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Meet Connie Psaros, Editor

This is the post excerpt.

Connie Psaros, RPR, CMRSWelcome to “Student Corner”!  My name is Connie Psaros, RPR, Vice President of Doris O. Wong Associates, Inc., and I will be responsible for the content appearing here.

Who knows better than fellow court reporters what you are going through?  If you are just starting your career, you also may find this section helpful.  Feel free to contact us if we can answer any questions or address any concerns.  We want you to succeed!

Also check out our Facebook page.  It’s loaded with lots of tech tips for court reporters, court reporting trends, grammar, and much more.

LESSONS LEARNED FROM A CERTIFIED PICTURE FRAMER

by Connie Psaros, RPR, CMRS, B.S.

I recently became aware of some statistics regarding the court reporting community which I found quite shocking.  As of February 2019, there are an estimated 30,000 stenographic court reporters in the marketplace.  Of that number, only 10,906, or 36%, are members of NCRA.  This is the important breakdown:  Only 6,198 are Registered Professional Reporters; 1,809 are Registered Merit Reporters; 2,474 are Certified Realtime Reporters; and 497 are Registered Diplomate Reporters, recipients of NCRA’s highest credential.

These disturbing numbers have been weighing on my mind ever since I first saw them.  They are even lower than last year’s numbers.  I personally feel that credentials and membership in your national professional organization are crucial benchmarks upon which your clients and the public at large can rely.  This goes for all professions:  CPAs, doctors, engineers, realtors, etc.  I certainly wouldn’t trust my life with an unlicensed pilot!

So imagine my surprise when I brought my mother into a local frame shop, and the first thing I saw on the wall was the proprietor’s Certified Picture Framer certificate. I inquired about the certification, and he explained that he went through a challenging training program and then passed the examination.  His many skills framing all types of prints, paintings, and other visual media were evident as we browsed around his shop.  Come to find out, there are also Master Certified Picture Framers and a Professional Picture Framers Association that provides education, support, and networking opportunities for its members.  They even hold competitions!  Sound familiar?

You may not think this is a big deal, but when you are bringing in a delicate heirloom silk from China, 50” by 30”, beautifully hand painted and hand embroidered, you don’t want to take the chance that an amateur picture framer will know how to mount, stretch, and pin it properly (without snagging) to an acid-free medium before framing, not to mention air flow and UV glass considerations for preservation purposes.  You’d want someone with the most up-to-date knowledge and skill, someone you can trust to get the job done correctly.  This framer’s certification put our minds at ease.  His loyal clientele obviously agrees.  He works 60 hours a week, and he said it’s not even his busy season!

Let’s assume you are a litigant having your all-important deposition taken.  Personal matters will be discussed.  The proceedings are contentious, and there is a lot of arguing back and forth.  Complicated medical procedures are being described in minute detail.  Expert witnesses will be deposed on your behalf.  Scores of documents will be referred to.  A lot is at stake.  If you had to choose what kind of court reporter you would want to produce a timely verbatim record, would certification matter to you?  Would membership in a professional organization make a difference to you?  Would you want your reporter to be bound by guidelines on ethics?  I think the answers are obvious.  There is an undeniable comfort level that only a true court reporting professional can provide.  Be a standout.  Be that certified reporter.  It IS a big deal.

NIGHTMARES

By Connie Psaros, RPR, B.S. in Education

Many court reporters I know have had recurring nightmares about court reporting, especially early in their careers.   We can all relate to those nightmares, and we can even find a little humor in them (as long as they don’t actually happen).  I collected the following examples, my favorites, from reporters I know. 

One reporter tells of this recurring scenario:  He arrives late to a deposition with all attorneys present and waiting.  His equipment is not working, so he is forced to write the testimony in longhand on pieces of scrap paper.  As the testimony furiously continues, he scrambles to find more scraps.  The attorneys get annoyed with him when he has to continually interrupt, and, as you can imagine, things quickly deteriorate from there.

In a similar vein, one reporter is writing testimony in longhand on a beach with the crashing waves coming in and obliterating her “record” while she hopelessly tries to save it.  Another reporter had the recurring dream of running out of paper (back in the day) and resorting to writing the testimony in longhand using pen, pencil, and then finally crayons.

It seems that preserving the record at all costs is the takeaway here.

