Pohlman Reporting Company partners with Evans Reporting Service

JCR: Journal of Court Reporting, TheJCR.com, JCR WeeklyPohlman Reporting Company announced the acquisition of Evans Reporting Service, a provider of court reporting and related services in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States. The announcement was made in a press release issued Feb. 12.

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TechLinks: How to build a strong password

Your best defense may be a good offense, but in the world of password protection, your first line is a strong and unique password. Recent attacks by hackers on private and public institutions can mean that your personal information — name, email address, and password — can be accessed by someone who would use your information to your detriment.

To be more password savvy, the Realtime and Technology Resources Committee rounded up some tips to help make this important part of your personal (and professional) security easier.

Lynette Mueller, FAPR, RDR, CRR, of Memphis, Tenn., recommends Lifehacker’s Aug. 14 article “How to create a strong password” for starters. The article mentions that the U.S. government had recently changed its guidelines for creating a strong password, now suggesting the use of long, weird strings of random words, with some capital letters, special characters, or numbers. This guidance should prevent both computers, which can run through a dictionary pretty quickly while trying to guess your password, and human hackers from getting into your accounts.

“The first step in being able to build a strong password policy is understanding what a password policy is,” says Mueller. The password policy is a set of rules set by the company that explains the combinations of words, numbers, and/or symbols you must use to grant access to an otherwise restricted online area. Passwords protect everything from your website to small business networks. For more information, she recommends reading Small Business Trends’ Aug. 2 article “Follow These 20 Password Policy Best Practices to Keep Your Company Secure.”

However, as the Lifehacker article points out, it’s hard to remember a string of random words (and common phrases aren’t random words, so don’t succumb to the ease of using your favorite quote as a password). Lifehacker recommends using a password manager, and some are set to help you create a password.

“As a busy legal professional, keeping information secure is of utmost importance and so is maintaining secure passwords for your online resources,” says Mueller. “1Password can create strong, unique passwords for you, remember them, and restore them, all directly in your Web browser. Selecting one of your saved logins from 1Password’s Go & Fill menu takes you to the site, securely fills in your username and password, and logs you in, all with a single click or a few keystrokes.”

1Password is one of the password managers that can help you, but it’s not the only one: Dashlane, LastPass, and Google Smart Lock are just a few others. Tammy Jenkins, RMR, CRR, CRC, of Crystal River, Fla., shared three articles to help you get an overview of which one might work best for your systems:

Follow these best practices to help ensure maximum security for your important information!

On-site registration available for NCRA Firm Owners Executive Conference

“The networking opportunities were great. I also learned a lot of good marketing strategies, which I am already employing in my business.” –Beth Fein, CLVS, BWA Video, Houston, TXIf you missed the deadline for online registration to attend the only NCRA event designed exclusively for owners and managers of court reporting and captioning firms, on-site registration is still available. You can still take advantage of the opportunity to network with many of the profession’s top firm owners and managers in beautiful St. Pete Beach, Fla., at the NCRA Firm Owners Executive Conference, Jan. 28–31 at the Don CeSar hotel.

On-site registration will be available in the foyer of the Grand Ballroom at the Don CeSar hotel all three days of the events, beginning Jan. 28, 3:30-7 p.m.

Attendees, including freelancers and owners of firms of all sizes, can expect an agenda rich with innovative, interactive, and inspiring sessions led by some of the best leaders in today’s business world.

Inspiring speakers

Keynote speaker John Spence, one of the top 100 business thought leaders in the nation, will share his insights into achieving business excellence. He will also present his most intensive business improvement workshop, specifically created to help management teams take a hard, honest look at their businesses to determine exactly what their strengths and weaknesses are. The workshop will also help participants create focused plans for how to succeed at a higher level in the marketplace. Watch Spence’s personal invitation to Firm Owners.

Chris Hearing and Greg Laubach will present an interactive session entitled “Managing to Maximize Business Value.” The presentation will focus on creating short-term profits and business value so attendees can learn how to plan as if they will run their business forever but act as if they’ll sell it tomorrow.

SEO strategist, internet marketing educator, and owner of the Tampa SEO Training Academy, Steve Scott will lead a session dedicated to business marketing on the Web. He will touch on the secrets to search engine optimization (SEO) success, tactics and techniques for online marketing, and social media marketing, among other topics.

