The online student experience: Interview with Mike Hensley

Mike Hensley, RPR, is an unusual reporter in that he completed court reporting school entirely online. He is a 2015 graduate of Sage College and currently works as a freelance reporter in Evanston, Ill. (although he will be moving to the San Francisco, Calif., area by the end of 2017). Hensley is also in his second year as a member of the NCRA New Professionals Committee.

Why did you decide to go to court reporting school online? What factors went into your decision to choose your school?

I went online primarily because the school I was interested in was based in California, and I was facing an upcoming cross-country move to Chicago. I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to attend school with the facility I found; so online schooling was the best available option to meet my needs. I also wanted the flexibility to complete school on my terms and on my schedule since I was an independent adult working full time.

How did you fit classes and practice time into your schedule?

I worked a full-time job, and even at one point, I had a full-time and part-time job while attending school. I had to be very creative in finding time for fitting in school. Luckily, my full-time job was a graveyard shift, Friday-Monday job. The job also had a lot of dead time where my boss encouraged me to bring something to do. He himself mentioned that he completed a master’s degree program while working my particular shift; so it seemed like a good fit to allow me to complete my own schoolwork. As far as practice time, I really had to push myself to forego personal activities and use my non-work time to practice as often as I could. I had to remind myself that sacrifices during school would only be temporary, and it would pay off later when I achieved my new career.

What did you do, if anything, to find a court reporting support network without having in-person classes?

I found Facebook to be a great resource for networking with court reporters. Along with that, my school provided a good source for coaches and mentors through the school staff as part of the online program. As I joined more court reporter groups through Facebook, I developed a presence among court reporters and was able to connect with several individuals who offered to become mentors and eventual friends.

Who or where did you go to for advice on steno theory, selecting software, speedbuilding, and so on?

My school primarily had a good plan of direction for guiding us with software and speedbuilding materials through their online program. As I progressed through school, I kept my eyes open for other sources of material. I obtained a large amount of information through word of mouth from other reporters and online students. Online students sharing with one another can be a great resource because we’re all looking for the most efficient and cost-effective (i.e. free) tools for practice.

What was the biggest challenge you faced about studying online? How did you overcome that challenge?

My biggest challenge was time management initially. The first two years of school were a combination of academics and speedbuilding; so I had to balance both practice time and homework time along with my work schedule. Once I completed academics, I was able to focus solely on speedbuilding, and things became less complicated. As an online student, you have to be your own coach at times. I had to really dig deep and find the drive to push myself to make time in my schedule for practice. It really helped to surround myself with things that reminded me of my goal. At one point, I kept a vision board with pictures of things I wanted as a result of my new career: things like my steno machine, vacation destinations, etc.

What advantages did you find to attending school online?

I was able to complete schoolwork at times that were most advantageous to me so that I could still maintain my full-time job. I was also able to tackle as much or as little as I wanted. Usually, I leaned towards tackling more because I wanted to finish as soon as possible. Personally, I wanted to attend school and focus on the program without any distractions, and knowing my personality, if I had gone to a brick-and-mortar school, I would have found myself distracted by the social environment. But that’s just my personal observation. I think one of the strongest advantages to online schooling is that when you know yourself and you know that you are dedicated enough to buckle down and do the work that you need to do, then it can be a very suitable option to complete school.

Describe the transition from school to working – were there any factors from having been an online student that make you think this transition was slightly easier or slightly harder?

I do admit, when I started as a reporter, it felt strange to set up my equipment in someone’s office as opposed to setting up in my living room. However, that adjustment was minor and was easily overcome. I think that being an online student made it easier for me to transition because I didn’t become accustomed to going to a school facility and being in that environment before entering the working world. In my mind, whenever I sat down at my machine, I was already in the working world. By the time I entered the field, I already felt like I had been a court reporter because I had spent so much time envisioning it during my education.

What do you think firms and courthouses should keep in mind when hiring students who graduated from an online program?

Firms should bear in mind that they may need to spend a small amount of time discussing professional etiquette with an online student, especially if for some reason the online student didn’t have the opportunity to shadow a working reporter. If that did not occur, I would highly recommend that the firm arrange for the online graduate to shadow a reporter to see what it looks like to do the job. Firms and courthouses can expect that online students are well versed in using technology to complete tasks, and therefore they are more likely to communicate through methods like email and/or text message. Online students may also be more adept at submitting work product through electronic means such as email, an online portal, or a cloud-based system.

What do you think working reporters can do to help online students specifically?

I find that a large number of online students really need a mentor  to develop the mental fortitude necessary to become a court reporter. I was very fortunate to find several mentors who gave me some fantastic advice that helped me reach the finish line. Words of a professional reporter carry a lot of weight with students. Any professional reporter who can offer even a small amount of time as a mentor can really be a huge influence on the future generation. Being a mentor doesn’t mean you’re a babysitter. It can be something as simple as being willing to have a weekly or even monthly phone call to check in and say: “Hey, how are you doing?”

Do you have any final thoughts to share?

I feel that my online education prepared me to be a new breed of court reporter. When I began working in the field, I was not afraid of jobs that involved videoconferencing or telephonic participants because I had dealt with these sorts of issues to complete my education. Online schooling also gave me an awareness of many forms of technology available to me as a future professional. When I began working, I was comfortable with completing paperwork electronically and submitting it to whomever requested it. This allows me to be comfortable in working with out-of-state agencies when coverage is needed in my home area. Online schooling also made me strongly accustomed to being realtime-ready. I was connected to a computer 24/7 through my education. Now that I’m a professional reporter, I embrace various technologies to help me do my job as best as I can. With the uncertainty of many brick-and-mortar programs, I feel that online education is truly a wonderful option to keep the education of court reporters alive and well for the years to come.

