WASW-TV7 reported on Feb. 16 that the Neosho County College’s court reporting program in Ottawa, Kan., will hosted a write-a-thon fundraiser for students in conjunction with a bake sale in honor of Court Reporting & Captioning Week. The effort is to help raise funds to assist students of the program with tuition.
The Gilmer [Texas] Mirror posted an article on Feb. 13 about the Texas Supreme Court holding a formal court session to hear oral arguments in two cases at LeTourneau University in Longview, in conjunction with a “Law as a Career Day” being held on campus. Numerous law schools, paralegal schools, and court reporting schools will have recruiting booths on-site.
By Jackie Young
While the standard dictionary definition of plateau is “to have something remain at a stable level or on an even keel,” the word plateau has a completely different meaning to court reporting students. Simply uttering the words speed plateau can cause extreme frustration and anxiety. Don’t let that happen to you!
One of the main obstacles all reporters will face at one time or another in their court reporting career is a lack of speed. No matter how well prepared you are, there will come a day when you meet a witness or an attorney who seems bound and determined to be forever enshrined in The Guinness Book of World Records for being the world’s fastest talker.
Most court reporting students will find that the other obstacle that goes hand in hand with a lack of speed, of course, is a lack of accuracy. If your fingers are struggling to capture every word, naturally your accuracy will go down. It is important to remember at times like this that struggling with speed and accuracy is not the end of the world, and it certainly should not stop you from fulfilling your dream of becoming a court reporter.
There is no secret potion or magical transformation that a reporter can instantaneously undergo that will allow him or her to write as fast and as accurately as NCRA’s speed champions. The good news, however, is that there are certain general tips you can follow to overcome and conquer those plateaus. With a little perseverance and hard work, you can and will be able to meet those challenges.
Tip No. 1: Concentrate. Concentration is perhaps one of the most important aspects of our job, and if you are suffering from poor concentration, your writing will show it. Before you begin practicing, take a few deep breaths to clear your mind of other thoughts and relax. Do a couple of one-minute takes in the beginning until you get warmed up, and then increase those gradually until you are able to accomplish the complete five-minute take without distractions. If you start to feel frustrated at a certain speed, pause for a moment, clear your mind, reaffirm to yourself that you can write at this speed, and begin again.
Tip No. 2: Use one-minute takes to increase your speed and accuracy. Select a one-minute segment at a speed that you can comfortably write at without many errors. Once you have finished writing that segment, read it back to yourself to see what errors you have made. Before you begin again, practice writing those words that caused you to hesitate or stumble. Then rewrite and reread the same segment at the same speed until you are able to write it flawlessly.
Once you have accomplished writing that segment without error, increase the speed slightly and begin again. This exercise will help you learn to hear and process the words at a faster rate, and train your fingers to move at a faster speed. Your fingers can only write as fast as your ears can hear and as fast as your brain can process the information.
Tip No. 3: Perform finger exercises every day. Take the time to write the alphabet and your numbers a couple of times. You can easily do this while you are waiting for class to start or before you begin your practice takes. As you write the letter, say the letters A, B, C, and so on in your head. Finger exercises will help enforce in your mind the placement of the keys and help eliminate hesitation. It will also help develop good finger dexterity and control.
Tip No. 4: Know your theory. If you find that your fingers are struggling with adding the D or S or you are faltering on words that start with S-M, go back through your theory books and rewrite those exercises to help reinforce your steno theory in your mind.
Tip No. 5: Read back your notes. Visualizing the steno on the paper or on your computer will help reinforce the correct letters and finger positions in your brain and help you recognize your errors before they become a habit. Circle your mistakes or write them on a piece of paper, and then rewrite them on your steno machine a number of times correctly so your fingers learn the correct placement. This will subsequently help you stroke those words without hesitation the next time you hear them.
Tip No. 6: Check your body and keyboard position. Be sure you are sitting comfortably and with both feet flat on the floor. Place your keyboard in a position where your forearms are about parallel with the floor and your fingers are naturally resting in the home position. If you find that you are experiencing pain in the muscles of your arms, shoulders, or back, it is likely your keyboard is positioned incorrectly, and you need to adjust the height of your machine, your chair, or both. Also, be sure your fingertips are not resting on the keys but are slightly above them. This will help you avoid adding unwanted extra letters.
