Simply put, realtime is invaluable says Pennsylvania judge

Realtime is so invaluable according to the Hon. Joseph C. Adams, Administrative Judge for the Family Division of the York County Court of Common Pleas, York, Pa., who has employed the service for the past several years in both his courtroom and his chambers, that he has recently started to offer training through the state’s bar association to attorneys. In an interview with the JCR, Judge Adams recently shared his insights about the road to establishing realtime in the courtroom including the obstacles sometimes faced as well as the many benefits it offers.

How did you learn about realtime?

I first learned about realtime from our stenographers. My county currently employs 18 stenographers and, without exception, they are all interested in providing maximum value to the court and litigants. Realtime is just one example of that.

How long have you been using realtime in your courtroom?

I have been using it for several years now and I am constantly coming up with new workflows to incorporate it into disposition of matters before me.

When you decided to set up realtime in your courtroom, what obstacles did you face?

The biggest obstacle was getting a secure and reliable connection. Our stenographers use a router to transmit realtime and some of the routers that were being used were past their prime. We have now rectified that problem.  Occasionally, as routers sometime do, we will lose a connection but it is usually short-lived and then it’s up and running again.

How was realtime received by attorneys in your courtroom?

It has been difficult to get attorneys to use new technology – not just realtime. I am a big advocate of using technology to assist lawyers in the practice of law. The ones who have actually used it have commented on how beneficial it is. It has been a slow adoption rate, but we only recently did training through our local bar association. I am hopeful that more attorneys will use it now that the word is out on how beneficial and easy it is to use.

What does the training you set up for attorneys consist of?

As mentioned, we recently did a training through our local bar association on how to use realtime in the courtroom. Because it is so simple to use, the training only took 20-25 minutes. I also have prepared a screencast for attorneys who were not able to make it to the training.

What are the greatest benefits of having realtime in the courtroom?

Simply put, realtime is invaluable. I use it both inside the courtroom and in chambers. In the courtroom, I am able to see what exactly was said, and I am able to refer back to previous testimony when needed. The search function is great for such occasions. I also use the issue codes for easy referral. I do a fair amount of custody cases and under Pennsylvania law we have numerous factors that we must consider in deciding the best interest for the child. I have set up these factors under the issue codes. Once the trial is complete, I run a report on the issue codes and use the report in writing the opinion.

What advice would you give to other judges interested in setting up realtime in their courtrooms?

First, don’t be afraid to try it. Like I said, many people are hesitant to try new things especially as it relates to technology. Once you start using it, you will quickly find how useful it is.

The Hon. Judge Adams received his B.S. from Elizabethtown College (Business). He obtained his J.D. from the University of Dayton School of Law. Before his election to the Court of Common Pleas, Judge Adams was a Senior Deputy Prosecutor in the York County District Attorney’s Office Child Abuse Unit. After his departure from the District Attorney’s Office, he became a partner/shareholder with CGA Law Firm in York practicing in the firms’ family law and civil litigation sections. He has served as a solicitor for the York County Clerk of Courts office and as a court-appointed mediator. He currently serves as President of the York County Bar Association and is a Past President of the Herbert B. Cohen Inn of Court. Judge Adams is a past recipient of the Richard E. Kohler Civility and Ethics Award

 

LIFE LESSON: Working with an interpreter

Agata Baczyk, the owner and manager of Legal Interpreters, an interpreting agency based in North Palm Beach, Fla., explained how the court reporter and interpreter work together when they find themselves at a deposition together. This interview gives a sense of what happens from the interpreter’s point of view.

When a court reporter and foreign language interpreter both appear at a deposition, which person is responsible for what actions?

“I’m the interpreter. I’m the one who takes your words and brings them to life,” the singer Aaliyah once said. The interpreter does not only convey the words in his/her interpretation, but also the meaning behind it, the tone of voice, the hesitation, the happiness and sadness. The formal definition of the interpreter’s responsibility is to allow a Limited English Proficient individual to interact with others as if all parties spoke the same language, but there is so much more that comes into play during a successful interpretation encounter.

The court reporter’s job is more straightforward — at least that’s how it seems from the interpreter’s perspective — as the interpreter has to maneuver linguistic nuances, constantly switching between languages while effectively managing the flow of the conversation. While a court reporter’s job starts once the attorney wants the proceedings on the record, an interpreter may be used from the second he/she arrives. For example, an attorney may need the interpreter prior to the start of the deposition to have a brief conversation with the client. The interpreter’s job doesn’t stop whenever any parts of the deposition are “off the record.” Ideally, the interpreter would be almost invisible, lending voice to enable understanding, but ensuring as best as possible that the deposition proceeds seemingly as if the interpreter wasn’t present at all.

