanity.

Your husband, Vinny, has been a prominent supporter of you in your court reporting career. How do you feel that has helped you in your court reporting endeavors? What advice would you or Vinny give to a significant other of a court reporter?

Vinny has kept me sane and fed! He went to culinary school, so we eat really well. He celebrated every little victory along the way to me becoming a reporter and continues to be my biggest supporter and cheerleader. He also lets me vent on the bad days. I would not be a reporter if he hadn’t had my back from the very start. Plus, he doesn’t complain when I travel for jobs or conventions. He and the kids take it in stride, which makes it so much better.

Vinny’s advice for court-reporting significant others:

As the husband of a full-time court reporter, there are three things that I’ve had to learn:

  • Keep it in perspective — Aimee is constantly dealing with all the little ups and downs of her career. She’s constantly juggling jobs, transcripts, scopists, proofers, daily travel schedules, invoices, cash flow, expenses, conventions — the list is endless — and sometimes she gets caught up in that. It can be a bit overwhelming. I try to look at the big picture and keep her motivated and know that by month’s end, we’ll be good.
  • Be flexible — my depo lovin’ court reporter does not have a set schedule, and that means I need to be able to flex and adjust as needed. My work schedule can flex at times, and this allows us the ability for her to pick up that last-minute, out-of-town job. It also helps to have a support structure around us as well.
  • Team effort — Aimee and I are a team, and as the husband-unit in this team, I often have to fill in when she’s out of town. We don’t break up our relationship into “things she does” and “things I do.” We just get it all done. Wash those dishes, clean those clothes, pick up/drop off the kids, go shopping, make dinner, go to that parent-teacher conference solo — it’s part of the game, so just get it done!

What do you like best about being a court reporter?

I love how every single day is different. I am a bit of a road warrior and love exploring new cities, so I will happily cover work all over California — Central Coast, Central Valley, the greater Bay Area, and Sacramento. I cover from Fresno to San Jose to San Francisco and love it all. Every day I am in a new location if I am not at home editing away.

I love the freedom reporting affords me as well. If I want to go to Monterey for a day or two, I can pick up a job by the sea and work a little, too. I also love the fact that if I have a terrible day with an attorney who won’t stop talking over the witness, I never have to go back and work with them again. I have total control in who I will and won’t work with, and that feels amazing!

Court reporting has also brought me the most wonderful group of friends and colleagues ever. I have never met a group of people who are so wonderfully supportive and always trying to lift each other up. I stand in awe of the tribe I have created and their accomplishments as reporters and in life.

What do you like to do when you’re not reporting?

When I am not reporting, I am home with my family, curled up with a book or binge watching a show with my menagerie of fur babies smothering me with love. We have three dogs, a cat, an 85-pound sulcata tortoise, and a baby sulcata tortoise. (The tortoises do not cuddle.)

We also love to take family day trips to Monterey, our happy place. Earlier this year, my husband and I started selling LuLaRoe clothing after I purchased a new wardrobe slowly last year. So now we can be found selling the LuLa in our Facebook group or out of our home boutique in our “spare time.” I even took it to the California Deposition Reporters Association conference in Napa a couple months ago and shared it with my fellow reporters. It was so much fun!

Can you tell us a little about your background and current position?

I have a B.A. from California State University Monterey Bay in human communications with a concentration in women’s studies. I did the majority of my reporting education online through Bryan College and College of Court Reporting. I qualified at West Valley College in Saratoga. I broke my ankle in three places and dislocated it the very same night I qualified so I didn’t return to West Valley to prep for the Certified Shorthand Reporter (CSR) due to my injury and the distance — up to three hours one way in traffic. I prepped for the CSR at Humphreys College in Stockton, 25 minutes from my home, after I recovered enough to do so. I passed all three legs of the CSR on the first try after I won my appeal on the machine portion of the test.