Other common nightmare scenarios involve getting lost, being unable to read back, losing equipment, and being late.  One reporter actually left his steno machine on the train on his way home and feared it was lost forever.  Unbelievably, someone had turned it in to Lost and Found.  Another reporter hears his mother shout his name when he oversleeps.  From Heaven.  It happened twice.  I’m always worried about being late, so my nightmares had me unable to walk faster than at a snail’s pace, with my legs feeling like lead.

Coincidentally as I was writing this, Carol Kusinitz, a reporter with 40 years’ experience, came into the office to tell of her nightmare last night.  She got to her assignment, an arbitration, realizing she had forgotten her dongle (remember those?) so had to report with only her machine.  There she found a second reporter from our office – odd indeed – and 30 people sitting around the table mumbling in Scots.  There were columns around the room which obliterated their view of the speakers.  The exhibits were weather maps on video showing storms.  To make matters worse, when she hit the keys, they sunk into a puddle of oil.  Then just when Carol thought she couldn’t take it anymore, her alarm went off and thankfully the long nightmare was over.

Much has been written and many studies have been conducted about what dreams actually mean.  The good news is that having bad dreams about work may actually be a good thing.  Gillian Holloway, Ph.D., is the author of Dreaming Insights:  A 5-Step Plan for Discovering the Meaning in Your Dream.  Dr. Holloway writes:  “This anxiety dream is most common to people who never allow themselves to be unprepared.  The people who have it are generally successful, competent professionals who excel at their work and prepare as much as humanly possible.”  To which I say, Dream on.

Mental Practice

Many of your obstacles as a court reporting student are in your head more so than your hands.

By Connie Psaros, RPR, B.S. in Education

I was sitting in the lobby of a law firm waiting to be let into the conference room to set up.  I had taken an extended vacation, so I worried that I wouldn’t be as sharp as I wanted to be.  So instead of fretting, I picked up a magazine and wrote out in my head the densest article I could find, concentrating not on speed but on fingering precision.  This mental practice calmed my nerves, got me into the concentration zone, and I ended up writing just beautifully.

Sometimes you only have a few minutes here and there, no time to set up your machine to practice.   Maybe you’re sitting in the waiting area while your child is in a dance class, or maybe you’re on the train for a 30-minute commute.  Why not put these little snippets of time to good use.  Try to block out any distractions around you.  Visualize your hands going through the motions along with the text.  Pretend you are actually depressing the keys on your machine.  And since you are concentrating on accuracy only, you will be embedding correct strokes into your mind/muscle memory.  We can all write difficult material if we’re not pushing for speed at the same time.  If you are writing dense material, it will make your next dictation take seem much easier.   

Many of your obstacles as a court reporting student are in your head more so than your hands.  That’s why I found this technique especially useful when I was writing sloppily and felt as if my hands were hitting the keys haphazardly.  Just getting off the machine was liberating.  Because you can slow down and “write” at your own pace, it will clear the junk out of your head so you can “reset” your writing compass, so to speak. 

Mental practice should never replace actual machine practice, but there are times when it is a great alternative.  Much has been written about the benefits of mental practice.  Accomplished musicians and competitive athletes in particular have had success because they visualized in their minds in a step-by-step fashion what it is they wanted to accomplish.  As court reporters, deliberate mental practice can make clean writing a reality.  I would highly recommend that you give it a try.  It could very well lead to your next breakthrough!

The World is your Oyster as you pursue your career in Court Reporting. Why? Because Court Reporting is a thriving profession!

Court reporters are in such high demand now, but to ensure a long-lasting career, don’t settle for mediocrity. Aspire to be a court reporter on the cutting edge.

By Connie Psaros, RPR, B.S. in Education

There are not many careers that can guarantee employment and an excellent starting salary upon graduation, but court reporting is one of them.  Right out of school, graduates may choose to work as freelancers, officials, CART providers, or broadcast captioners.  Many reporters work in several capacities throughout their careers.

What is the best way to become successful?  First and foremost, earn an NCRA certification.  Not only will certification give you a confidence boost, but it gives employers a benchmark upon which to gauge your skill level and comfort knowing that you are qualified for the job.  Then find mentors to guide you through the early stages of your career.  Their experience will help you understand legal proceedings beyond what you have learned in school.  If you follow this advice, you will be off to a running start.