Highlights and takeaways from the sessions at the 2017 NCRA Convention & Expo

Attendees at the 2017 NCRA Convention & Expo had the opportunity to attend an array of sessions and educational workshops designed to help them increase their professional experience and hone their skills. The summaries below highlight a few of these sessions.

Fast, faster, fastest

View from the back of a meeting room with rows of people facing a panel and a projector

Kelly Shainline, Jason Meadors, and Keith Lemons present “Fast, faster, fastest” to a full house

One of the first sessions to kick off the 2017 NCRA Convention & Expo, “Fast, faster, fastest” with Kelly Shainline, RPR, CRR; Jason Meadors, FAPR, RPR, CRR, CRC; and Keith Lemons, FAPR, RPR, CRR, was packed with standing room only. The nuts-and-bolts realtime session went through step by step how to set up for good realtime. “My first page, I just consider it a sacrificial goat,” Meadors said to laughter, but the presenters emphasized the importance of good preparation as the key to strong realtime. For example, for legal work, the presenters said to get the appearance page ahead of time and use that to do some research. “Let’s say there’s a doctor,” said Lemons. “Look up online what kind of medicine they do — such as obstetrics and gynecology — and use that to build specific words in a dictionary.”

“I won’t be mean,” Meadors said, “but I will be firm to get what I need,” especially for CART or captioning work.

The presenters all said that they do prep the night before — although the length of time varied a bit based on how important the trial was, how many people would be seeing the realtime, and if there would be a rough draft, for example – but also emphasized the importance of arriving early to the job. Shainline said that while she often prepares brief forms the night before, after she sets up at the job, she does some practice with those briefs to help get them into muscle memory.

Gadgets and gizmos

Merilee Johnson, RDR, CRR, CRC, and Micheal Johnson, RDR, CRR, lead a session filled with dozens of specific gadgets, gizmos, and app recommendations to make life easier both on and off the job. For example, for the office, Merilee and Micheal shared:

  • a few types of charging stations, including the Satechi USB Charging Station, which charges up to six devices at a time, and the EZO power desktop, which Merilee says she’s brought on jobs as a value add to help attorneys plug in their devices;
  • second monitors, including the Duet Display app, which turns an iPad into a second screen (currently only for Apple products), and the Mimo, which is a small second monitor – both Micheal and Merilee said they’ve found it helpful to use a small second monitor to free up real estate on their laptop and move over, for example, BriefIt on a second screen; and
  • cable management gadgets, including the Baltic Sleeve, which is a Velcro sleeve that wraps around a bunch of cables, and the Safcord, which is also a Velcro solution that performs the same function as gaffer’s tape, except it’s reusable.

How to compete with some of the best

In a session that was part of the Student Learning Zone at the 2017 NCRA Convention & Expo, Chase Frazier, RMR, CRR, CRC; Tami Frazier, RMR, CRR; and Ron Cook, FAPR, RDR, CRR, CRC, gave concrete tips to students on improving their writing while getting through school. The three presenters came from a variety of perspectives: a captioner, an official, and a freelancer.

Chase had strong realtime skills coming out of school, but he didn’t have his state CSR. Because of this, he went into captioning. Tami started as an official out of school because a job opened up at the right time. She said that while court work can be a little faster than depo work — and trials are more controlled — new professionals shouldn’t avoid going right into court after school. And Ron cited the freedom and money potential as perks to freelancing, but he admitted that one downside is the lack of benefits. (He is also a partner in a firm.)

Tami taught both of her sons (Chase and brother Clay Frazier) to write steno, and she did so paperless. She also emphasized perfection. When Chase was at 200 wpm, she saw that while he had the speed, he was writing sloppy and with no punctuation. She had him go back to 160 and work back up while also working on writing perfectly. Chase attributed this experience to his strength in realtime.

A woman speaks into a microphone. She is sitting amongst rows of people at a conference session.

An attendee shares her thoughts during a session at the 2017 NCRA Convention & Expo

“A lot of people don’t emphasize the mental part of practicing,” said Ron. “If you don’t think you’re going to get it, you won’t get it.” He provided a couple metaphors for practicing, including “slow things down” — meaning to slow things down mentally, stay relaxed, and go with the flow.

Tami recommended practicing about 10 percent faster than her goal speed (which was a technique that she used to get through school). “You always want to be pushing yourself,” she said. Pick tough dictation, she suggested — “and I’m a real believer in lit — it makes you write; there’s nothing easy about lit,” she said. She also suggested practicing a five-minute take at least ten or fifteen words per minute faster than the goal speed. But since she also emphasized aiming for perfection, repeating a take until writing it perfectly will clean up a reporter’s writing and also gives the reporter an opportunity to work in briefs and phrases. “The better writer you are, the easier the job,” she said.

