Scottsdale, Arizona – April 19-22, 2013
As a member of NCRA’s Technical Evaluation Committee, I attended the second annual TechCon conference held in Scottsdale, Arizona. The event brings together the leading minds of technology in the court reporting field, as well as vendors who continue to enhance and build out their service offerings.
One thing that struck me with the CAT vendors as well as those who provide streaming capabilities – the days of wires are definitely numbered. Most systems are moving to delivery of Realtime services either through a local area network, where your router becomes your “send” device as opposed to the old telephone cables and serial port connectors, or a system such as Stenocast which uses Bluetooth technology, or through a wide area network, again using either an external router or your internal virtual port.
Almost all of the vendors I visited have either released or are about to release this technology integration with their software.
It also seems apparent to me that our PCs are going to go by way of the do-do bird as well, and one day in the very near future (in fact it’s here already) we will all be working on tablets of one form or another. Sandy Bunch Vanderpol, one of our leading technologists/realtime reporters, is already using Case Catalyst completely on her new Microsoft Surface Pro tablet. While the Surface Pro is a little thicker than, say, an iPad, it’s is very, very lightweight and small compared to most PCs. She is using the Surface Pro’s internal audio for both simultaneously recording and listening to testimony; she can use its built-in camera for video streaming; and as well there are peripherals one can purchase in order to display the screen up onto an LCD projector or other viewing device. But again, it should be noted, she is using very little by way of “connections” to the Surface Pro; it doesn’t have USB ports, for example, that we normally see on a PC. That means you’ve got to move completely with the current technology in order to use the Surface Pro as your new “laptop.”
Whether we like it or not, technology will continue to push us in new directions, and I would encourage all stenographic court reporters
to attend programs that both NCRA and the CSRAO deliver in order to ensure your continued value and productivity well into the future.
For years I was an occasional skier; both my sons played hockey, and our life was at the rink. However, we had some good friends who had a lovely place down in Colorado and always invited us to join them every year for a ski week, and I got a taste for how much fun skiing could be. However, when you’re an occasional or part-time skier, do you really want to spend a thousand plus dollars on skis, boots and, of course, the outfit? It’s hard to justify.
Fast forward to this winter. I am lucky enough to have a friend who invited me up to her ski club. Off I go in my old stuff, and need to quit by lunch because I’m finding the skiing by the afternoon a bit of a slog – the snow is a bit slushy or like “mashed potatoes” as Pat likes to say, and my knees weren’t too happy. The next time she invited me up I thought, well, I’ve got to at least have the outfit so if I do fall, I’ll at least look good. The apparel I bought was so much lighter than what I had and warmer. I felt great going down the hill next time, but still felt that feeling of “slogging” through. By this time I’ve made a few friends on the hill and they gently asked me how old my equipment was…seven years, I said. By the look on their face I could tell that maybe that was a bit old. Anyway, it was demo day at the hill and I was encouraged to try on a few other pairs of skis and wow, I could really ski! I could keep up, I could get through the slog and my knees weren’t hurting! Since it’s the end of season, I got the new skis and felt great. But one more problem. I have terribly cold feet most of the time. But I found out they have this great thing called boot warmers that you plug in to charge before use and they keep your feet warm all day. Wow!
So my last day of skiing I had the right equipment and my friends commented I had improved by 100% (I know they were being kind, that’s a pretty high number), but I definitely had improved.
Was it my skill? Maybe a little, because I was more practised by the time all this had happened. But I also believe it was my equipment – by updating to the latest technology, I improved my skill set measurably (and looked good too!)
I thought about this and realized this is akin to what I preach about court reporters
having the latest equipment and technology – it will make you better. You definitely have to have the skills – no doubt about it – but having the tools to work with that are modern and can take advantage of the latest technological know-how is absolutely essential to performing at your peak, whether you’re a part-time or full-time reporter.
This analogy can even extend to how we dress for work. At the ski hill, I want to wear something that is functional but also makes me feel good and helps me to at least look like I know what I’m doing. When we attend an examination for discovery, a deposition
or a hearing, we need to dress our best to transmit visually to the client that we are professionals and that we mix in well with our clientele. When everyone around you is in a suit and tie, it’s not okay to wear your flip-flops and strapless sun dress. You transmit the thought of oh-oh, who the heck is this? And likewise we need to be comfortable at the shorthand machine, and not trying to fix ourselves every two minutes because our skirt is too short!