Court reporters are in such high demand now, but to ensure a long-lasting career, don’t settle for mediocrity.  Aspire to be a court reporter on the cutting edge.  Look to the court reporters at the top of their game for inspiration, true professionals who have found the winning combination:  continual skill development and software proficiency.   NCRA and your state associations, as well as organizations like STAR, are there to help.  They offer recurring support, education, and networking opportunities.  There is always room for growth and professional development for motivated individuals. Ask reporters with advanced certifications how that has benefited their career in terms of assignments, income, and prestige.

Court reporting has undergone many revolutionary changes just in the relatively recent past.  Reporters have gone from writing on manual machines with paper notes to digital writers like the Luminex and the Expression.  Did you know that Stenograph has developed eight digital writers since the 1980s?  The investment in hardware, software, and technology has been significant.  So has the learning curve among our members.  But in the end we are in a niche business that provides a service no one else can:  clean realtime feeds, rough drafts, and expedited delivery.  This is why our unique skills will always be in high demand, and that translates into commensurate compensation.

Reporters play a vital role in the judicial system.  We are respected by members of the bar for our role in preserving the all-important record so they can represent their clients to the best of their ability.  Because our profession is technology-driven, lawyers need our expertise to provide the specialized services and litigation-support products they need.  In the performance of our duties, we are mindful of our responsibility.  We are advocates for none but fair and impartial to all.

Keep all of this in mind as you continue your studies.  Imagine the personal and professional pride that will be yours upon graduation and certification as well as the financial independence you will enjoy that comes with long-term employment.  We look forward to welcoming you as a professional colleague!

“We need more lions, not lambs!”

By Connie Psaros, RPR, B.A.

A fellow agency owner said this to me at a conference once, “We need more lions, not lambs!” and I knew exactly what he meant.  Lions are the fearless reporters you can implicitly trust who will take just about any assignment no matter the unique requests, unknowns, or level of difficulty.  The lambs?  Not so much. 

More and more these days, attorneys are asking for complex services and advanced technology.  It’s the “usual” deposition with a twist:  realtime streaming onsite and to remote locations, multi-site video conference hookups, or attorneys appearing by conference call at a remote site and you’re in charge of making the connections.  Or maybe it’s providing CART for a yearly star-studded conference, reporting roundtable discussions (with a little Spanish sprinkled in) in Puerto Rico, or reporting a celebratory convention in a banquet setting where your elbows are in the mashed potatoes and not all the speakers are sober. 

When it gets hairy, we rely on our lions to get the job done; no complaining, no drama, no problem.  Are they going outside of their comfort zone?  Most likely.  Nonetheless, they take the assignment, take control of the situation, and get paid handsomely for their hard work. 

No matter how many lions you have on staff, you could always use more.  Any agency owner would agree.  The reporters with the proven experience and top NCRA credentials are our go-to experts that our clients continually request for their important cases.  They are professionals who are respected so much that depositions and hearings are often scheduled based on their availability. 

Of course we all start out as lambs.  Reporting is hard, especially for beginners just learning the ropes.  Some reporters are content to only report the easy stuff, but this can prove to be a career-limiting decision.  The trend over the years has been that the number of more difficult assignments exceeds the easy ones.  Reporters who want to extend the life of their careers realize this, so they continue to make themselves more marketable.  They earn higher NCRA certifications, they learn their software inside and out so that they can produce more pages, they provide realtime, they anticipate the clients’ needs and outperform the clients’ expectations, and they keep up with and make investments in the latest trends in technology.  The reporters who have made the transformation from lamb to lion have done so with hard work and enthusiasm. They are the leaders in our profession. 

Your Steno Machine

As students, every day is consumed with practice with the goal of passing your next speed test.  You have so much to do:  practice your briefs, tackle tricky passages, read back, correct your errors, work on finger exercises.  But have you given any thought to your writer?

Your writer is your means of making a living.  It will always be just you and your machine on assignment, working together as one unit.  You may be using an old machine in school – the machine I used was a verifiable antique – but when you are out in the working world and purchase your very own new model, special care will be necessary to keep your machine in top working condition.  Machine neglect leads to machine failure.  Machine failure leads to expensive repairs and lost income.  If you are lucky, you will have a hint that your machine needs service; but more often than not, you will be given no advance notice that your machine is about to fail.  You will discover that it does not work when you are on assignment and attempt to turn it on.  Bad timing indeed.

I know reporters who send their writers in every year for a checkup, usually when they go on vacation.  Yes, these machines are workhorses, but they also have delicate electronics that can benefit from examination by certified technicians.  There are so many moving parts.  Needless to say, if all are in top working order, you will write with greater ease and with less effort.  If your keys are sticking and out of alignment, it will slow you down and affect your writing accuracy, efficiency, and lengthen your editing time.  Reporters notice a big difference after their machines have been serviced.

