LearnToCaption.com offers Translation Tune-Up for court reporters

LearnToCaption.com is now offering Translation Tune-Up, a webinar and a half hour of one-on-one training to help court reporters learn to cut editing time in half.

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Top reasons why you need to hire a court reporter

On April 16, Vents Magazine posted the top 10 reasons to hire a court reporter.

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Realtime: It’s worth it

By Keith Lemons

THE STRUGGLE IS REAL. That’s a saying for just about everything nowadays. As court reporters, we know that it is real every day, all day long. When I was a puppy reporter, I had a judge who used to tell me, “Don’t interrupt anymore. Just throw up your hands when they’re talking too fast or on top of each other.” The problem with that is that whenever she said that in a transcript, the appellate court would naturally wonder what I left out. So I decided that I had to get better. I concentrated on learning how to brief on the fly, get longer phrases in one stroke, and write for the computer instead of myself.

I started out my career with the wonderful world of court reporting computers. All of them were written in dedicated computer systems that did not cross over for any other CAT program. As a matter of fact, you couldn’t even search the Internet or type a Word document or run an Excel spreadsheet because none of that had even been thought of yet. But we, the court reporters, had a marvelous new toy that made our work both harder and more meaningful. Imagine, if you will, being able to type two pages a minute when you used to only get one page per five minutes.

The struggle was real to try to figure out how to load a dictionary, how to write a dictionary, how to use a dictionary, how to edit a dictionary — all on a 2-megabyte disk — how to remember to plug in the machine, how to figure out if the cassette reader was really writing or reading that 300-page medical malpractice trial day you just had. But we learned. We adapted. We had to if we wanted to help our agency pay for that $50,000 Baron Data Center.

Later, when I became an official, I wrote for my newest piece of technology, the Baron Solo. It had 5-½-inch, dual floppy drives. The struggle was real to remember how to use this new technology and never, ever, ever use your magnet in the same room as your computer. (We had an electronic magnet system that bulk-erased our cassette tapes for the machines. If you used it near the computer, you risked either wiping out your floppies or causing damage to the electronics in the computer itself.) Then came the Microsoft revolution. We had yet one more machine to buy and one more operating system to learn. This one came with WordPerfect and learning the wonderful works of macros. No more Cardex! The struggle was so real that I accidentally wiped out my entire operating system trying to clear a message that popped up on my welcome screen.

Now we had to buy a new machine with a floppy disk drive in it. The struggle was real. In the early days of these marvelous inventions, we spent tens of thousands of dollars upgrading, upgrading, upgrading, all with no such thing as a legacy fallback.

The 24-pin dot matrix printer revolutionized multiple copy printing — that is, unless you figured in the hours spent trying to separate those carbon pages without destroying your clothing in the process. That struggle was real. So was ink in the machine. Try changing a ribbon without making everything around you purple.

Then the struggle became really, really interesting. In the latter half of the 1990s, a CAT program made real-time court reporting a reality. I got to watch a reporter write from her machine and have real words show up within seconds on a computer screen. I have no idea if her writing was pristine or 1 percent or even 5 percent untranslates. All I knew is it was beautiful. Music filled the skies; my heart was full. For the first time in a long time, I really wanted to be a part of something. It wasn’t just about the money anymore. It was something so new and so grand that I couldn’t even envision the possibilities of the future with it.

So I learned it. I bought more equipment, and I learned wiring and splitting and sending and receiving. It was a real struggle. I showed it to my boss, the judge. She didn’t want to have anything to do with it. But I was enthusiastic about it, so I kept asking her if I could just put a computer on the bench to see if my wiring was correct. She relented, but she made me turn the monitor to where she wouldn’t have to look at it. But she didn’t ever tell me to take it down. Pretty soon, she wanted me to angle the monitor so it would be more visible when she wanted to see the attorneys’ objections. Then she wanted to learn how to scroll backwards, then to search, then to write notes. Eureka!