Tip No. 7: Memorize and practice your briefs. There are mixed feelings about a reporter relying on too many briefs, but incorporating more briefs into my writing is the most important thing I have ever done as a court reporter to increase my speed and accuracy. I used to write the majority of everything out, but as I aged and it felt like more and more attorneys were talking faster and faster, I decided to incorporate two to three briefs on every job. For example, before the beginning of my deposition, I would look at the caption and create briefs for the names of the parties or other technical words that I thought might come up. If the plaintiff’s name was Tom Roberts, I would write that as T*R. Or, if the defendant’s name was Triumph Electronics Corporation, I would write that as T*E (Triumph Electronics) or T*EC for the full name. Before long, as you write, you will find yourself thinking of briefs for words that are difficult or come up frequently.
A strong word of caution, however: Before merging any brief into your job dictionary or main dictionary, please ensure that it does not cause any conflicts! One way to avoid conflicts is to incorporate the asterisk into your briefs whenever possible.
Now that you have created all these clever briefs, the next task is to remember and use them. Write them down on a piece of paper where you can easily see them during practice or on the job. You can also do this for other words or phrases that frequently come up on a practice tape or that you find yourself struggling with.
One other way I have incorporated more briefs into my writing is to listen to practice tapes and to find commonly used phrases or words. I come up with a brief, write it down on a piece of paper, and then listen and rewrite that segment of the tape two to three times to help reinforce that brief in my mind. After I feel comfortable writing those briefs, I then write the entire five-minute take and strive for accuracy.
Another strong word of caution: Writing briefs should be automatic. It is one thing to know you have a brief for a particular phrase, but it is a totally different thing to be able to write it without hesitation. Every day, memorize and practice briefs for common phrases and words until you no longer hesitate when you write them. It’s easier to remember briefs if they follow a similar pattern. For example, the phrases I don’t know, I don’t recall, I don’t remember, etc., should all have the same beginning, with only a slightly different ending. So if you are in a creative mood and want to shorten your writing, be sure to have a consistent pattern to your briefs whenever possible.
Tip No. 8: Have a positive attitude. If you practice regularly but you don’t feel like you are making any progress, don’t get discouraged. Whether you believe it or not, you are making progress — perhaps just a little more slowly than you would like. Above all else, don’t dwell on your mistakes or hesitations for days on end; that will bring you down mentally, and then you will fail. You can always come back a week or two down the road to work on any particular challenging issue.
Tip No. 9: Analyze your writing. Keep a list of hesitation words, and practice them daily. Whenever you hesitate over a word that comes up in the dictation, jot it down on a piece of paper and practice it a few times for the next few days. Once you find that you are stroking that particular word without hesitation, then move on to the next word. Repeat that exercise a few times, and your mind will automatically know how to write it. Keep those lists and review them every few months to make sure you haven’t forgotten how to stroke them effortlessly.
Tip No. 10: Make accuracy your first and most important goal. Establish a daily or weekly goal, such as “I will write 150 words per minute for five minutes with 10 or fewer errors.” By practicing your dictation in realtime, you will be able to monitor your error rate on each take. While on a deposition, I routinely challenge myself to see how low I can get my untranslate rate. Once you have your accuracy down, speed will naturally come to you.
The above is not an all-encompassing list, but incorporating most of these tips into your practices will give you a good start on improving your writing style and boosting your speed and accuracy. If you are having difficulty fitting in much practice time, just remember that it’s the quality, not the length, of your practice that really counts, so make it as productive as possible!
The last tip I will leave you with to help you overcome those speed plateaus is to simply relax and take it one step at a time so you do not feel too overwhelmed. Focus on the positive little steps that you make rather than worrying about the next speed test that might be coming up. People who focus on the positive will be able to challenge themselves to do their best and succeed at each stage of their career.
Jackie Young, RPR, is a freelancer in Delano, Minn. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Court reporting schools and state associations across country honor veterans through the Veterans History Project
Many court reporting schools, state associations, firms, and courthouses across the nation celebrate Veterans Day by interviewing veterans about their wartime experiences for the Veterans History Project (VHP). These VHP Days have become annual traditions in Iowa, Minnesota, and Illinois, to name just a few places.