Business of being a court reporter

Charisse Kitt, RMR, CRI; Jessica Waack, RDR, CRR; Mike Hensley, RPR; and Katherine Schilling, RPR, presented a mock deposition as part of the Student Learning Zone at the 2017 NCRA Convention & Expo. With Schilling playing the part of newbie reporter, the mock deposition went through a variety of typical situations that a new reporter may not have encountered before or covered in school. At each “freeze frame,” the panelists discussed how they would handle each situation. A few of the situations were:

Introducing yourself at the beginning of the deposition: Kitt said she makes a point of greeting all of the lawyers in the room with a firm handshake. Waack expanded on this by saying that she makes sure her ears are over her shoulders over her hips, so she’s standing with confidence and not hunched over.

Swearing in the witness: Waack suggested having a physical piece of paper with the oath to refer to. She also said to make sure to include “swear or affirm” in the wording, since some witnesses don’t want to swear, and to avoid the phrase “so help you God.” Hensley pointed out that reporters should always check with their state association or firm first to see if there’s a preset oath that the reporter should be using.

Using briefs for names, words, and phrases: For briefs, Hensley pointed out that they don’t have to make sense on paper as long as they make sense to you to write. Kitt said she likes to get to a job at least 30 minutes early so she can use the time to jot down some briefs. And Waack suggested using LinkedIn to find the proper spellings of witnesses, etc., although she added that this will likely lead to some odd friend requests. She also said that after she’s developed a brief for an acronym, if the speaker suddenly uses the full term, she simply writes the brief twice.

The witness is talking too fast: Kitt said, “Don’t ever depend on your audio,” stressing that it’s the reporter’s responsibility as the record-keeper to keep in control and stop any fast talkers to tell them to slow down. Waack says she likes to reset the speaker to the point where she lost the record by saying, “You were talking about [subject].” And Hensley favors using a visual hand signal – physically lifting his hands up off the machine to show the room that something is up with the reporter.

Hensley also emphasized throughout the session the importance of knowing your software.

Beyond English

Stanley Sakai, CRC, led a session that focused on captioning in other languages, especially Spanish. The discussion was guided partially by Sakai’s prepared presentation and partly by the audience’s questions.

Sakai has a working knowledge of eight different languages with varying levels of fluency, including Dutch, German, Japanese, Korean, and Spanish. Prompted by a question from the audience, he explained that one of the methods he uses to keep up with such a wide variety of languages is to have different devices set to different languages (for example, his tablet set in one language and his mobile phone in another). He also takes the opportunity to look up words he encounters on the fly and to read articles, etc., in a language other than English so he learns content and vocabulary at the same time.

The session description specifically highlighted Spanish, and the growing need for Spanish captioning came up in the discussion, both domestically and abroad. Sakai talked a little bit about the differences between baseline speeds in English and Spanish and how Spanish is at a slightly slower speed. He also discussed his methods for doing CART work in German and how steno systems work in Korean and in Japanese. Sakai had to adjust his steno theory in order to provide CART, which was for a German language class, and he even had to be prepared to jump between German and English. Similarly, in the discussion, he pointed out that the Korean and Japanese languages toggle between different writing systems based on the specific words, and reporters and captioners in those countries need to have keyboards that are set up to quickly switch between the writing systems at the speed of spoken language.

Read all the news from the 2017 NCRA Convention & Expo.

Always go the extra mile — it’s never crowded up there

Runners wearing athletic apparal in a race down a narrow paved road with grass on either side

U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Alexy Saltekoff

Practicing, staying motivated, meeting target speeds. Networking, handing out résumés, taking skills tests. Court reporting students have a lot on their minds. And getting ready to graduate adds another whole dimension to school life. Students reflect on the challenges they are leaving behind and look forward to the opportunities that lie ahead.

Attending a court reporting program can sometimes be a lonely road, but students find the camaraderie of their classmates to be a good source of motivation. “The most difficult thing about being in school,” explains Sara Simoni, a student at Bryan University in Tempe, Ariz., “is that the people in your circle don’t quite understand what you’re going through. Even though you may explain what it’s like time and time again, they will never quite understand.” Perhaps friends and family may not be able to relate, but nearly 40 percent of students answering a poll in April’s issue of Up-to-Speed reported that their court reporting classmates are “a great source of inspiration.”

Ask just about any court reporting student what his or her biggest hurdle in school is and the answer is usually speed plateaus. Most students also agree on the way to overcome that hurdle: Put in more practice time. Students differ on the details, however. “Maybe instead of writing at only 20 wpm above my goal speed for 5+ minutes, I do short bursts of 40 or 60 wpm over,” says Lauren Mancusi, a student at the College of Court Reporting in Valparaiso, Ind.

Simoni takes the opposite approach. “I would take a one-minute exercise and work it 20 wpm below my target speed … then bump it up in increments of 10 all the way up to 20 wpm above my target speed.’

Of course, there is more to staying motivated than just getting over speed plateaus. “The best tip for getting though school is to forget the bad days,” suggests Celeste Poppe, a recent graduate from Bryan University. “Cry for only an hour, and move on and keep going. It’s hard not to get swallowed up by the ‘I’m not getting it’ or ‘I’m stuck’ feelings, but you just have to keep your eyes on what’s in front of you and keep on stenoing.”

Simoni also says to focus on the positive. “The best tip for surviving school is to remember to reward yourself for even the smallest accomplishment. With all the tests you will fail during your court reporting school journey, you have to take time to celebrate even the smallest achievements.”

