Friday April 25th 2014

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    Do you really want a verbatim transcript?

    I WANT — I WANT — I WANT A VERBATIM TRANSCRIPT!You can’t handle a verbatim transcript!

    Recently at the STAR conference of court reporting professionals, the topic came up of a truly verbatim record versus a somewhat cleaned up record – what was correct?  When I began court reporting, you were to insert every “um” and “ah,” every false start, and every stumble, because that was really verbatim – exactly what you said.

    However, like many things, court reporting continues to evolve and the most common thinking now is that a cleaner, more cohesive record is preferred for a number of reasons.  First, for the reader, the transcript may be easier to digest.  Second, embarrassing little speech ticks don’t really add much to the transcript.  And lastly, while the integrity of the record must be protected by court reporters at all costs, does the addition of three “that’s” at the beginning of a sentence really add anything to a transcript?

    Here are a couple of examples of true verbatim versus what I advance is verbatim in today’s terms.

    100% “OLD SCHOOL” VERBATIM:
    Q.   And then –
    A.   Um-hmm.
    Q.    – did you enter the premises –
    A.    Um-hmm.
    Q.    – to ascertain the whereabouts of the accused?
    A.   Yes.

    100% “NEW THINKING” VERBATIM:
    Q.   And then did you enter the premises to ascertain the whereabouts of the accused?
    A.   Yes.

    One other example:

    100% “OLD SCHOOL” VERBATIM:
    Q.   Okay.  And then – and then did you proceed to the location?
    A.   Yes.
    Q.   Okay.  Once at the location, what – what did you find?
    A.   I found the documents that – that I was looking for.
    Q.   Okay.  And can you describe that – those documents?
    A.   Umm, yes, the accounts receivable binder, the – the outstanding invoice binder and the cheque register.

    100% “NEW THINKING” VERBATIM:
    Q.   Okay.  And then did you proceed to the location?
    A.   Yes.
    Q.    Once at the location, what did you find?
    A.   I found the documents that – that I was looking for.
    Q.   And can you describe those documents?
    A.   Yes, the accounts receivable binder, the – the outstanding invoice binder and the cheque register.

    You will note that the answers remain 100% verbatim but for non-verbal utterances.

    Weigh into the conversation.  Do you think the “old school” way of thinking is best, or the “new thinking” with regard to verbatim court reporting?

    What I Learned at Golf – Students, this is for you!

    What I Learned at Golf

    Last year I wrote a blog about what I learned while skiing; funny how golf has its own lessons to give to!

    I was lucky enough to be playing the golf courses of Casa de Campo recently – home of The Teeth of the Dog, Dye Fore, The Links – and for those of you who golf, you’ll know how tough in particular The Teeth and Dye Fore are.

    Now, I’m not any great golfer. I really took the sport up to spend time with my two boys – they weren’t interested in going to spa for some reason. But playing on these courses was serious business. I didn’t want to look silly, yet I know where my skill level lies. But I decided then and there that I would concentrate, try hard, and not let the bad shots get me down.

    So as I put into practice those thoughts, I began to think about being a court reporter.

    In golf, you need the right set of clubs. It makes all the difference in the world. They need to be the right height, they need to be of a good quality, and you need to have enough sticks to be able to complete various shots. In court reporting, we need to have all the right equipment: a good, reliable shorthand machine, a reasonably new laptop, and the latest software. These are the tools of our trade.

    I also noticed in golf you need to make sure you’ve got a store of good accessories, like more than one golf ball, more than one tee, some suntan lotion, maybe some bug spray – things like that. In court reporting, you need to make sure you’ve got lots of good accessories too, like batteries, microphones, exhibit stickers and business cards. They’re all really important to our toolkit.

    Now, learning how to take a good swing, and following through – boy, those are key components to hitting the ball well. When everything came together, I hit about 200 yards off the tee – not bad for someone who had never even played 18 holes before! In court reporting, you’ve got to bring that same discipline to the table. It’s called practice, practice, practice. If you don’t practice your form (your writing) and your swing (your speed), you’ll never be a good court reporter, never mind a court reporter at all.

    Now, putting is more challenging. Sometimes I’d hit the ball just right, but most times it was more of a frustration and I’d hit it either a little too hard or a little too soft. I think students could compare this to writing speed tests. Sometimes you fall short, sometimes you try too hard or your nerves interfere, and sometimes you just get it right. But once you get it right – and by that I mean attain a particular speed – you still need to work on it and master it even further. Because I managed to do a few good putts does not make me a good putter – I’d need to do them over and over again to be sure I had really learned the skill…just like writing at various speeds!

