Court reporters are an important part of the equation

24-25Brian DiGiovanna, RPR, began his career as a freelance reporter in 1979. In the early 1980s, he joined the New York Supreme Court as an official court reporter and still holds that position. DiGiovanna also holds the position of president for the Association of Supreme Court Re­porters in New York City. He has been president for the past eight years and, in his role, represents 340 Supreme Court court reporters. In addition, Di­Giovanna regularly travels to Albany to meet with legislators to discuss issues that affect court reporters. DiGiovanna sits down with the JCR to tell us more about his role as president and what it takes to be successful in the courtroom.

 

As president, what are your main responsibilities?

My main responsibility is to repre­sent my members. Their jobs and their livelihoods are my main concerns. If problems arise involving the court re­porter, I try to resolve them. I negoti­ate contracts, represent people who get into trouble, and file complaints on the union’s behalf if administration breaks agreements. I also deal with benefits for members, negotiating new agreements and modifying old ones.

I am politically active. I go to Al­bany, New York’s capital, every two to three weeks during the session, attend­ing political events such as fundraisers and meeting with various legislators to discuss different issues that affect court reporters. One of the issues I am deal­ing with right now is limiting the use of electronic recording in lower court, keeping it out of Supreme Court, and working on an agreement with Chief Administrative Judge, Judge Prudenti. If we broker this deal, it will limit the use of ER in lower court and keep ER out of Supreme Court. One of the important as­pects of going to Albany is to develop re­lationships with the politicians. You cannot do this in one meeting; it takes time to de­velop.

What have been the challenges of your role?

In the beginning of my career as a union president, it was learning how to deal with all of the various issues that come your way. It takes about two years to become com­fortable in this role.

What you learn quickly is you cannot know everything. When you learn that it is okay not to know everything, and you rec­ognize the importance of reaching out for help and bringing in the people who can perform a certain role to get a job done, I believe you have reached the right aspect of the job. Giving credit where credit is due is very important. I do not care about getting the credit; I care about getting a job done.

What have been the rewards?

The reward is knowing that we work together, my officers and my executive board, to achieve our common goal: Keeping court reporters relevant in an ever-changing environment.

What does it mean to be successful in the courtroom?

Success in the courtroom has changed dramatically from when I first started in the late 1970s. One thing that remains the same is producing a good record, which, at the end of the day, is what people want.

The dramatic change is realtime and CART. When I first began to offer real­time, very few people were interested in providing it. Today, we are working on a program offering realtime to one judge in every courthouse in every borough with the city of New York for an 18-month pe­riod. We have three courthouses up and running, and we expect to have two more on board by the end of the summer. Re­altime is what needs to be done to ensure we have jobs in three, five, and 10 years. Change will always take place, and it is us, the court reporters, who can accept the ever-changing workplace and make the changes work for us.

Electronic recording, without trained operators, does a poor job in recording the testimony. Too many er­rors are produced as a result of no op­erators. But when operators are added to the cost equating, the costs increase and may make it less attractive to replace the stenographic court reporter.

Can you talk about how you went about setting up and running a very technologically advanced courtroom?

Creating the courtroom of the future in New York provided me with a way of speaking to the Bar and judges about why court reporters are an important part of the equation. Providing realtime enables the attorneys and the judges to see what was said without stopping the proceed­ings, which, at times, could be an issue for attorneys. Judges sometimes will not stop the proceedings to have something read back. But with realtime, it is right in front of them.

The set-up for the high-tech court­room is as simple as a projector and digi­tal document camera, such as the Wolfvi­sion units. The more sophisticated units have monitors at counsel table and in front of the jury, and the ability to plug your computer into the system to show evidence. The witness and the judge have monitors. The witness and counsel could have a touch screen with the ability to circle sections of information for visual display with different colors to differenti­ate between the speakers.

On cases where money can be spent on hiring companies to provide a digital presentation, companies such as Doar, Trial Graphics, and others, they will come in and work with you to create a presentation of your evidence from their computers, using colors, displays, larger fonts, and pull outs, which have been placed into software, allowing the dis­player the ability to focus on specific in­formation of a document, compare side-by-side documents, and so on.

How important are credentials and continued education in becoming successful?

Credentials are an essential part of our business. Credentials show that someone has achieved a minimum expertise. With each credential you get, you will want to achieve a higher standard and a greater expertise. Continued education allows you to learn new technologies and new ideas. It allows someone to talk about an idea that may go nowhere or grow to something that person never thought would have gone anywhere. It’s very im­portant to keep abreast of the field you work in.

What would be the best advice you could give a student who is about to enter the field?

Practice, practice, and practice more. It is a great job for those who have what it takes to get through school, make it through the couple of years it takes to get experience, and begin to get a good sense of what it takes to be a court reporter. It is not only making a record. It is also about learning technology, learning the software you use, and how to incorporate viewers of what you are writing, whether it is CART, captioning, or realtime.

What are the most important things a court reporter should know about work­ing with the courts and court adminis­trative staff when it comes to everyday dealings, as well as promoting the court reporting profession?

Working with the courts is a little differ­ent than freelancing. You have admin­istrators who do not care about court reporters; they care about running the system. You have bosses, if you are lucky, who are or were court reporters.

