Making the switch: Going from freelance to official reporting

Nicole Bulldis, RPR

Nicole Bulldis, RPR

By Megan Rogers

One of the benefits of reporting is that reporters can go in many different directions throughout their career. Nicole Bulldis, RPR; Melissa Case, RPR; and Debrina Jones have all switched from being freelance reporters to becoming officials. The JCR talked to them about why they switched, the differences they found between the two roles, and what they like about being officials.

JCR | Please share where you’re working and how things are set up at your courthouse.
BULLDIS | I work for the Superior Court in two small counties, Benton and Franklin, in southeastern Washington. Three reporters retired last year, each had been there for more than 30 years, and it was the first time they’d had to hire a court reporter in almost 15 years. Just before we started, they had been assigned to judges, but switched to pool. It makes things a lot easier for us in that we don’t have to find reporters to cover for us to be able to take vacation or leave time.
CASE | I work at Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court in Ohio. We are part of a pool. I could work for two or more judges every day.
JONES | I work as an at-large for the 13th Circuit in the Family Court Division in Greenville, S.C. Due to the court reporter shortage, they are not assigning to one judge right now.

JCR | How long were you freelancing, and when did you start working as an official?
BULLDIS | I started as an official in January 2017. I had been freelancing for nine months when I applied for the job. I interviewed at the beginning of November, accepted the position mid-November, and we moved 300 miles on December 1.
CASE | I was freelancing for three years and eight months. My start date was Oct. 11, 2016.
JONES | I freelanced for two years, and I started as an official in August of 2017.

Melissa Case, RPR

Melissa Case, RPR

JCR | What work did you specialize in when you were freelancing?
BULLDIS | I did a little bit of everything but was mainly doing medical depos.
CASE | I worked on everything I could.
JONES | I did everything and anything that was needed wherever I was needed between both North and South Carolina.

JCR | What made you switch from a freelance position to an officialship?
BULLDIS |Since court reporting was a second career and I didn’t start school until I was in my 30s, I’d always known I wanted to be an official because I love routine, but I also wanted retirement and benefits. I’d lived in Seattle all my life, and in the major metropolitan areas, you need to be realtime proficient to even be considered; so I started looking at outside opportunities.
CASE | I wanted to work with the best of the best. Our reporters here are amazing and set the bar high. I wanted the stability of a paycheck. I like going to the same place every day. I like having an office. I love my coworkers. I love being social and being able to bounce ideas off other reporters. Benefits! Paid vacation. Guaranteed payment.
JONES | Here in the South Carolina courts, we are experiencing a massive shortage due to retirement, and I discovered the opportunity to step into an area that would open greater doors for me. I loved the transcripts we would practice to in school, and I enjoyed the experience while interning, so when the opportunity was mentioned to me, it was one I felt I should jump at.

JCRWhat is the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your new role? How have you overcome that challenge?
BULLDIS | I’ve started realtiming for my judges when they request it. I think that was a huge challenge as a new professional because I’m still building my dictionaries and learning on my feet as I go. I’m currently working on my CRC so I can serve jurors, witnesses, and parties in our community who are Deaf and hard-of-hearing.
CASE | My biggest challenge was coming into this courthouse and being very young. People always ask my age and if I’m qualified to be here. I just sit down and do my job and be polite.
JONES | I had to adjust to some days being slammed with a hearing every 15 minutes and a courtroom full of litigants, family, counsel, and emotions. I have learned to communicate effectively with my judges and my deputies, so I am always on track and aware of what’s happening around me. I have also learned to find a healthy balance outside of work where I can release the day’s stress. In order to be the best reporter I can be, I have to make sure I take care of myself just as much as I take care of the record.

Debrina Jones

Debrina Jones

JCRWhat surprised you most about being an official? Why?
BULLDIS | I think I was most surprised by how much I enjoy being an official. Jumping back into a 9-5 and having to dress up every day seemed pretty unappealing after freelancing, but I actually look forward to going to work every day. I also thought it was really cool how supportive our judges are. They’re constantly checking on us and making sure we can hear, etc.
CASE | The work that we get here and finding out what happens in your community. It’s surprising to find out the criminal activity that’s going on in businesses that you might have shopped at before. Seeing myself on the news. I also feel like I am more respected here as a reporter.
JONES | How much I enjoy the job itself, the hours, and the people I work with. Everyone has been incredibly helpful and welcoming to me as I have learned the ins and outs of officialship. I had a small view of this reality while I was interning, however, I moved to a place where I didn’t know a single person. I wasn’t sure how any of the transition would go, and it has gone incredibly well.