    Lastly, there was the sweet spot – when the club meets the ball and makes that perfect “ping” sound, your form is executed properly, and the ball sails down the fairway to land in just the perfect spot for the next shot. For court reporting students, that’s the feeling you’ll get when you solidly accomplish a speed leg. There’s no feeling like it – the accomplishment, and the self-encouragement to keep going, to do better. That’s what you keep practising for – that wonderful, irreplaceable feeling!

    And I should give a shout-out to my golf partner and the caddy – both took the time to give me some tips, some encouragement, and some critiques – all of which I took in because it made me better. Students should do the same – sometimes we can’t see our own forest for our trees, and having a great teacher and mentor can be the difference between success and failure…as long as you’re listening and putting the advice into practice.

    Concerns persist over new court transcription system

    Although a recent settlement with salaried court reporters will allow the government to move forward with its plan to contract out certain elements of the transcription process, many in the industry remain confused about how the new system will work, says Toronto court reporter Kimberley Neeson.

    Law Times reports that the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) and the Ministry of the Attorney General have reached a settlement to resolve a dispute about the contracting out of court transcription work. As previously reported, last year OPSEU “accused the province of being in violation of the collective agreement by not applying it to court reporters who prepare and certify transcripts.”

    The deal will allow the ministry to move forward with a new model for the preparation and certification of court transcripts, starting in June.

    According to Law Times, “salaried court reporters will record proceedings but independent court transcriptionists will do the transcription phase of the work.” Transcriptionists will be selected from a list, with parties placing a transcript order directly with the authorized transcriptionist.

    Neeson, owner of Neeson & Associates Court Reporting and Captioning Inc., says concerns she voiced last year – about how the separation of the in-court recording of proceedings from the preparation of transcripts could affect the record – still remain.

    “The ministry still has not published a list of ‘approved’ transcribers. The system seems to be in disarray and the users of the system are still confused by how all of this will work. And we are concerned about the record, because previous experiences with testing of the digital audio recording (DAR)/transcriber model have failed abysmally, with errors in context, spelling, and syntax coupled with poor audio in some locations, remains, even today,” she says.

    Given the ministry’s move towards full implementation of the DAR/transcriber model, Neeson says it makes sense that they would want to settle the matter with OPSEU, allowing those who fall under the agreement to settle their claims and move on.

    “However, it doesn’t change the fact that all of our court reporters, and particularly I speak of the highly skilled shorthand reporters who have worked in court for many, many years, are unable to provide their services because their only choice is this: make a record using the DAR system, or leave the ministry. The shorthand method of reporting must now be left at the door for those who work with the ministry,” she adds.

    One positive aspect to the changes, says Neeson, may be the fact that parties who can afford to bring in their own court reporters may now do so, thereby providing choice in the marketplace.

    “In that scenario, those parties will be able to avail themselves of the latest technology and efficiencies in the creation of the record that has not been widely available before,” she says.

    However, she adds, this does create a two-tiered system.

    “I would think on a significant criminal case, for example, where the stakes are high, access to an excellent record provided in real time, etc., should be available as well,” says Neeson.

    When What Used to Work Just Won’t…

    For the last several years, the reporters at Neeson have been using the Stenocast realtime system with a lot of success.  Stenocast uses Bluetooth technology to send realtime data from the court reporter’s software to the recipient’s laptop and software using a “dongle” in the user’s USB port (whether in the litigation setting or for some of our hard of hearing clients who attending meetings and the like). Stenocast’s realtime system replaced all those annoying wires and allowed clients flexibility in where they sat in the room without regard to a wire length.  Stenocast was definitely a vast improvement over the old wired system.