Focusing on the positive also means looking to the future. One of the best ways to get a jumpstart on a career is to start earning certifications, like the Registered Professional Reporter (RPR) or the Certified Shorthand Reporter (CSR), while still in school. The experience of regular testing, in addition to the wide range of resources available in the school environment, makes this the perfect time to take those tests. “I am currently a licensed California CSR and working as a freelance deposition reporter. I also obtained my RPR during the time I was waiting for my CA CSR results, having passed each leg on the first time starting with the 225 leg and ending with the Written Knowledge Test leg,” said Poppe. Simoni found her internship to be an invaluable experience in preparing for her certification. “I loved interning. I had friends who were officials at my local courthouse. They couldn’t wait for me to start my interning journey, and they placed me right in on a jury trial. It definitely uplifted my confidence as well. I remember passing one of my last 225 tests right after interning.” She is planning to begin her RPR testing as soon as possible.

Those last few months of school are also the best time to search for a job. Students suggest getting out of the classroom and into the courtroom. “I am currently job hunting!” Simoni announces. “I am handing out résumés, and I am sitting in court with my friends who are officials. I’m working on my professional wardrobe and trying to gather all the necessary things to help me succeed as a new reporter. I know networking is huge in our industry, and I can’t help but be overly excited to hand out my new business cards!” Mancusi and Poppe also recommend attending state association conventions and seminars as a way to network with working reporters who can connect them with jobs.

For some students, the last piece of the puzzle is graduating from court reporting school. Every student takes a different path through the wickets of dictation, speed tests, internships, and graduation requirements. Often, the trickiest thing about graduating may actually be the timing. “To me,” admits Mancusi, “the hardest part of being in school is trying to explain to others why I don’t know my exact graduation date.” When Up-to-Speed polled readers about how important it is for them to graduate from court reporting school quickly, about 34 percent replied that they had people depending on them to graduate as soon as possible. But an almost equal number responded that they had “set a goal to graduate by a certain date, but things may change.” The remaining students were split almost evenly between a determination to graduate by a certain date “no matter what” and the more laid-back approach of “I’m in no rush. It will come when it comes.” Lauren Mancusi is firmly in the “no matter what” camp: “A comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there.”

How to make a smooth transition from student to reporter

new professionalBy Jacqueline Timmons

I have trained many new reporters over the years, so I have had a firsthand view of the transition from student to working reporter. I gained much insight as I was training and mentoring these new reporters, and this is my advice on what students should know as they prepare to start their careers in reporting.

Tip No. 1 Ensure that your equipment is properly maintained so it is not too loud or making noise when you are writing in the courtroom. If you buy new equipment and software right after graduation, make sure you know your machine and software before going to your first assignment. You don’t want the bad experience of walking into a room filled with attorneys and not knowing how to set up your equipment. There is a natural tendency to panic when all eyes are on you. Practice setting up your equipment before your first assignment.

Tip No. 2: If your software program has audio, do not rely solely on it for your transcript. It is a great tool as a backup, but remember, you may have to read back a question or an answer. If the audio fails, it might be that the microphone was not turned on or was not plugged in correctly or there was background noise that distorted the recording. With or without the audio, you will have to produce the transcript.

Tip No. 3: Make sure you know the appropriate oaths for swearing in witnesses and translators. Practice saying the oaths before you go to your first deposition. Make a note card with the oaths on it to keep in your briefcase so you can review them before the deposition starts. Once you get used to reciting them, they will become second nature. In fact, you may have to make sure you don’t say the oath so fast that the witness misunderstands the words. Occasionally, an attorney may state something for the record first and then ask you to swear in the witness. If an attorney starts questioning and forgets to have the witness sworn, interrupt and ask if he or she would like to have the witness sworn in.

Tip No. 4: You will find that not all witnesses speak in complete sentences, which makes it difficult to punctuate. If a witness pauses in his or her answer, it may not necessarily mean that a comma belongs in that space. The witness may just be thinking about how to phrase the answer or may be ready to change his or her thought altogether, in which case you need to place a dash.

Tip No. 5: Probably the most difficult barrier to overcome is learning to interrupt. But remember, if you cannot hear the witness, mostly likely the lawyers are having the same problem. They will invariably ask you to read testimony back. If you are having difficulty hearing, ask the witness to repeat an answer or to speak more loudly or more clearly.

Tip No. 6: If possible, when reading back on the job, read the question or answer to yourself first before you read it aloud. This may save you from stumbling over a new word, a steno outline, or a mistranslate.

Tip No. 7: Another early lesson to learn is that your working experience will not be like dictation in class; it will not be five minutes at a particular speed. It will vary all throughout the day, depending on who is speaking. The lawyer may be slow and the witness fast, or vice versa.

Tip No 8: You may also be writing for two-hour stints without a break, so you may get tired at first. Writing an all-day deposition or all-day trial certainly can wear you out, especially when you first start reporting. Don’t get discouraged. Once you get used to sustained writing, it becomes much easier.

Tip No. 9: Because you don’t know what the day holds, be sure to eat a full breakfast. You never know if you will get a lunch break, and if you do, it may be a short one. Hopefully, you’ll be asked if you would like to break or you will have the opportunity to ask for a break, but it doesn’t always happen. Sometimes the need for a faster deposition means starting at 9 a.m. and going straight through to 2 p.m. with no lunch break. I have had that happen, and I find in those cases, I was very happy I ate breakfast. If you are not a breakfast person, keep a snack bar or something you can eat at a break.

