Seven tips for court reporters

By Ariel I. Rayman

Before I entered the court reporting industry, I was a practicing attorney. My experience with court reporters was mixed. Some were outstanding and others would show up late, frazzled, unprepared for the proceeding, or worse. For an attorney, the relationship with the court reporter and agency should be seamless. Attorneys expect their court reporters to be punctual, presentable, professional, and polished. If the reporter fails to meet any of these standards, it is highly unlikely the agency — let alone the court reporter — will be requested again. Attorneys and firms typically request the same reporter and agency because attorneys like consistency.

By following these seven steps, you will not only be doing your part in upholding professionalism for the industry, but you will ensure repeat business:

  • Tardiness/no-shows: Nothing will frustrate a room full of attorneys more than being late or failing to appear for a deposition. Make sure you know where you are going and how you are going to get there, and manage your schedule. If you are unable to make it or you anticipate you will be late, notify your agency immediately.
  • Take charge: You are the neutral party in the room, and you can remind everyone in the room that your job is to accurately preserve a word-for-word transcript, therefore everyone in the room needs to listen to your instructions. If an attorney or witness is talking over someone, say something. If an attorney is being rude or unprofessional, say something. If an attorney is speaking too fast or is reading from a piece of paper, it is perfectly acceptable to remind the speaker to slow down. If an attorney is going through exhibits, make sure you mark them and tell the attorney to slow down to allow yourself time to properly label each exhibit so you are not labeling as the witness or attorney is speaking. But please, this is not a license to complain; rather it is an opportunity for you to take charge of the deposition from the beginning.
  • Control your emotions: A court reporter is tasked with preserving the record in a fair and impartial manner. Sensitive topics may be discussed that can be very emotional to the parties and/or the witness. As a court reporter, you must remain neutral while preserving the record. It is unprofessional, not to mention distracting, if you show emotion during a deposition. Please be aware that everyone in the room can hear you laugh and see you cry. Controlling your emotions and your body language is one of the many keys to being an exceptional court reporter.
  • Do not eat during a proceeding: Before the deposition commences, it may be in your best interest to ask if it will run through the lunch hour. If so, be prepared and eat beforehand. If you have an absolute need or a medical condition (i.e., hypoglycemia), then let the attorneys know in advance that you may need to eat a small snack during the deposition. Also, you can remind attorneys that a short 15-minute break during the course of a deposition is good for everyone.
  • Mobile phones/PDAs: Depositions can be dry and a bit dull, but do not be tempted to surf the web or do other tasks. Even if you are an expert at multi-tasking, checking your mobile phone or playing with your PDA shows you are not paying full attention and gives the impression that you are not accurately transcribing what is being said.
  • Technology: It is imperative that you have technology that not only looks like it is from this generation but also functions properly. Time is precious to you and all parties involved. Waiting for a computer to reboot, load, or update is frustrating for all.
  • Sloppy transcripts: Deposition content can be technical in nature. If it is a medical malpractice, intellectual property, pharmaceutical matter, or any other highly specialized topic, you will be faced with numerous acronyms and unusual terms. You can always ask for a spreadsheet of terms to ensure accuracy — especially if a party wants a rough draft or next-day delivery. Study and familiarize yourself with these terms and pay close attention to what is being said. Do not rush to finish a job. You should put care into your work and take time to research terms and abbreviations that are new to you. Attorneys read and rely on your transcript, and they need to be assured that the record is properly preserved.

This is not an exhaustive list, but if you follow these simple tips, it will make your job easier and the attorneys will appreciate you and request you again for future depositions.

Ariel Rayman, Esq., is the executive director of Alderson Court Reporting. He can be reached at ariel.rayman@aldersonreporting.

Member profile: Gail Inghram Verbano

Currently resides in: Delaware County, PA

Position: Principal of Miller Verbano Reporting

Member since: 1992

Graduated from: Sierra Valley Business College, Fresno, Calif.

Theory: No idea. It was called “Computer-Compatible Theory” in the late ‘80s. Turned out it wasn’t entirely computer-compatible and the students had to make some things up as we went along.

Favorite tip

Keep ASCIIs of all the jobs you do on your laptop. It can be so helpful to do a quick desktop search and find people’s names you’ve worked with or case captions you’ve done in the past.

Why did you decide to become a court reporter? How did you learn about the career?

