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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.

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.

www.doriswong.com

Discretion, please!!!

Every now and then while on the subway, I will see a court reporter proofreading a transcript.  I can’t help but cringe.  The particular reporter I saw this week was standing, red pen in hand, probably hoping to make good use of her valuable time.  What bothered me, however, was the fact that a woman was reading the transcript over her shoulder.  Thank goodness she didn’t pull out exhibits such as tax returns or medical records to review.

Another practice that I find frightening is when reporters put transcripts and accompanying audio on Facebook.  While the names of the parties or those present at the proceedings may not be visible on the screen shot, this is still a very bad idea.  As you know, information on Facebook can spread like wildfire.  It may not actually go viral, but in a world getting smaller by the minute, it’s not too far-fetched to imagine that that post can find its way back to someone who recognizes the voice on the audio or even to the very person himself.

Call me paranoid, but these are not risks I am willing to take.  Testimony reported in any setting is confidential and should not be put out for public viewing under any circumstances.  I wouldn’t want a phone call from a client who discovered that his words were online because of me.  If you were embroiled in litigation, would you want your private matters out there for public viewing?

I heard of an instance where a reporter gave her opinion about an important case on Facebook.  This called into question her neutrality and professionalism, and it landed her a meeting before a judge where she was promptly fired.  Improper behaviors have consequences.

Discretion is a quality possessed by every professional, but I think that court reporters particularly have a duty, as officers of the court, to be extra careful in this regard.  Be mindful of how you handle yourself professionally.  More people are watching than you may realize. 

Court Reporting Myths

All court reporters are the same.

We may all seem the same at first glance, sitting at our machines with our fingers flying, but we all know that among our members there is a wide range of abilities and experience.  So how does one know that a reporter has the core competencies required to produce a timely verbatim transcript, or how does one know if the court reporter can provide realtime?   The standard determinant in our business has always been the credentials earned through NCRA:  RPR, RMR, RDR, CRR, and CRC.  It may not be the only factor — and there are some members who consistently perform at a high level without the top credentials — but it is the one that carries significant weight among its members.

Court reporting is easy.  All you have to do is push a button to get a transcript.

Were it so!  True, there are gifted reporters out there who can consistently produce very clean transcripts by the end of the day, but they are in the minority.  Among NCRA’s membership of 11,495, only 1,864 hold the RMR; 486 hold the RDR; and 2,478 hold the CRR (as of February 2018).  Court reporting is stressful and difficult, but they make it LOOK easy. 

Longer words are harder to write than short words. 

With the emphasis on writing “short,” this does not hold true anymore.  Multisyllabic words used to be the nemesis of reporters, but savvy reporters have changed their writing styles to incorporate shortcuts for long words, word groupings, common phrases, and numbers.  In addition, they have learned to come up with creative briefs on the fly.  Carol Kusinitz, a reporter extraordinaire who routinely does this, came up with the brief CRUPL* for “cryptococcal meningitis.”  This practice not only cuts down dramatically on misstrokes but saves wear and tear on your hands and fingers which is crucial when considering a career that can last decades.

I can earn $100K at the completion of just a two-year court reporting program!

Earnings for beginning reporters do not even approach $100K.  This is certainly attainable but only after years of experience in the field.  The higher the credentials one has usually correlates with the more lucrative assignments, so it certainly is an incentive to improve your skills.  Secondly, many students do not graduate in two years.  To think that you will definitely finish in two years and then start immediately earning $100K is a fairy tale.

Court reporting is a boring job.

Yes, there are times when you are bored to tears, but court reporting can also be very exciting.  You will be privy to private and confidential matters, contentious and controversial matters, sometimes matters covered by the local and national media, and you will be exposed to topics from every field imaginable.  It is a “free” education, there for the taking. You will meet people from all walks of life and gain perspective on human nature.  Reporting also offers you the opportunity to travel nationally and around the world!  Reporters from this office have reported in Italy, Cyprus, Sweden, and Mongolia, to name a few.

Court reporters can make their own hours.

If only this were true.  Freelancers may have more flexibility, but all reporters are at the mercy of their backlogs and their clients’ wishes.  When a transcript is needed on an expedited basis, it needs to get delivered on time.  Everyone has a million stories.  I remember attorneys ordered an expedited transcript from me on Christmas Eve.

I have audio, so I can just sit back and enjoy the ride.

I don’t know of one professional reporter who subscribes to this.  There is always the possibility that your audio could fail, often at the absolute worst time.  If you didn’t hear it to begin with, it’s possible it won’t be picked up by the audio.  You are there to safeguard the record and must do everything in your power to prepare the best transcript you can.  Interrupt for clarification if necessary, and always work on improving your skill and speed so you don’t need your audio backup as a crutch.

A tape recorder can do your job.  You probably hear this one a lot.  I don’t even want to go there.  We all know the truth.