It is both the court reporters’ and interpreters’ job to ask for repetition of any unclear speech. However, the interpreter’s job extends to asking for clarifications, when necessary. Language can be ambiguous, interpretation between languages even more so. Interpreting words without understanding the meaning and intent behind them can lead to misunderstandings and misinterpretations. One time when I was interpreting I had an LEP tell me in Polish, “Mam protezę.” “Proteza” is one of those words in Polish that can either mean a prosthetic or denture. Without further context, it is reasonable that the LEP could have said, “I have a denture,” or “I have a prosthetic.” It’s just one out of many instances an interpreter would need to ask for clarification.

What kinds of certifications or recognitions should a foreign language interpreter have?

In general, the types of certifications and experience required would vary based on the interpretation setting. Ideally, interpreters hired for doctor’s visits and IMEs should hold a medical interpretation certification. Interpreters used for depositions and court appearances, as well as hearings, arbitrations and other legal settings, should be court certified (or court “registered” or “qualified,”, depending on specific state terminology). But it’s not as simple as it seems; even state court certifications may differ by state. The terminology, levels of certification, types of training, maintenance of certification requirements, etc., can vary. For example, in California a court certified interpreter would also automatically be medically certified due to specific state requirements and inclusion of medical vocabulary portions within the California state exam. Regardless of the specifics, the process usually involves passing some sort of state-approved exam.

Some rare language interpreters might not be able to become certified due to the lack of qualified graders in their language pair. In those instances they usually become “court approved” by taking an abbreviated version of the exam, usually a written exam only (in English), and additionally receive detailed evaluation of their experience and credentials. The full exam normally consists of the written portion and an oral portion that includes consecutive, simultaneous and sight translation to and from the foreign language that is being tested.

Who usually hires the foreign language interpreter?

Interpreters working in the legal settings are usually hired by a law office or court reporting agency in case of depositions and by the courthouse directly if the matter is heard in the court. Most of these clients are not very familiar with how to navigate the interpreting industry and don’t know what qualifications to look for in an interpreter. For that reason they reach out to interpreter scheduling agencies like mine. Many state courthouses have a Language Access Coordinator or Interpreting Services Unit that will undertake the daily task of reaching out to interpreters. Since most of them are freelancers, each request requires the scheduler to reach out to a number of interpreters in order to verify their availability. However, most courts can only hire directly those interpreters that are court certified, therefore if such is not available, they reach out to private agencies for help as well.

Is there a difference between a foreign language interpreter’s role in a deposition and in court?

Due to the nature of legal settings, interpreters must follow specific ethics and standards of practice to ensure their interpretation maintains the integrity of the proceedings. There are other settings where the interpreter’s role is more flexible. For example, in a medical setting the interpreter gains a limited ability to act as the patient’s advocate. However, an interpreter’s role remains the same regardless of whether they are in court or at a deposition, operating as a near-invisible voice facilitating communication between the parties.

The biggest difference between a deposition and a courtroom is the mode of interpretation. Depositions are generally interpreted in the consecutive mode, meaning that the interpreter articulates in the pauses between the questions and answers. In a courtroom, the LEP may or may not be actively involved in the exchange. The consecutive mode is used for the LEP’s witness testimony or when directly addressed by the court, since they follow a similar question/answer format as depositions. However, during all other proceedings the interpreter simultaneously whispers the interpretation to the LEP, keeping up with a normal speed of communication (or the typically higher than normal speed of court verbal exchanges). This mode requires the interpreter to listen and speak (interpret) with only a slight delay, allowing the LEP to understand the proceedings as they happen in real time. This mode also enables the court to function without any delays caused by interpretation.

But not all languages can be interpreted simultaneously. Each language has a unique grammatical structure, and some require the interpreter to hear the entire sentence before they can reformulate the sentence accurately into another language. German, for example, requires a much longer ear-voice span due to the verb position at the end of the sentence, which stretches the interpreter’s memory and makes simultaneous interpretation from German a very difficult, if not impossible, task. Being an agency owner, I am sometimes informed by other language interpreters that simultaneous interpretation is not possible in their language at all, such as in Burmese.

What can a court reporter do to help the foreign language interpreter?

As mentioned before, it is important to both the court reporter and interpreter that all speakers articulate clearly. The court reporter can help by asking for repetitions or spellings of terms that are unclear, mispronounced, or rushed. It takes the pressure off the interpreter and reduces the distractions that may affect the quality of the interpretation.