I’m looking forward to learning more next season, and I will continue to apply my court reporting theory of equipment to this fun sport.
For the second year in a row, the National Court Reporters’ Association
will be hosting the TechCon conference, to be held this year in Scottsdale, Arizona. TechCon
has ostensibly replaced what was commonly known as “Mid-Year,” turning a more generic conference with a very specific, technology-focussed event.
When I think back to when I started court reporting in 1982, this would have been unheard of. I had a manual steno machine, a ribbon I had to ink which allowed my shorthand to appear graphically onto a paper tape, and then I typed my transcripts on a typewriter, or dictated my notes for my typist on a reel to reel tape machine! Not a whole lot of technology happening there.
Shorthand reporting has led the way in integrating technology and the creation of the record. From the days of paper notes, today’s agenda if replete with the latest advancements, such as:
- Streaming realtime to mobile devices
- Wireless networking
- Videography production, including transcript integration
- Utilizing MPEG 4 for legal video
- Windows 8
- Organization Technology…
…not to mention the ability to become a qualified Realtime Systems Administrator among other certifications.
To highlight, consider these selected areas:
Videography goes hand-in-glove with stenographic court reporting: it requires that both parties work together so that the transcript and the video match one another perfectly.
Realtime reporting does not happen without a highly trained stenographer and technology.
Internet streaming of both captioning and court reporting does not happen without a highly trained steno writer and technology.
Hyperlinking of exhibits to the transcript does not happen without a properly formatted transcript, a scanner and the software to bring it all together.
These are but a few examples of how stenographic court reporters and captioners have integrated technology into their everyday work life. While the typewriter was a lot easier in many ways and one didn’t have to learn something new practically every six months, the benefits of the marriage of stenography and technology have created true value to the delivery of the spoken word in ways we never imagined even 20 years ago.
I would encourage all stenographic reporters to attend TechCon – you can’t help but learn some valuable skills!
Kim Neeson will not only be attending TechCon, but she will be a part of a panel discussion on keeping abreast of technology as well as giving a talk on organizational tools for running your business.
Over the last year, I’ve been struck by the type of gift giving and incentives that are put forward by various court reporting companies in our community. As a person who has always believed in ethics first, I have struggled with how Neeson could, with integrity, compete with things such as an all-expense-paid trip to Vegas that an assistant could win simply by placing a booking for court reporting services; days at the spa as a reward for booking at a particular court reporting firm; and large scale parties at chic locations where the alcohol flows freely. My belief is a firm should be booked because it is the right place to conduct a discovery or hearing for you and your client. I also believe that this type of gift giving really belongs to the client, the person who is ultimately paying the disbursement of fees to a court reporting agency. Lastly, these types of incentives fly in the face of many corporate and governmental policies that have strict gift acceptance guidelines, not to mention possible Revenue Canada implications for gifts accepted over a certain monetary value. (Imagine if your law firm was audited and it was discovered that your assistant accepted a gift of the value of an all-inclusive trip to Vegas…would the firm be responsible for taxes on the value of the gift?)
However, I do believe that giving back and thanking our clients is really important and a great thing to do. That is why I have created Neeson’s give-back to our community, the Say It Forward program. When transcripts are ordered and paid for, Neeson & Associates will deposit credits with a “redemption for services” value. These credits may be used towards our transcript and other ancillary services for pro bono matters that a law firm has taken on.
If the firm doesn’t have a pro bono matter where our services can be used, or cannot use the credits for other reasons, you can still take part in the Say It Forward Program. “Pay it forward” by donating those credits to Pro Bono Law Ontario so that those for whom access to justice is simply not financially possible may benefit from the SIF credits.
Together we can make a difference in the lives of many Ontarians. I know that Neeson’s clients are committed to the highest ethical standards of the legal profession and Say It Forward Program is in keeping with that very important principle in the delivery of justice for all.
To enroll, please contact Sharon at Sharon@NeesonCourtReporting.com.