    Recently, though, I became involved in a large piece of litigation that had a number of moving parts:  counsel who attended each deposition/examination changed at almost every witness; computers where we placed the Stenocast Bluetooth “receive” device changed constantly; we regularly moved the Bluetooth device to various USB ports in setting up.
    This all seemed to result in a colossal failure of the Stenocast system.  Back in the old days, pre-realtime, all court reporters needed to worry about was their own equipment.  With the advent of realtime, reporters have had to become experts at USB hubs, serial ports, firewalls, computer lockdowns – all coupled with keeping up to date with the latest software and hardware enhancements.  So you can imagine my frustration when these scenarios happened over and over again:
    • Freezing of the Stenocast “send” unit (attached to the court reporter’s laptop)
    • Freezing of the Stenocast “receive” USB dongles (Bluetooth receive devices)
    • Having realtime up and running for the first hour, and then having everything freeze
    • Inability to make what worked the day before work again (especially when nothing had changed from the previous day!)
    • Changing USB hubs only to find each one would fail after a period of time (both for the reporter computer and the receive computers)
    • Hieroglyphics randomly appearing where text had been appearing properly
    • A lack of timely customer support and an ability to solve the issues on the part of Stenocast
    After more than two decades of realtime writing, I know all the “tricks” of the trade…I had ensured all settings on the send (reporter) and receiving (client) computers were properly expressed, had reloaded and reloaded drivers, had rebooted more times than I care to count, and had switched up computers just in case that was the issue (I went back to my old Windows 7 computer – where I had never experienced a problem – from my new Windows 8 computer…still the same issues).
    So, what to do?  On this job we were providing on-site realtime to several people on multiple platforms such as LiveNote, Summation and Bridge; additionally, we were streaming to LiveDeposition where sometimes over 30 people were logged in – clearly the realtime was crucial!
    Switching to a new system in the middle of a big job is not something anyone wants to do…but the circumstance were such that no answers could be provided by Stenocast in order to solve the issues…
    In my next blog, I will discuss how I found new technology and my experience with it.

    Router Rage!

    Well, perhaps describing Stenocast’s system as a “router” is a misnomer.   For the last several years, the reporters at Neeson have been using the Stenocast realtime system with a lot of success.  Stenocast uses Bluetooth technology to send realtime data from the court reporter’s software to the recipient’s laptop and software using a “dongle” in the user’s USB port (whether in the litigation setting or for some of our hard of hearing clients who attending meetings and the like).  Stenocast’s realtime system replaced all those annoying wires and allowed clients flexibility in where they sat in the room without regard to a wire length.  Stenocast was definitely a vast improvement over the old wired system.

    Recently, though, I became involved in a large piece of litigation that had a number of moving parts:  counsel who attended each deposition/examination changed at almost every witness; computers where we placed the Stenocast Bluetooth “receive” device changed constantly; we constantly moved the Bluetooth device to various USB ports in setting up.

    This all seemed to result in a colossal failure of the Stenocast system.  Back in the old days, pre-realtime, all court reporters needed to worry about was their own equipment.  With the advent of realtime, reporters have had to become experts at USB hubs, serial ports, firewalls, computer lockdowns – all coupled with keeping up to date with the latest software and hardware enhancements.  So you can imagine my frustration when these scenarios happened over and over again:

    • Freezing of the Stenocast “send” unit
    • Freezing of the Stenocast “receive” USB dongles (Bluetooth receive devices)
    • Having realtime up and running for the first hour, and then having everything freeze
    • Inability to make what worked the day before work again (especially when nothing had changed from the previous day!)
    • Changing USB hubs only to find each one would fail after a period of time (both for the reporter computer and the receive computers)
    • Hieroglyphics randomly appearing where text was appearing properly
    • A lack of timely customer support and an ability to solve the issues on the part of Stenocast

    My expert court reporter friends should know that I had ensured all settings on the reporter computer were properly expressed, and the settings on the receive computers, including in the software itself, were all correct (I am a Realtime Systems Administrator as qualified by the NCRA and am the main troubleshooter in our office).

    So, what to do?  On this job we were providing on-site realtime to several people on multiple platforms such as LiveNote, Summation and Bridge; additionally, we were streaming to LiveDeposition where sometimes over 30 people were logged in – clearly the realtime was crucial!

    In my next blog, I will discuss using LiveDeposition’s new streaming router which works with all software platforms and completely avoids USB ports altogether.

    Staying on Task

    It’s often challenging, given all the interruptions in our day, to get things done. How many times have you started your day saying, all right, I’m going to get this, and this and that done today, and then by day’s end you haven’t even touched what you intended to do? Staying on task, short of emergency situations, can be very difficult to do in our bombarded world.

    Now you can imagine being a court reporter, someone who has to listen to every single word spoken and render the spoken word into shorthand, and thinking about writing it in such a way so that it is translated back into English. Talk about concentration!

    Below are some tips I have developed to help me stay on task – whether I am reporting, proofreading, emailing or performing any other office related tasks that require my full attention.