Ample networking

Numerous networking opportunities include the “Build-It, Mix-It, Who Will Win It” opening event, reception, and dinner, a networking power half-hour, free time during lunch, and a closing reception. Also on the schedule are educational events during breakfast sessions and a special welcome and meet-and-greet with NCRA’s new CEO and Executive Director Marcia Ferranto.

Industry outlook

The annual NCRA State of the Industry session will look at how the court reporting and captioning industry is doing now, what areas firms are developing, and what successes they’re finding – all based on solid, current data. Having a real-world sense of what the industry looks like nationwide will help attendees know where their individual businesses fit into the big picture.

Come join the 2018 NCRA Firm Owners Executive Conference this week and discover what connection or tip will be the one that makes 2018 your best business year yet, no matter what size your company may be.

Update on the GOP tax plan: What’s in it, and how does it affect me?

By Matt Barusch

In the Dec. 13 issue of the JCR Weekly, NCRA’s Government Relations Department analyzed the tax reform legislation making its way through Congress. Since then, Congress passed its comprehensive tax reform package just before the end of the year. This update covers the final form of the legislation and how it will affect your wallets in the years to come.

In the past 31 years, Congress has tinkered with and tweaked small components of the overall tax code but has failed to achieve comprehensive reform. With the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the Republican-led Congress has achieved one of its most coveted agenda items.

The final version of the bill, signed by President Donald Trump, reduces individual tax rates across all seven brackets, reductions that expire after the year 2025. The highest tax rate is reduced from 39.6 percent to 37 percent, and the threshold at which the top rate kicks in is raised to $500,000 for individuals and $600,000 for married couples. This change brings significant tax breaks to wealthy taxpayers. The standard deduction is nearly doubled to $12,000, and personal exemptions are eliminated. Many other itemized deductions are affected by this legislation as well. State and local tax deductions are limited to $10,000, and medical expense deductions have been expanded by reducing the threshold to 7.5 percent of annual income. This deduction will be particularly important for low-income families with large medical expenses. Also, the new law doubles the child tax credit to $2,000, and it has a larger refundable portion that would allow more lower-income families to benefit. Benefits to middle-class Americans have been preserved in the bill, such as the student loan interest deduction and graduate student tuition waivers. This bill doesn’t make changes to retirement accounts like 401(k) plans.

Concerning corporate taxes, the new law lowers the top corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent. This is the largest tax cut in the bill, the largest corporate tax rate cut in U.S. history, and the permanent rate of taxation for corporations. Business interest deductions would be capped at 30 percent of income. Pass-through entities get a 20 percent deduction of their income tax-free, changes that expire after 2025. The term pass-through companies refers to business income that is passed through to the business owner’s individual tax return. These companies include S corporations, LLCs, partnerships, and sole proprietorships. The new law also repeals, by 2019, the individual mandate penalty for purchasing health insurance created by the Affordable Care Act.

Matt Barusch is NCRA’s Manager of State Government Relations. He can be reached at mbarusch@ncra.org.

TechLinks: Using tech to reach your 2018 goals

NCRA’s Realtime and Technology Resource Committee is getting 2018 off to a tech-savvy start for NCRA members. It pays to keep up with the latest, and the members of the committee pulled together a great grouping of resources to aid you.

Robin Nodland, FAPR, RDR, CRR, a freelancer from Portland, Ore., and a member of the committee, recommends getting your tech organized. “I have so many zipper bags,” said Nodland. “I have my MiFi and charger in one. I have my Shark multi-port charger with power cord and extra cables in another. I have my display port adapters and HDMI cables in another.” She sent along an article from Lifehacker offering suggestions on what to include in your tech dopp kit.

Nodland also suggested a trio of articles that help get you set up for the year. Attorney At Work suggested tips for dealing with tech based on your business goals for the year – everything from going paperless to building a new website. PC World offered a list of the top USB portable chargers for your phone, the perfect accessory for anyone constantly on the go. PC World also has a list of their top-rated laptops from 2017.

Dana Hayden, RMR, CRR, CRC, a freelancer and agency owner based in Fayetteville, Ark., and another member of the committee, forwarded an article from AmateurRadio.com, which explained the functions of different colored USB ports, including the tip that a yellow or red port will allow you to charge a phone or tablet from your laptop battery, even if the computer is sleeping.