Also, whether in a courtroom or at a deposition, some judges and attorneys aren’t used to working with interpreters. A court reporter can assist by helping inform the parties of the rules and guidelines governing the interpreter’s conduct, as well as apprise them regarding standard practices. For example, an interpreter using their mobile or tablet to access a dictionary or other interpreting tools is a sign of an experienced interpreter who is aware of their linguistic limits. It is impossible to know every single word in one language, imagine being expected to do so in two (or more). As long as the interpreter properly informs the parties of a difficulty and of what he/she is about to do, they are not breaking the rules.

What can a court reporter expect from the foreign language interpreter?

Interpreters must follow professional standards and guidelines (which they are also usually tested on during various certification exams). An interpreter is the voice of the LEP and therefore will interpret entirely in the first person. If the LEP says, “I went to…” the interpreter will interpret by stating, “I went to…” as well. To distinguish between the interpreter’s own words, thoughts, and wishes from that of the LEP, the interpreter will always refer to themselves in the third person (For example: “The interpreter cannot hear the witness”; Not: “I cannot hear the witness.”). Interpreters will also tend to avoid ambiguous language when referring to themselves so instead of hearing, “Please repeat,” you should expect to hear, “The interpreter requires repetition.”

Court reporters should also expect the interpreters to spell foreign names of people and places. Often interpreters will automatically do so following the interpretation, but at times the court reporter will need to request it.

Can you offer any tips from the foreign language interpreter’s side to make things go more smoothly?

Often being bilingual is confused with being able to interpret professionally, or being able to evaluate interpretation. Interpreting requires extensive training and a rich linguistic background. Saying that anyone bilingual can interpret is like saying that anybody with hands can paint or sculpture. It is tempting for a bilingual individual or even someone with some knowledge of another language to focus more on the interpretation than what is being interpreted. Listening to both the interpreter and the speaker, especially during simultaneous mode, makes comprehension difficult, and the listener can miss out on vital information. That would apply not only to court reporters but to the witnesses and attorneys alike. Trust your interpreter, even if you are bilingual, since they are the only language expert in the room. I’ve had witnesses or attorneys, and occasionally even court reporters, question the interpretation provided. I’ve stood behind my reasoning 99 percent of the time. Certain linguistic nuances are very difficult to translate and sometimes the translation will not be literal or verbatim, as some attorneys like to describe it. It is important to understand that the goal of the interpretation is not to translate “word for word” but “meaning for meaning,” especially when dealing with language or culture specific expressions that do not translate literally.

People use idioms more frequently than we realize. These generally make no sense when interpreting literally, outside of their original cultures, so instead interpreters must convey the equivalency of meaning. For example, in my experience as a Polish interpreter I have encountered “Słoń nastąpił ci na ucho.” Its literal interpretation is “An elephant stomped on your ear.” What it actually means is, “You have no ear for music.” Other languages, like Spanish, are no different. A Spanish interpreter once told me that she uses “Como el burro que tocó la flauta.” The literal meaning is “As the donkey played the flute.” But here the equivalency of meaning would be “By pure luck.”

In the end, an interpreter and court reporter’s goals are similar. They are both on the sidelines of legal proceedings but integral to their function, and they both depend on clarity of speech to accomplish their jobs accurately. To ensure that things go smoothly both must support each other in reaching for that goal.

Agata Baczyk is the owner and manager of Legal Interpreters in North Palm Beach, Fla. She can be reached at info@legal-interpreters.com or 561-855-4660.

CLVS Corner: Evolution of a CLVS kit

 

By Kelly Boyd

boyd_kit2I like many things about being a CLVS, and near the top are the fine people I get to work with – not to mention that the importance of the issues at stake in a legal case can often make for high drama. It also is satisfying to try to continuously improve your game and learn from other videographers whenever possible. During my 23 years in the field, my “kit” has evolved many times to become what it is today, and perhaps my version will give you an idea you can use. In the pictures you can see the Panasonic HMC80 camera, a hi-def full feature camera at a reasonable price, that has served me well the past five years. That is connected to the rolling case with mixer, DVD recorder, and H4 Zoom recorder.

The advantages to this setup for me are two-fold. First, it keeps my stuff off the conference table. That piece of furniture is for the attorneys, and I don’t want to compete with their laptops, files and coffee cups for space. Second, the dual monitors not only show me the larger picture that I need for focus and composition, they allow me to compare the camera picture to what the DVD is recording. The Toshiba recorder gives an on-screen readout of elapsed time, record mode and active inputs, and instantly alerts to any problems. When it’s time to finalize, the extra screen makes it easy and quick.

The Mackie 1402 mixer has six XLR channels with phantom power to drive the AT831b lapel mics and boundary mic, with faders, mute, lo-cut filters, and full equalizing on each channel. The equalizers help reduce traffic noise and HVAC noise in most cases. The six channels allow for four lapel mics, a boundary mic, and the headset. The headset is a Beyerdynamic sportscaster’s model with boom mic, which gives on-camera announcements a certain punch that matches the other voices in the room, and makes life easy for the person who has to play it back in court. The cabling is split so that the boom mic can have an XLR male plug and the earcups have 1/4” male tip and sleeve for the mixer’s headphone jack.