    1. Turn off the email. It’s very commonplace to be connected to the internet in most office settings. When I’m writing shorthand, there’s nothing more distracting than seeing that little email box come up when I’m receiving email, giving me a glimpse of the sender and the re line. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve lost my train of thought…I feel like Pavlov’s dog, I can’t help myself from looking!
    2. Set times for checking email. Even when I’m on a job, I know I will have opportunities during the day to check email. So once I’m on my lunch break, for example, I will activate my Outlook and check on emails. By setting times, I know I won’t miss too much and emergencies can still be dealt with.
    3. Don’t let email eat up all your time. Once I’m checking my email, I only look at the sender and re line to see if anything looks urgent. If it does look important, then I will read that email and respond. If the email is going to require more thought, I will flag it and look at it at the end of the day, when I can give it my full attention. I used to think I had to respond to everything immediately, and in the process sometimes made silly mistakes simply because I was in too much of a hurry.
    4. Get up and move! While on a job, I will insist on a break at least every hour and a half to hour and three quarters. I will always walk to the bathroom (who doesn’t need the bathroom after that length of time?) But even if it’s just a short break, I will get up, walk the hall, and just move. When proofing or working at my desk, I set an hour time limit, then give myself 15 minutes off to get a coffee, walk down the hall – I do something else completely. I find that moving helps my concentration enormously once I sit back down again. It’s like resetting the mind and body.
    5. Limit interruptions. If I really need to hunker down, I will first of all close my door. I find that a closed door often stops those little interruptions that can wait. At times I will tell my staff that I work with or even my family, please don’t disturb me; I will be available on the top of every hour I am behind closed doors to deal with anything you need. By setting boundaries with those people around me, it helps me focus for that period of time and does not interrupt my train of thought.
    6. Minimize distractions. I don’t know about other reporters, but when someone starts clicking the top of their pen, or jingling the change in their pocket, all I seem to hear is that ambient noise and it’s so distracting! I have no hesitation politely interrupting the proceedings and asking the person to stop doing whatever is causing the noise, explaining I’m having a hard time concentrating. It’s amazing the power that small thing has over my attention!
    7. Be comfortable. There’s nothing worse than sitting for hours on end and feeling uncomfortable. I try to select wardrobe pieces that make sitting and either writing on my machine or keyboarding more comfortable – for example, I leave the pencil skirt at home that day and wear a comfortable pair of slacks and top. The heels also stay in the cupboard; instead I opt for a nice pair of flatter heeled boots – easier on my back as the hours go by.

    Discipline is the key to staying on task, and that means not only providing yourself a structure within which to work, but also teaching others around you how to work effectively with you as well.

    Meetings Meet Mobility

    It’s interesting how we all get stuck doing things the way we always have, and don’t think about how we can leverage technology to assist us.  As a court reporting firm, we are constantly updating our technology in order to provide clients with transcripts more quickly, more efficiently and in cost effective ways.  As the world becomes smaller, certain challenges have become greater:  how to connect with people in a way that makes sense for the situation, while bearing in mind time efficiencies and cost effectiveness, as well as practicalities.

    One technology that has become mainstream in the court reporting industry with high tech firms is that of streaming in realtime – not only the text, but the audio and video components as well.  Only a few short years ago one would have these choices to connect with those in other areas:

    • Via conference call (problem:  you can’t see the people you’re talking to, expensive)
    • Via videoconference (very expensive, but generally good technology)
    • In person (problem:  where large distance is involved, travel expenses, extra time for commuting, possible delays are just a few areas of concern)

    While we always encourage our clients to leverage the latest technology in discovery, trial or hearing, some of the tools of our trade make perfect sense for lawyers in trial preparation.  One such example is a web-based program called GoToMeeting.  As long as all participants have access to a computer, laptop or tablet that have a webcam, microphone and internet access, meeting from almost any location in the world is possible.  Not only can you meet online, but you can share documents or even your computer with others easily.