Iowa Court Reporters Association & Des Moines Area Community College
For the past eight years, the Iowa Court Reporters Association (ICRA) has partnered with a local court reporting school to host a VHP Day in November. The event was hosted at AIB College of Business until the school closed its court reporting program in 2012. When Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC) picked up AIB’s court reporting program, it also happily picked up the partnership with ICRA. Between the partnerships with AIB and DMACC, ICRA has interviewed almost 200 veterans.
On Nov. 4, DMACC and ICRA hosted their third shared VHP Day and interviewed 12 veterans who had served in World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, Desert Shield, Desert Storm, and Operation Enduring Freedom.
The event involves more than simply interviewing veterans. This year, the local color guard posted the colors, Renee Davenport sang the national anthem, and Col. Greg Hapgood from Camp Dodge in Johnson, Iowa, handed out framed certificates to the veterans following a catered luncheon.
The event provides an opportunity to recognize veterans for their service, even when the veterans do not believe there is anything noteworthy about their service.
“The common theme I have noted among all stories is that they don’t feel that their service was of any particular importance,” said Pamela Burkle, RPR, an official from Urbandale, Iowa, one of the organizers of the annual event. “But when you put them all together, they are important. One part cannot work without the other. One veteran said he made bread, and that was his job, and he didn’t feel it was very important. However, I think if you asked any of the veterans in his platoon, they would say their bread/food was an integral part of their survival.”
Since the event is hosted at DMACC, court reporting students are invited to participate as student guides and room monitors. In addition to hearing the veterans’ stories, which have a profound impact on everyone in the room, the students get the opportunity to speak with the seasoned court reporters who are transcribing the interviews.
“I was speaking with the student in my room and explaining how I was adding to my job dictionary based on the conversation the interviewer and the veteran were having prior to the interview starting,” said Burkle. “She had no idea how that worked, and she told me that she thought I was having computer problems because I kept going back to my laptop.”
There is a sense of urgency to interviewing veterans before it’s too late. “Last year, shortly after the histories were taken, a couple of the veterans passed away before the transcripts were even completed,” said Burkle. Fortunately, their stories will live on in the Library of Congress.
Anoka Technical College & Minnesota Association of Verbatim Reporters & Captioners
The Judicial Reporting Program at Anoka Technical College in Minnesota has hosted an annual VHP Day the Saturday before Veterans Day since 2008, interviewing approximately 50 veterans to date. Working closely with the Minnesota Association of Verbatim Reporters & Captioners, the college recruits students to interview the veterans and Minnesotan reporters to write and transcribe the interviews.
The annual event used to be hosted on the college campus, but Anoka Tech has recently taken the event off-site.
“The past couple of years we have taken our team to an assisted living home so we can interview World War II and Korean War veterans who are not as mobile anymore,” said Jennifer Sati, RMR, CRR, CRC, CRI, an NCRA Director and instructor at Anoka Tech. “Most recently, on Nov. 5, Minnesota reporters and students … joined together to help preserve history for 12 wartime veterans at Chandler Place Assisted Living in St. Anthony.” Nine of these veterans served in World War II and three served in the Korean War.
“We make our VHP event more than just interviews,” Sati continues. “We have food, music (an accordion player), decorations, and we invite veterans to return back the following years to enjoy the day and continue building friendships.”
Tom Piltoff, a court reporting student, served as an interviewer at this year’s event. “It was an extremely humbling experience to be in the presence of such great men and an honor to have been able to hear even a small chapter or two of their stories,” he said.
The participants will remember these stories for years to come. One memorable veteran is Larry Tillemans.
“He lived in a small town outside of the Twin Cities,” said Sati. “One of the students who worked as a waitress in a small café he frequented mentioned that her school hosts VHP Days. He was interested! As it turns out, Mr. Tillemans was a typist with the Third Army in Munich, Germany (1945-1946). He was assigned by the Army to type transcripts at the Nuremberg War Crime Trials and the Dachau Tribunal. Throughout the 218 days Mr. Tillemans spent in Germany, he witnessed over 350 Nazis and victims of the Holocaust give their testimony. Mr. Tillemans personally typed over 200,000 affidavits. He shares his experience with as many people as he could. He is adamant people hear actual accounts from people who were present when history was being made.”
