TechLinks: Best gadgets of 2017

Who doesn’t love finding that perfect gadget that makes things so much easier? Robin Nodland, FAPR, RDR, CRR, a freelancer from Portland, Ore., and a member of the NCRA Technology Committee, has a few suggestions from around the Web for monitor mounts, audio recording, webcams, surge protectors, and apps.

“I love my dual monitors,” says Nodland. “I have one landscape orientation and one portrait. I can edit and have exhibits up at the same time.” A monitor mount will help keep screens organized and at an ergonomic eye level. This guide by How-To Geek will help you figure out how to pick the right monitor mount for your setup.

“Every now and then, we need a solution for rerecording audio for a number of reasons,” says Nodland. She recommends another article by How-To Geek about recording sound coming from your PC. The article has three solutions, two of which use software solutions and one “relies on an old trick that connects your computer’s audio output to its audio input with an audio cable.”

“We’ve noticed a pattern after years of notebook testing: Built-in webcams generally stink,” says Andrew E. Freedman in an article for Laptop Mag reviewing the best webcams. Use a webcam for an upcoming NCRA Skills Test, a webconferenced deposition, or as a way to talk to remote clients.

“I am very protective of my surge protector,” says Nodland, and anyone who has suddenly lost power just before saving a file can relate. This article by Wirecutter reviews a surge protector with a fail-proof method of letting you know when it’s time to replace it.

And finally, to cover all your bases, Wirecutter has the best tech and apps for your home office. “You don’t need the thinnest, lightest, or most elegantly designed items for your home office,” says the Wirecutter team. “In the space you make your living, you want reliable, comfortable, efficient tools — though it doesn’t hurt if they look nice, too.” The review includes storage and backup solutions, laptops and phone docks, routers and modems, productivity and finance apps, and more.

TechLinks: Using Windows 10 and Dropbox

Lisa Knight, FAPR, RDR, CRR, who served on the 2016-2017 NCRA Technology Committee, shared a few links for getting the most out of Windows 10 and Dropbox.

In an April 17 article for Computerworld, Woody Leonhard shares the top 30 free apps for Windows 10 (just to be clear: these are for a computer). “Whether you’re a grizzled Windows victim or a faltering Windows ingénue, these programs should be at the top of your list,” says Leonhard. The apps include an incremental file backup, a tool for bringing back deleted files, an online calling/messaging program (that’s not Skype), a to-do list program, and more.

Still a Windows 10 newbie? For the one-year anniversary of the new update, Brad Chacos rounded up the 10 best new features of Windows 10 for PCWorld. These features, including the Start menu, Cortana, and The Edge browser, are all good to explore first if you’re still making your way into the Microsoft upgrade.

Finally, in a post for Hongkiat, Ashutosh KS shares 15 tips to get more out of Dropbox (plus a bonus). “I often thought Dropbox as a simple cloud storage service that you can use to save and share your files and folders,” he says. “But as I started digging deeper into its functionalities, I found myself nothing but wrong. This cloud service is so full of surprises and has many more features than you already know of.” These features include working on files as a team, accessing files without internet, and sharing screenshots on the fly.

Paying it forward

Stack of hands as if doing a team cheerBy Allison Kimmel

Do you remember the day you learned that you passed your RPR certification exam? I distinctly remember when I found out — Christmas Eve. I had taken the test in November of 1989. Every day I would come home from work and ask my husband, Bob, if I had gotten the results. Each time the answer was no. Unbeknownst to me, he had placed the results — unopened — in a wrapped box under the Christmas tree. It could have ended very badly had I not received positive news. He is a very blessed man.

Passing the RPR meant I passed muster and might be able to succeed in court reporting after all. Those credentials represented a lot to me then, and they still do to this day. The other professionals in my national association had given me their imprimatur, and I gleefully joined their ranks as a professional registered member.

Several years have passed since those early days, and I know that I would not be where I am today without the help of mentors and reporters sharing their experiences along the way. Those mentors and reporters began giving advice and encouragement from day one, and it has not stopped. I am lucky to have been surrounded by such a fantastic group of dedicated professionals.

We all have anecdotes of the valuable knowledge that others have passed along to us. To illustrate one such story and the long-term impact of a simple act, when I was a newly graduated reporter in 1987, Jean Long, RPR, graciously shared with me a medical term. She had spent some time looking for the proper spelling at one point in her career; the term was bruit. It is pronounced BREW-EE. She walked me over to the dictionary to point it out. I never forgot her short one-minute lesson.

A couple of years later, at a different court reporting agency, another reporter was struggling to find that exact word. I knew it immediately — not from school days, but from Jean’s lesson. It was time to pay it forward, and I proudly did.

