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:
…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.
Below are a few highlights:
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.
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
• Are the typists located in another jurisdiction, i.e. India, the United States? If they are, there may be restrictions with regard to files of a legal nature (i.e. police interviews, court proceedings, etc.) being transcribed out of Ontario’s jurisdiction
• Under PIPEDA, you may require authorization of all participants of a recording to authorize release of their data to an entity that may not conform to Canada’s privacy laws
• Typists are not eligible to certify transcripts as court reporters
• Be aware there may be hidden costs, such as identifying speakers by name, for multiple speakers and for low quality audio recordings, where the recording needs to be listened to again and again
• Typists “in the cloud” are not certified by any regulating or certifying body in Ontario’s jurisdiction
• Are you 100% certain your files will not be compromised – whether by hacking, error in transmission back and forth or through confiscation by someone or some authoritative body in another jurisdiction?
• Nuances that are unique to every area often are not understood by out-of-jurisdiction typists, such as acronyms, expressions, words that are short-formed in a particular community
• Spellings will often be compromised – for example, US versus Canadian.
• Under the U.S. Patriot Act, please note the following from the Government of Canada’s website:
“Under the Act, U.S. officials could access information about citizens of other countries, including Canada, if that information is physically within the United States or accessible electronically. The potential exists, therefore, for law enforcement agencies to obtain information about Canadians whose information might be handled under a contract between the federal government and a U.S.-based company.”
If your file is being transcribed in less democratic societies, imagine what may happen to your confidential information!
For further information please contact Kim Neeson at email@example.com
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:
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 firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll try to answer them for you! Good luck in making an informed decision.
When I think of the Chartered Shorthand Reporters’ Association, I can relate these definitions to why it’s essential that shorthand reporters in Ontario “associate” with this group.
Over the last year I have had several people come to me seeking employment as a court reporter. When I ask, “What are your qualifications,” I have been met with the answer, “I have a diploma in court reporting.” Having probed a little further, I was advised that the diploma in court reporting was at 160 words per minute. Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news…but a diploma in 160 wpm is not a recognized certification of a court reporter in any jurisdiction that I am aware of. So I write this blog as a “buyer beware” warning – that when considering studying for a career in court reporting, what you think you may be qualified to do, and the price you pay to achieve it, may not be what you thought you were bargaining for.
I received my certification from the Chartered Shorthand Reporters’ Association back in the early eighties. At that time (and today), the exam administered was in four parts and you needed to pass all legs in order to be certified: a 5 minute jury charge at 160 wpm; a 5 minute Q&A at 180 wpm; a 5 minute Q&A at 200 wpm; and a written knowledge test. The speed tests required 97% accuracy or better. Let me be clear: in today’s fast-paced world, time is the one commodity no one can purchase so everyone tries to cram as much in as possible when conducting an examination or trial. Writing shorthand at 200 wpm is a bare minimum of what one requires in order to create a record of excellent quality. Even at this rate one would use an audio backup for those spots that were missed (and there will be spots).
The National Court Reporters’ Association of the USA only accredits a course that holds 225 wpm with 97% accuracy as the bare minimum standard. The NCRA does not accredit any course that has a threshold less than 225 wpm. At this speed, one is in a good position to begin a career as a court reporter who can provide an excellent record (and you’ll still need an audio backup for those few people who like to talk at 275+ wpm).
Becoming a skilled shorthand reporter is not an easy task. You may be the most determined, diligent student, but that is not a guarantee that you will indeed get to the required speeds the job requires. In fact, some statistics show that a mere 10% of those who begin a court reporting course will actually succeed and move on to become a qualified court reporter. Of a class of 30 students, I was the only one who actually became a court reporter.
For those of you who possess 160 wpm, you might be able to get work transcribing audio recordings, for example, where you can replay and replay the audio so you can get every word. In court or in hearings, we don’t have that luxury. Once said, it is gone. It is our job as court reporters to capture every word. In the world of captioning and CART, not only must you be able to write at high rates of speed, you must also be able to write extremely accurately. The person who is hard of hearing or deaf is relying on you to be their ears – getting only three-quarters of something is not enough. In fact, you are doing a disservice to that hard of hearing or deaf person by providing substandard service.
Before embarking on a court reporting course, think about this. If your goal is to acquire a diploma at 160 wpm, or if it’s your fallback position if you can’t reach 225 wpm, save yourself the money and go out and train on a digital audio recording system. It will take far less time, there will be little to no monetary investment by you as a student, and you will probably be able to produce just as good a record in that way as you would by being able to write 160 wpm. I’m sorry to say, but 160 wpm just doesn’t cut it and does not put you in any better position to produce an excellent record than it does someone trained in today’s digital systems. Our courts have now moved to this model almost completely, so you might have a good chance to be trained and be working within a very short period of time.
This should not be read as a condemnation of my method of court reporting – which is, of course, via shorthand. I believe qualified, skilled shorthand reporters create an excellent record and many of us do so in realtime – something no digital recording device can compete with. However, this is true only of those shorthand reporters who have worked very hard to attain the appropriate speeds suitable for verbatim court reporting work.
Accreditation by the CSRAO or the NCRA comes in the form of successfully completing the examinations of either association– both in words per minute with a certain percentage accuracy, and a written test – and in some cases other conditions. A school cannot grant an accreditation in the form of a CSR (Certified Shorthand Reporter) or an RPR (Registered Professional Reporter).
To those of you who have attained your 160 wpm – keep going if you want a career in court reporting. You’ve done well to get to 160, but there’s more work to do. There are many online courses with excellent reputations, such as Realtime Coach, where you can keep practising and honing your skill so that you can write the CSR exam or the RPR exam. Get accredited by an independent, non-partisan body (this is not your school): by doing so, you tell the world that you really do possess the skills you claim to have. Find a mentor who can help you through the tough spots, preferably one that is already a working reporter or CART/captioner with a few years of experience.
There are no shortcuts in shorthand reporting. The payoff can be incredible, but you need to get here (at 225 wpm) in order to get there (a wonderful, interesting, well paying career). It’s very simple, yet very difficult to achieve…but aren’t the most rewarding things we attain sometimes the most challenging to reach?
And last but not least, don’t believe all those subway ads you see that talk about the six figure salary…there are a handful of very talented, hard working, self-sacrificing people in that category, but the vast majority do not dwell in that space.