With that said, if you are in a loca­tion where all of your bosses have no idea what the job entails, it could make for a difficult job. It is unfortunate that many people think the job is easy, just sitting there and writing all day long, with few or no breaks, when, in fact, writing all day puts stress on your arms, neck, back, and hands. People need to understand that breaks are important to court reporters, just as they are to the court officers, court clerk, bailiff, and even the judge.

Where do you see the court report­ing profession going in the future? And what do reporters need to do to prepare for that?

As long as we, the court reporting profes­sion, continue to push to learn, whether it is CART, captioning, or realtime, we will have a profession. Administrators will look at the bottom line. It is up to us to show them that we add expertise and value to the bottom line. Providing realtime to a judge will make the judge want a court reporter and fight for a court reporter. If something new is not provided to judges, they may think ER is something new and better. And even though it may not be, not providing new technology – realtime – may be all that is necessary for a court to say, “Let’s try ER.” Take realtime courses, become realtime certified, and promote the profession.

Secrets of success – Joyce and Bob Zaro: Have desire to learn and be a team player

Joyce K. Zaro, RPR, and Bob A. Zaro, RPR, are owners of Zaro+Zaro Realtime Reporting, LLC, and they live in Tigard, Ore., a town nine miles southwest of downtown Portland. Bob and Joyce have worked together in every aspect of reporting. As official reporters in state court for 23 years, they sometimes shared trials, proofread for each other, and even shared an antique double-sided desk in their courthouse office. In 2002, when the state’s layoff of officials began, they jumped into the deposition world, with Bob working as an employee for an established reporting firm and Joyce working as an overflow deposition reporter for multiple firms, a CART reporter, and a broadcast captioner. Prior to working together, the two met at Bryan College in Los Angeles, Calif., where they completed their education in 1979.

What made you decide to start your business?

Bob: Ten years ago, owning a business was not at all in our long-range plan. We both were very happy in this new experience of working outside the courtroom, which gave us quite a renewed enthusiasm for reporting. It was refreshing to have our skill and experience appreciated after fighting so long to try to convince the court administration that we realtime reporters, an integral part of the court’s team, were more efficient and useful than electronic recording, despite the impending budget cuts.

Joyce: A great benefit of my being an overflow deposition reporter was getting to know and work with many reporters, from one-reporter firms to the large national companies, all of them run with their own style. I learned a great deal during those first five years A.C. — after the courthouse, as we now call it. I know now those experiences prepared me for what was in store next. In 2003, I was blessed to connect with a wonderful, respected reporter in Portland, and I become a regular sub for her. She had built her business over the past 20 years by giving personal, friendly service and providing an excellent product. The clients she attracted were similar in personality, and it was a delight to report for them. When she decided to retire in 2008, I was presented the amazing opportunity to take over her business.

As business owners, what have been the challenges? The rewards?

Joyce: Since Bob was still employed with the other firm, my first challenge was just hoping I could continue my mentor’s previous success. The learning curve was steep as I navigated scheduling, invoicing, and paying reporters who were now subbing for me, and general organization of the business. Bob finally joined me, and we started working together again, which is the biggest reward!

Bob: Working together again is indeed the best reward. It has also been rewarding to build our team with like-minded reporters and production help so we can provide the best service possible. One big challenge we face daily is trying to balance work and everyday life. Because we are so used to working on transcripts at all hours of the day and night, weekends, and holidays, there is not a nonreporter spouse who says, “Okay. Enough for now. Let’s go do something else.”

How important is networking to building a business and becoming successful? Can you provide some examples of good networking that could help court reporters?

Bob: Networking to find fellow reporters to help you is a crucial part of building your business. We know this because Joyce and I benefitted from it when we left the courthouse. If we hadn’t participated in our state association as official reporters, we would have missed out on meeting and forming great relationships with the deposition reporters in our state, who graciously helped us make a smooth transition out of court.

Joyce: Unless you happen to arrive at the same deposition, freelance reporters generally don’t see each other outside of state or national association conferences. As a result, relationships formed while we network and learn and share are so important, such as when we need help covering a job, an answer to a procedural question, or if a student needs mentoring. Our common goal is to provide excellent service to the attorneys, and if we can work together to accomplish that, it helps everyone’s business succeed.

How important are credentials and continued education in becoming successful?

Bob: Keeping current with technology is the cornerstone of being a successful reporter. We started by typing transcripts on onion skin paper with carbon paper for copies. We now can wirelessly transmit our transcripts to an attorney’s iPad. Without continuing education to keep us informed of new developments and helping us implement them, we would have been left behind. Learning never ends with this job, and the challenge keeps it interesting.

Joyce: Absolutely. And, like Bob said, the interesting challenge is what has kept me taking tests. I do not enjoy it, like some, but the personal realtime challenge I gave myself was enough to keep me going. I believe it makes a big difference when another reporter or a scheduling paralegal can see that you have met standard requirements for competency. Even though Oregon is not a state with mandatory certification, we encourage all new reporters to keep taking those tests until they pass them.

What few adjectives would you use to describe a successful court reporter?

Joyce: Someone with keen attention to detail, who is self-disciplined and motivated, with a desire to be a team player.

Bob: Possess good common sense; be professional, yet friendly; have a desire to learn; believe in service before self.

Any final comments on getting where you are today?

We will be forever grateful to Nancy Patterson and our dedicated teachers who poured their experience and knowledge into us to prepare us so well.

 Do you want to nominate someone for the “Secrets of Success” series? Send your pick into the JCR’s Writer/Editor, Linda Smolkin, at lsmolkin@ncra.org.