After gaining some real-life experience and much-needed confidence, I came to the realization that it was not enough to be a contented dues-paying member in my professional associations. I wanted to do more. I had observed others volunteering and felt that I could offer perhaps a slightly different approach. It was time — time to repay all those gifts of knowledge and information that were so readily shared with me. I had received so many over the years.

I started out small. Volunteering was out of my comfort zone, and I truly wanted to be brave and emulate some of the best professionals in our business. The first time I volunteered for my state association was in 2002. We had a need to represent the court reporting profession at the All-Ohio High School Counselors Conference in Columbus. With another reporter, Lori Jay, RPR, CMRS, we were responsible for promoting the court reporting and captioning career choices to the school counselors who approached our table of brochures and equipment. Donna Karoscik, RDR, CRR, CRC, provided a demonstration of realtime to the group by captioning the keynote speaker. We were enthusiastic, and we worked hard that day to advocate for our profession.

After that experience, I began helping my state association with administering the national certification exams, first as someone to assist and then as a chief examiner for the CRR tests. I tried to be the voice of calm for test candidates, and I enjoyed seeing the test candidates succeed. I also began assisting my state association at the Ohio Judicial Conference’s Court Technology Conference. With many vendors present touting their “technology,” it was an eye-opening experience. I now know just how crucial it is for court reporting associations to be represented at such events — and displaying the best we have to offer in court reporting and realtime technology. My state association members attend this event year after year without fail.

Fast forward a few years. Our state association needed members willing to serve on the board. After some persuasive discussion by Sue Terry, FAPR, RPR, CRR, CRC, and a multitude of excuses on my end, I agreed to serve on the Board of Directors of the Ohio Court Reporters Association (OCRA). I came in as vice president and moved my way up the ladder. It was at that point that I began to understand the intricacies of leading, the minefields — some of which cannot be avoided — and the heavy lifting that volunteering involved. My prior volunteer experiences were rewarding but nowhere near as challenging. The successes were amazing; the failures devastating.

I was working as an official court reporter in state court during this time. My court administration seemed enamored with digital recording technology and eagerly proclaimed the cost savings to be realized to any who would listen. It appeared to be an uphill and frustrating battle.

Through the efforts of the late Jerry Kelley and other volunteers across the country, I quietly began to amass a database of current electronic and digital recording failures. It was an informal, unsanctioned effort, but the group saw a need. The database effort seemed a tad futile at times, but I can attest that the information gathered was useful at a key moment during my tenure on the OCRA board, particularly when the Cleveland Plain Dealer came calling for commentary on an article regarding the court reporter versus electronic and digital recording debate. That volunteer effort provided relevant, documented cases to cite, not just hearsay or conjecture. It was a small victory.

Coincidentally, it was around this point that Stephen Zinone, RPR, reached out to me about serving on the NCRA Cost Comparison Task Force. Our task was to do a complete analysis of the cost of digital recording technology versus a court reporter — using best practices for each. To say this was right up my alley is an understatement. Steve was a thoughtful, smart leader who asked for input from all of us. The entire group worked hard to make the Task Force’s white paper bulletproof. We accomplished our goal, though it took many emails, conference calls, an in-person meeting in Nashville, and a couple of years of persistence. To this day, when OCRA members attend the Ohio Judicial Conference’s Court Technology Conference, we have the white paper there to discuss with attendees.

That first experience serving as a task force volunteer at the national level gave me a huge sense of fulfillment. I was proud of our work, and I was hooked. I knew I could make a difference — if not for myself, perhaps for others.

Working with students as an adjunct faculty member for Clark State Community College is something I enjoy immensely, so signing up to work on the Item Writing Committee seemed a natural fit. Brenda Fauber, FAPR, RDR, CRR, CPE, served as the chairperson of the committee. The group met in the Washington, D.C., area. We spent time training with a professional consultant, and we discussed at length what is involved in writing proper written knowledge test questions using approved authoritative sources. (Yes, there is a question involving bruit — in case you were wondering. I’m paying it forward.) I continue to serve on the committee; along the way, I have begun serving on the Skills Test Writing Committee.

What an education I have received! I have gained a deeper appreciation of our national certification tests and the incredible vision of those who saw the necessity of certification. I have learned why, as a professional association, we must continually strive to ensure that the certifications are valid and fair measures of both the entry-level reporter and the seasoned reporter. Those who pass the NCRA certification tests can be confident that they, too, pass muster and have indeed earned a worthwhile achievement.

Comedian Lily Tomlin once stated, “I always wondered why somebody doesn’t do something about that. Then I realized I was somebody.” This applies to each one of us. Let me ask: Who is better than those of us who are in the trenches to represent and understand the issues we, as a profession, face? Who is going to do the heavy lifting and advocating for our profession if we are not willing to step up and do it for ourselves?