Realtime (without the hyphen) had come of age. Next struggle was to get other court reporters to accept that our future was in realtime reporting. I felt like the most hated court reporter in the state at times because I provided something that 16 other judges in Wyoming weren’t getting. But when they saw it, they wanted it. (Without extra compensation, of course.)

Little did I know that this struggle would become the thrust of my presentations and seminars for the next 16-plus years. Of course, I’m talking about realtime for the average reporter.

Now the struggle is real because in order to become a realtime writer, we need to put away the things that we learned as a new reporter, that we thought as a new reporter, that we expected as a new reporter. We need to remember that the struggle is not with the machine, it is with our own expectations. We need to struggle to get to the next level of court reporting to make a difference, either in writing realtime or captioning.

The struggle is real; the rewards are great. Two months ago, I was taking a medical malpractice jury trial with several prominent attorneys, one of whom was intensely hard of hearing. I’ve been gently suggesting to him that realtime could help him. Finally, I just did what I did with my judge those many years ago. I put the realtime on his table and told him that it was free; but if he liked it, I would start charging the next day.

During the trial, this attorney would bring the iPad to bench conferences so he could see what was being whispered — something he hasn’t been able to do for years. Both attorneys used their iPads during the instruction conference to see what the construction of their sentences would look like on their jury charge. That reluctant attorney? He now has set two jury trials with me for the beginning of the year — with realtime. Two weeks ago, I did a realtime feed for a woman who was profoundly deaf, deaf from birth, who read lips but never learned American Sign Language. She read lips, but watched my screen like a hawk. She even got a kick out of a mistran or two that I made.

I know the struggle is real. This job can be the most difficult struggle day in and day out. But with our own self-improvement, learning realtime and becoming accomplished at it makes that struggle turn into satisfied accomplishment. I’m loving that struggle. You will too.

JCR Contributing Editor Keith Lemons, RPR, CRR, can be reached at k.lemons@comcast.net. This article was written on behalf of NCRA’s Realtime and Technology Resource Committee, of which Lemons is a member.

A broadcast captioner sees the future in realtime

A woman sits in front of a steno machine, set up to work from home. On her desk is her laptop and paper notes propped up for easy viewing. On the wall is a television screen with a news show.By Cathy Penniston

I live in Iowa, but I make my living listening to the Canadian news. I work for The Captioning Group, Inc., based in Calgary, Alberta, as a remote broadcast captioner four days a week. But every Thursday, I take a break from the news and travel to Newton, Iowa, to teach court reporting students at the Des Moines Area Community College. My goal is to share my wealth of experience with my students. I have worked as an official shorthand reporter, a freelance reporter, a CART captioner, and a broadcast captioner, and I bring this real-world experience to my classes.

As a busy broadcast television captioner and an instructor of court reporting students, I encourage my students to embrace realtime. If my students comment that it is difficult to learn realtime, I remind them that when I went to court reporting school, there were manual Stenograph machines and typewriters. Long vowels? That would be taken care of when reporters sat down at the typewriter to type each page into English from their paper shorthand notes. Nowadays, this is all done instantaneously through high-tech machines.

But more so, I believe that realtime is vital to the continued successful future of the court reporting profession. A digital recording in a courtroom cannot accurately provide a real-time speech-to-text feed of the live proceedings to the judge. And a digital recording cannot provide live captions of breaking news or emergency information broadcast over television stations where realtime captions are needed to save lives.

At first, realtime stenography can seem quite daunting. But excellent instructors and programs can get students on the path to achieving their goals and becoming successful in the field of realtime captioning. Here are seven tips from a broadcast captioner and court reporting instructor to get started on your journey to learning realtime.