JCR |Where do you go for support or advice?
BULLDIS | There were three of us who were hired in January, but the other three reporters have all been reporting for over 20 years. We’re extremely lucky to have access to that much institutional knowledge available to us, and they’re very nurturing.
CASE | I have an officemate who has been here for 20-plus years. She’s great to ask questions. If she’s not here, I have 40 other reporters outside my door.
JONES | I reach out to my fellow reporters that I work with and those I have met throughout my years as a student and as a reporter. I am very thankful to have met some truly wonderful reporters that I can learn from and find support in.

JCR |What are some of the benefits to being an official for you?
BULLDIS | I commute to the same two courthouses, both of which are less than 15 minutes away, and parking is provided. I have awesome medical benefits that include 24 massages a year (a must for reporting). I have set hours, paid holidays and vacations, and I’m working towards retirement. I know the judges and their expectations, and I feel like that makes me better at my job.
CASE | I get to write more and work less. I have a salary.
JONES |There is a stability in the hours, paid holidays, and requested days off. The health and retirement benefits are a huge plus. I have also enjoyed how much I learn from my judges on a daily basis. I have thoroughly enjoyed learning from some of the best that the legal system has to offer and being able to have such pride in providing them with what is a pivotal part of the judicial system.

JCR |What do you miss about freelancing?
BULLDIS | When huge or expedited transcript orders come in, I really miss the ability to take myself off the books and also working from home in my sweats.
CASE | Sleeping in.
JONES | The ability to take myself off of the calendar to catch up on work, and to have time off for leisure with much more ease, and working in my comfy clothes all day.

JCR |What advice do you have for anyone thinking of making the switch?
BULLDIS | Sit out with an official and see if it’s something you’re actually interested in. I was a regular in a couple courthouses because I wanted to build speed and learn the ropes.
CASE | Shadow a reporter for a day. Go to the courthouse and meet the reporters. Talk to them. Don’t be afraid. It was the best decision I’ve made for my future in court reporting.
JONES | Take into account your own personal goals and ambitions as a court reporter: your needs and desires in life with regards to finances, stability, and flexibility. Sit out with an active official and see if you can picture yourself doing that job; you may just be pleasantly surprised at the inner workings.

Megan Rogers is NCRA’s Content Manager. She can be reached at mrogers@ncra.org.

 

Maintaining a freelance mind-set in an official world

By Risa Entrekin

Many reporters accept an officialship after years of freelancing and feel they can relax with only one person to keep happy: the judge. After the excitement wanes, however, complacency often manifests itself in job dissatisfaction and frustration. The official who maintains a freelance mind-set in an official world can avoid this and enjoy a successful and pleasant career. Here are a few thoughts on how to succeed at the business of officialships without really trying:

Technology: In this ever-changing world, the steno machine remains a steady, trustworthy foundation upon which we must build an environment to meet client demand. The “client” may be a judge, court administrative staff, a probation or parole officer, attorneys, pro se litigants and their families, or any combination of the above.

As new attorneys emerge on the scene who have been immersed in high-tech gadgetry since before they started kindergarten, the reporter’s ability to respond to their needs becomes increasingly important. Whether it is emailing transcripts in various formats or live streaming a realtime feed to off-site participants, an awareness of technological advancements and the willingness to acquire the skill and equipment necessary to respond to those advancements is crucial. One way to become familiar with the latest advancements is through technology itself: participating in Facebook groups, watching YouTube “how-to” videos, and attending NCRA and other conferences either in person or remotely.

Maintaining and improving one’s skill is always a worthwhile goal that will benefit the client as well as the reporter. A trial involving technical subject matter will always be extremely challenging, but it can be more successful and less stressful when a reporter is at the top of his or her game. Some courts even offer pay incentives for additional certifications.

Financial considerations: An officialship may create new and challenging financial considerations that are best discussed with an accountant or tax advisor. Although taxes will be withheld from salaried income, it may be necessary for the reporter to file estimated tax payments to avoid underpayment penalties. Keeping transcript income and estimated taxes in a separate account may be helpful.

Keeping good financial records is burdensome and time-consuming, but it is a necessary evil. Some officialships require additional record keeping that can seem like “busy” work to the busy reporter. However, this record keeping is simply a job that must be done. The best attitude to cultivate is one of acceptance instead of procrastination.

Organization: When time is short and days in court are long, a consistent method of organizing work and maintaining records is a necessity. Constantly prioritizing transcript requests is a must. The “Sticky Notes” tool available on the Windows desktop or the use of Microsoft OneNote can assist the reporter to be continually aware of what task needs the most urgent attention.

