HELPFUL TIPS FOR COURT REPORTING STUDENTS TO ENSURE SUCCESS

It is disheartening to read student comments on different forums about getting stuck at a speed, their frustration at their inability to move forward, but it is wonderful that we live in an age where students can reach out to a wide supportive audience of mentors who have gone through the same struggles and can offer advice and encouragement through the internet.  If you are a student who checks these various sites for information of this type, you have probably noticed that not all the advice given will resonate with you.  I suggest that you weed through the comments and see if a suggestion hits home with you, something that will spur you on and inspire you to move ahead.  It may be a technique you have overlooked, not tried, been unaware of.  It may be something as simple as practicing in a different location to try to break out of a mental rut (worked for me).  Try to wade through the noise and glean a helpful, concrete nugget or two rather than the simple “press on,” “keep trying,” “don’t give up” advice.

Maybe my tips below will resonate with you:

If you are a beginner, my advice has been and will always be to OWN your theory.  When you go through your daily lessons, write your new words over and over again until you become comfortable with the fingering.  Try writing as cleanly as you can.  Write the words a little faster each time without hesitation.  Memorize your briefs.  Most importantly, make it a habit to REVIEW the material you have already learned.  Your brain and fingers need the constant reinforcement.  Lastly, always read your notes and analyze your errors.  Are you dragging a certain finger?  Are there always shadows in a certain fingering combination?   Are you constantly writing the same word incorrectly?  Failure to analyze your errors is a missed opportunity to improve; and when you can identify and correct your errors on the spot, that is when your practice is most effective.  I recommend at least two solid hours of QUALITY practice a day, more if possible.  Your efforts in the early stages will pay great dividends when you push for speed later on.  You may not realize it, but the way you are practicing now will determine your success, or lack thereof, in the months ahead.

If you are already in speed classes and are not moving ahead, I would recommend dropping your practice speed to where you can write cleanly and build from there.  It will not help you to write messily, with a high untranslate rate, at speeds above your ability day after day.  You are doing more harm than good because your fingers and brain are not making any meaningful writing connections.   It will be time well spent to slow down and regroup.  What I found helpful when I found my fingers thrashing about the keyboard was to write text from a newspaper or magazine.  Just concentrate on writing cleanly what appears on the page before you, punctuation included.  This exercise allows you to concentrate on correct writing form at your own pace in relative quiet.  Aim for perfection.  Write the chosen text as many times as it takes until it is error free.  This is also a great opportunity to add words to your dictionary.  In the end, if you make a commitment to review your past lessons, push yourself to write clean takes, read back everything, and make adjustments where needed, you will eventually see improvement.

I hope you find these tips helpful.  Good luck!

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.

HOW I SURVIVED COURT REPORTING SCHOOL

I am by no means an expert on this topic, but I did practice diligently almost every day, amounting to hundreds of hours, during my two years in court reporting school, so I think I can offer some perspective on this topic.  I am not a “natural” writer.  I had to fight for every word.  Really fight!  But in the end I think I did a pretty good job, considering that I managed to pass the RPR and a test at 240 wpm, albeit an easy one, before graduation.

When I first contemplated going to court reporting school, one reporter in particular advised me to practice two hours a day, every day.  No excuses.  Period.  This was how she succeeded.  She was a stand-out student and breezed through school.  Well, being a classic Type A personality, I made the commitment to practice four hours a day, even on weekends.  This is not even counting classroom time.

I would warm up for about an hour on brief forms.  Every day I would start at the beginning of the book and write every brief form in that particular lesson.  If I wrote it incorrectly, I would write it over and over again until my notes were perfect.  I would sometimes practice numbers during my warm-up sessions for a little variety.  This daily exercise embedded the material in my memory and thus laid the strong foundation for what was to follow:  speedbuilding.  I passed my 60, 80, 100, and 120 tests in very quick succession.  I was on my way!

As the speeds got higher, so did the challenges.  It was not easy!  My family shared my trials and tribulations, especially my sister with whom I shared a room.  You should see her impression of me pounding away on the keys at all hours.  It was quite a journey indeed, but I could feel myself making progress, a word per minute at a time!

I am a firm believer in incremental practice.  I would break a five-minute take into five one-minute segments, and I would practice the first minute until my notes were just about copperplate.  If I had to break up that one minute into smaller segments, that’s what I would do.  I would write and rewrite the words or phrases that would trip me up.  Only when I mastered the first minute of that take would I move on to the second minute.  Talk about slow going!

I would repeat this process for each minute in the five-minute take.  When I felt I had just about mastered each individual minute, I would try writing error free for the full five minutes.  That was a true endurance test.  I would not practice at speeds too high over my head.  I felt that was counterproductive.  That approach works for some people, but it didn’t for me.