The H4 recorder is attached by Velcro, and it is there simply to capture audio for the court reporter. He or she can attach an audio cable either to it or to the headphone jack, or the court reporter can download the files to a laptop at the end of the deposition. Sometimes the court reporter will ask for audio later, and it can be emailed to them.

The rugged case has large wheels, and everything can be loaded on top and strapped in place, so the trip from car to workplace can be managed easily. There is space in the lower section for mics and cables. This setup is quick, and everything is at your fingertips and – as an added bonus — nearly eye level. Although things can still go wrong, it will give confidence that you will be able to handle it.

Boyd_kit1The one disadvantage is its sheer size: It can be hard to get up stairs if there’s no ramp or elevator, but most people can probably work around it. I have used this system for more than ten years.

One deposition that stands out in my mind was a hot summer day where there was no air conditioning, and the attorney insisted on opening all the windows. The traffic noise was deafening, but because I was able to easily mute all mics except the person speaking and open them instantly when necessary, it was manageable. The equalizers cut the traffic noise down even further. I don’t think we could have produced a usable video otherwise. On another occasion, there was a defect in the DVD-R disk, and an error message popped up instantly on the monitor. After inserting a new disk, we continued on uninterrupted. You can always produce a DVD from the SDHC card in the camera, of course, but catching the error quickly means less work later, and continuous redundancy is your only guarantee.

On another occasion, I was using a FireWire connection to the DVD recorder, and experienced an SD card failure, which was a new experience at the time. Because it appeared that the DVD recorder was still capturing everything, I waited until there was a pause in the testimony to go off record. Later I discovered that when using FireWire, audio ceases to be transmitted during an SD card failure, so I had about three minutes of video that had no audio. I was able to dub in the missing audio from the H4 recorder, producing a seamless audio track on the DVD. I never used the FireWire again after that experience.

We all plan to get to a location an hour early, but how many times has it happened that they keep you waiting, and only let you into the room 15 minutes before scheduled start? With this kit you can be set up and ready, and wouldn’t we all like to be heroes instead of apologizing? It has saved schedules and embarrassment in that way times without number. I have a similar setup for courtroom playback.

I don’t expect comments on my kit from attorneys; they have more important things on their minds. It’s not there to impress them. It’s there to deliver results, and it does, every time.

Kelly Boyd, CLVS, is an associate member of NCRA and is based in Ashland, Pa. He can be reached at legaleze@ptd.net.

 

MEMBER PROFILE: Michele Savoy Parente, RPR

09 Sept - Michele SavoyResides in: Sunrise, Fla.

Position: Freelance court reporter

Member since: 1987

Graduated from: Southern Business College

Theory: StenEd

Favorite gadget: I can’t live without my lumbar support pillow from Relax the Back

Why did you become a court reporter?

I decided to become a court reporter when a court reporter and a recruiter from the local business college came to my high school to give a presentation. I had taken Gregg shorthand in high school and liked it a lot; and since English, spelling, and typing were always my favorite subjects, it felt like a natural segue.

What was your best work experience?

In 2004, I worked on a civil trial that was originally scheduled for six to eight weeks. Little did we know, when we began in July, that it would continue throughout the summer and fall, right up until Thanksgiving, for a total of 45 trial days, daily copy. We had experts from around the world fly in to testify. I still reminisce with the reporter that I split the sessions with about the profound impact that experience had on us, both professionally and personally.

What surprised you about this career?

I was 20 years old when I started reporting in 1986. I originally dictated my notes. I stroked out e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g so I could easily dictate it. CAT software was becoming more prevalent in the mid-1980s, and my first system was Xscribe. Things like reading notes and translating them from the writer used to take a ridiculous amount of time. Now they are accomplished in seconds. While stroking everything out served me well for dictating, it has been a long road to revamp my writing to get it to the point where it is now, which is much more computer compatible. I enjoy the Facebook groups where I see veteran reporters embracing the exchange of briefs and the concept of writing shorter.

Can you tell us about a challenge you have overcome?

In the fall of 2010, a once-in-a-lifetime type of deposition was scheduled in Miami, and a friend of mine got the assignment and brought me in with her to take the deposition of Scott Rothstein, who had pled guilty to a $ 1.25 billion Ponzi scheme. It was scheduled for 10 days, and about 30 attorneys from the most prestigious firms filtered into the Miami Federal Courthouse to take his deposition. There were news crews outside and tight security inside, and, of course, I was the last one they let in to set up. I swore him in, looked over at my screen, and was horrified to see corruption in my software that I have never seen before. Things were not translating properly. Thankfully, I had a scopist and a proofreader on board, and a dear friend came to help me out with the software issue, as well as help scope the job. Surrounding myself with excellent colleagues saved the day.