Tip No. 10: When I started reporting, I acquired reference books, which were tremendously helpful. That was before computers and the internet. Make Google, or whatever search engine you use, your friend. When editing, use it. If you are not sure of something, look it up. For example, I was editing a job and it sounded like the witness said he had an Audi 88. Not being familiar with that car, I Googled it just to be sure. It turned out it was an Audi A8. Don’t be afraid to ask fellow reporters during a break if you need a spelling or clarification, or if you are unsure of a term. We are always willing to help each other.

I hope I have provided some helpful tips to guide you in the transition from student to reporter. And here is just one more: Don’t get discouraged if your first reporting assignment doesn’t leave you with a warm, fuzzy feeling. I have been reporting for over 35 years, and I still love it. That doesn’t mean I haven’t had some difficult assignments that have left me wanting to cry. But those unfavorable experiences didn’t ruin it for the other assignments — ones that have left me feeling that I chose a very rewarding career.

Jacqueline Timmons, FAPR, RDR, is a freelance reporter in Darien, Ill. She can be reached at jmtcsr@cs.com.

New professional spotlight: Patrick Miller

Portrait of a blond Caucasian man with blue eyes wearing a black suitBy Jordan Groves

Patrick Miller has been a freelance reporter in Auburn, Ala., for a little over two years. Originally from Daphne, he relocated to the Auburn/Montgomery area where he completed court reporting school in two years and three weeks. Patrick is the definition of calm, cool, and collected and has been an outstanding court reporter since day one.

Tell me a bit about yourself and why you chose to become a court reporter.

My name is Patrick Miller. I’m 29, and I’ve been a court reporter for two and a half years. I first got the idea of court reporting when I was at my mom’s house eating dinner and talking about how I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. She suggested that I ought to either get a degree in building science or become a court reporter. The next day, I called some local court reporters who all encouraged me to pursue the profession. One reporter told me when I graduated school to call him and he would share some of his backlog work with me. He also recommended Prince Institute in Montgomery, Ala. I called Prince and started school in January of 2013. Theory lasted a little under nine months, and I passed my last 225 Q&A test 15 months later. I was hired three weeks before I graduated. I learned that there is a vast need for court reporters compared to other occupations. When you graduate, you should have no trouble finding a job.

What was the hardest part of transitioning from school to the real world?

I found out when I started working that school does not prepare you for your first jobs. Lawyers, doctors, and expert witnesses will throw out terms you probably never knew existed. People don’t always speak as clearly as they do in practice dictation in school. After beginning work, I found it’s important to clearly know how to put together a title, appearance, and certificate page before you graduate.

What is the ultimate goal in your career as a court reporter?

My goal is to build court reporting into a profession that I will use the rest of my life. I can truly attest that court reporting is an awesome career that will take care of you. You can work as much or as little as you want, and there is great flexibility in hours.

You reported your first realtime job not long after you finished school. What were you feeling walking into that job?

Terrified. I told my office I wasn’t ready to take a realtime job, but I would if it was the only option. They ended up putting me on the job. It was a medical malpractice case about Lidocaine with eight attorneys in the room. I was hearing medical terms and struggling to write them, and the plaintiff’s lawyer was constantly watching my writing. At a break, the defense lawyers asked me to scroll back through 80 pages of testimony to find one of the witness’s answers. At the end of the depo, the taking attorney even asked me to return for the next week’s job. I realized that day that people don’t know you are nervous unless you tell them you are.

If you could sum up your first year in one word, what would it be and why?

Learning. Every job you walk into is a different learning experience. The first year you will want to primarily do your own scoping, so you can concentrate on building your dictionary. After your second year begins, you can start hiring a scopist and taking more work.

What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you first started out?

Looking back I think it’s important to stick to the same style writer and software during school that you will use in your work. When you graduate, you will be too busy to have to be learning new software and the feel of a new writer.

Do you have any advice for reporting students?

My advice to new students is just stick with it. Speedbuilding is muscle memory. The only reason you won’t make it is if you decide to quit. For me, my machine practice came first in the morning. I would spend the first half practicing number and letter drills, then I would speedbuild the rest of the time. I would break my practice sessions into three or four one-hour sessions throughout the day, the last one before bed. Looking back, it was a commitment of time that has paid great rewards.

You’ve traveled some. Where has your most memorable trip been to?

I’ve had the opportunities to travel to a lot of different places. I was asked one day to fly to take a deposition in China. I did not have my passport at the time, so I couldn’t go, but I have my passport now for next time. Every day is something new.

What’s your “can’t live without” item in your steno bag?

In my bag, I always carry an extension cord with a power strip. I carry a three-prong wall adaptor for the old law offices that do not have a three-prong wall outlet. I carry a Sony tape recorder that I use for backup in case my other audio fails. It is great at picking up sound, and I never go to a job without it. I always double-check my bag the night or morning before a job to make sure I have my writer, laptop, chargers, and cords.

Jordan Groves is a freelance reporter in Montgomery, Ala., and a member of the NCRA New Professionals Committee. She can be reached at jgrovescr@gmail.com.

 

New professional spotlight: Jessie Frey

A young blond woman standing in front of the reflection pool with the Washington Monument in the backgroundBy Jennifer Porto

Jessie Frey has just celebrated her first year working as a freelance deposition reporter. She was a stellar student with infectious enthusiasm. Have you ever met someone who exudes positivity and makes you want to run the extra mile? That is Jessie. She was not immune to the struggles that every court reporting student faces, but she had the will to achieve. By surrounding herself with other mentors who matched her optimism and tenacity, she was able to stay on her path to her goals. Hard work has paid off, and she is living her dream.