Vinny and I have been married for 17 years and have two pretty awesome spawn. Owen is 9 and loves science and math and karate and basketball. Chloe is 7 and loves all things artistic, from drawing to dancing to singing. They both devour books at a startling rate just like their parents do, and they are way into technology and computer and video games.

I currently freelance for multiple firms. I am a deposition reporter only. I do not cover court work or hearings. I go everywhere for work. I love to work full-day jobs a couple times a week and frequently cover video jobs. I have done everything from work comp at the beginning to doctors to asbestos work to prison jobs and construction defect jobs in a room with 17 attorneys. I am always up for a challenge and will try most any type of job at least once.

Rachel Barkume, RPR, is an official reporter from Oakhurst, Calif., and a member of the New Professionals Committee. She can be reached at


Brandi Bigalke, RPR

Brandi Bigalke, RPR

Currently resides in: Minneapolis, Minn.

Employment type: Freelance court reporter

Member since: 2013

Graduated from: Rasmussen Business College

Theory: Computer-Compatible Stenograph Theory

What are your favorite briefs or tips?

I recently purchased Ed Varallo’s books, and I’m slowly integrating his writing tips. I am already benefiting from this investment – both in time and money.

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

In middle school, as an assignment I had to write to a college and request information.

The college I contacted had a court reporting program, and I became intrigued. After that, I also found out a family acquaintance was a court reporter, and my parents encouraged me to try it.

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

In 2016, I worked on a large case, spanning over a couple of months. It included multiple realtime hookups, both in the room and streaming. While I had numerous realtime jobs under my belt, this was a first I had to stream a live realtime feed.

A job of this magnitude can be intimidating at first, but the process of learning new technology enhanced my love for what we do. It is rewarding to be challenged and successful in this type of setting.

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

One of the biggest hurdles I’ve overcome in this profession is rediscovering my love of it. A few years ago, I let the job get the better of me and had to take a step back from reporting. I was burned out and pursued other business.

Stepping away from court reporting allowed me to see this career through a different lens. I was reminded that as reporters, we possess a unique skill set and I realized I needed to embrace my skill, not waste it. The insights I gained from stepping away reshaped my outlook not only on this profession, but what I wanted out of my career.

Upon my return to reporting full-time, I have realized it is up to me to shape my own career and future. I have control as to what kind of work I take, what firms I want to partner with, and embrace the aspects of this career that drive me.

There’s nothing more gratifying than seeing your steno come up in English, and knowing you provide a very incredible service.

Tell us about a challenge you overcame as a reporter.

One challenge I remember is being a new reporter. I was young, just a few years out of high school. I remember feeling out of my league, working with attorneys who had spent decades building their practice and in walks a young 20-something year old. I remember driving to depositions with butterflies in my stomach. I overcame it by faking it, until eventually I didn’t have to fake it anymore. Confidence comes with experience and if you don’t have experience, a good mentor can make all the difference.

Do you have a favorite gadget or tool?

Hands down, my favorite tool is Brief It in CaseCatalyst. The developers at Stenograph deserve an award for this one! The dramatic improvement in my realtime feed is notable, which feeds my desire to want to continually improve my skill. I am being reminded of forgotten entries and adding entries into my dictionary on the fly. Because of Brief It, I’m increasing the value of my dictionary, with no extra work. I just love it!

New professional spotlight: Sarah Gadd

By Mike Hensley

SarahGaddSarah Gadd is not afraid of a challenge. As a reporter newly certified by the state of California, she has obtained a position as a reporter pro tempore with the Superior Court of California in San Bernardino County. Her schooling took her through both on-campus and online methods and ultimately shaped her into a courageous reporter who handles a large variety of court proceedings for various divisions and departments in her county. Always striving for the best, she hopes to earn her RPR soon as well as realtime certification so that she can provide the best services that our profession has to offer.

How did you get into court reporting?