  1. Enjoy realtime and the great feeling of success when steno words translate into English correctly. Do not be afraid of realtime.
  2. Analyze and correct every word that does not translate from steno to English correctly. There is a reason for every untranslated word. Why did that word not translate? What can you do to correct that word to make it translate properly for your next transcript? Do not ignore untranslates!
  3. Know your dictionary and how words are going to translate with your dictionary. Finger combinations that work well for one student may not work well for another student. Try the suggested way to write the word. If the finger combination does not work for you, try writing it in a way that will translate for you. Define the word in your dictionary that way and write it down. Practice that word until you have memorized it.
  4. Briefs are good only if you memorize them and remember them quickly. A bad brief is worse than no brief at all. Your goal is a good realtime translation.
  5. Write out every word and add it to your dictionary for the time when you forget your brief. Do not hesitate to remember briefs.
  6. Your goal is great realtime translations, not winning a race for having the most briefs and then hesitating during speed tests trying to remember those briefs. Briefs can be your best friend or your enemy in realtime reporting.
  7. Back up your dictionary every week. Email a copy of your dictionary to yourself and back it up in the cloud.

Realtime reporting is the key to the future of our profession. Embrace realtime as you strive to achieve your goal of graduation from school.

After working for many years as an official shorthand reporter in the State of Iowa, Cathy Penniston, RPR, CRI, CSR, “retired” to pursue her dream of completing her master’s degree in teaching and working as a remote television broadcast captioner and teacher. She can be reached at cpenniston@gmail.com. This article was originally published, in a slightly different format, on the blog for The Captioning Group as “7 Things Your Instructor Wants You to Know About Realtime Writing!”

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.

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.

Get realtime-capable now: Tips for learning brief forms for court reporters

By Lynette Mueller

Being realtime-capable should be the goal of every court reporter. My realtime goal is to always strive for 99.8 percent translation rate on every job. The prep work is essential to maintain or exceed that goal. My writing is constantly evolving (even after 30 years of reporting). Writing short is paramount to the success of my translation rate, for keeping up with the fast talkers, and also being kind to my body — specifically my back and hands.

The Oct. 2015 JCR has an article, “Preparation guide for flawless realtime output,” with lots of great tips from some amazing court reporters across the country. Definitely worth the read!

Recently, I’ve focused on brief forms. Creating briefs on the fly is an acquired skill, for sure. The BriefIt feature in my Case CATalyst software (and other CAT software vendors have similar features) is an integral and valuable resource and helps immeasurably with my high translation rate, even though the proceedings could be a fast-paced deposition. (It takes focus and dedication to be able to look at the screen during the proceedings and capture those suggested briefs. During a recess is a good time to take a few minutes to go over the suggested briefs. With my software, the phrases I stroke out the most (with a suggested brief) are highlighted in a bolded color. Genius! It’s easy to concentrate on the strongest colors and make a note of the suggestions.

One may ask, “Okay, how do I memorize and keep track of all the brief forms I want to add to my dictionary?”

Our minds have great capacity to recall all kinds of information. I feel it’s good to have a multi-prong approach to memorizing brief forms. Remember to take a handful of briefs at a time to incorporate into your writing; otherwise, you’ll be overwhelmed and could end up dropping important testimony.

Here are a few suggestions to help with that memorization:

  1. Be sure you want to improve your realtime writing and are invested in the process.
  2. Set a goal for yourself.
  3. Write out the brief forms you wish to incorporate into your writing.
  4. Make notes to yourself.
  5. Apply repetition to your practice. As I said, make sure you start with small bits before moving on to the next round of briefs. Keep this in your memory banks before moving on to the next set.
  6. Do most of your studying in the afternoons. One study suggested your ability to memorize relates to the time of day you study, with the afternoon appearing to be the best time of day.
  7. Ensure you are well rested in order to retain the memories. Make sure you take breaks and come back to it later in order to find out how much you actually retained. Then you can focus on the briefs you might have more trouble with.

Next are the steps I’ve implemented that have greatly improved my ability to incorporate new briefs into my writing.