In high school, I always knew I wanted to be a music major in college, a clarinet major. My mother was the town librarian at the time and knew a girl who was going to court reporting school. She thought it sounded interesting, like something I might like. I went and talked to Maria, had her show me her machine and tell me all about it. But I still wanted to be a music major.

With about a semester to go on my music degree, I realized I was going to have to go to school for something, either a master’s in music or something else. It was then I decided that court reporting would be a perfect something else. I could have more control over my life and where I could live and work than if I were a classical musician. And as a court reporter, I could afford to play my music.

I graduated from college and two weeks later was enrolled in court reporting school.

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

I did a trial on Guam. I flew out for the closing arguments, and then the parties flew my husband and son out so I could stay while the jury deliberated for four weeks. A great adventure!

Do you have a favorite gadget? If so, what is it, and why do you like it?

I love my WiFi hotspot! I will never go anywhere without the Internet again.

Favorite book or movie; or what book are you reading right now?

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League by Jeff Hobbs

Did you overcome a challenge in your career? Could you tell us about that experience?

I passed the CA-CSR in one sitting, the RMR in one sitting, and the RDR in one sitting. But the CRR took me four tries. I’m proud of myself for sticking with it and getting it done. And proud of the other ones, too.

Have you accomplished something not related to your career that you would like to relate?

Helping to guide my 16-year-old son through the autism spectrum and ADHD issues.

CAPTIONING CORNER: File vs. transcript

By Jen Schuck

There are many differences between a court reporter and a CART or broadcast captioner. However, one similarity is the electronic file that is produced. In court reporting, there is a fee to purchase that product. When captioning, whether you charge or not is a business decision, and that business decision should lead to several other business questions that should be addressed. These questions are best answered before a job begins. They include: Who will be receiving a copy of the file? When will they receive it? Who is entitled to a copy? Does distributing the file violate confidentiality for anyone? Does the file contain intellectual property that should be considered before distributing?

You may notice the specific use of the word file as opposed to transcript. There is a distinction. When captioning, there may be purposeful translations that are not verbatim. Transcript implies verbatim. Because captioners look like court reporters, many consumers or clients may assume they will be receiving a verbatim transcript. Clarification in this regard before a job begins will help to avoid some ethical situations at the conclusion of the job.

Captioners and interpreters both provide communication access. The difference is that captioners also can produce a file. Although the roles are similar, this file opens the door to some ethical considerations. Foremost among these is the fact that often the person or entity paying for services may not be the consumer receiving services. This may result in competing interests at times. For example, imagine a company hires you to CART caption a meeting for an employee. During this meeting, the employee is discriminated against. The employee wants a copy of the “transcript” to use in a discrimination claim. The employer does not want the employee to have it. Would distributing a file breach any confidentiality? How verbatim was the captioning?

Here’s another example: You may have the opportunity to CART caption a researcher’s presentation about new medical advancements. These advancements are cutting-edge and revolutionary. The presentation is the researcher’s intellectual property, and he does not want it distributed to anyone. However, he or she is not paying for the captioning accommodations or receiving the services. This is another scenario where the handling of the file must be discussed ahead of time.

There is an endless list of scenarios that can arise over the fact that, as stenographers, we can produce a file. Captioners provide a great service by capturing the spoken word for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing. However, sometimes that file and its distribution may be called into question. There are, in fact, times when a file may not or should not be distributed for ethical reasons. In all cases, there should be a disclaimer included, such as those referenced in the NCRA Guidelines for CART Captioners. Be proactive about the handling of the file before the job begins, and it may save you a lot of time after the job.

Jennifer Schuck, RDR, CRR, CBC, CCP, is a captioner based in Scottsdale, Ariz., and co-chair of the CART Ethics Task Force.

Tips for overcoming realtime writing fears

Overcoming the fear of writing realtime can become easier if you follow the tips and suggestions shared with attendees of a session led by Marybeth Everhart, RPR, CRI, CPE, during NCRA’s 2015 TechCon event held in Denver, Colo.

Everhart told attendees that to help overcome their fears of writing realtime, they need to understand the three parts of the process: writing, connectivity as it relates to hooking up other people to be able to see the realtime being produced, and self-confidence.

“If any one of these parts is troubling for you, then you will have problems with producing quality realtime,” Everhart said.

Everhart said a good way to improve the quality of realtime writing is to make a commitment to practice writing for 15 minutes each day, followed by an analysis to see what mistakes were made.

