Tardiness – The High Cost of Being Late

This is such an important topic, especially in this busy age.  I’m sure you know of someone who is chronically late and how annoying that can be.  Being late for social engagements is one thing; being late for a client is a whole other story.  If you hold a job, it is your responsibility to be on time.  In the court reporting world, being on time actually means getting to your assignment early.

The following verse speaks to this perfectly:

If you are early, you are on time.
If you are on time, you are late.
If you are late, you are in trouble.

As a court reporter, it is best if you get to your assignment a half an hour earlier than the designated start time.  It is always wise to account for traffic and public transportation snafus, both of which are pretty much a certainty on any given day.  You do not want to keep everyone waiting for your arrival, and you do not want a call placed to your agency wondering where you are and what your ETA is.  Not a good start to any day!

If you arrive early, it will give you a chance to set up, check your connections, troubleshoot any problems, look over any pleadings, input dictionary entries, and even relax if just for a moment.  This is valuable time to collect your thoughts and prepare for what lies ahead.  Soon people will be arriving, and you will need to properly identify them, determine whom they are representing, and note them on your seating chart.  Once this is done, everyone involved can get down to the business at hand with no time wasted.

To be early is to be on time

Contrast this scenario with one where you arrive late to a deposition.  Everyone is seated around the table ready to go.  You’re doing your best to set up quickly, and you feel all eyes upon you.  As luck would have it, you’re having a problem with your equipment.  You call for technical support and get put on hold.  Now the attorneys are tapping their fingers and checking their watches.  You finally get your issue resolved, but you can’t go on the record yet.  You still have to ask for a caption and find out who everyone is.  More time goes by, and the attorney who hired you is seeing dollar bills fly out the window because he’s paying the expert $500 an hour for his time.  To complicate matters, imagine if the attorneys had only a certain amount of time to conduct their examinations per court order, had to catch a flight at a certain time, or were paying for the video conferencing at an off-hour rate of $400 an hour.  Yes, time is money.

As a reporter, you never want to be the reason for a late start.  Why?  If you cannot be counted on to arrive at your assignments early, it calls into question your professionalism in other areas, such as your organizational/ time management skills and your attention to detail:  in short, your competence.  It is inconsiderate and disrespectful to negatively impact the schedules of busy people who need to be productive at a high level.  It also reflects poorly on the agency which works very hard to promote a professional image with an emphasis on customer service and satisfaction.

Depositions can start, and often do, with the understanding that an attorney will be arriving late, but depositions cannot go forward without the court reporter.  The reporters who work for this office would rather arrive an hour early than be one minute late.  True professionals, they realize that tardiness is detrimental to their reputations and careers, so they do all they can to ensure that they arrive to their assignments early, not merely on time.

THE KEY TO FINDING A STUDY/LIFE BALANCE

With all the talk these days about finding a happy work/life balance, I began thinking about you, court reporting students, and how you must be struggling to find a study/life balance and how you might best achieve some semblance of harmony in your pursuit of becoming working reporters one day.

I fear that the many challenges you are facing are truly daunting, and I empathize.  In an ideal world, you would be unencumbered with pressing obligations so you can practice as often as you like without distraction.  The real world is another story.  With only so many hours in a day, the tug from all sides can be overwhelming.  So how can you make time on your machine yet have time for other things in your life?

The key is great time management skills.  If you possess this trait, you are ahead of the game.  If you do not, you should take deliberate steps to foster it.  Lack of time management skills will hinder your progress on your machine and the deleterious effects will plague you throughout your career.  Successful reporters have learned the value of managing their time well.  They prioritize their work, avoid procrastination, and meet their deadlines.  This is a constant.

No matter how hectic your schedule, you must carve out at least two hours of quality practice time each day.  If you have children, if you work, or if you are caring for an elderly loved one, for example, it will certainly be challenging.  Finishing school in a timely manner, however, rests on a commitment to a regular practice regimen.  Your steady progress depends on it.

It doesn’t matter when you practice during the day as long as you find the time.  Ideally, you should practice when you feel at your best.  If you feel most alert in the morning, put in your two hours of uninterrupted practice before you take on your other responsibilities; or if you have a block of time available every day, devote that time to practice and nothing else.  Make it a habit, a nonnegotiable part of your day.  Don’t let excuses sabotage your goal.  Organize your schedule so that your practice time is prioritized.

Designate a quiet place free of distraction where you can practice, an environment you can more or less control.  When you sit in your chair in that space, you can get right down to business, bear down and sweat out whatever the goal is for that particular session:  reviewing briefs, tackling tricky fingering phrases, or mastering a two-minute take.

Once your practice time is met, then you can concentrate on the other things in your life that need your attention, and you can do so with a clear conscience.  You won’t have the stress of your practice “requirement” hanging over your head.  You can put it on the back burner for the time being, knowing that you’ve put maximum effort into your full two-hour session.

If you learn to balance your study/life balance, you will reap the benefits as a reporter in finding your work/life balance.  There will always be obstacles and hurdles in life, and sometimes they will make it difficult to do your job; but if you have a healthy dose of self-discipline in conjunction with a strong work ethic, you will prevail.  This is why it is so important to master your theory, push for speed, read back, and correct your mistakes.  The untold hours you spend honing your writing skills now as a student, and later in the working world, will mean less time editing and more time for other obligations and maybe even some fun.  Imagine that!

If you keep your eye on the prize — graduation, certification, and a full-time job — it will keep you motivated to stick to a daily practice regimen; and if you can practice more than two hours a day, your goal may be within reach sooner.  Be one hundred percent “present” during your practice sessions, and you will see better results.

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.”

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!