Firm owners are heading to warm Florida this January

A trip to St. Pete Beach, Fla., in January to attend the 2018 NCRA Firm Owners Executive Conference makes the perfect gift for any freelancer or firm owner no matter what size the company. The deadline to register is Jan. 12 for this business-focused event that features opportunities for attendees to connect, learn, and energize as they network and join in stimulating and inspiring sessions. The event is Jan. 28-30 at the luxurious Don CeSar hotel.

“I have attended the Firm Owners Executive Conference almost every year since its inception. The seminars and keynote speakers provide me with a wealth of practical information and industry insight that is both timely and essential to our business’s success,” said Lisa DiMonte, RDR, CMRS, a freelance court reporter and CEO of Planet Depos in Washington, D.C.

“I am particularly excited about this year’s keynote speaker, John Spence. His reputation as a successful business leader and executive coach precedes him, and I believe we will gain valuable knowledge from him that will help propel our business into the next level of achievement and growth. I look forward to reconnecting with old friends and meeting new ones at this year’s conference in beautiful St. Pete Beach,” she added.

Top business leaders top the schedule

The 2018 agenda features an array of innovative and interactive sessions led by some of the best leaders in today’s business world.

Keynote speaker John Spence, one of the top 100 business thought leaders in the nation, will share his insights into achieving business excellence. He will also present his most intensive business improvement workshop, specifically created to help management teams take a hard, honest look at their business to determine exactly where their strengths and weaknesses are. The workshop will also help participants create a focused plan for how to succeed at a higher level in the marketplace. View Spence’s personal invitation to Firm Owners.

Chris Hearing and Greg Laubach will present “Managing to Maximize Business Value.” The presentation will focus on creating short-term profits and business value so attendees can learn how to plan as if they will run their business forever but act as if they’ll sell it tomorrow.

SEO strategist, internet marketing educator, and owner of the Tampa SEO Training Academy, Steve Scott will lead a session dedicated to business marketing on the Web. He will touch on the secrets to search engine optimization (SEO) success, tactics and techniques for online marketing, and social media marketing, among other topics.

Industry outlook

The annual NCRA State of the Industry session will look at how the court reporting and captioning industry is doing now, what areas firms are developing, and what successes they are finding – all based on solid, current data. Having a real-world sense of what the industry looks like nationwide will help attendees know where their individual businesses fit into the big picture.

Ample networking

Numerous networking opportunities include the “Build-It, Mix-It, Who Will Win It” opening event that will lead into dinner, a networking power half hour, free time during lunch, and a closing reception. Also on the schedule are education events during breakfast sessions and a special welcome and meet-and-greet with NCRA’s new CEO and Executive Director Marcia Ferranto.

Register now for the 2018 NCRA Firm Owners Executive Conference in January and discover what connection or tip will be the one that makes 2018 your best business year yet, no matter what size your company may be. Special hotel rates for the event will also expire on Jan. 5.

The GOP tax plan: What’s in it, and how does it affect me?

By Matt Barusch and Dave Wenhold

For the first time in decades, Congress appears to be on the verge of comprehensively reforming the U.S. tax system. In the past 31 years, Congress (regardless of the party in power) has tinkered with and tweaked small components of the overall tax code but has failed to achieve comprehensive reform.

For the last few weeks, the Republican-led Congress’ focus has been on simplifying the tax code and cutting taxes with the intent to spur economic growth. The House of Representatives and the Senate have each passed their own version of tax reform packages, dubbed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The two bills will now meet in conference committee to reconcile their differences and produce a final product to send to President Trump’s desk.

But what is in those bills? What is most likely to be included in the final product? How will this affect me and how much will I pay in taxes? NCRA’s Government Relations Department has been hard at work analyzing the different tax bills, and here is a breakdown of what is in these bills.

Let’s start with the commonalities: provisions included in both the House and Senate bills. Both bills lower individual income tax rates and reduce the corporate income tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent. These changes are intended to allow corporations to re-invest in their business infrastructures and hire more workers. Both bills also double the current estate tax exemption for individuals to $11 million, which the House bill repeals in 2024 and the Senate bill makes permanent.

