FAIL FORWARD

Court reporting students, probably more than students in any other field, fail their tests almost weekly.  As a student, you press on day after day, week after week, and beyond, only to see “FAIL” on your graded paper.  You can fail because of one missed word.  One.  And just when you finally pass a test, the process begins anew and you will most certainly meet with failure again the very next week.  The cycle can be downright demoralizing.

But take heart.

Every reporter before you has failed, repeatedly, and has come out the other side to a career they love, and you can too.  As students you’re expected to fail.  You’re learning.  You’re not there yet.  Probably no one has told you, though, that failure has value, and breakthroughs can come as a result.  The key is analyzing why you are failing and doing what you can to move ahead and face your next speed hurdle with renewed enthusiasm and sense of purpose.

This is why reading back and examining your writing is so important to your progress.  Read back everything.  Be self-critical.  Why are you failing?  What mistakes are you making?  Are you making the same mistakes repeatedly?  Try to be as specific in your analysis as possible.  There could be several reasons:  the same fingering errors; unreadable notes; hesitation; dropping; problems with numbers, synonyms, punctuation; lack of concentration; poor practice habits; time constraints.

Having this information is valuable!  Now that you know what is holding you back or giving you trouble, you can address those areas and form a strategy to mitigate or eliminate them.  There may be several areas that need your attention, which is common.  Don’t get overwhelmed or be too hard on yourself.  You are a work in progress.  The good news is that there are workable solutions to any issue you may have.  Ask for help in overcoming your particular problem area.  Reach out to your teacher or a working professional for advice, or ask NCRA for a virtual mentor. You’ll be surprised at how helpful they can be.

Court reporting school is all about the journey.  Only those who have gone before you know what you are going through now.  The journey will have more failures than successes for sure; but if you heed the lessons that your failures offer, and make a deliberate and steadfast effort during your daily practice sessions, you will become a better writer and PASS that certification test one day!

So the next time you see “FAIL” on your test paper, add the word “FORWARD” to remind yourself to learn from the mistakes made and forge ahead.

The following is the quote from Charles F. Kettering that inspired these comments.  May it inspire you too.  “Failures, repeated failures, are finger posts on the road to achievement.  One fails forward toward success.”

NEED A LITTLE INSPIRATION?

Every now and then I come across “The Court Reporter’s Creed.”   I always find it so inspiring.   It is a reminder of how great this profession is; how indebted we are to those who came before us; and how we are carrying forth this honorable tradition in numerous settings around the country every day:  in depositions, hearings, courtrooms, classrooms, even in the United States Congress.

Few can do what we do.  Even fewer reach the level of greatness of our own profession’s heroes.  There are only approximately 30,000 court reporters in the workforce nationwide.  I’m sure the majority of the population has no idea what a court reporter does or has even seen a Stenograph machine.  In contrast, there are 1.15 million lawyers in the United States!

The importance of our role in society cannot be underestimated.  Pretrial discovery relies on sworn deposition testimony.  Criminal defendants rely on trial transcripts when their cases are appealed.  Recording our nation’s legislative business ensures transparency and honest debate.   Court reporters in all these roles are helping to uphold the rights we cherish under our Constitution.  The record never forgets; the written word holds all accountable.

Kudos to all of us who are in the trenches day after day chasing down words before they are lost forever, spoken and soon forgotten.  If you are a student, I hope reading “The Court Reporter’s Creed,” cited below, will energize you to reach your next speed goal and to one day join our proud ranks as a certified verbatim court reporter.

 

THE COURT REPORTER’S CREED

My profession stems from humanity’s desire and its necessity to preserve the happenings of yesterday and tomorrow.

My profession was born with the rise of civilization in Ancient Greece.

I was known as a scribe in Judea, Persia, and the Roman Empire.

I preserved the Ten Commandments for posterity and was with King Solomon while building the temple.

I was with the founding fathers of the United States when they drafted the Declaration of Independence.  My hand labored upon the scroll that set forth the Bill of Rights.

The immortal Abraham Lincoln entrusted me to record the Emancipation Proclamation.

I was commissioned to be with Roosevelt at Yalta.  I was with Eisenhower on D-Day and with MacArthur at Tokyo.

I have kept confidence reposed with me by those in high places, as well as those in lowly places.