As one is apt to do at this time of year, I have spent some time reflecting on the year 2012 and to assess what we accomplished at Neeson Court Reporting
. One thing is for sure – technology played a large role in our company in the year 2012.
Below are a few highlights:
- Streaming audio, video and realtime transcription through the internet
Prior to 2012, realtime transcription was possible but if the parties wanted to also have an audio and video feed as well, then complicated, expensive equipment and technology was required to provide this. Enter LiveDeposition.com – this software allows the court reporter to provide all three services easily through the internet at a fraction of the cost of previous technology. LiveDeposition also allows users to leverage private chat features and an ability to upload documents for all to share.
This fall I upgraded my old MiFi mobile hotspot, which worked well when it worked (and it often couldn’t hold a signal) to a new Mobile Hotspot on the 4G network. This unit is extremely stable, has picked up and sustained an excellent signal in places I previously had difficulty with and, best of all, it allows me to provide not only myself but counsel who are working with me access to the internet in venues where internet is not available. I can connect up to 10 users to my new hotspot and services, such as realtime streaming, are never an issue at any location.
Last year, we offered our clients the choice of using typical videoconferencing between Polycom type units, or using an internet product such as Skype, which is not a terribly reliable way to connect in legal settings. Neeson
has invested in new technology which allows people to connect easily and securely through our new “MyMobileCourtReporter” service. Whether you wish to connect via your videoconference unit or computer, we can provide the interface to make that happen. So if your witness is located in a remote area of the province, or in another country altogether, he can use his laptop and you can choose between using a traditional videoconference system or your computer.
I’m excited to see what technology will bring in 2013. The pace at which things are changing is really staggering, and my next blog will cover the technology I have used since beginning my career in court reporting.
As president of the Chartered Shorthand Reporters’ Association of Ontario, and as a member of the Technical Evaluation Committee of the National Court Reporters’ Association, I am in a unique position of being privy to a lot of information that people in the legal profession aren’t hearing about on a larger scale. The one thing that has struck me more than anything this fall is the seemingly rampant replacement of certified court reporters for digital audio recording (DAR) technology across North America.
Many lawyers and judges I talk to often think that DAR technology is akin to voice recognition. It is not. DAR is a passive way of recording proceedings. It is not interactive. It does not create a written record. It is only “realtime” in the sense that it records as people are speaking, but it only does that – record. If someone mumbles, it records mumbling. If someone taps paper at their microphone (inadvertently), it records the tapping of paper. If someone steps away from the periphery of the microphone, it records nothing. It does not ask people to speak clearly, it does not ask people to repeat something when someone has coughed and has made hearing anything else impossible, it does not ask for spellings nor does it provide for the viewing of testimony in realtime on a laptop so that annotations, searches and transcript review can be performed on-the-spot.
The argument made by most governments who replace certified court reporters is that the DAR system is much cheaper to operate. DAR doesn’t require a pension or benefits. DAR doesn’t get sick. DAR doesn’t take vacation. It all sounds great, doesn’t it? But the problem is DAR doesn’t produce a written record. It is a recording one would need to listen to in order to locate certain pieces of speech, for example, whereas the written record uses search functions on a computer to locate areas of testimony in seconds. So what’s the value of time here? If a law clerk has to re-listen to six hours of testimony in order to find that needle in the haystack, instead of spending minutes using technology to search for that same needle in a certified written transcript, what is more cost effective? And who is paying for that additional cost?
I wouldn’t argue that DAR cannot create a good audio record. In many cases it can. Will there be failures? Of course. Like any piece of equipment, such as your computer, things do happen. The DAR may not be activated, thereby causing no recording; it may have inaudible areas because of a number of reasons, such as interference of other noises, etc. A court reporter certainly knows when their equipment isn’t working!
Regardless of the method, a written transcript is still going to be required. So the question remains, who will provide the transcription and certification of same? Previous to the introduction of this system certified court reporters provided the transcription as they were the reporter present at the hearing. Will transcripts now be produced by typing pools, where the people who prepare your transcripts were never in your hearing, do not have access to the documents and all the information they contain – like spellings, acronyms, quotations – let alone the proven fact that if five people prepare your transcript, you will have five interpretations of what is being heard on that audio recording?