What was life like as a student?

Time goes by fast when you’re having fun and loving the career that you worked so incredibly hard for. I just celebrated my one-year anniversary as a California CSR. I was born and raised in Los Angeles, and I decided to begin my court reporting journey at South Coast College in Orange, California.

As a new student, my biggest stumbling block was learning how to prioritize getting out of school. Getting through court reporting school is a whole ‘nother ballgame versus getting my undergrad degree. I quickly learned that in order to get out of school, I needed to center my life around classes and practice, and I made sure my friends and family knew it. My mission was to get out of school and not get buried in student loans.

Speedbuilding was an exercise in realigning my attitude when I’d reach the inevitable plateaus. The roller coaster of passing a test and then getting bumped into a class where you immediately started to fail again was the strangest and most difficult mental battle I have ever endured. The idea of quitting or giving up was never an option. I had to constantly remind myself to keep pushing past the negative self-talk and the self-doubt. To burst through these plateaus, I made sure to transcribe every single test. I always analyzed my (sometimes many, many) mistakes to see what I was doing wrong, and eventually the amount of those errors would get smaller and smaller until I passed.

What did you do to remain positive and motivated?

One of the most valuable and important decisions I made as a student was to start getting to know working reporters in my state associations. I went to as many functions and networking events as I could. By taking advantage of student discounts, I was able to go to conventions, English seminars, student picnics, and even small networking happy hours that were hosted by some amazing court reporters.

One of the coolest things I experienced as a student was sitting in a seminar listening to reporters who worked at Guantanamo Bay. I left the seminar feeling exhilarated because of the possibilities and options that I would have. I didn’t have to limit myself to one path. That same day was a seminar presented by four CART captioners. It was the first time I truly grasped that side of reporting. I’ll never forget their stories about how grateful their students were to be able to follow along during class because of the captions these reporters were providing.

The beauty of doing these things as a student is that so many of these reporters are willing to help you. As a student, school feels like it is never going to end, but by surrounding myself with actual working reporters, I was able to visualize myself out in the real world too, and I knew there was light at the end of the court reporting school tunnel. By their association, I was able to keep the spark I needed to stay motivated.

It is all about staying positive. When I felt down about a test, I had people I could reach out to for words of encouragement or advice. As I passed more and more tests, these same reporters were just as excited about it as I was (maybe even more so). These are the same reporters that I now consider to be some of my closest friends. I can rely on them when I have questions that come up about depositions, procedures, or when I just need someone I can vent to about having to cancel plans to get out an expedite.

After you passed the CSR, what reporting path did you choose?

When I got my license, I decided to be a freelance deposition reporter. I find it thrilling to be in a new place, with new people and a new case every single day. No two days are alike. I never know what to expect.

As a freelance reporter, I am able to work for multiple agencies. I am completely free to pick up jobs when I want, take additional work, or enjoy a few days off when I feel overwhelmed or buried with pages — or simply want a long weekend. I love that I have that flexibility. I love not having a boss. I have complete freedom to pick and choose my own schedule, where and when I want to work and how much, but I do miss having the benefits that an official would have. There are no limits to what the reporting road may lead to. I’m happy as a freelancer for now, but I find comfort in the fact that I have a variety of career paths to choose from within court reporting.

What has been an obstacle for you as a new reporter?

As a new reporter, I have struggled with time management and balance. I want to take every job that is offered and work every day, but I have had to learn to gauge the amount of pages versus the time it will take to edit so I can meet my deadlines. It is all about figuring out the balance and what is within reason. I’m still learning how to juggle working, editing, and trying to find the time to practice shortening my writing.

One of the biggest things I had to overcome and learn that wasn’t taught in school was how to interrupt and ask questions in a depo setting. It took me quite a while to feel comfortable being assertive with attorneys. I “faked it ‘til I made it.” Now I have no issue interrupting when there are multiple people talking at once or asking an attorney to speak louder when he thinks I can hear his whispering objection as well as the ongoing testimony.

I’m so thankful I put in the hours of practicing and studying in school to be where I am today. The struggles and ups and downs of court reporting school were worth it, and I’m part of a wonderful profession where I learn something new every single day. My career has only just begun, but I know I have the skills and ability to become a great reporter. There are so many wonderful opportunities in this field that I can’t wait to take hold of.

Jennifer Porto is a freelance reporter in Long Beach, Calif., and a member of the NCRA New Professionals Committee. She can be reached at jenn0644@gmail.com

New professional spotlight: Shelley Duhon

By Danielle Griffin

Megan photoShelley Duhon, an official court reporter, was always interested in court reporting ever since she saw court reporters writing on their machines on TV and in movies such as Ghostbusters II. When she completed high school, she decided she wanted to pursue court reporting school. The only problem: There weren’t any schools available in her area. Without knowing a single working court reporter, she started and completed all of her schooling online! Shelley believes the discipline learned through playing flute and piano from when she was young all the way through high school was key to giving her the tools she needed to practice for many hours and to reach the goal of finishing court reporting school. She is so proud to be a newly working court reporter and loves being in this profession.

Where did you go to school?