My profession protects the truthful witness, and I am a nemesis of the perjurer.  I am a party to the administration of justice under the law and the court I serve.

I discharge my duties with devotion and honor.

Perhaps I haven’t made history, but I have preserved it through the ages.

In the past I was called a scribe.  Today I am the court reporter who sits in the courts of my country and in the United States Congress.

I am the verbatim court reporter.

Google With Care

Back in the day, long before computers became a part of a reporter’s everyday life, whenever I had a tough question, such as a spelling or a word I could not quite decipher from my notes, I would seek the help of my local library reference assistant.  This aide had access to medical dictionaries, technical journals, encyclopedias, and a host of other resources that I did not.  She saved the day for me on more than one occasion.

Today is a different story, especially for the Millennials, Gen Y, born roughly in the late 1970s to the mid-1990s, and the Centennials, Gen Z, born roughly from the mid-1990s to 2012.  Each new generation grows up with even more technology at its fingertips, specifically the Internet and social media; and with such easy access at any time of the day or night, getting instantaneous answers to one’s questions is not only desired but expected.

Court reporters have a constant need for information, and for most reporters Google is their go-to resource.  With Google, you really have the world at your fingertips.  It’s wonderful:  so helpful, convenient, and fast!  There is a danger, however, to blindly relying on what you find on Google.  Doing a search and choosing the first thing that comes up may give you a false sense of security.  You may think that you’ve done your research and found your answer when, in reality, the correct answer is really farther down on Page 2.

So how do you know if the answer you’ve found is the correct one?  It comes down to definition and context.  For example, your doctor witness says what you hear as “abduct.”  You perform a simple Google search and, sure enough, it’s a word!  If you fail to dig a little deeper, however, and look into the word’s meaning, you may not realize that the doctor actually said “adduct,” which has the opposite meaning of “abduct.”  Huge difference!

  • abduct, v.t., to draw away from a position parallel to the median axis. Think of abduction, which means a taking away.
  • adduct, v.t., to draw toward a position near or parallel to the median axis.

Chances are the doctor will be using both terms throughout his testimony.  These words are extremely difficult to distinguish auditorily under the best of circumstances.  If the doctor is a fast speaker or has even the slightest accent, it will be impossible.  This means that you will have to choose the right word each time, relying on definition and context to make the correct choice.  Imagine the implications if you fail to choose the correct word.  Imagine the fallout if you didn’t even know the other word existed!  Ouch.

Abduct/adduct is just one example.  The medical field is replete with similar illustrations.  Consider the following:

  • anuresis, n., A condition of inability to urinate. Total lack of urine.
  • enuresis, n., bedwetting.
  • apophysis, n., a projecting part of a bone.
  • epiphysis, n., the end of a long bone,, usually wider than the long portion of the bone, either composed of cartilage or separated from the shaft by a disk of cartilage.
  • claustrum – the thin layer of gray matter between the white matter of the external capsule and the extreme capsule of the brain.
  • colostrum, n., the thin, milky fluid which is secreted by the mammary glands around the time of parturition.

The lesson here is to Google with care.  Do a complete and thorough search before you decide on what to include in your transcript.  Just because you find your answer quickly doesn’t mean it is the right one.  If you are ever in doubt, don’t hesitate to ask someone for help!

Lastly, here is a useful link you should review from which the above examples were obtained:   http://www.meditec.com/resourcestools/medical-words/sound-alike-words/

P.S.  Google searches helped to make this blog possible.

NCRA’s “Courting Disaster” Game

Have you had a chance to play NCRA’s online game called “Courting Disaster”?  It is a fun way to learn about the profession.  There are six modules.  The stated purpose of the game is to test your client relations savvy and your ability to execute the core job competencies.  It is an interactive game in that you are presented with different scenarios and you have to choose an appropriate response in your role as a professional court reporter.  As in real life, many of the situations that are presented cover ethical grey areas; therefore, the game is challenging and thought provoking.

I would highly recommend that students play the game.  At this stage you may not have the experience to draw from to help you choose the correct answers, but it doesn’t matter!  It is a game.  Better to make your mistakes now than out in the field.  Competency on your steno machine is only part of the job.  It takes so much more to be considered a true professional.