Together, we can make a difference. The value of volunteer work benefits your professional associations and you. I could enumerate a variety of reasons to volunteer, but you know many of them already. Think about this: You make time for what matters to you. My profession matters to me. I sincerely hope it matters to you. We need you. We need more than your dues. We need your participation. We need your voice. We need your input and ideas. We need you at all levels, whether it is state or national. I urge you to be brave. Volunteer.

Why do I volunteer?

I volunteer to give back to a profession that I love. I volunteer to pay it forward and to thank those along the way who reached out a helping hand, gave me a word of advice, offered reassurance, and sometimes provided a swift kick in the rear or a shoulder to cry on. Volunteering is my way of saying thanks for making sure I passed muster, to thank those who came before me and those who will continue long after me. Thank you for being there.

 

Allison A. Kimmel, RDR, CRR, CRC, works as a reporter in the United States District Court, Southern District of Ohio, and as an adjunct faculty member for the court reporting and captioning program at Clark State Community College.

Last call for JCR Awards nominations

Nominations for the 2017 JCR Awards are closing Oct. 31. Nominate yourself or another noteworthy court reporter, captioner, videographer, scopist, teacher, school administrator, or court reporting manager for recognition through the JCR Awards.

Conceived as a way to recognize and highlight the exemplary professionalism, community service, and business practices of NCRA members, the JCR Awards is a way to tell compelling stories that bring to life innovative and successful business strategies from the past year. In addition to nominations for several subcategories, NCRA is looking for a firm and an individual who show excellence in more than one category for an overall “Best of the Year” award.

Any current NCRA member in good standing, with the exception of students, may be nominated for these awards. Court reporters, captioners, videographers, scopists, teachers and school administrators, and court reporting managers are all eligible for nomination. Self-nominations are accepted. Firms, courthouses, or court reporting programs may be nominated as a group as long as they meet the criteria for membership for one of the definitions in the JCR Awards Entry Form.

To nominate yourself or someone else, submit a written entry to the JCR between 300 and 1,000 words explaining the strategies implemented and why they were successful. Ancillary materials, such as photos, may also be submitted with the nomination. Nominations will be considered by the JCR editorial team based on the best fact-based story.

Please be prepared to offer documentation, verifiable sources, or other assistance as needed to be considered for these awards. The stories of the finalists will be published as featured articles in the March JCR.

Nominations are due by Oct. 31. Read more about the JCR Awards.

TechLinks: Staying safe online

Nancy Bistany, RPR, found a list of five steps to take to make sure that you are protecting your privacy online. The how-to piece by VIPRE security reminds that it is always a good idea to review your setup once in a while. [Want to learn more about how the Tech Committee members protect themselves? Read the June 29 TechLinks “Understanding internet safety,” in which several of them shared their typical practices.]

Robin Nodland, FAPR, RDR, CRR, found a good list for security issues for lawyers in the SmallLaw blog, part of Technolawyer, which can easily be adapted for court reporters and court reporting firms. The article shares that security for a law firm should be a layered affair, covering physical, digital, and human factors. “I love the question at the end: What happens if you get hit by a bus?” Nodland says. ”I ask this of every one of our court reporters, whether they’re an employee with us or an independent contractor.” [Note that the article is free but requires a TechnoLawyer profile to access.]

Jonathan Moretti, CLVS, shared the July 2017 issue of Malwarebytes’ newsletter, which included an article on how to stay cyber safe. Tips included how to monitor your children’s internet habits, watching out for public WiFi, and avoiding credit card skimmers at ATMs and gas pumps.

Website accessibility in the hot seat

JCR: Journal of Court Reporting, TheJCR.com, JCR WeeklyThe captioning firm VITAC posted an article on Sept. 26 that addresses recent issues surrounding website accessibility and how it is enforced through the ADA.

Read more.

New online service helps legal professionals reserve qualified court reporters in seconds

JCR: Journal of Court Reporting, TheJCR.com, JCR WeeklyIn a press release issued Sept. 19, DirectDep, based in New York, announced a new online service that helps legal professionals reserve qualified court reporters in seconds. The online service works similar to reservation and appointment services such as OpenTable and Zocdoc.

Read more.

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.

Tips to make your mobile videoconference great

JCR: Journal of Court Reporting, TheJCR.com, JCR WeeklyA blog posted on Aug. 31 by JD Supra offers a number of tips to help ensure mobile videoconferencing goes smoothly. Among the tips: Have a strong cellular or WiFi signals, be sure the cell phone battery is fully charged, and use an earpiece or headset to help get the best audio possible.

Read more.

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.