  1. Use your briefing software feature all the time during the job and add the briefs that make sense to your personal dictionary. Dictionary building is key to the success of a higher translation rate.
  2. Make sticky notes and attach to your writer or computer.
  3. Use the app like Sticky Notes. This is a great tool to use because you’ll never lose that physical note again. Simply open the app and move it to the side of your laptop screen. Multiple colors are available for families of briefs!
  4. I like to use my Recorder app on my iPhone to dictate the briefs I want to work on. By recording the words and phrases, it is an easy task to set up my writer to practice on those briefs. You will get instant feedback if you are writing the briefs correctly when you are hooked up for realtime during your practice session.
  5. The last prong of my process is a cool app called Tinycards. This is a free flashcard app to help make memorization more fun! This app is a game where you can unlock new levels and keeping your memory strength bar full! Tinycards uses spaced repetition and other smart learning techniques to help you master new material efficiently. You can create your own decks and share them with friends or pick from a variety of collections exclusive to Tinycards. You’ll find constellations, country capitals, history, and lots more.

I’ve already created two Tinycards called Steno Brief Forms – Part 1 and Steno Brief Forms – Part 2. When you set up your new (free) account, simply search for these and any other topics to add to your stream and start memorizing those briefs today!

Technology is great!

Lynette L. Mueller, RDR, CRR, is a freelancer reporter in Johns Creek, Ga. She can be reached at lynette@omegareporting.comShe reports that a short video will be on her blog at the beginning of the article.

The latest on speech recognition

By David Ward

Earlier this year, Watson, the IBM artificial intelligence computer that first gained fame in 2011 by beating past champions in the TV game show Jeopardy, publicly returned to the stage. The category: Speech recognition. At a San Francisco tech conference this past spring, IBM officials announced that Watson is now able to hold conversations in English with a word error rate of 6.9 percent.

Watson’s latest feat of 94.1 percent accuracy is fairly impressive — though it should be noted, it’s still well below the 98.5 percent accuracy rate required by many captioning companies.

But Watson and IBM are not alone. During the past five years, speech recognition has emerged as a hot industry, with progress being made on issues such as accuracy and noise filtering, and not just by established players like Nuance, but also from major tech giants like Apple, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and the Chinese search/e-commerce firm Baidu.

A recent study, Global and China Speech Recognition Industry Report 2015-2020, projected the global intelligent voice market will grow from $6.21 billion in 2015 to $19.2 billion in 2020. In China alone, voice recognition is expected to be a nearly $3.8 billion market within four years.

The good news for court reporters is that, thus far, few of these new speech recognition breakthroughs seem to be aimed at their livelihood of transcribing spoken testimony into 100 percent accurate and properly formatted legal documents. Instead, most of the focus is on speech recognition as a consumer tool by getting smartphones or car entertainment systems to respond to verbal commands. The highest profile example of this trend is Siri, the Apple app (based on Nuance software) now built into iPhones, iPads, and iPods that lets the owners use their voices to send messages, make calls, set reminders, and more.

“In the past, the growth of speech to text was fairly slow, and the main reason for that was that the improvement in accuracy hadn’t happened,” explains Walt Tetschner, president of Voice Information Associates, one of the leading analyst firms covering the automated speech recognition industry. The company is based in Acton, Mass. “It’s only been the last couple of years that you’ve seen dramatic improvements in accuracy — and I would attribute that not to speech to text, but to the demands of mobile.”

Tetschner, who’s also editor and publisher of the trade magazine, ASRNews, adds that voice recognition is now attracting interest more than from Silicon Valley, saying, “The auto industry is big on speech recognition as a way to control the infotainment system within a car, so they’re putting in a lot of resources.”

Because so much of the current focus is on voice recognition — getting a device to understand what a person is saying — little of this is likely to have an immediate impact on the court reporting industry. But Tetschner does note: “Whether it’s used in an automobile or call center or wherever, the basic speech recognition principles are the same, so when you make gains in one area, it will help the others.”

Outside of the consumer space, the segment where speech recognition has been gaining the most traction is as a personal productivity tool for busy professionals, especially those in the medical/healthcare industry.

“The push in the medical field for electronic medical records makes it a great market to be in,” says Henry Majoue, founder and CEO of Voice Automated based in Lake Forest, Calif. Majoue adds that doctors and other medical professionals use software customized by his company to dictate notes and other directives that are automatically turned into electronic text and included in patient files and other medical records.