Is there another accomplishment you’d like to tell us about?

My sister-in-law, some friends, and I belong to a charity group, Plantation Acres Equestrian Foundation. We hosted a benefit horse show in March of 2014, and we raised more than $5,000 for the South Florida SPCA.

 

 

 

REPORTING: Reflections on my career

 

By Gayle Hays

Driving my car the other day here in Seattle, it occurred to me that I had graduated from Kenosha Technical Institute in Kenosha, Wis., as it was called then, forty years ago in June 1973 with an associate degree in Court and Conference Reporting. I’d like to tell you what that education has meant in my life.

I come from a blue-collar family with five siblings, so college was never a possibility for me. But I definitely knew I didn’t want to be a waitress the rest of my life in a small town of East Troy, so I flipped through the KTI programs book. I can still recall the picture of the young lady sitting at the steno machine. I had zero knowledge about it but I signed up. Getting through two years of school was the toughest thing I ever did, especially getting my speed up to where I could keep up with someone talking. And I got whipped into shape with my math, anatomy, business law, and philosophy (which I didn’t like). Back then tuition was free. I only needed to buy books and get myself to school the hour each way, rain, snow, or shine, in my little Volkswagen Beetle.

Of course, everything has changed since then. There’s no more carbon paper or white-out. It’s gone from typing to realtime on a computer. I started out my career filling in at court in Waukesha County, including the awful day when two people murdered in the next courtroom. I freelanced in the Walworth-Kenosha-Racine County area for many years and then moved to Seattle in 2001.

I knew I could always take care of myself and my family financially, without having to depend on anyone. When I moved to Washington, I found a job in pretty much 15 minutes because I’m a Registered Professional Reporter, and that means something. Every working day has been interesting, meeting new people. Even if the subject of the lawsuit is, say, plumbing, it means someone’s life and someone’s money. I haven’t had a nine-to-five job in decades. I answer to no one since I’m incorporated as my own company.

Some testimony has been challenging, and I’ve heard terminology on everything from toxicology to blood-splatter science. I’ll do research for my transcripts until it’s absolutely correct. The highlight here in Washington was the occasion when I did realtime before the Washington State Legislature on huge screens around the room on hearing-impairment issues.

And now I’m on the cusp of retirement. I don’t know who said that, if you have a job you love, you never work a day in your life, and that’s very true for me. I haven’t “worked” since 1973. Thank you.

Gayle Hays, RPR, owner of Hays Reporting, Inc., is a freelancer in Renton, Wash. She can be reached at jghays@q.com.

 

 

 

 

THE LAST PAGE: Festival of testimony

 

BEFORE YOU ASK…
Q. Where did he have the surgery?
A. The hospital on 13 Mile. What do you call it? You know how you’re going towards the Albanian church?
Q. No.
THE INTERPRETER: Neither do I.
Elsa Jorgensen
Birmingham, Mich.

WHICH IS SAFER
Q. Do you have any licenses? Do you still have a driver’s license?
A. Yes, ma’am.
Q. All right. And it’s not suspended or revoked or whatever?
A. No, it no. They took the concealed handgun license, but they haven’t took the driver’s license yet.
Denyce Sanders, RDR, CRR
Houston, Texas

WHEN LAWYERS GET ANTSY
This was from the testimony of an accident reconstruction expert:
A. Well, let me give you the long winded spiel. It goes like this and I’ve got the books that taught me it reaction time can go anywhere from a quarter of a second up to 2 1/2 seconds and based on the stimulus.
And the one I like to give is you’re driving home from a bar convention in San Antonio, whether smoking cigarettes and maybe a couple beers or two, and it’s 2 o’clock in the morning, and on Interstate 10, it’s a little bit foggy
Q. You’re driving with me or Mr. Gary?
A. With you.
MR. GARY: With you. This is you.
MR. HILL: Oh, okay. It sounds more like Gary. Okay. Go ahead.

later on:

MR. GARY: You almost done?
MR. HILL: I’m almost done.
MR. GARY: I need to use the restroom desperately.
MR. HILL: How desperate? Like five minutes desperate or ten minutes desperate?
MR. GARY: Not ten minutes.