“Don’t just do it; check it to see what mistakes you are making. Fixing something will improve your skills,” Everhart said. She suggested keeping a diary of mistakes. Writing the mistakes correctly will help increase quality by creating positive muscle memory and teaching the brain to stroke the right keys and avoid the same mistakes.

Other tips Everhart shared included:

  • Consider your translation rate. Stop and take a look at it right way. If you don’t remember hearing a word that you have written, proofread your practice with the audio.
  • Keep current with technology and learn everything about the software you are using and all of the features it offers.
  • Ask other reporters who are already writing realtime to help you learn how to connect your realtime system.
  • View webinars and attend seminars that offer realtime information and training.
  • TRAIN groups are free. Join one or start one.

Everhart also said that it is important to teach clients about realtime and its benefits: “Show it to them and create a market for yourself. Go to someone you really like. Tell them the benefits, to them and their clients, and the return on their investment in realtime. Provide them with a realtime feed for a portion of their deposition or depositions so they can experience it for themselves.”

By doing so, realtime writers can better educate their clients on how realtime works as well as show them that while it is also not always perfect and that some terms might not come up correctly, the end product will be accurate, Everhart explained. Set your clients’ expectations, she noted.

REALTIME SYSTEMS ADMINISTRATOR: Testing made easier with addition of WiFi option

Ginger Brooks, RPR, CRR, a freelancer and agency owner based in Jackson, Miss., signed up for NCRA’s Realtime Systems Administrator Program and earned her certificate by creating a WiFi connection to the iPad for the realtime feed. Brooks was the first person to earn the RSA using a WiFi connection, which was introduced at the 2015 NCRA TechCon. “The introduction of this connection option will actually make the test easier as there are fewer problems to troubleshoot with an iPad,” said Brooks.

Brooks offered the following insights in the Realtime Systems Administrator program and test.

JCR: Why did you decide to take the RSA workshop and test?

GB: I believe that certifications speak volumes when prospective clients are in need of realtime reporters. It sets you apart from others in the field and instills a degree of confidence in the client that they will have what they need when they arrive at the deposition.

JCR: What did you expect from the workshop, and did you get that experience?

GB: I always enjoy attending NCRA-sponsored workshops as I am exposed to other reporters with different experiences and knowledge. I always take something away with me that is beneficial. The Realtime Systems Administrator Workshop did not disappoint. We had two very knowledgeable instructors in James Woitalla, RDR, CRI, and Keith Lemons, RPR, CRR. I have been offering realtime in the deposition setting since 1989, but I still found the information they presented very useful. So, no matter if you’re just beginning to offer realtime services or have been doing it for a while, you will leave with helpful information.

JCR: What was the test experience like for you?

GB: It’s different from other tests I have taken in that someone is standing over your shoulder watching everything you do. It’s their job to set traps that make you work for successful connections. I think as tests go that it was much less stressful than other tests I’ve taken.

JCR: Why would you recommend the Realtime Systems Administrator Workshop and Test to others?

GB: It’s always nice to be current on the services that you offer to your clients. If you’re new to connecting clients to realtime, this workshop will teach you how to deal with all the problems that you may encounter on the job. If you’ve been doing it for a while, it’s a great refresher course.

JCR: What advice would you offer to those taking the test?

GB: Go in with a strategy and stick with it. Assess the table thoroughly before you start the test. Be sure to download the receive programs that are sent out in the email that you receive so that you will be familiar with them before the test. Do not hesitate to actively participate in the workshop. If you have questions, ask them.

The next opportunity to participate in NCRA’s Realtime Systems Administrator Workshop is during NCRA’s Convention & Expo in New York City. The Workshop will be held July 30-31, with the opportunity to schedule times for the test during the afternoon on July 31. See NCRA.org/Convention for more information.

STUDENT REPORTING: A good start

Ask any working court reporter or current court reporting student, and they’ll agree that completing court reporting school takes dedication, determination, focus, and lots of support from family, friends, and mentors. It is a tough road indeed and more commonly than not, many find that completing a court reporting program within two years is often one of the greatest challenges of making into the ranks of working reporters.

At Clark State Community College in Springfield, Ohio, however, Cassandra Hall and Heather Piper have successfully completed the required course work in the court reporting program in 18 months and are now in the midst of their required internships. Both of the women have very different stories about how they chose court reporting as a career and what keeps them focused on the end goal.

