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!

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. 

IF…

This one little word became a matter of contention between the parties in a lawsuit, and our reporter was at the center of the dispute.

This reporter has 40 years’ experience and has earned several NCRA credentials, but this little word got by her.  She did not hear the “if” in the witness’s answer.  She produced a rough and subsequently produced a 200-page final transcript, both of which did not contain the “if.” 

IFCounsel called and asked that she check her notes.  He just noted the page and line number he was concerned about and did not suggest what he was looking for in particular. 

Obviously the “if” was not in her notes; but after she checked the audio, she realized that indeed the “if” was missing in the answer.  This changed the meaning of the answer.  We notified opposing counsel of the error, and of course he disputed this newfound information.

After several phone calls and emails back and forth, the matter was thankfully resolved.  Our reporter obviously made an error, since the “if” was clearly heard on the audio.  There really was no dispute as to what the correct answer should have been.  Corrected transcripts and electronic files had to be resent to all involved.

This reminds me of another very experienced and qualified reporter, an RDR, who was challenged because of the word “a” in her transcript.  I forget the specifics of this example because it happened quite awhile ago. 

The point of all this is that sometimes it’s the smallest of words that can cause the biggest problems.  Think of all the words the reporter correctly took down that day, 200 pages worth.  She missed just one, but it was a very consequential one.  If it can happen to her, an RMR, CRR, it can happen to anyone. 

As students, you are acutely aware of this.  Each time you miss a word during testing, however small, it counts as an error.  In a testing situation the word “if” carries the same weight as a multisyllabic word. 

Of course we are only human and mistakes do happen.  Unfortunately in our line of work, it’s our mistakes that jump off the page, not the thousands of words we write correctly.  Unbelievably, on very rare occasions, 99.999 percent accuracy is sometimes not good enough.

To further emphasize just how critical the little words can be, please take a moment to read the article about a capital murder case that got rejected by the Supreme Court due to a discrepancy between the words “may” versus “must.”

“Your smile is your logo, your personality is your business card, how you leave others feeling after having an experience with you becomes your trademark.” ~ Jay Danzie ~

I came across this quote by Jay Danzie, and I love it because it can be applied to people doing all kinds of work in a multitude of settings. I thought it would be interesting to apply the concept to court reporters. These are my thoughts:

Your attitude is your LOGO;
Your professionalism is your BUSINESS CARD; and
Your transcripts become your TRADEMARK.

Think about it. You present at a law firm ready for work. What impression do you make? Are you pleasant and friendly, or do you grouse about your morning, the commute, the weather? Of course everyone has a bad day every now and then, but if you arrive with a bad attitude often enough, people will remember you for that. No one wants to work all day next to a sourpuss. My son’s first-grade teacher always said, “A smile goes a mile,” and it really is true! People respond positively to upbeat energy. Let this be your LOGO.

Second on the list is your professionalism. I have had the privilege of working alongside superb professionals for decades, and they all possess the same traits: a desire to excel; a commitment to learning and self-improvement; and a pledge to consistently provide a positive customer service experience. Their work ethic is exceptional. They always rise to the occasion to get the job done, even if inconvenient to them. They are our profession’s best ambassadors. Put your best professional self forward always. Let this be your BUSINESS CARD.

Lastly, what it all comes down to is your transcripts. Are they error-free? This is, after all, the ultimate goal. The transcripts, which you carefully prepare and personally certify, will be pored over months, and sometimes years, down the road. When memories have long faded, the record will stand as confirmation of what transpired. People’s lives and livelihoods depend on timely, high quality transcripts, and so does your precious reputation. Let this be your TRADEMARK.

Court Reporter Pride

Whenever I am in a deposition and look at all the participants seated around the table, many of whom have advanced degrees and expertise, I feel a deep sense of pride.  No one else in this room can do what I do!  This deposition does not go forward without me!  I can record every word spoken and quickly produce a transcript which the attorneys will carefully review and use to build their case.  They are relying on my skills to do what they cannot do, and, yes, that makes me proud.

There are other methods out there that aim to do the same thing we do, but no method is superior to the court reporter, verbatim voice-to-text specialists.  During the course of a deposition, split-second decisions are constantly being made on the fly — making briefs, distinguishing between homonyms, adding punctuation — and our amazing brains and nimble fingers work in conjunction to listen, process, and execute.  We can provide expedited delivery.  We can showcase our skills in realtime and provide usable rough drafts at the end of the day.  We can provide a secure realtime feed over the cloud directly to their laptops and iPads.  As the technology has become more advanced, attorneys have come to expect more from us, and it is our responsibility to deliver.

If we are to remain indispensable to the legal community, we must continue to embrace change, improve our skills, and stay abreast of the latest trends and developments in our profession by taking advantage of the seminars sponsored by our state and national associations.  We must also conduct ourselves in a professional manner at all times, treating all parties with equal regard and impartiality, basically adhering to NCRA’s Code of Professional Ethics.  In these ways we earn the respect of the attorneys we work with, the respect of our colleagues, and the respect of the general public.  We can hold our heads high because we know the value we offer to the judicial system and, by extension, the community at large.  THAT’S court reporter pride.