Denyce Sanders, RDR, CRR
Houston, Texas
MINOR HOLIDAYS
Q. Remind me again. What month was he shot in?
A. Veteran’s Day.
Q. You have to tell me a month, though. My husband is a veteran and I don’t know the answer to that question.
A. 11/11/14.
MR. JONES: That’s fairly pathetic.
MS. SMITH: I’m a pretty bad wife.
Elsa Jorgensen
Birmingham, Mich.

ALL IN THE FAMILY
This is from a closing argument where Mr. Smith is describing the other side’s behavior in a breach-of-contract case:
MR. SMITH: You’re going to be squeezed out, motivate you to sell. We’ll just keep kicking. The perfect example of this is when you’ve got your son kicking a dog and kicking a dog and kicking a dog and finally the dog bites back. Who gets blamed? The dog. So Mr. Thomas is the dog — I mean is the kid. I’m sorry.
THE CHAIRMAN: You have a very violent family.
MR. THOMAS: But a nice dog.
MR. SMITH: But a nice dog.
THE CHAIRMAN: You seem to involve violence in your family.
ARBITRATOR JONES: Mr. Thomas doesn’t like the example.
MR. THOMAS: I like it.
Laurie Collins, RPR
Brooklyn, N.Y.

DOWNHILL FROM HERE
This was of an expert witness internal medicine doctor.
BY MR. DAVIS:
Q. Did you grow up in Texas?
A. I did.
Q. Why did you end up in Michigan?
A. I got married.
Q. Good reason. What position did you play in football?
A. Wide receiver and a return punt in kickoffs.
Q. You don’t seem big enough to play football.
A. I was 205 back then.
Q. What position did you play in baseball?
A. Center field.
MR. SMITH: We’re really getting to it now.
MR. JONES: Somebody had to ask.
MR. DAVIS: Those are the two most interesting questions I’m probably going to ask all day.
Elizabeth A. Tubbert, RPR
Highland, Mich.
WHERE YOU HEADING?
A 17-year-old was trying to answer a directional question.
Q. Okay. Do you know what direction he was traveling on Haverhill?
A. I have no moral compass.
Q. Okay. That’s not going to come out well. I’m going — I’m going — you have a moral compass.
A. Nope. That was wrong. I have —
Q. That was wrong.
A. I don’t have —
Q. That was very wrong.
A. That was very wrong. Okay. I don’t have an inner compass when it comes to directions; north, south, east, or west. I am a very good person. I swear. I solemnly swear.
Q. All right. We’re going to stipulate on the record that you have a good moral compass.
A. Okay?
MR. SMITH: Dan, are you with me on that?
MR. JONES: So stipulated.
MR. SMITH: That was the funniest thing I’ve heard all day.
Robyn Maxwell, RPR
Royal Palm Beach, Fla.

POWERS OF OBSERVATION
Q. Did anyone from the company, the three people I’ve mentioned, ever state to you that the crane hit the tree branch?
A. It’s like asking if a T. Rex put its head through a room. Everybody in the room saw the head of the T. Rex. Nobody ever said, “Oh, my God, it’s in the room.”
MS. JONES: Just answer the question.
THE WITNESS: Sorry.
Dominique Isabeau
Daly City, Calif.

Get in gear for NCRA’s online skills testing

NCRA’s switch to online testing for the skills portion of the RPR, RMR, CRR, and CBC/CCP/CRC comes with some differences and some similarities. Here’s an overview of what to expect.

By Marybeth Everhart

So, the rumors are true — NCRA has launched online testing. Some of you have already participated in the new online process and have an understanding of how it works, but many do not. So, let’s unravel some of the mysteries by answering some of the most common questions.

What is online testing? What we mean by online testing is that you will no longer be required to travel to a testing location at a date and time specified by NCRA. Instead, you will be able to schedule your test — RPR, RMR, CRR, or CBC/CCP/CRC* — for a day and time that best suits your schedule and comfort level, and take your test from a location you choose. Are you a morning person and feel you are at your best at 6 a.m.? Then schedule the certification exam for 6 a.m. Or do you prefer to stay up late and want an 11:30 p.m. test? Maybe Saturday at 3 p.m. is best because your spouse, kids, and family pets will be out of the house and you can concentrate. Whatever suits your schedule best is what works.

Is any of the process the same as the brick-and-mortar setting? Yes, a lot of it is, actually. For instance:

  • NCRA still creates and records the content, following the same standards.
  • Candidates still register for all certification exams through NCRA at NCRA.org/testing.
  • The accuracy requirements remain the same: 95 percent for transcription tests and 96 percent for realtime tests.
  • Candidates are required to submit their steno notes file and their transcript, just as in a brick-and-mortar setting.
  • And candidates must still delete all parts of the test from the computer and writer once finished.

