YOU CAN EARN $100K AS A COURT REPORTER!!

We all know there is a court reporter shortage. Many court reporters are aging, nearing retirement, and there are not enough graduates in line to replace them. To compound the situation, the number of accredited schools has diminished considerably around the country due to low graduation rates and decreased enrollment.

Needless to say, NCRA is pushing to rectify this situation through their Court Reporting, Take Note campaign, which can be found at http://www.crtakenote.com. NCRA is heavily promoting court reporting as a career that offers flexible hours, job security, character building, and an average starting salary of $45,000.

So when I see ads or news reports touting $100,000 salaries, I cringe. Court reporting can be a lucrative career, especially if you are a top-tier professional, but luring potential students into this vocation thinking that $100,000 salaries are the norm I think is irresponsible. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics figures for May of 2012, the top ten percent of reporters earned $90,530, the bottom ten percent earned $24,790, and the mean salary was $48,160.

If you are contemplating becoming a court reporter, it is important that you not base your decision on potential earnings alone. Before one dime is invested in your education, you should honestly evaluate how you stack up in terms of temperament, skill set, and work ethic, all qualities addressed in a previous blog. With that in mind, there are other things to consider: How much time will you realistically have to devote to your studies? Do you work full time? Do you have challenges in your personal life, such as child/elder care or your own health issues? All these factors could prove distracting and could potentially delay or even derail your goal of graduating in a timely fashion.

Yes, $100,000 salaries are certainly attainable, but the reporters earning those incomes by and large have NCRA’s RMR, RDR, and CRR certifications. These designations have been earned over the course of their careers, not upon graduation.

SPEED IS IMPORTANT BUT…

The major focus of court reporting school is to write faster.  As a student, this process becomes ingrained in your psyche.  It is your quest.  You practice for months on end, pass a test, and the seemingly never-ending cycle continues.

Why does speed matter?  For one, it allows you to write comfortably.  Nothing is worse on an assignment, or more exhausting mentally and physically, than struggling to get every word and playing catch-up all day.  Having speed also allows you to write more cleanly, which will translate into better read-back on the job and less editing time afterward; and when you get more experience under your belt, you will be able to provide clean realtime feeds to counsel, a skill which is becoming more in demand with each passing day.  Lastly, speed matters because you will be in a better position to actually listen to the testimony that is unfolding before you and to learn what the lawsuit is about.  You will produce a better transcript if you understand the reason for the lawsuit and the parties’ positions on the issues.

Having adequate speed is one thing; having a speed cushion is even better.  A cushion will help you hang on during the fast spurts, endure very long-winded technical answers, and accurately record heated arguments between counsel in colloquy.

In a nutshell, having speed puts you in control.  You will be able to report all day with less stress and with confidence knowing you are getting the job done.  The truth is, and working reporters will tell you, that you can never write fast enough.  There are some witnesses that challenge even the most experienced reporters, which is why many continue to practice long after they have graduated from school.

So it may surprise you to learn that, as crucial as speed is, it isn’t everything!  What good does it do if you can write at 225 wpm but you don’t know how to punctuate or if you have inadequate word knowledge and choose the wrong word in context?  Your work product is being examined by intelligent and discerning people.  You wouldn’t want your reputation tarnished by errors, in black and white, for all to see.

Court reporting is part science and part art.  The science is the technical aspect of writing the words on your machine.  The art is using every tool at your disposal, along with your judgment and experience, to produce a transcript that accurately reflects what transpired.  This is your core responsibility.  A reporter must be competent in both areas, the science and the art, to be successful.

So while you are pushing for speed, remember not to overlook the other components that will make you a better reporter.  All accomplished reporters I know care about every word, its spelling, and usage.  They think about, sometimes agonize over, punctuation.  They know enough to research what they don’t know.  They read newspapers and magazines to improve their word knowledge and to keep abreast of current events and the world around them.  They are members of NCRA, and they attend its seminars.  They are organized, have excellent time management skills, and pay attention to detail.  These attributes are just as important as speed.  Being proficient in both areas will make you a reporter in high demand.

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.”

WHY CREDENTIALS SHOULD MATTER TO YOU

As a student you are probably in the throes of speedbuilding, pushing hard to pass your next test.  Maybe the more immediate goal of graduation seems a way down the road; and perhaps even further in the distance is the goal of attaining a certification, such as your RPR.  Be that as it may, it is not too early to incorporate the goal of certification into your current mindset.  It may seem a reach, unattainable at this point in your studies, but as Tony Robbins said, “Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible.” 

Why should credentials matter to you?  The first reason that comes to mind is job security.  The more credentials you have, the more valuable you will be to your employer and the more attractive you will be to potential employers.  NCRA’s credentials are useful benchmarks upon which others can judge your skills.  From an employer’s standpoint, there is a certain level of trust and comfort knowing that the reporter on the case has the skill necessary to get the job done.  For this reason there will always be a higher demand for Registered Merit Reporters, Registered Diplomate Reporters, and Certified Realtime Reporters.

Along with job security comes better income potential.  Those with the higher credentials will be given the more technical assignments.  This usually translates into higher page rates and requests for expedited delivery and realtime services, work that not all reporters are capable of.  Reporters with the higher credentials actually enjoy the more difficult cases and thrive on the sometimes complex challenges they present.  They have shown that they are not averse to pushing their abilities and keeping abreast of the latest developments in the field.

Of course there are assignments that can tax even the most seasoned professionals, but I think most would agree that having an RDR designation beside your name shields you from any claim of incompetency. What a confidence boost, knowing that you have proven your skills and knowledge through testing and have earned the endorsement of your professional organization.

But back to you, the student.  The message is to resolve to earn as many credentials as you can throughout your career, beginning with the RPR.  You are making a huge effort in time, money, heart, and soul.  Why not strive to be a GREAT reporter as opposed to an average one?  It may take years, but a commitment to your professional growth and development is one investment that will bring you job security, a comfortable income, and the respect of your colleagues and clients.

“You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.”  – Zig Zigler

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!