According to Robyn M. Hennigan, RPR, CRI, assistant professor and program coordinator of the court reporting program at CSCC, Hall and Piper have proven to be outstanding students and excellent examples of what it takes to succeed.

“Cassandra is a phenomenal student who is hardworking and dedicated to her studies. She balances being a single mother with being a full-time realtime court reporting student and does it with eloquence,” said Hennigan, who has been a full-time instructor for 13 years.

“Heather is also an outstanding student, completing required work early or on time; and she is always looking for ways to improve. She has juggled employment along with being a full-time student to accomplish her goal of becoming a court reporter,” Hennigan noted.

Both Hall and Piper shared the following insights into what it has taken each of them to successfully complete their educations as well as where they plan to take their careers when they officially enter the workforce. Read their profiles below.

Cassandra Hall, Xenia, Ohio

What attracted you to the court reporting profession?

It was actually my mother who introduced me to court reporting. She works at Clark State and has been acquainted with one of the court reporting instructors. She thought it would be something I could do well and enjoy. She tried to interest me in the program several years back, but the timing wasn’t right. Once my son was born in the spring of 2013, I decided it was time for me to get my act together and start the program. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Once I began to understand more about the profession, I was hooked. The more I learn, the more I love what I’m training to do. This is a career that puts me completely in control of my future and success, and I plan to take full advantage of it.

How long did you anticipate it would take you to finish the program and graduate?

It was always my goal to stay on track with the number of courses the program recommended for each term in order to finish in roughly two years. I was very fortunate that I didn’t have to juggle a job and school at the same time while raising my son as a single parent. My parents were incredibly supportive of my decision to start this program. They really bent over backwards to give me any help I needed with my son until I was able to arrange part-time day care. That allowed me to take the required number of courses each term in order to stay on track with the projected completion of the program.

Finishing the classroom part of the program in 18 months is considered a quick time. What do you attribute your success in achieving this to?

There really isn’t one thing that I would consider the sole attribute to my success so far. There were so many factors that contributed each step of the way. One of the most important factors, though, was the incredible support system nurtured by the instructors and fellow classmates. It’s such a small program that we all became a little family, in a way. There were two out-of-state students who started the program when I did, and I’ve had text, email, and discussion-post conversations with the student from Alaska. She and I would bounce ideas off of each other and share struggle strokes and briefs, time zones notwithstanding. Robyn Hennigan has told me that she claims me as her own, adding, affectionately, “whether you like it or not.” I don’t know if she’s aware of just how much that means to me. I’ve been a student before, and I’ve taken online classes before; but I’ve never been in a program that is so committed to each individual student. The instructors always give detailed and specific feedback, taking time to see the things I’m struggling with and offering strategies to overcome them. There were several occasions when my only opportunity to complete and submit assignments was three or four days before the deadline, and I never expected to see the grades until after the due date. More often than not, Allison Kimmel, RDR, CRR, CBC, CCP, and adjunct instructor, responded with in-depth feedback within the hour. In my experience as a student in this program, I’ve never, ever felt that I was put on the back burner, even though the instructors, in addition to teaching, are actively working in the field. I think the fact that students are capable of completing the classroom part of the program in 18 months is testimony to the instructors and their devotion to the students’ success. Also, aside from waiting tables again or flipping burgers, I had nothing to fall back on if I didn’t complete this program as quickly and efficiently as possible. With my future and my son’s well-being on the line, the idea of taking a semester off or giving up just wasn’t an option.

How long will your internships run? Do you have them set up already?

The time frame for the internships will be the duration of the summer term, from May 26 to July 31. I’ll need to complete a total of 80 writing hours — 40 hours in both official and freelance reporting. I have been in contact with Paula Blosser, RPR; Sue Terry, RPR, CRR; Tracy Coleman, RMR, CRR; and Leigh Ann Capizzi, RMR. I am scheduled to begin my official intern experience with Coleman during the first week of June, while tentative plans have been made with the other reporters.

Once you graduate, what area of the court reporting field do you plan to go into and why?

I plan on beginning my career as a freelance reporter. One of the many aspects that attracted me to court reporting was the opportunity to do this job virtually anywhere in the country. I’ve always suspected that I have gypsy in my blood, and freelancing will give me the ability to relocate when it’s time to move on to the next place. I will likely work locally for the first year or two after certification, but I’m eager to experience another part of the country and expose my son to different cultures, languages, traditions, and lifestyles. I have also strongly considered working for an international freelance agency to expand upon those experiences for myself and for my son, especially as he gets older. Eventually, I may choose to settle down and become an official reporter somewhere, but only time will tell.