Lake County, Ill., Veterans History Project
The Lake County Courthouse in Waukegan, Ill., has hosted its annual VHP Day for the past five years on Veterans Day.
“Our VHP event would never have happened if it hadn’t been for my colleague, Vernita Allen-Williams (our current ILCRA president),” said Deborah Cohen-Rojas, RPR, an official from Lake County, Ill., one of the event’s organizers. Allen-Williams, RMR, an official from Waukegan, Ill., is the current president for the Illinois Court Reporters Association. “[She] had read about the project and mentioned it to our then-chief judge, Fred Foreman, and, upon his retirement, support for the project was continued by our next chief judge, John Phillips, who is also a veteran,” Cohen-Rojas continued. “Both Judge Foreman and Judge Phillips are retired now, but they remain strong supporters of the project, and they both volunteered at this year’s event.” According to Cohen-Rojas, Allen-Williams and Colleen Eitermann, an official, from Deerfield, Ill., coordinated the first event and began “what has become a proud tradition at our courthouse.”
This event has grown exponentially over the past five years, from nine veterans the first year to a record 35 veterans this year, bringing their five-year total up to 134 veterans interviewed.
“The first year we did the VHP,” says Cohen-Rojas, “we put out pastries and fruit and coffee, and we had the opening ceremony in one of our courtrooms. Then, as more people participated each year, more people wanted to be involved and more ideas started to surface. The Young Marines, in addition to helping serve the veterans and their families breakfast, also help out as escorts for disabled veterans. Last year we had challenge coins made for the veterans with all of the branches of the military represented on them. We started sending the veterans packages after the interviews with copies of their interview transcripts, framed certificates, thank-you letters, and photos from the event. Representatives from organizations like the Honor Flight and the Daughters of the American Revolution got involved, as well. It has really been an honor to watch this event grow and evolve. My favorite part is hearing afterward from volunteers that the experience has changed them and that they want to volunteer again not just for the next year, but for every year after that!”
The entire community backs the annual event. The Lake County Bar Association supplies interviewers and escorts for the veterans, and contributes financially to support the event.
“State’s attorneys, public defenders, and private practitioners participate, as well as several retired judges,” adds Cohen-Rojas. “The Marines volunteer time and food for the fantastic breakfast served to the veterans and their families. The staff at the 19th Circuit café volunteer their time in helping to serve breakfast, as well.”
Of course, the event wouldn’t be complete without the court reporters.
“The court reporters are really superstars. Several of the 19th Circuit’s reporters participate, and we have freelancers and other officials who come from all over the state as well as several from other states,” said Cohen-Rojas. “I talked to at least three reporters this year who had come from so far away that they got hotel rooms and traveled in the day before the event. These reporters happily sacrifice their time off and, in the case of freelancers, personal expense to be a part of this event. I really can’t say enough about them.”
The Chicago Weekly Citizen posted an announcement on Nov. 11 about a court reporting open house being hosted by South Suburban College on Dec. 1.
eNewsParkForest.com reported on June 30 that South Suburban College, Oak Forest, Ill., is hosting a court reporting open house on July 21 from 7–8:30 p.m. The open house will showcase the court reporting and captioning professions, which offer a wide-open job market and excellent income potential.
The Herald-Dispatch, Huntington, W.Va., posted an article on June 7 noting that the commencement ceremony held June 6 by Huntington Junior College also marked the institution’s 80th year educating students. The college offers the only court reporting program in West Virginia and is NCRA certified.
The Dayton Daily News posted an article on Feb. 24 about Clark State Community College, Springfield, Ohio, combining forces with Stark State College, North Canton, Ohio, to create a unique all-online combined judicial court reporting program. The program trains students to write on a stenographic writing machine at speeds fast enough to provide instantaneous translation of the spoken word.
USA Today Network reported on Feb. 21 that Lakeshore Technical College, Cleveland, Wis., is hosting informational sessions for individuals interested in learning more about earning an associate degree in its court reporting program. Lakeshore Technical College is one of only two colleges in the state to offer a degree in court reporting.