At the end of each module you are given a score along with an explanation of why your responses are correct or incorrect.  What is especially helpful is that applicable provisions are cited from NCRA’s Code of Professional Ethics, a code that every reporter should be familiar with.  Members of the profession are bound by this code in their dealings with their fellow reporters, members of the legal community, and the general public.

Take advantage of this opportunity to test the waters, so to speak, and get a glimpse of the different dilemmas that you will encounter as a working reporter.  Take the time to ponder the matters presented to you.  The experience will give you added confidence when faced with thorny or sensitive matters. The beauty of the game is that, pass or fail, it is a valuable and unique learning experience.

To access the game, go to www.ncra.org/courtingdisaster.  Good luck and have fun.  You may surprise yourself and earn a trophy for being a superstar reporter!

50 Years of Change

April of 2017, marked the Golden Anniversary of Doris O. Wong Associates, Inc.  Court reporting has changed so much since this company opened its doors in 1967.  What has been the driving force behind all the changes?  Technology.  If I have learned anything in my almost 40 years here, it is that reporters need to embrace the changes that technology offers in order to succeed.

It’s hard to believe, but way back in the day there were pen writers.  Then manual steno machines came into being followed by electronic machines.  Since the 1960s there have been many iterations of the Stenograph machine, the latest being the Luminex, the lightest and most sophisticated machine of all.  We’ve gone from typing our own notes, to dictating our notes to typists, to computer-aided transcription and realtime translation.   We can now offer attorneys a full complement of electronic litigation support products, such as digital exhibits, synchronized transcripts to video, PDFs, interactive word indexes, and videoconferencing.  Technology has made all this possible.  Going hand in hand with all these fantastic advances are the dozens of accompanying software updates.  Who can keep up with it all?

I am here to tell you that you must try your best to keep up with every technological change that affects this profession.  It is to your benefit to do so.  Staying abreast of the technology will make your job easier.  You will be able to write and produce your transcripts with greater efficiency and confidence.  If you fail to keep up, you will be left behind.  Reporting using the latest technology will ensure you will always be employed and in high demand, especially for the most desirable of assignments.  It will enhance your value as a professional.

The very best court reporters not only keep up with the technology, they embrace it.  The leaders in our profession from all around the country push the envelope by trying newly released technology.  They eagerly await the latest advancements that will enhance their professional growth.  They are never satisfied with the status quo.  They welcome the chance to get out of their comfort zones to try something new.  Their efforts make our profession stronger because they share their experiences, and the learning curve becomes less steep for the rest of us.  Their efforts make our profession even more relevant and indispensable as attorneys cannot prepare and litigate their cases without the skill, services, and products that we can provide.

How can a reporter stay abreast of the constant technological changes?  Thankfully, there is an organization called the Society for the Technological Advancement of Reporting.  STAR provides its members with extensive training, educational resources, networking events, and the latest CAT technologies.  STAR has an annual conference with outstanding seminars and workshops given by top court reporter professionals and the actual developers who have intimate knowledge of Case Catalyst software.  This provides attendees with a unique learning opportunity.

This year Linda Fifield of Doris O. Wong Associates, Inc., is STAR’s president.  Linda, along with a core group of court reporters, has been a liaison between Stenograph and working court reporters since 1980.  They meet directly with Stenograph’s software developers and discuss what works with the software, what improvements need to made, and what their “wish lists” are.  Many of the advancements made in the court reporting industry are a direct result of this special collaboration.  The profession owes them a debt of gratitude.

STAR offers learning opportunities in addition to NCRA’s annual convention.  See for yourself how STAR can help you keep abreast of all the changes and trends in technology.  Join STAR and attend this year’s convention in Boston at the Hyatt Regency, October 12 through 14!  You won’t be disappointed.

We have come a long way in 50 years.  Nothing has stood still.  Nothing is as certain as change.  Enthusiastically accept change and reap the rewards.

“Change is hard at first, messy in the middle, and gorgeous at the end.”– Robin Sharma

WHO’S GOT YOUR BACK?

Since you will be spending lots of time in a chair practicing, and later reporting, it is a good idea to consider the benefits of maintaining good posture when sitting.  This was mentioned when I began court reporting school in my twenties, and I don’t remember paying it much heed; but, trust me, the decades pass quickly, so the more you can do to protect your back, the better off you will be in your later years.  Don’t take your back for granted!  You cannot report without it.

