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!

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!