I wanted to find a career that would set me up for life, and I wanted something that would allow me to help other people. I originally sought out the medical field, but I couldn’t stand the sight of blood. On a random occasion, a friend of my brother mentioned court reporting. Once I looked into it further, I was hooked. I knew it was the job for me.

How long did it take you to complete schooling and become certified?

I would say four and a half years. I started at an on-campus school and flew through theory and speeds. I had to take time off for personal reasons, and when I came back, I found a school with an online program. I even had a moment where I suffered a hand injury. Instead of seeing it as a limitation, I saw it as a challenge that I could overcome. Once I found that focused, determined mindset, I finished school and even passed the CSR exam on my first attempt.

What was the biggest difference you experienced between on-campus and online schooling?

Flexibility. However, that puts the onus on the student to show up and do more than just the bare minimum to make progress. On campus, everything was given to us for what we had to do. Online, you must set up your own routine to get things done. I had to do some very drastic things to make it work. The hardest thing to learn was how to say “no.” I had to remember that I was making sacrifices now so that I could enjoy my success later.

What helped you adjust from on-campus to online schooling?

Online schooling can feel very lonely and isolated. To solve that issue, I forced myself to reach out and find my community. I really am glad there are platforms like Facebook that connect me to groups of reporters who have so much to offer. I’m grateful for those days when I have a question or need a brief and all I have to do is log on, and I get an answer within minutes.

What advice do you have for students who are currently working to finish school?

Practice every single day and analyze your notes. I transcribed everything, and that gave me such great feedback to push me past the finish line. Even now as a professional reporter, I continue to look for ways to boost my speed through shortening my writing and incorporating more briefs. Every little bit helps. Those small pieces really do add up over time.

What do you love about your career as a court reporter?

The pay’s not bad at all, but the best part is the pride I feel when I get to say, “I am a court reporter.” No longer am I just a student, I am a working professional. There will always be an opportunity to learn and grow and develop my skills, but now it’s part of my job. I also love that my job is part of a solution. Every day I help create justice for those who need it most. Also, as a pro tem reporter, I get to support other reporters in various situations of need. My job is not just about me — it’s a part of something much greater.

Mike Hensley, RPR, is a freelance reporter in Evanston, Ill., and a member of the New Professionals Committee. He can be reached at


Currently resides in: Madison, Miss.
Employment type: Official Court Reporter 11th Chancery Court District
Member since: 2007
Graduated from: South Suburban College
Theory: Stenograph Computer Compatible Theory

What are your favorite briefs or tips?

Numbers are my nemesis, so I’m always looking for shortcuts. One I use is the asterisks for years: 12*=2012, 13*=2013, 14*=2014, 15*=2015, 1*6=2016, 1*7=2017, 1*8=2018, etc.

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

I have always loved the legal field. After the birth of my first child, I was looking for a career that would allow me the flexibility to be home with her as much as possible. After doing some research, I found an ad from South Suburban College inviting the community to an open house to learn more about court reporting. I went, and it was as if lightning had struck. I had found the perfect fit for me and my family with court reporting.

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

Although I’ve enjoyed working as an official and freelance reporter in both Mississippi and in Chicago, Ill., my best work experience in my career thus far is where I serve now. In the 11th Chancery Court District in Mississippi, I am a part of a very special team. Whether it be budgetary decisions or incorporating technology in the courtroom, our three presiding chancellors continue to support the court reporting profession. I’m confident that when I take my seat in the courtroom each day the skill that I offer as a court reporter is appreciated and valued.

What was your biggest hurdle?

When I think back on how “green” I was when I first started working, I can’t help but chuckle a little. Writing in a controlled environment in school was very different than writing in the real world. I had several “What in the world were you thinking” moments. So my biggest hurdle was myself. However, I had former teachers and some wonderful court reporting mentors who were like my personal cheerleaders. I was often reminded that even on my worst day I’m still pretty special because only a few people can do what I do. So I learned not to give up and to remember my three P’s of reporting: Practice, Preparation, and Prayer.