Proofreading on a mobile device can allow the reporter to make more efficient use of unavoidable time delays. Files can be sent and received from a proofreader using the same technology. Develop a quick and effective way of preparing a job or case dictionary for a realtime feed. This often is the difference between a mediocre and excellent realtime transmission. The official may find it helpful to organize the most urgent tasks at the close of a workday.

Teamwork: Unlike the freelance world where the reporter is often working autonomously, teamwork is extremely important for the official. Officials live in an uncertain world of budget cuts and work study evaluations, and they share their world with courthouse personnel who often do not understand or appreciate the reporter’s contribution. Officials often face threats of being replaced by other technology. The reporter’s best reaction in the face of uncertainty is to become invaluable at the courthouse. As with any public-sector job, the reporter will work with a myriad of people from a variety of backgrounds who possess many different attitudes and work expectations. A reporter should always strive to maintain a professional attitude and keep the interests of justice as his or her top priority.

Teamwork also includes working well with a future team, the reporters who will assume the official reporter positions of the future. Create a method of communicating with the reporters of tomorrow about how records, audio files, rough drafts, and final transcripts are stored. This lasting legacy furthers the cause of justice. An “In Case of Emergency” file which can be easily accessed by others will ease the transition and save time. The file should include passwords, file locations, account numbers, locations of keys, and any other information the court reporter considers important.

Professionalism:  It is human nature to have short memories of positive experiences and lingering memories of negative situations. This is one of many reasons for the official reporter to endeavor to develop and maintain a high degree of professionalism. The NCRA Code of Ethics is an additional incentive. Frankly, another reason to always maintain professional integrity is because the legal community is often relatively small and closely knit. A reporter may not know that the doddering old attorney fumbling with the newfangled evidence presentation method used to be the judge’s law partner or that the intake clerk struggling to get a degree may end up clerking for the judge before he accepts a position with a stellar law firm.

Reporters should always avoid even the appearance of impropriety. The official who becomes complacent about their duties can sometimes relax this standard and become friendlier with attorneys who frequent the courtroom. Giving advice and commenting on a case is always inappropriate, regardless of how well a reporter knows an attorney. The official should treat everyone equally, both in the courtroom and after the fact.

Always strive to honor commitments made for transcript production. Maintain communication with the requesting party throughout the production process if necessary. A late transcript now and then is inevitable and unavoidable, but a late transcript preceded by no communication from the court reporter is unjustifiable.

The official sometimes has more flexibility to volunteer with state and national associations, and yet freelancers often carry the lion’s share of this burden. Officials should encourage students by mentoring them if at all possible. This encourages the student and allows them to be more comfortable in an intimidating setting. This connection with students can benefit both the student and the working reporter. Providing pro bono services or transcribing interviews through NCRA’s Oral Histories Program are other ways officials can contribute to their profession.

An unknown author once said, “Watch your thoughts, for they become words. Watch your words, for they become actions. Watch your actions, for they become habits. Watch your habits, for they become character. Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.” Officials should faithfully preserve the record with skill and professionalism, always being cognizant of their contribution to our collective destiny.

Risa Entrekin, RDR, CRR, CMRS, CPE, is an official based in Montgomery, Ala. She also holds NCRA’s Realtime Systems Administrator certificate. She can be reached at risaentrekin@gmail.com.

 

No one is recording what happens in family law court anymore

JCR: Journal of Court Reporting, TheJCR.com, JCR WeeklyThe Voice of San Diego (Calif.) reported on Oct. 9 that the city’s Superior Court is no longer providing court reporters for family law proceedings, which means there is no verbatim, written record of what happens in court. Family law attorneys say the move will disproportionately affect low- and middle-income families who have complaints before the court.

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Reporteras de la corte: Una profesión bien pagada, pero poco conocida/Court reporting: A well-paying but little-known profession

JCR: Journal of Court Reporting, TheJCR.com, JCR WeeklyA Sept. 7 article in the Spanish publication La Opinión highlights NCRA members Alma Zapata, RPR; Camille Márquez; and Adriana Montañez, who are all officials in Southern California. The article, which is in Spanish, discusses how each of them came to reporting as well as the benefits of a career in reporting, including salary potential, flexibility, and the opportunity to learn something new every day. The article also suggests that being bilingual is an advantage to learning steno.

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NCRA attends CTC, keeps profession relevant

Set in a moderately busy vendor hall, two women in professional garb speak with a few men who are visiting the booth. One of the women is seated at a steno machine. On the table are flyers and propped up iPads.