If a lot of the steps are the same, what’s different? Well, first and foremost, candidates no longer have to travel to a testing site and are not limited to a few eligible dates per year to test. The other primary difference is the proctor is now online and watching via webcam as opposed to being in the same room. Additionally, now you can purchase and take only the leg or legs of the RPR or RMR that you need rather than purchasing all three. The number of testing opportunities available will increase over time. Initially, you’ll get a new chance to take a given test leg every 3-4 months, with up to four opportunities per year, more  opportunities than under the brick and mortar model. Finally, you’ll receive your results much faster, even if the test is reviewed by a qualified grader.

What do I need to know to test online? You need to know essentially the same things as if producing a transcript for clients:

  • How to connect your writer to your CAT software (for realtime) or how to read your steno notes into your CAT software (non-realtime).
  • How to edit a transcript in your CAT software (transcription tests).
  • Where to locate your CAT files on your computer.
  • How to distinguish the various parts of the CAT file from one another, such as a note file versus a transcript file.
  • How to mark and copy a chunk of text in your CAT software. If you don’t do this on a regular basis, refer to the CAT-specific instructions on NCRA.org/testing or contact your CAT software vendor for assistance.

Who are the proctors and how does it work? ProctorU, an online proctoring company selected by NCRA, will provide live, online proctoring for all future exams. They are pioneers in the online proctoring industry and have proctored hundreds of thousands of exams since their inception in 2008. To learn more about them, go to proctoru.com, or watch the YouTube video at youtube.com/watch?v=SsUeNrpGADM.

How does the proctor know it’s me taking the test and not someone else? ProctorU has a process by which they not only verify you are who you say you are, but also that the testing location is secure; that you have open on your computer only those applications necessary to test; that you are not recording the audio portion of the test; and that no one else is writing the test for you. The proctor will also watch you delete the files from your computer upon completion of the exam.

What’s to stop me from sharing my test with a friend? First, the exams are randomly selected from a bank of tests, so it’s unlikely that you and your friend will actually take the same version of a certification. Second, at the beginning of the process, you must agree to the disclaimer, which says essentially that you understand you are to retain no copies of the test, in any format, nor will you share the content (topic or text) with any individual or social forum. It further states that possible repercussions of cheating (including revealing test content) are loss of existing certifications and NCRA membership. In addition all tests are the exclusive property of the National Court Reporters Association. Copyright law protects all of NCRA’s tests. The theft or attempted theft of an NCRA Test is punishable as a crime.

Is there any way to practice the new testing procedure before I schedule my exam? Yes, there is. You have access to practice files on myrealtimecoach.com, and you can take those practice tests again and again. To get analysis, detailed coaching, and practice with hundreds of exercises and past exams, you can also purchase a membership to myRealtime Coach. Once you’re comfortable with the layout of the site, the testing steps, and attaching your files, you can register for your test at NCRA.org/testing and then schedule a practice session with a proctor. By doing so, you can confirm that all your equipment is in good working order for the test, such as your webcam, microphone, and Internet connection. Be sure to schedule a proctored practice session as close as possible to the same day of the week and time that you plan to test.

The reason for practicing at the same day of the week and time of the test is two-fold:

  • Psychologically, you’ll feel better prepared because you’ve practiced successfully during that time frame.
  • Internet bandwidth could vary in your area depending on day and time. For example, weekends and after school, when more people tend to be online, may equate to slower Internet and frustration.
  • HINT: Ask your kids, spouse, roommates, and pets not to be gaming or streaming movies while you’re testing. Best to just get them out of the house on both the proctored practice and proctored test days!

What equipment will I need to test online? You’ll need the same equipment you’ve always needed, like a computer, a writer, and CAT software, but you’ll also need a few more items:

  • Internet access. We highly recommend using a hardwired connection versus a wireless connection. Under the new online testing model, the quality and consistency of the Internet connection is your responsibility. This is another great reason to test out the connection in advance and work out any connectivity issues with the Internet service provider prior to testing.
  • Electrical power. Again, this may seem obvious, but as the candidate, you’ll need to power your steno machine and computer. Consider using an uninterruptable power supply for testing purposes. Any serious interruption in the power to the testing environment could result in a failing score or lost testing opportunity.
  • An external webcam. Why? Because the proctor will need to see you and the room you are testing in, just as an on-site proctor would. An external webcam will be much easier to pan the room with than the built-in webcam that’s permanently attached to a computer.
  • Headphones will block out any extraneous noise, like the neighbor’s dog barking or the doorbell ringing. Also, there will be no ambient audio that can be recorded and later listened to or shared with others.
  • Windows 7 or higher and Mac OSX or higher. No DOS computers, please!
  • A web browser like Chrome, Firefox, or Internet Explorer. See the minimum testing requirements at NCRA.org/testing.
  • Adobe Flash Player v11 and Adobe Shockwave Player are recommended plug-ins for a webcam. You likely already have them installed on your computer without even realizing it. If you are unsure, ask any teenager and he or she can confirm that.
  • A shredder. If you prefer to print your transcript to proofread it (RPR and RMR only), you will need to have a shredder handy so you can shred that copy in front of the proctor before completing the testing session.