What is the price of error, of mishearing, of misunderstanding by untrained transcriptionists? What is the cost to the accused whose transcript is not accurate? What is the cost to a litigant whose life’s work may depend on that transcript? Too high, I would argue, to be left with DAR alone.
I will always remember the independent testing done on this type of DAR system in the nineties, and the transcriptions bearing many, many mistakes including the famous “Sprinkler of Canada” in place of “Supreme Court of Canada.” Can anyone using the legal system afford this?
If you are in the position where you have a recording of a hearing to be transcribed, do not pay the high price outlined above. Be sure to use a certified court reporter who has the training and experience to understand how to prepare a transcript – this much you can control. By using a court reporter, such as those our firm employs, you will end up with a transcript that is consistent in its setup, spellings, structure and will be completely user-friendly when it comes time for you or your law clerk to ferret out all those things you look for in the transcript, because the transcripts will be in a format that works best with your litigation support packages.
Like many government initiatives where budgets are in crunch mode, it is the public that pays the price in additional user fees. It will now be up to the users of the system to protect their clients by ensuring that quality is maintained in this service area of the law.
For further information contact Neeson & Associates at firstname.lastname@example.org
Since posting my last blog on the topic of court reporting certifications, I have been inundated with calls from prospective students looking for answers to a number of the same questions. I thought it might be helpful to put them into a blog for easy reference.
Q. Will the NCRA approved course at 225 wpm mean that I will be ready to write realtime, in either a litigation setting or a CART/captioning setting, when I graduate from school and/or pass NCRA’s exams?
A. By achieving 225 wpm with 97% accuracy, you will be in a great position to begin your career as a court reporter. However, you will need to continue to build your speed and your dictionary, as well as mastering your accuracy in writing, before you will be ready to embark on one of these careers. School is one thing – experience is another. Most do not enter these fields before a minimum of one to two years of experience. Some never do master the entire package of speed, accuracy and dictionary; some cannot deal with the stress levels that come with writing in realtime. So by achieving your 225, by no means does this ensure that you will actually become a realtime writer.
Q. I understand there is a Court Reporting Diploma awarded at a speed of 160 wpm with 95% accuracy. What can I expect to do with this diploma?
A. First, let’s be clear that there is no “Court Reporting Diploma” anywhere else in North America that is awarded at 160 wpm with any percentage accuracy. This is a school-initiated diploma that is not recognized by any provincial, state or national organization, including the Chartered Shorthand Reporters’ of Ontario or the National Court Reporters’ Association.
With only 160 wpm, if you are lucky enough to get employment somewhere, you will have to have at least two digital audio backups so that you can actually (hopefully) create an accurate, verbatim transcript. Heaven help you and the firm that employs you if your audio system fails you. In no way are you recognized as a court reporter skilled in shorthand. My advice: if your goal is to achieve 160 wpm and you want to be in the court reporting business, then become a digital audio monitor or digital court reporter. You are in no better position to prepare a verbatim record than this group of people.
Some have been advised that they can go on at this speed to become a medical transcriptionist or an off-line captioner. Well, if you wanted to be a transcriptionist, I’m not sure why you’d take a court reporting course – think about it. While some court reporters (who are usually writing at 200 wpm) do go on to become off-line captioners, at 160 wpm you will really be no quicker than a fast keyboarder. If a person is speaking at 250 wpm, at 160 you are only getting 44% of what is being said!
Q. What is the job market like for court reporters?
A. The job market is mixed in the GTA. Court reporters come in many shapes and sizes – stenographers, stenomaskers, voice writers, digital audio monitors and digital court reporters. There is no licensing requirement in Ontario, and therefore in theory anyone could call themselves a court reporter. However, whatever your method, training in the creation of a verbatim record is absolutely required. You will enter a job market, therefore, that sees competition from all these areas. As well, new technology is on the horizon which utilizes voice recognition software, and while someone would still need to monitor this software and complete a certified transcript, new advances in this area cannot be ignored for those looking for a long-term career.
Unfortunately in Ontario, the Ministry of the Attorney General has installed digital audio equipment in all of their courtrooms and now employs monitors to sit in court and prepare transcripts. They are not hiring shorthand reporters at this time.