Peter Mahoney, Nuance senior vice president as well as general manager of the company’s Dragon Desktop division, adds that the improved accuracy of speech recognition is helping to drive adoption in a host of other industries as well.

“There are plenty of areas where we’re seeing a lot of growth, including the public safety and financial service professionals,” Mahoney says. Those groups now outnumber the people with hearing issues or other disabilities who were previously among of the first adopters of Nuance speech-to-text solutions.

Mahoney says Dragon Desktop is also making inroads in the legal industry. “In litigation preparation, attorneys will often read multiple documents and dictate their notes so they can prepare their arguments,” he says. “We’re also seeing a lot more mobile use, where lawyers dictate notes while outside the office or do case documentation on the go. Lawyers create a lot of texts, and it’s far more productive to be able to use their voices as opposed to having to type.”

Majoue agrees with this assessment: “Our legal business has been aimed at helping lawyers get their documents done, and that can include any type of legal business that needs a lot of documentation, such as worker compensation firms.”

Virtually all of this speech recognition is occurring in fairly controlled environments — and it involves just a single voice. “It’s extremely accurate for the individual,” points out Majoue. “You could get a copy of Dragon software now and be pretty well dictating at greater than 90 percent accuracy within five minutes.”

With accuracy that’s good but not close to perfect, voice recognition tools could soon help universities and other public and private institutions go through vast archives of video and audio records, including lectures, speeches, and seminars, and make them searchable by keyword.

But the next step, moving from voice recognition using a single user in a controlled setting to one where there are multiple voices in a noisy room, continues to be out of reach.

“It’s still extremely difficult currently for speech recognition to move beyond a single user,” Majoue say. “In order for it to work with more than one voice, each individual user would have his or her own computer and microphone focused on just that one voice.”

Those limitations in a multi-voice environment is one reason why speech recognition hasn’t been even more widely adopted by the deaf and hard of hearing, who were one of the earliest supposed beneficiaries of speech recognition.

“Although, in recent years, deaf and hard-of-hearing people have begun to use speech recognition tools in some limited situations, the technology has not been where it needs to be for practical purposes in most settings,” explains Howard Rosenblum, CEO for the National Association of the Deaf (NAD). “While improved accuracy is, by far, the most needed element in speech recognition software, the NAD is in favor of current developments where the speech recognition software is able to identify and indicate who is speaking, particularly in group settings. The NAD also looks forward to improved speed in converting speech to text so that it is as close to real time as possible. There also needs to be software that can be adjusted to give more weight to specific verbiage when the discussion is in a particular area, such as science, computer technology, medicine, law, psychology, and the like.”
With plenty of pent-up demand for speech recognition tools that can work with multiple voices and in rooms with less-than-ideal acoustics, Mahoney suggests the solution may not be that far off.

“When you listen to a recording of a meeting, it sounds in retrospect like a bunch of crazy people because people communicate half-thoughts and they redirect their comments because people are speaking over them,” Mahoney says. “Because of that, the algorithms that are being used for transcripts even in the very sophisticated machine learning tools used these days struggle to come up with context.”

But Mahoney goes on to predict, “Within five years, you’ll see very, very high accuracy, and that’s being driven by a combination of more advanced machine learning techniques to develop sophisticated speech models combined with the access to lots and lots of data that can be used to train these systems to get smarter and smarter.”

Mahoney adds that the development of voice biometric systems that can identify different voices, separate the speech, and label the speaker could also soon be a key component of speech recognition software from Nuance.

As for the acoustic challenges that may come with speech recognition in settings such as a courtroom, Mahoney says: “We’ll certainly use software to clean up the dirty signals in a noisy environment. But on top of that, there are audio processing capabilities that will allow you to deal with far-field microphones.”

Even with these improvements, Mahoney says there will still be many things that court reporters do today that voice recognition software simply won’t be able to match.