My yoga teacher always said, “If you do ONE thing per day, work on your back.”  What great advice.  Since court reporters lug around pounds of equipment daily, sometimes up and down stairs or in and out of car trunks, and then sit in the same chair for hours on end, often under conditions beyond their control, it is no wonder many experience back pain and discomfort; but being aware of your back and posture is an important first step in preventing future problems and mitigating existing ones.

There is a lot of information on the internet about sitting correctly in a chair, but the basic advice is to place your feet flat on the floor, bend your knees at a right angle, and keep your back straight with your buttocks touching the back of the chair.  As court reporters, we usually sit in armless chairs with the machine between our legs with our elbows, arms and wrists parallel to the keyboard.  Always try to maintain a neutral position to lessen any strain on your muscles and joints; e.g., avoid sitting with your torso twisted and your machine to one side. Keep your body aligned.  Whenever you have an opportunity, such as during a break, you should stand and move around, stretch, roll your shoulders, flex and extend your wrists.  Court reporting is a sedentary profession, so it makes good sense to move around as much as possible on and off the job, especially since inactivity can make us susceptible to other health problems, such as obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.

Maintaining a good sitting posture is especially important because it helps you breathe properly so more oxygen gets to your brain and muscles.  This is key, as court reporter training is all about concentration and fine-motor-skill development.  Postural stress will inhibit your ability to take in the amount of oxygen you need to perform optimally and will also contribute to muscle fatigue.  During our intense practice sessions and right before taking our tests, we are often reminded to take a deep breath and breathe for this very reason.  Unfortunately, when we are under great pressure, we sometimes tend to slouch, tense up, and hold our breath.

Get in the habit of self-checking your sitting posture.  Not only will it help with your endurance and stamina on those long days, but it will project an image of confidence and competence.  An attorney once complimented me on my sitting posture, which I found to be very surprising and affirming.

“I’LL HUFF AND I’LL PUFF AND I’LL BLOW YOUR HOUSE IN.”

We all know the story of the Three Little Pigs.  The two pigs who built their houses out of straw and sticks saw them get blown down by the big bad wolf, but the third pig that built his house out of bricks was successful in keeping his house intact.  The wolf could not blow the sturdy brick house down.

The same is true of court reporting.  If you start at the beginning of your studies with a commitment to practice daily with deliberate focus, you will have a solid foundation that will serve as the cornerstone for all the successes and milestones that lie ahead.  If, on the other hand, your early efforts are weak or sporadic, your progress will be either delayed or nonexistent, and your “house” will surely fall.

Your journey will be divided into two parts:  theory and speedbuilding.  Learning your theory comes first, then speedbuilding.  Your success in building your speed depends on how well you learn your theory.  The National Court Reporters Association certifies reporters at 225 wpm.  It is a long road; commit now to master your theory inside and out so you can reach this goal!

Theory involves learning the keyboard, which is comprised of letters and a number bar.  Unlike a typewriter, where only one key at a time can be depressed, on the steno machine multiple keys can be hit at the same time.  Single keys or multiple keys in different combinations can stand for words, sounds, or phrases.  Theory determines which key combinations signify the “shun” ending, for example, or long or short vowel sounds.  If you master your theory, you will have the footing necessary to move ahead.

Why is it crucial to master your theory?  It is simple:  You will not be able to build speed if you hesitate when writing.  Your writing must become automatic.  When you hear a word, you must be able to immediately strike the correct key or keys to record it.  Hesitation will cause you to “drop” words and fall behind.  As you strive to increase your speed in the months ahead, if you have trouble recalling your theory or have difficulty implementing it, you will be in the unenviable position of writing poorly and constantly playing catch-up, a losing combination.

If you are to invest the energy, time and money to pursue a career as a court reporter, it is imperative that, from the outset, you learn and review your theory on a daily basis.   As you progress from lesson to lesson, make review of your previous lessons part of your routine practice regimen.  Strive to write cleanly all the time.  Look at your notes or screen for fingering errors and work to correct them immediately.  You are embedding words and their respective strokes in your memory bank.  Build a strong foundation that will be the base upon which you can build your victories.  Good luck!