For those highly skilled and experienced court reporters who can provide same day rough draft and realtime (instantaneous voice-to-text translation) services, there remains a demand for people with this specialized expertise.
On the CART/captioning side, one must have a high degree of skill before being gainfully employed in this sector. The demand for CART/captioning is still high, as legislation for the provision of these services is in place in Ontario.
Q. What type of earnings can I expect?
A. In the freelance market, court reporters starting out can expect to make anywhere from $20,000 to $35,000, depending on the following factors:
* location of firm(s) where you work
* amount of work available
* your skill set to do the job (for example, you’re not likely to get that realtime job in year one or two!)
* your place in the hierarchy of the firm(s) you work with
* your availability to work (i.e. nights, weekends, days booked out)
Those court reporters with more experience can expect to earn anywhere from $30,000 to $55,000 per year. Realtime reporters and those who can provide all the “bells and whistles” may earn anywhere from $65,000 per year to over $100,000 per year, but it should be noted that these reporters represent a very small fraction of the total number of court reporters working in the field.
All those working in the freelance field will see their earnings fluctuate from year to year and should expect both “high” years and “low” years.
In the CART/captioning world, earnings will vary anywhere from $35,000 per year for a beginner to upwards of $85,000 and perhaps higher, again depending on most of the factors listed previously.
Q. The school I inquired with says they don’t know their graduation success rate. Is there a way to find this out?
A. I happened to have asked one school on a blog they posted the following question:
“You indicate most of your graduates have found work – would you be prepared to share the number of people who have enrolled in your school over the last five years and provide numbers of those who are gainfully working in the court reporting area?”
And I received the following answer:
“We share these facts and statistics with prospective students and the Ministry. We agree t hat one cannot report verbatim at 160 wpm.”
I can add here that statistics show that approximately 10-12% of those who take the court reporting course will actually achieve the requirements needed to go on to a career in either court reporting or captioning/CART. Those statistics are based on a pass rate of 225 wpm at 97% accuracy. Anecdotally, from a class of 30, I was the only person who graduated and went on to have a successful career in court reporting. There are no statistics available for those who achieve a “Court Reporting Diploma” at 160 wpm as this is not recognized as a certificate in any way, shape or form except by those who created it and those supplied numbers to the Ministry, one presumes.
Q. Is court reporting the right career choice for me?
A. That’s a hard question to answer because one size does not fit all. You may be one of those court reporting “stars” who can do it all and go on to a great career. I suggest people create a “pros and cons” list on a sheet of paper, and think about things like:
- What is the cost of the course?
- How long is the course?
- What will it cost me if I take the course (earnings, for example, especially for those for whom this might be a second career – this is a two year course minimum).
- How much time do I have to devote to speedbuilding and studying?
- What are my personal time commitments already (family, job, interests, lifestyle)?
- What is the likely success rate for this course (I suggest using 10-12%)?
- What are my potential earnings?
- If I don’t achieve 225 wpm with 97% accuracy, what are my employment possibilities?
- Am I guaranteed a job at the end of this?
- How long do I want this career to last?
- Do I have any health concerns (i.e. inability to handle stress, carpal tunnel syndrome, back/neck/shoulder conditions, other)?
- What is my ability to concentrate for long periods of time (reporters can sit upwards of seven hours a day)?
- Am I able to sacrifice evenings, weekends and other events in order to be a court reporter/captionist/CART provider, whether delivering services or preparing transcripts?
- Do I like to work sitting at a keyboard (whether steno machine or computer) for long periods of time?
- Am I a fast typist now?
- I played a keyboard instrument as a kid and did so fairly well (this might go onto the pro side of the sheet).
You may think of other things, but that’s a good start. Another excellent thing to do when considering this path is to talk to other firm owners or working court reporters. It is best to talk to at least three different individuals who do not work together to get a true sense of the market and hiring requirements, etc.
The Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities advises that students should take a “buyer beware” approach to enrolling in any school – so performing your due diligence is your responsibility!
You may think of other questions I haven’t addressed here. If so, please send them to email@example.com and we’ll try to answer them for you! Good luck in making an informed decision.