I am so proud to say I graduated from College of Court Reporting online in 2015. I started and completed all of my schooling online! I started at the Court Reporting Institute of Dallas and finished at the College of Court Reporting.

Where are you from, and where do you work?

I am from Louisiana, but I have lived in Atlanta for the last seven years. I currently live in McDonough, Ga., and commute an hour each way to work.

I work at Macon-Bibb County Superior Court in Macon. I started working there in September of 2016. I am currently the only stenographer! I feel like this gives me an extra advantage to be able to produce rough drafts or daily copies. Because there is a shortage of court reporters in my area, I have also had the opportunity to travel to the local circuit courts with my judge and love getting the experience traveling.

What’s the coolest experience you have had working in the profession?

Currently, there are a lot of production companies that come out to Atlanta to shoot their films. While I was in school, I had the opportunity to work on the TV sets of:

  • A courtroom scene on the television series "Red Band Society" -- Shelley Duhon is the court reporter behind the bench.

    Shelley Duhon, to the left of the flag, in “Red Band Society

    Drop Dead Diva on Lifetime

  • Rectify on Sundance
  • Satisfaction on USA
  • Game of Silence on NBC
  • Red Band Society on ABC
  • The Jury on ABC
  • Tyler Perry’s The Haves and Have Nots on OWN Network

This all came about from a casting call that went out on the local news station. I sent in my information, and I got a call to work on the set of Drop Dead Diva! I was so excited to be there, and I ended up meeting and becoming acquaintances with the producers on the TV show. Since that time, they must have put me on their list because they have continuously called me ever since. It has been an experience I won’t ever soon forget.

What is something you wish you would have known before you started working as a new professional?

One thing I wish I knew is that it is okay to move my chair and sit closer to the jury during voir dire. Make sure you sit where you can hear. Get a digital recorder. It is nice to have a second or third backup just in case.

Never be afraid to interrupt and tell the judge to get a witness to speak up, especially when they are giving nods of the head.

Find out if there is a time limit on getting transcripts turned in, so you won’t have to rush last minute.

Get a mentor and work with them. Meet them for lunch on the weekends. Call and ask questions. There is never a stupid question.

Stay current with your national and state association policies. They are there to assist you.

What is your favorite part about working as a court reporter?

I feel most accomplished when I am writing clean. Some days, attorneys will request of me to get out a daily copy, and it makes me so thankful for the skill I have as a court reporter. This is truly why I went to school.

What are your next goals as a court reporter? What are you working towards next?

After I pass my last test of the RPR, I will be working on getting the CRR. I would like to provide realtime on a continuous basis in the future.

I am also trying to work on balance between my work and personal life. I knew coming into this industry that I wouldn’t have much of a life starting off, but now that I am settling in, I am trying to work on finding more balance. Meeting with other working reporters and mentors helps too. It is always so nice to be able to hear other perspectives.

I am planning on attending the NCRA Convention & Expo this year in Las Vegas and can’t wait to meet more reporters. I am so proud to be a working court reporter and a new professional!

Danielle Griffin, RPR, is a freelancer in Phoenix, Ariz., and a member of the New Professionals Committee. She can be reached at danielle.griffin@gmail.com.

 

Meet the 2016-2017 NCRA New Professionals Advisory Committee members

New professionals_collageWe are an enthusiastic group of new court reporters from throughout the country with the drive and passion to continue the advancement of the court reporting industry through advocacy and education specifically designed for the new professional.

What we do:

  • We provide training resources geared towards the new professional.
  • We spotlight our new colleagues who have made an impact in our industry from an early stage.
  • We promote the benefit of higher certification and participation in NCRA and state associations.
  • We advocate for the new professional by introducing new methods of assistance and guidance that can specifically benefit a new reporter.

The purpose of this introduction is to give new professionals an outlet, to provide a method of communication between new professionals and NCRA, and to provide positive correspondence that all NCRA members can look forward to.

 

Rachel Barkume Photo_resizedI have been an official reporter for four years, a licensed CSR for six years this coming July, and an RPR for five years. My favorite thing about being a court reporter is the unique bond I share with other court reporters. I have never felt more of a sense of community. I also enjoy telling others about my career, explaining in the easiest way I can think of how my “little machine” works, and working with my judge and courtroom staff. A future goal of mine is to refine my dictionary and realtime skills to eventually become a captioner!

Rachel Barkume, RPR, CSR

Oakhurst, California

Melissa Case_squareI am an official court reporter for the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas. My favorite thing about being a court reporter is that I’m constantly learning something every single day. My future goals are to pass the RMR and CRR and compete in state competitions.

Melissa Case, RPR

Cleveland, Ohio

Danielle GriffinI am a freelancer: Just got my RPR in August of 2016. Woot! I am a second-generation reporter, and most of all, I love working with my mom. I have grown up working at the office for many years and have worked all positions in the office. It is so exciting to be working as a reporter and now working alongside my mom. I am currently working towards my RMR and CRR, and continuing to refine my writing.

Danielle C. Griffin, RPR, AZ CR, NM CR

Cave Creek, Arizona

Jordan Groves_squareI am a freelancer. I love doing something different every day. No two jobs are ever the same, and that keeps it fun. I also love the flexibility of not working every day and being able to take off on a whim to go on field trips with the kids, et cetera. I’m not sure I could ever work normal work hours after having these freelance hours. I’m currently working on passing the RPR, and after that, I’m going to tackle the CRR.