“One thing that current voice recognition systems aren’t good enough at yet is really doing the kind of formatting and labeling of data in the way a court reporter would do to come up with a finished document,” Mahoney says. “To produce the raw text with high accuracy that is readable — that can be done. But to produce a transcript that is formatted and 100 percent accurate, you are going to need a court reporter.”

Speech recognition has been on the radar screen of the court reporting community for two decades or more. Given all the recent improvements in speech recognition technology, is now the time for court reporters to start to worry?

Right now, the answer to that seems to be yes — and no.

There are already companies out there in other parts of the world promising speech recognition as part of their courtroom technology, but given the current technology limitations, most of those claims can easily be dismissed as unproven hype.

Still, Mason Farmani, CEO and managing partner of Barkley Court Reporters in Los Angeles, says: “I do think that we should take speech recognition very seriously. With the exponential growth of the technology, the usefulness of this technology in our profession is not that far away. Between IBM’s Watson project, Google’s Jarvis, and Apple’s Siri, there are many speech databases being built, and some like IBM’s are encouraging and facilitating Watson-based systems. I do think we are much closer than we think. The only issue would be adopting legislations to accommodate these changes, which we all know happens very slowly.”

Farmani stops short of suggesting reporting firms begin investing in speech recognition tools in the same way many have invested in other technology trends like videography and cloud-based storage.

“I don’t think the time has come yet — but when it’s here, we should [invest in it], especially with the continuing shortage of court reporters,” Farmani says. “I think there will come a time where these technologies will be used in legal proceedings, but highly educated, highly professional court reporters will continue to be in demand for more complicated cases.”

Todd Olivas of Todd Olivas & Associates of Temecula, Calif., says he has no plans to invest in speech recognition tools any time soon. “But the reason is not because the technology isn’t there yet,” he says. “In fact, I’ll go further and add to Benjamin Franklin’s famous quote about certitude – ‘in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes’ – and add technology advancements. So for our purposes, we’d be foolish to think that court reporting is immune to technological advancements. Just ask yourself how many pen writers are still working. Steno writers took their places; right? Ask yourself how many steno writers are transcribing from paper notes. Laptops installed with CAT software took that role. Still, the human court reporter is the constant in all of those scenarios.”

Because of that, Olivas recommends that court reporters not fret over changes in technology like speech recognition, but simply be ready to adapt when they do come.

“We perform our duties using a certain set of tools today in 2016,” Olivas explains. “Yes, the various technologies will change, but the core role of what we do will not. Because our real value is not tied to that. Our real value is being the eyes and ears of the judge. There will always be the need to have a neutral, third-party observer at these proceedings who can administer the oath, facilitate the capture of the spoken word, produce a written document, and certify to its accuracy.”
David Ward is a journalist in Carrboro, N.C. Comments on this article can be sent to jcrfeedback@ncra.org.

 

 

A judge and his court reporter weigh in on realtime in the courtroom

Last August, NCRA member Julie Hohenstein, an official realtime court reporter for the Hon. Stephen A. Wolaver, Greene County, Ohio, added a Certified Realtime Reporter (CRR) to the Register Professional Reporter (RPR) certification she already held. Hohenstein said her judge was so happy with her earning the certification that he offered to be interviewed, along with her, to share thoughts on why realtime is a benefit to have as a skill and in the courtroom.

Why did you decide to pursue the CRR credential? 

Hohenstein: Ever since the CRR certification became available, I have wanted to achieve it. I think having the CRR says that I am on the cutting edge of my profession both in technology and skill. I think the CRR designation earns me immediate respect among professionals in the court reporting and legal fields.

I had attempted a couple of times when the CRR was first offered, and then I was discouraged because I didn’t pass it.  I always knew I could.  After attending the 2016 NCRA Convention in Chicago and participating in the CRR seminar and learning more about how the online testing worked, I decided to go ahead and try again.

I really liked the convenience of being able to take the CRR in a setting that I was quite comfortable and familiar with and on a date that I chose.  I especially liked the fact that you can take the CRR up to three times in a given quarter.

What do you think are the benefits of realtime?  