With the intent of simplifying the tax code, the House bill eliminates most tax deductions in favor of doubling the standard deduction. The House bill also collapses the current seven-bracket classification system to four and eliminates many itemized deductions. State and local taxes (as well as medical, business, and classroom expenses) will no longer be deductible. These deductions were eliminated in favor of the higher standard deduction.

The Senate bill maintains the current seven individual brackets but lowers the effective rates and changes the income levels to which they apply. This changes after 2025, when the bracket reverts to current law. You can see how the tax brackets break down for single and joint filers in both bills here. The Senate bill also gets rid of the individual mandate penalty for purchasing health insurance created by the Affordable Care Act, one of the main reasons for tax reform in the Republicans’ minds.

There is also a provision in both the House and Senate bills that might eliminate the deductibility of association membership dues as a business expense, but we are working to make sure Congress clarifies their intent. According to Jim Clarke, ASAE’s Senior Vice President of Public Policy, “vague language in a provision eliminating deductions for entertainment expenses could, possibly as an unintended consequence, be interpreted to apply to association membership dues.”

The House bill increases the federal deficit by $1.08 trillion over the next 10 years, according to the Tax Foundation.

While there are a lot of moving parts in these bills, nothing is set in stone, and NCRA and our lobbying team are monitoring these events and speaking with our friends on Capitol Hill. You are encouraged to do the same! It is important for your elected officials to hear from you on your opinions. Contact them to let them know how this bill affects you and your family. For more information on how to reach out to your elected officials, contact NCRA’s Government Relations Department at GovRelations@ncra.org.

Matt Barusch is NCRA’s Manager of State Government Relations. He can be reached at mbarusch@ncra.org. Dave Wenhold, CAE, PLC, is NCRA’s legislative counsel.

Get organized – Time saving tips for your firm

JCR: Journal of Court Reporting, TheJCR.com, JCR WeeklyAn Oct. 25 blog post from Depo International focuses on time-saving tips for business owners, including subtracting rather than adding to the daily to-do list, keeping things simple, and prioritizing.

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From my heart: It is a privilege to serve you!

JCR: Journal of Court Reporting, TheJCR.com, JCR WeeklyIn a Nov. 28 post on the Paradigm Reporting blog, Jan Ballman, FAPR, RPR, CMRS, reflects on how a trip with fellow firm owner Lisa DiMonte, RDR, CMRS, provided lessons on “overdelivering on high expectations.”

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Setting up a home office

Home office setup with a captains chair, desk, computer, etc.; the desk is in front of a wall of windows

© jnyemb

Many reporters and captioners are freelancers or small business owners, which often means working from home at least part of the time. There are many aspects to working from home, but first you need an actual place to work: a home office.

Picking the space

If you have the space, setting up a home office starts with picking the right room. “I have a third bedroom that is a dedicated office space,” said Angeli English, a freelancer in D’Iberville, Miss. “I picked the bedroom with French doors that open to a deck. Makes it very convenient to let our dog go in and out on the patio.”

Depending on the setup of your house, that space might mean a more nontraditional room, like a loft, where Sabrina Trevathan works. Trevathan, RDR, is a freelancer in Rawlins, Wyo.

If you’re in a smaller space and don’t have a whole room to dedicate, look for a good spot somewhere in your bedroom, living area, or other space. “I live in an apartment and the living/dining are one big room,” said Devora Hackner, a freelancer in Brooklyn, N.Y. “There’s a small alcove by the window that is the exact space designed for my desk.”

Legal videographer LaJuana Pruitt, CLVS, in Bradenton, Fla., found a unique opportunity for work space. “I have a side of a building that was a chiropractor’s office that was added to a home. I bought the home first, and when the chiropractor retired, his office became mine,” she explained. “Separate door, bathroom, parking, air conditioner, etc. This building is zoned professional. In 2007, I remodeled the entire building to be an office space. I took out the shower and added another bathroom where the shower was. I added French doors to the front room. The front room is big enough for a large conference table or video studio. I put in a butler’s pantry for a break area.”

After having the physical space picked out, the next step is making sure you have all the equipment, both for doing the job and for running the business.