    In looking at the various options, the question you need to ask yourself is:  How important is this witness/meeting? The sliding scale answer is as follows:
    • Extremely important – your meeting/examination should be held in person or via videoconference.  The videoconference should be utilized at every location.  For example, if you have participants in Toronto, Calgary and Washington, all three should be “bridged” through a professional videoconference unit.  Videoconferencing tends to be the most robust technology available (though subject to the odd problem as any technology is), and is a secure way to connect.
    • Moderately important – your meeting/examination could be conducted via web-based programs such as GoToMeeting or WebEx.  Multiple parties can connect, documents can be shared, and the meeting even recorded if necessary.  This technology is generally very, very reliable but may be affected if any participant has poor internet bandwidth  (such as in remote locations).  This method also provides a high security value.
    • Not very important – your meeting/examination could be conducted via a web-based program such as Skype.  Be aware, though, that programs like Skype often have technical issues, such as too many users – thereby affecting internet bandwidth and connectivity – frequent drop-off of the session, and lack of security.
    In the legal setting, the possible uses for the above technology are:
    • Conducting examinations, cross-examinations and depositions
    • Interviewing witnesses/clients/experts
    • Working collaboratively with your team, not only verbally and visually, but with the ability to share your computer and documents for marking up, etc.
    • Pretrial conferences where a court appearance is not necessary
    While it may be argued that nothing beats a face-to-face meeting, there are many times – and many reasons – why choosing a technological solution makes sense!

    Five Tips to Finding the Right Court Reporter for Your Case

    All court reporters are the same, right?  Obviously the answer cannot be “yes” because court reporters are people, with various skills and abilities that they bring to the table.  Follow these tips to ensure you get the right person preparing your client’s legal proceedings.

    1. Experience – If your case is the retelling of a slip and fall, for example, a vast amount of experience is probably not necessary given the vocabulary that will come into play.  If, however, your case involves technical terminology – from medical, to engineering, to source code – you will want to ensure you work with a court reporter who has had exposure with the type of case you are working on, or a proven ability to research the correct spellings and to understand the context of what you are speaking of.  Remember, a misplaced comma can change everything!
    2. Requirements – Do you have any special requirements for your case?  Will you need expedited transcript?  Will you need realtime reporting or rough drafts?  If so, be sure to seek out court reporting firms that possess the talent to deliver.  If you need realtime reporting, having a qualified court reporter makes all the difference in the world, from the accuracy of her immediate work, to providing basic technical support, to being able to deliver the final product in a timely way.
    3. Neutrality – The creation of the record is for all, and no special favours or pricing should be in place for one side versus another.  Many corporations counsel represent have strict anti-gift giving and incentive policies in place, and have an expectation that these policies are de facto in place at law firms and their service providers as well.
    4. Judgment – What type of court reporter do you like to work with?  How do feel about interruptions when you are mid-stream in a cross-examination?  Is that important to you?  Speak with your potential court reporter in advance to ascertain if they can work within your parameters and that they exercise good judgment in asking clarification questions and interrupting for whatever reason.
    5. Certifications – Another way, apart from experience, to find competent, qualified court reporters is to inquire as to their certifications.  Shorthand reporters should have at a minimum a CSR designation from their province or state; professional court reporters also tend to obtain other qualifications from the National Court Reporters’ Association (NCRA) in the United States, such as Registered Professional Reporter (RPR), Certified Realtime Reporter (CRR) and Registered Merit Reporter (RMR).  These independently administered certifications can provide comfort to those booking court reporting services that the reporter’s skills and ability have been tested and that they have achieved certain markers.

    At Neeson & Associates, we are proud of our court reporters and make it our business to understand the needs of our clients so that the right court reporter can be matched to the case’s requirements.

    Canadian Court Reporting Companies and Litigation Support

    Canadian Court Reporting Companies and Litigation Support
    Litigation support can be vital for firms facing the challenge of diverse sources of information.

    Canadian court reporting companies can provide the types if technological support to help law firms accomplish their goals. With the internet and more sources producing documents that could be important to your litigation, it is important to work with a firm that can provide streamlined solutions to organize and manage large amounts of data.

    American and Canadian court reporters are recognizing that when it comes to litigation support, they are often partners with the law firm throughout the process. They can provide a crucial organizational role that maximizes the effectiveness of legal professionals as they work through relevant information for their clients.

    Through the process, law firms are able to take advantage of new technology that is making a difference for attorneys in the conference room during litigation and in the courtroom at trial. In a multimedia age where information can be delivered via multiple platforms, an experienced court reporting and litigation support firm can help bring diverse elements together for legal teams.

    In Canada, that often means serving the needs of both the Canadian and American legal communities and understanding the needs of both during litigation and in the courtroom. That comes from experience.  Choosing a court reporting firm with experience with give firms the versatility to work across borders while also utilizing technology that streamlines and packages information and evidence.

    Changes Coming to Ontario Court Reporting

    In a new video from advocatedaily.com, Kim Neeson talks about how changes in how court reporting happens in Ontario courtrooms could mean more time-intensive work for legal professionals. This new proposal might also produce critical errors that could make a difference in cases. You can see the complete video here on YouTube.

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