Hohenstein: For me as the court reporter, I use realtime to improve my writing skills. I watch my realtime to see areas in which I need to improve on my skills. I think no matter who you are, there is always something that we can do to make our writing better.

For the attorneys, I think the benefits are the ability to see and reread what the witness has just said or had said previously.

We use the iCVNet with iPads in our courtroom, and to have at the attorney’s fingertips the ability to search back through the transcript for certain areas of testimony and mark it and then be able to refer to it is an indispensable tool.  Also the ability to search a word or phrase and see every single time it is used and to be able to go to that spot with just a tap of the finger is invaluable.

Judge Wolaver, when you first saw realtime, what was the most exciting part of it for you?

Wolaver: Having the knowledge that I would not miss anything, that I could see testimony immediately, it would aid me in making rulings and also the ability with the iPads to search back through the day’s transcript for any discrepancies in witnesses’ testimony.  I find that having the iPads with the realtime gives me the flexibility to take the transcript into chambers to review before I make a final ruling, if necessary.

How often do you use realtime, and who in the court uses it? What is your setup like? 

Hohenstein: In our courtroom, I provide realtime to the judge and both plaintiff’s and defendant’s counsel on a daily basis.  All parties involved use the realtime whenever they feel the need to.  Our courtroom is setup with the judge and both counsel having an iPad to receive the realtime feed via Wi-Fi and ICVnet. There have been many times that I have noticed that the defendants themselves have used my realtime.

Have any attorneys, clerks, or deaf or hard-of-hearing jurors or parties used the realtime feed? 

Hohenstein: Yes. I have watched both plaintiff’s and defendant’s counsel use the realtime that I provide. Just recently, we had a trial where a potential juror had a severe hearing loss and tinnitus. The juror could let us know that they could not hear any of the Voir Dire examination that was being conducted, and they were able to follow along with the iPad to complete the Voir Dire process.

We also had a 14-day civil trial where both plaintiff’s and defendant’s counsel wanted realtime and a daily rough copy of the day’s proceedings by the end of the day.

What situations do you think that realtime is especially helpful for? 

Hohenstein: I find that in all situations realtime is helpful. Realtime helps me if I mishear something a witness says. I can immediately look at the screen and read it again to confirm what I thought I heard the witness say.

Why do you think that realtime is so important that you wanted Julie recognized for pursuing being certified in it? 

Wolaver: Julie goes above and beyond and excels in all aspects of her job duties. She has great dedication and respect for her job and wants to always improve her realtime skills for everyone that comes into our courtroom, and the public we serve should know of her dedication to justice.

At a time when many courts are replacing court reporters with ER systems, I find Julie’s realtime skills to be an invaluable asset for what she brings to my courtroom every day.  I can’t imagine not having her here.

What would you say to encourage other court reporters to pursue this certification? 

Hohenstein: Have the confidence to try it and achieve it. I never thought I would, but deep down I had the desire to pursue and achieve it. I think the sky’s the limit.  Just keep working on your writing skills and keep practicing and you too will achieve it. Not everyone can do what we can do, or everyone would do it. Be proud of what you have accomplished.

 

Recognize innovative business strategies with the JCR Awards

JCR Awards - TheJCR comThe JCR Awards are a way to tell compelling stories that bring to life innovative and successful business strategies from the past year. Originally conceived as a way to recognize and highlight the exemplary professionalism, community service, and business practices of NCRA members, the JCR Awards seek nominations for several subcategories, such as best-in-class stories for: Marketing and customer service; Leadership, teambuilding, and mentoring; Use of technology; Community outreach; Service in a nonlegal setting; and Court Reporting & Captioning Week (2016) initiative. In addition, 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. Nominate a noteworthy court reporter, captioner, videographer, scopist, teacher, school administrator, or court reporting manager or a group, such as firms, courthouses, or court reporting programs. Self-nominations are accepted. More information about specific criteria for each of the categories is available on the JCR Awards Entry Form.

To enter, 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 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. 31Read more about the JCR Awards.

See last year’s winners.