First, furniture

Every professional interviewed for this article emphasized the need for a comfortable chair. “Invest in the best because you deserve it with how much you sit, and your body will thank you later in life,” said Donna Linton, RMR, a freelancer and captioner in Ashburn, Va. Of course, make sure you have a desk to go along with that chair, and think about what else you will need to store. You can have a simple space with shelves or turn it into your dream work space. “I had [my office] built out by Closets by Design specifically to my needs, i.e., how many computer stations, where the printer would be, cubbies for different size transcript binders, where the paper would be, and where my machine case would fit,” said Linton.

Having the right stuff

The essential equipment is obvious: steno machine, computer, printer. “I’ve transitioned to captioning in the last year, so I have a TV now so if I’m captioning a show that I have on my television, I can watch my captions,” said Tammy McGhee, RMR, a captioner in Bellville, Ohio. Beyond that, think about potential arrangements and additions. For example, Hackner has a “glass desk with a pullout drawer for an external keyboard and mouse” as well as “a docking station that I just hook my laptop up to, and then I work on a beautiful 29-inch monitor.”

Don’t be afraid to try a new configuration if the original setup isn’t working for you. “I ended up rearranging the space three times to get it right!” said English. It may take time to figure out the best way to organize the space. “I definitely learned how to work more efficiently and what supplies I needed to keep within reach,” said Trevathan. “I’ve got awesome storage space in my office; we planned it that way when we added this portion onto our house.”

Since Pruitt has more space, she’s organized the rooms as a more standard office and a production space. “One is my office with the standard equipment. I have a desk, credenza, bookshelves, chair, fax machine, scanner and printer as well as anything I can’t find a place for,” she said. “The other room houses the production room. It contains computers, a robotic printer, DVD recorders, mixers, cameras, tripods, bags, etc.”

Working from home means being able to run a business, so make sure you have all the necessary software and supplies. Consider having a word processing program like Microsoft Word (or the entire Microsoft Office suite) and accounting software like QuickBooks, and of course, make sure you have up-to-date CAT or captioning software with tech support. Think about cloud or digital storage along with physical storage. Pruitt also uses Wondershare and Adobe Premiere for video editing and has projectors, screens, and lighting.

Trevathan lives in a rural area, so she needs to make sure she has access to all the supplies she needs – it’s not easy to just run to the store. These include binding combs, transcript covers, index and exhibit tabs, copy and printer paper, a schedule book, address labels and different sizes of mailing envelopes, and extra toner. Linton has two whiteboard calendars, a speakerphone, and a fireproof safe to store exhibits. And don’t forget the basics like pens, paper clips, a stapler and staples, etc.

The tax element

If you work from home, you may be able to claim your home office on your taxes. “My CPA figured out a percentage of how many square feet my office is and writes off that same portion of my utilities,” said McGhee. Your accountant should have a formula to determine how much the write-off actually is, and don’t forget to ask about additional spaces like an adjoining bathroom, storage space in another part of the house, or any other area that’s designated as work space.

Make it yours

Since you’ll likely be spending lots of time in your home office, think about what would make it a comfortable space for you. “I’ve got my NCRA certificates and notary certificate framed and on the wall,” said Trevathan, along with her family’s schedules. “I wanted to be able to look out the window, so I had the desk location configured that way,” said Linton. “I wanted it sunny, so I painted it yellow.” English uses Longaberger baskets and “pretty stackable boxes with positive sayings on it” as storage, and she also recommends having “pictures of loved ones to remind you to be grateful.”

Pros and cons

The positive aspects of having a home office are pretty clear: “You can work when you need to,” said McGhee, and Pruitt said she “can cook, clean, launder, and have my animals under my feet.” Trevathan likes that she doesn’t “have to go out of the house to go to an office to do my editing and binding.” Linton added: “If I go to sell the home, anyone who doesn’t want an office can easily turn it back into a bedroom. They might even like to use it as a craft room or a homework space for the kids.”

However, having work nearby in a home office is both an advantage (can’t beat the commute) and a disadvantage. “Sometimes you feel like it’s hard to get away from work,” said McGhee. Trevathan echoed this: “I always feel like I need to be working and never leave work. I’ll run upstairs to the office to return a phone call and end up working on transcripts for an hour before I even realize it.” Perhaps English has figured out the trick, however, to maintaining boundaries. “You can walk out and leave the work behind,” she said. Having a dedicated space for work can mean literal help with compartmentalizing, so when you close the door, you leave the work at work.