When I went to school, we had paper notes.  I read my notes after each take so that I could see what my errors were.  Seeing your errors in black and white is not only humbling but very instructive.  You can see that you drag your ring finger or you make the same misstroke over and over again.  Learn from your mistakes and make them a nonissue because, believe me, there will always be other issues that will need your attention!

It is not how long your practice session is but how effective your practice session is that counts.  You can sit for hours, days, and weeks writing on a machine, going through the motions, hoping to make progress through osmosis, but unless your practice sessions are deliberate, disciplined, and consistent, you will not progress as quickly as might otherwise be possible.  Don’t waste your time with mindless practice!  Set realistic goals for yourself and don’t get discouraged.  Continue to practice correctly, and you will make progress.  It took me many, many months to finally pass my 160, but after I passed it, then I passed my 180 fairly shortly thereafter.  My 225 was another roadblock, and a big one, but that one came in due time as well.

I am not a full-time working reporter these days, as I now focus my attention on office management matters.  It has been about 15 years since I last reported on a full-time basis.  I am called out occasionally these days, sometimes on a last-minute emergency, and it does give me great angst and feelings of trepidation, but I really believe that all the hours I put in the bank, so to speak, still serve me well after long absences from daily reporting.

I always say that graduating from court reporting school was the hardest challenge I’ve had to face.  Earning that two-year degree was harder than earning my bachelor’s.  But it paid off in the end and has provided me with a comfortable life, a front seat to litigants’ stores, a unique and ongoing education, and a deep pride in knowing that I am the only one in the room who can do what I do!

“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!

COURT REPORTING AS A CAREER CHOICE

The National Court Reporters Association has launched its newest initiative called “Court Reporting:  Take Note,” details of which can be found at www.crtakenote.com.  It is designed to promote the profession to those who may be unaware of court reporting as a career choice.  Court reporting is an attractive career for so many reasons.  It offers a decent starting salary, flexibility, innumerable learning opportunities, and room to grow professionally.  Best of all, it is estimated that 5,500 openings will be available in the next five years; and as those in the profession know, there is always a need for certified reporters.

Is court reporting a good career choice for you?  Here are some traits that successful court reporters possess:

  • A love of language and learning.  Only reporters would have fun at all-day seminars learning and debating about grammar and punctuation!  We enjoy language, vocabulary building, and word games.  Court reporters have a front seat to all kinds of disputes, so every day can be a learning experience.  If you listen and pay attention, it amounts to a free education.  You will be exposed to medical issues, technical matters, and human nature in general.  This profession satisfies the curious mind.
  • Self-discipline.  This trait is an absolute necessity for success in this field.  From the get-go, one must make the commitment to practice daily to master theory and then gain speed even when it becomes a tedious grind.  Then when you are reporting, you must stay focused and work when there may be many distractions in your life, and you will have to edit your transcripts and meet your deadlines when you would rather be shopping or going out on the town.
  • Attention to detail/organizational skills.  Every assignment has its own players, stipulations, and idiosyncrasies.  It is up to you as the reporter to keep every detail straight on each case, which may not be easy, especially if you are working on a half dozen cases at a time.  You should not rely on memory alone.  Meticulous notes and exceptional organizational skills will keep everything on track and running smoothly.
  • Willingness to embrace change.  The court reporting field has undergone major changes throughout its history, mostly in the area of technology.  Today the gold standard is providing a wireless, instantaneous voice-to-text realtime feed.  Reporters who embrace the technological changes and are committed to staying abreast of the latest advances are in high demand and are well compensated for their exceptional skill.  They will have job security for as long as they choose to work; however, those who do not embrace and utilize all that technology has to offer will be left behind.
  • Commitment to professional development.  To stay relevant in today’s market, a reporter needs to continue to improve his/her skills, attain additional certifications, and attend conferences to learn from the profession’s leaders.  Learning takes many forms, so there are many ways to keep abreast of current events and broaden your horizons.  The more informed you are, the more word knowledge you have, the better prepared you will be to produce a quality transcript.

As an aside, reporters who have experience playing musical instruments tend to do well in this field.  Familiarity with a practice regimen, finger strength and dexterity, and eye/hand/ear coordination may be some reasons.  (There is no scientific study that verifies this, but the link is well documented and is borne out by many within our ranks.)

In closing, court reporting is a demanding and challenging career, but it is also rewarding and personally fulfilling.  If you are considering becoming a court reporter, I would encourage you to examine the traits mentioned above to see if you are suited for this profession in temperament, skill set, and work ethic.  Because of the unique demands of a court reporting program, if you do not see a correlation, this may not be the profession for you.  But if you do see these qualities in yourself, chase the dream.  The profession needs you!

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.