NCRA President Christine J. Willette (seated) and NCRA Secretary-Treasurer Debra A. Dibble speak with attendees at the 2017 Court Technology Conference.

NCRA was proud to host a booth in the expo hall at the Court Technology Conference (CTC) held Sept. 12-14, in Salt Lake City, Utah. The National Center for State Courts holds the biennial conference, which is the world’s premier event showcasing the developments in court technology. The event draws more than 1,500 court professionals from around the nation.

Volunteers at the NCRA booth at this year’s CTC event included NCRA President Christine J. Willette, RDR, CRR, CRC; Secretary-Treasurer Debra A. Dibble, RDR, CRR, CRC; Director of Professional Development Programs Cynthia Bruce Andrews; and Government Relations Manager Matthew Barusch. Other volunteers included:

  • Rockie Dustin, RPR, a freelancer in Salt Lake City, Utah
  • Phoebe Moorhead, RPR, CRR, a freelancer in North Ogden, Utah
  • Laura Robinson, RPR, an official in Salt Lake City, Utah
  • Laurie Shingle, RPR, CMRS, a freelancer in Pleasant View, Utah
  • Pattie Walker, RPR, an official in Holladay, Utah

The NCRA representatives used the opportunity to demonstrate to attendees the professional advantage of using stenographic court reporters as well as display the latest technology in realtime reporting. They also had the opportunity to speak to judges, IT professionals, and other court professionals.

“We experienced great interactions with court IT attendees. The lack of certified stenographic reporters to cover courts was a common theme expressed by many visitors to our booth. They’re really feeling the shortage,” said Willette. “They all love realtime. Many of them who use realtime said they can’t live without it. One judge called her reporter right on the spot to make sure they knew about realtime to the cloud,” she added.

The CTC serves as the venue for unveiling the latest developments in court technology to the court-professionals community, giving NCRA a prime opportunity to promote the gold standard of court reporting.

“The potentially monumental contacts that can be made at CTC are innumerable and invaluable in view of the broad expanse of crucial decision-makers who attend,” said Dibble. “We met with judges, attorneys, IT personnel, court reporters, and vendors of litigation services and technologies to court systems — everyone is looking for ways to be more effective in their roles to more efficiently execute the judicial process,” she added.

Willette and Dibble both agree that having the opportunity to demonstrate the capabilities of stenographic court reporters to those charged with implementing court-technology services helps to open doors and inspire ideas to incorporate stenographic skills into the products they offer. Attending the CTC also helps to keep NCRA members relevant as technologies evolve.

“It is imperative that NCRA be a part of that solution-finding process and be visible to every facet of this field. We spent our time listening and learning about the interests and needs of attendees, then sharing with them how we can provide solutions to their needs and how our services create efficiencies to their processes,” Dibble said.

The next Court Technology Conference will be in September 2019 in New Orleans, La. For more information, visit ctc2017.org.

Judges seek pay increases for court reporters

JCR: Journal of Court Reporting, TheJCR.com, JCR WeeklyOn Aug. 19, The Dispatch reported that the Mississippi 16th Circuit judges are seeking a pay increase for their court reporters.

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San Diego Superior Court to stop providing court reporters for family law matters

JCR: Journal of Court Reporting, TheJCR.com, JCR WeeklyTV station KUSI, San Diego, Calif., reported on Aug. 3 that effective next month, the San Diego Superior Court will no longer provide official court reporters in family-law matters for domestic-violence restraining order hearings or “request for order’’ hearings of 40 minutes or less.

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Court reporting dominates local news in Texas

JCR: Journal of Court Reporting, TheJCR.com, JCR WeeklyNCRA members Cayce Coskey, RPR; Leslie Ryan-Hash; Carol Smith, RPR; and Nardi Reaves were quoted in an article posted June 18 by the Times Record, Wichita Falls, Texas, that showcases the role of a court reporter as well as the speed and accuracy needed to succeed in the profession. Also on June 17, the newspaper posted an article about the salaries of Nueces County court reporters. On June 18, an editorial piece calling the salary assessment “grossly unfair” was published in the newspaper.

Editorial: Kansas judicial employees deserve a raise

JCR logoThe Kansas City Star printed an editorial on May 29 calling for salary increases for judicial employees.

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Board of Judges discusses need for court reporters

JCR logoKIII News reported on May 8 that the court system in Nueces County, Corpus Christi, Texas, has had a problem attracting and keeping court reporters because of low pay. Recently the Board of Judges and County Commissioners agreed to a deal to cut two positions in exchange for pay raises for all court reporters.

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