What do you consider your greatest professional accomplishment?

My greatest professional accomplishment thus far has been to be selected as the President-Elect and soon-to-be President of the Mississippi Court Reporters Association. To be selected by your peers and to be entrusted to represent them not only on a state but also on a national level is an honor beyond words. I truly hope I can make them proud.

Is there something else you would like to share?

Although I’m from Mississippi, I lived and worked in Chicago for about 10 years. So I’ve been affectionately termed as the “City Girl with the Southern heart.” I love the arts, salsa dancing, good music, good food, and good fun. And that’s why I’m really looking forward to our 2018 National Convention in New Orleans, a.k.a. NOLA.

NCRA MEMBER PROFILE: Susan C. Nissman-Coursey, RMR

Resides in: Christiansted, St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands

Susan Nissman-Coursey, RMR

Susan Nissman-Coursey, RMR

Employment: Freelancer

Member since: 1982

School: Lane Community College Adult Education in Eugene, Ore.

Theory: Definitely not computer-compatible, but have spent my career trying to make it that way.

What is your favorite brief?

NERDZ (In other words)

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

A family friend, who was a civilian court reporter in the Coast Guard, said that I would be good at it, that I’d make a lot of money and travel. Hello? I was hooked.

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

My best — and most stressful — experience was one month after I had just moved to St. Croix. I came back from lunch and was asked if I’d like to go to Japan the following month to cover depositions of the chief design and testing engineers for Suzuki. I’d never met the attorneys, whom I was supposed to meet up with in the Las Angeles airport. Twenty-five people in the room, two interpreters who fought over technical words, and oh, did I mention no luggage for four days? Yes, it was quite an experience.

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

I used to tolerate bad behavior and constant interruptions during depositions, but over the years, I got over it. I nip that in the bud right away. It just makes for a better record and saves my nerves! Learning accents. We are a melting pot of cultures and dialects here. I do my research and make sure my spellings are as perfect as possible.

What surprised you about your career and why? 

The misconception of our profession. Some think we are overpaid secretaries, and some think we walk on water and really do appreciate what we do. Really, most don’t have a clue of our training and what actually goes into a transcript. Thirty-four years later, I’m still being asked when we will be replaced by a tape recorder.

What do you consider your greatest professional accomplishment?

I’m able to provide top-quality reporting services for a small community. Providing pro bono transcript to the local Legal Aid. And I’m still here despite major hurricanes, constant power outages, and a very, very high cost of living. Believe it or not, I don’t edit on the beach drinking a pina colada.

A well-rounded life

By Aimée Suhie

Tom Crites is a present-day Johnny Appleseed who has planted 2,000 plumeria trees in and around Savannah, Ga., hoping to establish the glorious flowers in the town he loves. So it’s hard to imagine him jetting across the world during his 49-year career, away from home sometimes 300 nights a year. The retired court reporter and firm owner laughs that he has reported in the back of a pickup in the jungles of Panama, under an oil tanker in drydock in Curaçao, on a train from one side of Holland to the other, on the flight deck of aircraft carriers, on airboats in the Everglades, and on the roadside from Delhi to Agra of a horrific bus accident with students on their way to see the Taj Mahal.

“I was blessed with an awesome career,” he says simply. But he does not miss the planes and hotels one bit. He forgets the world when he tends the 1,000 plumerias that surround his 1892 house, one of the most photographed homes in Savannah.

But the accomplishment he is perhaps most proud of is the family he “adopted” in Thailand in the depths of poverty whose members are now not only self-sufficient but true entrepreneurs. “After 15 years of hard work by this family, they now take care of themselves and are waiting to take care of me,” he says only half-jokingly. He says he may very well give up his precious house and gardens and move to Thailand one day.