“Machine neglect leads to machine failure. 
Machine failure leads to expensive repairs and lost income.”

You may want to purchase a Writer Protection Plan along with your new writer as our machines take a lot of abuse on a daily basis.  Yes, it is expensive, but the cost of parts and labor can easily exceed the cost of a protection plan.  Repair of the main PC board, for example, is around $2,000.  In my opinion, the peace of mind is worth it.  There are different options depending on your price point that you should investigate, such as whether or not you want a loaner provided while your machine is being repaired so you can continue working.  These plans basically cover labor, parts, shipping, and updates.  Discounts are offered for STAR members and students.  You should also consider an insurance rider for your machine.  That will include breakage and equipment replacement from accidents, theft, vandalism, fire, and natural disasters.

The condition of your machine reflects on you.  I’ve heard machines so loud as to be distracting.  I’ve seen machines covered in pet hair.  I’ve also seen reporters throw their machines in their cases without care or adequate protection.  I find all of these scenarios unsettling!  Take care of your machine, and it will take care of you.

NOTE:  Buyer beware!  If you can’t afford a new writer, consider purchasing a certified, pre-owned writer from a reputable source like Stenograph.  Don’t waste your money buying obsolete legacy writers that are no longer in production and are no longer supported for lack of parts.

Brains, Courage, and Heart 

By Connie Psaros, RPR, CMRS, BS

I happened to see The Wizard of Oz on TV the other night, the story of the Scarecrow, Lion, and Tin Man on a journey in search of brains, courage, and heart; and for some reason I saw a connection to court reporting.

BRAINS:  Let’s face it.  You have to be intelligent to do what we do.  Just mastering the steno machine and obtaining certification takes years of arduous training and testing where nothing but 95% accuracy will do.  Judging from the very low graduation rates, not everyone has what it takes to see their schooling through to the end. 

Machine mastery, together with a solid grasp of the English language, is still not enough.  Of utmost importance these days is technological proficiency.  Brain power is definitely needed to know your hardware, software, how to hook up iPads to provide realtime, and troubleshoot a variety of technical problems should they arise.   And not to be overlooked are the different, sometimes tricky, scenarios that can unexpectedly unfold on any given assignment where we must think on our feet and make decisions using our experience and best judgment.  Court reporting is not for dummies.

COURAGE:  No matter your level of experience, courage is a mandatory trait.  We are thrown alone into the unknown on a daily basis and must face whatever lies in store.  Maybe it’s your first CART job in front of a convention audience, your first daily copy/realtime assignment, or maybe your client needs you in Mongolia, of all places, which is uncharted territory for sure on so many levels.  A lot rides on our shoulders, and few understand the pressure we face.  I know how crippling fear can be, so when I see great professionals jump in with both feet anyway and get the job done despite any feelings of apprehension, it deepens my admiration and respect for them.

HEART:  Court reporters need “heart” to produce the best product possible.  They need to care about the record and understand the weight that the parties involved will place upon it.  Mistakes made by us could have serious ramifications.  At the end of the day if all you care about is a paycheck, this is not the profession for you.  The following is a statement written by one of our exemplary reporters, Anne H. Bohan, RDR, CRR, when asked to provide a glimpse into how she views her profession.  The weight of her words should resonate with every court reporter.

“Day by day I faithfully record and transcribe the experiences of other people’s lives.  I am writing their stories as they are telling them, capturing their words for them.  I deal in real life emotions on a daily basis – joy, anger, grief and fear, the highs and lows of the human condition – and I must perform the job in a calm, stoic manner.  I feel like I have lived 1,000 lives sitting in front of my shorthand machine.

“Much of the work I do is critical; there’s a risk people will suffer if I don’t get it right.  I safeguard a litigant’s most precious possessions:  life, liberty or family.  I have great incentive to record every single word correctly.  But I invest effort, enthusiasm and joy into what I do regardless.  I embrace the responsibility.”

If there is one thing to take away from my many blog posts, this is it.  Anne’s words perfectly capture who we are as court reporters, what we do and why we do it.  It is her “heart,” along with an ample supply of brains and courage, that has propelled her career forward and made her such a fine ambassador for the court reporting profession.  Thank you, Anne.

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