Jordan Groves, CCR

Montgomery, Alabama

Hensley PicI am born and raised in Southern California and currently live in Chicago, Ill. I have been a freelance reporter since January 2016. My favorite thing about being a reporter is that every day is a new and different adventure. I am energized by change, and I enjoy walking into a new environment with each job I accept. My future goal is to always be learning and developing my skills to become the best reporter I can be. Currently I’m aiming for RMR and CRR certifications with the intent to participate in the national speed contests.

Michael Hensley, RPR, CSR

Chicago, Illinois

MikeyI’ve been a freelance reporter since August of 2012. My favorite thing about being a freelance court reporter is the flexibility that it allows me. I’m essentially my own boss, make my own hours, decide what my earning potential is, and have the freedom to get out of this career whatever I put into it. As someone who was in a cubicle working 9-5 for a few years, I love that every day is a new adventure in a new place with different people and a different story. My future goals consist of adding both CRR and RMR credentials after my name, opening up my own agency someday, and to help as many people as I can obtain their goals of becoming stenographers as attending and completing court reporting school was the best decision I’ve ever made.

Mikey McMorran, RPR, CSR

San Diego, California

Jennifer PortoI was a CART provider for nine years. It was truly rewarding, and I honestly loved going to work every day. My passion was working with deaf/hard of hearing students providing one-on-one CART, but I also loved the challenge of projecting captions for large audiences at venues such as city council meetings, TEDxCaltech, and for Yahoo. I was getting paid to learn; how lucky could a girl be? In May of 2016, I decided it was time for a new challenge, and I made the jump to being a deposition reporter. Every day is a different adventure and nothing is predictable. I learn something new daily, and I’m humbled at the tenacity, endurance, and organization it takes to not just be a good reporter, but to be a great reporter.

Jennifer Porto, CSR

Long Beach, California

NCRF announces 2017 Robert H. Clark Scholarship and New Professional Reporter Grant recipients

The National Court Reporters Foundation (NCRF) has announced that Valerie Melkus, RPR, Charleston, S.C., was named recipient of the 2017 New Professional Reporter Grant. The Foundation also announced that Laurel Stalnaker, a student from Sumner College in Portland, Ore., is the recipient of the 2017 Robert H. Clark Scholarship.

“I am honored and thrilled to be the recipient of the New Professional Reporter Grant, though I’m certain that every person who applied is just as deserving. Starting out as a new reporter is tough. Anyone who’s made it this far has been working his or her behind off,” said Melkus. “I’ve been using an old, noisy, slow, refurbished laptop for work. This grant will enable me to not only pay my bills, but I will finally be able to get myself a new computer. I am beyond grateful.”

NCRF awards the annual New Professional Reporter Grant to a reporter who is in his or her first year of work, has graduated within a year from an NCRA-approved court reporting program, and meets specific criteria, including a grade point average of 3.5 or above, a letter of recommendation, and active work in any of the career paths of judicial (official/freelance), CART, or captioning. Melkus, a graduate of the College of Court Reporting in Valparaiso, Ind., is the 13th recipient of NCRF’s New Professional Reporter Grant. She was recommended by J. Lynn Clark, RMR, president of Clark & Associates.

“I have been reporting and training new reporters since 1979. Valerie has been the most impressive new reporter I have ever had the pleasure to work with,” Clark wrote in her recommendation. “I feel like I have hit a court reporting home run with [Valerie]. She loves learning new things and implementing them in her writing. Her enthusiasm for court reporting is contagious!”

Laurel Stalnaker

Laurel Stalnaker

The $2,000 Robert H. Clark Scholarship is named for the late Robert H. (Bob) Clark, a court reporter from Los Angeles, Calif., who was dedicated to preserving the history of the profession. Stalnaker is the third recipient of this scholarship.

“I am humbled to have won this scholarship, and I am grateful to have been nominated by my instructor. It will allow me to invest in myself in my new profession,” said Stalnaker. “I have been in school for two years now, and since day one I have been using an older student steno machine. Lately it has been having connectivity issues during class and, even worse, during tests. Recently I have been looking to buy a newer model for reporting professionally since I am only three tests away from graduating, and this scholarship will allow me to start my career on a positive note. I am eager to invest in a newer model and to excel in my last exams before I graduate.”

Students are nominated by instructors or other officials at their schools. To be eligible, nominees must be NCRA members, enrolled in an NCRA-approved court reporting program, have passed at least one of their program’s Q&A tests at 200 words per minute, and possess a GPA of at least 3.5 on a 4.0 scale, among other criteria.

“Laurel has been, from day one, nothing less than a very devoted student. Her attendance has been superb, and her commitment to this program has never once wavered,” said Jacqueline Butler, CRI, who nominated Stalnaker. “She has stayed focused on the end result. I have no doubts whatsoever that she will make a great reporter. She takes her work very seriously and makes sure she learns all she can along the way. It’s wonderful to see her win this award!”

To learn more about NCRF’s scholarships and grants, visit NCRA.org/NCRF/Scholarships.

New professional spotlight: Aimee Edwards-Altadonna

By Rachel Barkume

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

What made you want to become a court reporter?

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

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

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

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

What are your future goals for your court reporting career?

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

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

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

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

Do you have a mentor?

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

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

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

Vinny’s advice for court-reporting significant others:

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

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

What do you like best about being a court reporter?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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