The Texas native learned about court reporting the way NCRA’s leaders hope all young people do – when a court reporting legend put on a program at his high school. ”When Thyra D. Ellis (‘a true pioneer for all shorthand reporters nationwide’ according to the website of the school she founded) said, ‘Be a court reporter and make up to $10,000 a year,’ I was sold,” Tom relates. He started two months later at her school, the Stenotype Institute of Jacksonville Beach, Fla., and studied for four years. He was reporting, however, after two years and made $1,300 his first day. “That was huge,” he remembers, “in that I lived on $200 a month while going to school.”

His career took him to San Francisco and finally in 1972 to Savannah where he formed Tom Crites & Associates International. He met the right maritime attorneys on a ship fire case covering depositions in Savannah, New Orleans, and New York and was soon traveling all over the world. “Many months of my career I would travel 50,000 miles in a month,” he says. He has worked in hundreds of cities in more than 50 countries, focusing on maritime and mass-disaster litigation, following ships and crew members. At his website,, under the case history section are the tales of two of his most famous environmental disaster cases, the 1978 Amoco Cadiz oil spill off the coast of France, and the 2002 Prestige oil spill off the coast of Spain, “which was four times the size of the Exxon Valdez disaster,” he explains. “As a matter of fact, after hundreds of depositions were taken in the Exxon Valdez case, I was asked to provide realtime at the deposition of Captain Hazelwood (the American sailor who captained the Exxon Valdez during its 1989 spill). I asked Sue Terry, RPR, CRR, [NCRA’s Vice President] to cover for me, and for days she performed her magic.”

But Tom’s most enriching experience was his association with a Thai family in the village of Sala in the province of Surin. He met a young man at a restaurant at the hotel where he usually stayed who spoke English very well, and he became Tom’s friend, driver, and interpreter. “After three years he invited me to meet his family,” Tom remembers. “It was shocking to me to see the way they lived. They were the poorest of the poor. The mother was doing her best to provide for her children and grandchildren. She worked 12 to14 hours a day tending to the rice of others for $75 a month. They had no running water, and they all were in rags.”

Tom well remembers his upbringing in a housing project in Texas where people donated food to his family, and he didn’t have a new shirt until he was six years old. So Tom got to work. He promptly had two wells dug and then got the family refrigerators, fans, beds, and linens. He rounded up all 19 family members and headed to a department store 50 miles from Sala. “I had each one get a grocery cart, and we loaded up on clothes, shoes, toiletries, towels and lots of food. I then got them a car and a truck.” Next he helped them to buy parcels of land. “On my 60th birthday, we began the planting of 60 acres of rubber trees,” he says and, instead of patting himself on the back, says only “I have been blessed to have the Lai-Ngam family in my life.”

The family now has more than 100 acres of farm land and a rubber tree plantation. All are on computers and receiving a good education. Tom even put the kids to use in his business. “I had an office set up in Bangkok, and these smart children scanned all my exhibits, transferred my steno, etc., to the United States, so I never had to hurry back home,” he recounts, “often going off to work from Bangkok to Singapore, Hong Kong, Seoul, Tokyo, and to many cities in India.”

In addition to his 43 trips to Thailand, Tom worked often with different governments, and he says many waivers were made so that he could report in venues that most reporters could not. At the same time, however, for seven years he was on the board and executive committee of the Savannah College of Art & Design, with campuses in Savannah; Atlanta; Lacoste, France; and Hong Kong. The College dedicated the performing arts center named in his honor, Crites Hall, in 2000, which houses the 150-seat Mondanaro Theater, set design and scene shop, dance studio, classrooms, and a costume studio, where 92 classes are taught each week. He also received the Pepe Award from the college that year for his work. “I often traveled to New York, London, Paris, and Lacoste on the business of the college,” Tom remembers. “And on the local scene, I entertained and dined with many visiting movie stars and fashion designers who came to visit the school, including Debbie Reynolds and Diane von Furstenberg.” Tom adds, “The college has more than 10,000 students and 1,100 employees on our four campuses. It will always be a big part of my life.”