What else should I know before registering for a test? As part of the testing process, you’ll need to upload some files. Don’t panic! This is much like attaching a file to an email, but you will need to know where to find your CAT files on your computer and what the file extensions are. For instance, how does your CAT software designate steno notes and transcript files? Is it FILENAME.not, or FILENAME.sgngl, or FILENAME.trp? Most likely, you look at those file extensions every day as you produce transcripts, but perhaps you’ve never paid attention to them. Now would be the time! If you don’t know where these files are kept or what file extensions are used, contact your CAT vendor for assistance, and do so well in advance of taking a test so you are comfortable with the names and locations. For practice, send yourself or your friends emails with note files and transcripts attached so navigating to those locations and finding those files becomes second nature.

And, remember, you can practice this uploading process again and again on myRealtimeCoach prior to your scheduled test date and time.

How, and when, will I receive my test results? When you complete the testing process, you will immediately receive an electronically graded estimated score. That means you will receive the percentage of accuracy determined by the myRealtimeCoach grading engine, which does a word-by-word comparison of your transcript to the master transcript. If your electronic score is below 90 percent, then that is your final grade, meaning that you know instantly that you did not pass. You will still receive a confirmation letter from NCRA.

If, however, the electronic grade is 90 percent or higher, your transcript will be reviewed by an NCRA qualified grader to confirm your final score. Note that 90 percent is not the required accuracy to pass a certification exam! The RPR and RMR requirements are still 95 percent and the CRR and CBC/CCP/CRC requirements are still 96 percent. The 90 percent is simply a threshold set to designate the need for a human review of an electronic grading.

Could you walk me through the process, step by step? Here’s a simple checklist of the steps you’ll follow:

  • Register for the test(s) at NCRA.org/testing.
  • Receive the confirmation email, which includes your login information. Be sure to check your spam folder if there isn’t an email in your inbox. Confirm that the email address NCRA has for you is (A) still correct and (B) one you check regularly.
  • Log onto com using the user name and password in the confirmation email.
  • Practice, practice, practice so you are comfortable with the steps, including attaching a note file, attaching a transcript, and copying/pasting your transcript.
  • Schedule a proctored practice session.
    • The first time you connect with ProctorU, you will be required to download a small applet, called LogMeInRescue.exe.
    • If you experience any technical challenges during your proctored practice, resolve them and schedule a second proctored practice to confirm the issues have been successfully resolved.
  • Schedule your test.
  • On test day, log back onto com using the user name and password in your confirmation email, and click on the Take My Test button.
  • Since you already downloaded the applet, you won’t need to do that again. Just click on the “Allow” button when it appears.
  • Follow the written instructions in the chat box while awaiting an audio/video connection with your proctor.
  • Once cleared by the proctor to test, take your certification exam.
    • Write the warm-up.
    • Write the exam.
    • Attach your steno notes file.
    • Mark and copy the test portion only of the CAT software file. Note that you can do this after attaching the transcript, but since you likely will need to close the CAT file before attaching the transcript, copying it at this time will save a step.
    • Immediately attach the transcript (for realtime tests) or begin editing your transcript (for transcription tests), and attach the transcript prior to the expiration of the 75-minute transcription window.
    • Paste your copied text into the My Transcript window.
    • Click the Get Estimated Score button and receive either the message that your transcript will be reviewed by a qualified grader or to continue to practice and try again another time.
    • Follow the proctor’s end-of-testing procedures, which include deleting files from both your CAT software and recycle bin.

Still have questions? NCRA has created an online testing resource center with helpful information on CAT software settings, putting your writer in Test Mode, security questions, and much more. Access those resources by going to NCRA.org/testing.

Good luck on your next certification exam! Ready, begin. . .

Marybeth Everhart, RPR, CRI, CPE, is the national marketing manager at RealtimeCoach, a realtime trainer, and former court reporter. She can be reached at meverhart@learnrealtime.com.

* NCRA’s CBC and CCP skills tests will be available through December. As of January 1, 2016, the CRC skills test will replace the CBC and CCP skills tests. Any member in good standing who holds a CBC or CCP certification on Dec. 31, 2015, will be automatically granted a CRC certification on Jan. 1, 2016, when the CBC and CCP certifications are officially converted to CRC. After that point, NCRA will no longer offer testing for the CBC or CCP certifications.