How soon do you plan to test for your RPR certification?

I passed the written knowledge portion of the RPR in January of this year, and it’s an indescribable feeling being one step closer to professional certification. I’ve reached 200 wpm in jury charge, and I’m at a working speed of 180 wpm in both Q&A and literary. I still have a lot of work ahead of me, but I’m very glad that the testing schedules for the skills test will become more flexible. I’m no longer putting pressure on myself to reach goal speed in a time frame that may not be very realistic. At this point, I plan to take my skills test shortly after the internships are over. However, if I manage to reach goal speed before the end of summer term, I may attempt the skills test sooner. My main goal is to have everything completed at roughly the same time and, ideally, begin working in the fall.

I feel that this program has prepared me for a successful career, although I know there are things that can only be learned through experience in the field. I am also confident that the support I receive from my instructors isn’t limited to my time spent at Clark State. The instructors are not only committed to their students, but also the integrity of the court reporting profession. As I begin my career, I know that I can call on them and seek their advice, regardless of time or distance.

Heather A. Piper, Hinckley, Ohio

What attracted you to the court reporting profession?

In 2010, I graduated from a four-year university with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, but after a few years of working, I began to realize that I wasn’t interested in any of the careers that degree could get me. I started researching careers that didn’t have huge time commitments required to get the training I needed but still offered satisfying and well-paying jobs. I saw court reporting mentioned, did a little research on the job market and education requirements, and applied to a program that same day.

How long did you anticipate it would take you to finish the program and graduate?

Before I got started in the program, I assumed two years was a fairly standard amount of time to finish in, and I thought I might even be able to get away with finishing slightly faster since I already had a bachelor’s degree, which knocked out a lot of my general education requirements. Once I started the program and realized how challenging court reporting can really be, I started worrying that I would never be able to finish. I am really pleased to be finishing right around the two-year mark.

What do you attribute your success in achieving this to?

It helped that my bachelor’s got most of my general education requirements out of the way and allowed me to focus the majority of my time and energy on classes that were relevant to court reporting. It’s easy to lose motivation when you feel like there are too many distractions pulling your focus away from your true goal.

How long will your internships run? Do you have them set up already? If so, with which firm will you be working and what types of work will you be doing?

We are required to complete 80 internship hours total — 40 hour in a deposition setting, 40 hours in a courtroom setting. Those hours are required to be split between at least three different counties and a minimum of three reporting firms in order to give us a good idea of how the working environment can vary. I recently attended the Ohio Court Reporters Association’s annual conference in Columbus, Ohio, and I was able to talk to several working reporters who very generously offered to help me complete my hours. I don’t yet have anything firm established, but I will very shortly, thanks to all the wonderful reporters I met there. I hope to complete all of the internship hours by July.

Once you graduate, what area of the court reporting field do you plan to go into and why?

When I started the program, I was initially interested in pursuing a career in captioning. Once I went on a couple of job shadows, however, I found that I was really taken with official reporting. The more I have learned about the challenges and rewards that come with officialships, the more interested I become in pursuing that instead. I hope to find a position at a court reporting firm in the Columbus area in order to get a couple of years of experience doing deposition work before seeking out an official position. One of the things I love most about court reporting is that I may decide to take one career path, but if I decide that path is not for me, there are still a slew of other options available to me.

How soon do you plan to test for your RPR certification?

I took the Written Knowledge Test on May 16 and plan to complete the Skills Test by the end of this summer.

Being in an online program can feel isolating at times, and I would like to encourage other online students to get as involved in real-world activities as much as (and as soon as) possible. Joining the Ohio Court Reporters Association and being able to talk to and interact with real reporters has been more rewarding and motivating than I could have imagined. If you have the chance to meet your fellow students or instructors in person, absolutely do it. Last month, my classmate, Cassandra Hall, and I participated in a series of mock depositions in collaboration with the Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law. I participated in this event last year as well, and it has been one of the very best experiences in terms of preparing me for what the working environment is really like. We did everything a working reporter does, from swearing in witnesses to taking down the deposition to editing and delivering a final transcript of the proceedings. The whole process was hugely beneficial in honing my reporting skills.