Even though he is now retired, his firm continues on, a “small agency that handles big work,” Tom says. They have a reporter based in Germany covering most of their work in Europe and have had reporters and videographers simultaneously covering assignments on four continents. But on any given day, you’ll find Tom working in his gardens or helping a new graduate paint his house in the 100-degree heat of an August day. “It wears me out, and some days I feel I’m as old as this house,” he says in his smooth Southern drawl. “But I try to keep myself busy. I still work very hard, and I believe in hard labor. Now I grow tropical flowers, prepare meals and entertain. I have always had a colorful life, and everyone says I should write a book. But after 700,000 pages of transcripts, my writing days are over!”

Tips for success

Tom says “The last 15 years of my reporting career, I always took an assistant with me to handle everything, and that is why I lasted so long.”

He passed the Certificate of Profiency five decades ago and is certified in Georgia but let his California license lapse. “I would urge all court reporters to never let any license lapse. Concentrate on getting your certifications from NCRA; find a niche in the legal field and concentrate on that; attend as many attorney functions as you can searching for the right people with the right cases. And invest your money wisely in real estate and art, and hold on to it for a long time. All will appreciate. When you have a huge case or year, donate pieces of art, and your tax savings can be great.”

Tom says you can also pray. “My momma prayed for me and the business all the time,” he remembers. “But when things got busy, my reporters would say, ‘Tell your mother to cool it on the prayers because we’re just swamped.’ She’s gone now, so I have to do it on my own.”

Aimée Suhie, RPR, is a freelance reporter from New Fairfield, Conn., and a regular contributor to the JCR. She can be reached at






Residence: Murrieta, CA

Employment: CART captioner

Member since: 2013

Theory: Mark Kislingbury’s StenoMaster Theory

Favorite briefs: I love phrases. Favorite phrase starter: GAO for “going to” and SGAO for “I’m going to.” Then you have your right hand open for the phrase enders.

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

My mom convinced me to do it when I was in high school, and I am so glad she did because I love my job so much.

What surprised you about your career and why?

I love that I get to caption big, world events. I’ve captioned the State of the Union Address, Nancy Reagan’s funeral, the Pope when he was in America, and many other current events in the short time I have been captioning.

What do you consider your greatest professional accomplishment?

My greatest professional accomplishment was becoming the youngest CRR in the nation at 21.

What is your favorite gadget?

My favorite gadget has to be my steno machine. I can be as creative or weird as I want with it, and it still loves me — I think.

What is your favorite book or movie?

My greatest struggle early in my career was convincing agency owners that I could write realtime. I wouldn’t get a lot of responses back because I was new. When I passed my CRR, I started getting responses back.

Is there something else you would like to share?

Another personal accomplishment was to obtain my RMR, CRR, California CRR, and CRC within a year and a half from the start of my career.

New professional spotlight: Jennifer Esquivel

By Cheryl Haab

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

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

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

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

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

How do you balance your transcripts with your busy schedule?

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

What are your ultimate goals for your court reporting career?

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

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

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

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

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

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

MEMBER PROFILE: Kristin Humphrey

Kristin Humphrey at the Orange Bowl

Kristin Humphrey at the Orange Bowl

Currently resides in: Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

Employment type: Sports reporter

Member since: 1994

Graduated from: Triton College, River Grove, Ill.

Theory: Wiley

What are your favorite briefs?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you consider your greatest professional accomplishment?

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

Have you had challenges to overcome in your profession?

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

Is there something else you would like to share?

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


Ingrid HughesLocated: Harrisburg, Pa.

Employment type: CART/Captioning

Member since: 1990

Graduated from: Central Pennsylvania Business School

Theory: Roberts Walsh Gonzalez

What are your favorite briefs or tips?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What surprised you about your career?

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

Have you had challenges to overcome in your profession?

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

Do you have a favorite gadget or tool?

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