I’ve been preaching technology for years now, and as the world unfolds with voice recognition software, digital recording quality and the like, it’s never been clearer to me that a shorthand reporter’s biggest asset is their skillset to provide services like rough draft, realtime, internet streaming, transcripts for video syncing, and the provision of a large array of file formats. Those court reporters who continually educate themselves, who never stop learning – they’re also way ahead of the curve.
So whether you’re a newly accredited court reporter or a veteran of 20 years, my one tip for becoming a great court reporter is…become a realtime reporter.
So it’s easy to say, right? Well, we all had to start somewhere, and here are my 10 pieces of advice for getting to where you need to be.
- Achieve a minimum speed of 225 words per minute, writing with more than 98.5% accuracy
- Attend educational seminars with particular emphasis on realtime writing and technology put on by the CSRAO or NCRA – it’s worth every dollar you spend
- Read, read, read – the newspaper, books, magazine articles – you increase your awareness of the world around you, observe styles of punctuation and ever increase your vocabulary; the reporting world is full of technical, difficult terminology and a general awareness of our world really helps to produce a great transcript on-the-fly (partly because you’ll generally know what people are talking about!)
- Invest in the tools of your trade – have the latest software and hardware (you should be replacing your laptop every two years, and your shorthand machine every 5-7 years)
- No one runs before they walk – you can start moving to realtime in a paced and measured way, by putting a laptop in front of you and writing for yourself, analysing your writing style and tackling trouble areas one at a time
- Track your realtime stats to measure your improvement (translation statistics)
- Start realtiming for a “friendly” client – someone you are comfortable with, who you’re not going to charge just to get some low pressure experience
- Find a realtime mentor – someone who can help show you the ropes of equipment setup and troubleshooting
- Improve your writing skills through practice – there are great sites on the Internet to hone your skills with such as TED or YouTube, or leverage professional help with a realtime writing program such as Realtime Coach
- Become accredited through NCRA with a Certified Realtime Reporter designation and gain technological expertise through the Realtime Systems Administrator certification
Whether we like it or not, the world will keep moving technologically and the court reporting world as we know it is destined to change. By using technology to our advantage, court reporters can create a high degree of value in the way we deliver services – realtime reporting will still be untouchable for the foreseeable future. The time to act is now!
In this guest blog, Lisa discusses the real time court reporting profession.
Do you have dreams of working in far away destinations, touring and shopping in exotic places all over the world, and not having to pay for beautiful hotels and meals? You’ve joined the right profession. It is possible. BUT first, a reality check. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s okay not to do real-time OR get comfortable OR save up for ten years for equipment OR see if you like reporting … and all the rest of the lines. You need to start doing real-time right now.
Real-time Reporting is not sitting in front of your laptop with the words and mistranslates coming up for you to see; real-time is for the rest of the world to see and, more importantly, judges, lawyers, US attorneys, arbitrators and anyone else in our circle.
Do you have the guts? It’s taken me 13 months of working in Singapore to tell me that – yes – I have the confidence I was looking for. I no longer sit on the plane and worry that I’ve forgotten a cord, a charger, worrying that I am going to blow up my laptop with the wrong power conversion. I’m not even worrying about the real-time job I’m going to be faced the next day with very little prep. Personally, I think the first 26 years of self doubt were necessary to bring me to this point. Why I am telling you this is because you might feel that you are never good enough to do real-time. You need to be ready, but then you need to know when to jump in. As the Nike ads say: “Just Do It.”
More fiction: You can do real-time if you have 96% translate rate. Poo-pah … there’s no way anyone will be comfortable with that. Most real-time reporters that I worked with in Asia, from the US, Australia, UK, had always 99% Plus translation rates. All you will be doing is making people angry and yourself humiliated. I’m telling it like it is.
Strive for perfection now. Spend the time, travelling to and from work, checking your job dictionaries for entries to add into your main dictionary. If you are doing a job involving a mine or a certain stock, go online, research, do your homework. Encourage the company you are working for to get as much prep material that they are able to get their hands on. Prep for any real-time jobs is of the utmost importance. It’s like getting a sneak preview. I can’t stress this enough. Spend as much time as possible working on a job dictionary.
Yesterday, I spent dinner with two highly esteemed captionists. The dinner conversation focused on what we thought the highlights of our careers were. Mine was a two-year murder trial I did with a jury, that involved subject matter from every corner of the universe. The lawyers were always a source of amazement to me; their angles, their motions, their drama. Truly an epic murder trial in anybody’s books.
My colleague had captioned for a week straight during 9/11 and said that this was the highlight of her career.
Another colleague captioned on the JUMBOTRON at the Skydome in Toronto, for 50,000 people during an Alcoholics Anonymous International Conference. Funny enough, the man who hired her for her services didn’t understand what captioning entailed and felt it was an unnecessary expense and was rather crusty. At the end of this event, the man came up to the Captioner and gave her an envelope. In it, contained a tip, for the wonderful job she had done! When she spoke of this, her eyes lit up with pride.
Your skills will be an amazement to everyone who will avail themselves of your services, especially if they speak to you and get a handle on the process of turning their spoken words, using that “funny little machine” into readable verbatim text.
People say, “Lisa, how to you manage to have such a positive attitude towards reporting after 30 years?” My simple answer is: I am lucky. Why? Because out of all the students in the court reporting class, only Teresa Forbes and myself were able to get up enough speed to be accepted into the court house on the apprentice program and become full-fledged court reporters.
In 1979 I started at the courthouse at $100 per day. I was thrilled! I haven’t forgotten those days. I remember how much it took to get where I am today.
I am grateful to those who spent time with me to teach me my craft. Thank you. After 30 years of reporting and travelling to such far off places as Jakarta, Indonesia, Bangkok, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong, Germany, Bermuda, I am still slightly humble and always amazed at other reporters’ skills. Humbleness is a good quality. It keeps you striving and challenging yourself for near perfection.
You have chosen the most amazing career. If you are graduating, you are one of the chosen few, the lucky ones. Do not forget that. You are able to do something that requires an extreme amount of talent, concentration, achievement and plain hard work. Never give up trying harder, practicing, getting NCRA certifications. These things are important and open up a huge amount of doors. I am being offered jobs weekly in other countries because of my certifications and my experience. Don’t ever think your speed and accuracy is “good enough.”
Good luck in your future endeavours. You are about to embark on the ride of your life!
Recently, a law clerk called the office to discuss a transcript. She was concerned about the way a couple of undertakings had been expressed in the transcript. (Undertakings is a term in Ontario which brings legal effect to a promise to do something on the record during Examinations for Discovery or Cross-Examinations, which are akin to Depositions in the US context).
After reviewing the portions of said examination, how the undertaking was marked and perceived by the court reporter, the law clerk sighed, “This transcript is just not well worded and the way the undertakings have been given are very hard to follow! Your court reporter should have stepped in.”
In a perfect world court reporters would like nothing better than to turn to counsel and say, “You know, the way you are interrupting one another, the long questions and all the back-and-forth is creating a terrible record for you down the road!”
The reality is that such an interjection would go over like a lead balloon. As the law clerk and I discussed, it is up to counsel to create their record, and it is up to the court reporter to faithfully transcribe that record. The two are not, unfortunately, working hand-in-glove. If counsel’s dialogue was confusing or complicated, it would be completely improper and unethical for the court reporter to make the transcript readable.
I then read with interest the words of the highly regarded Ontario litigator Harvey Strosberg, who has been recovering recently from a debilitating stroke where he lost his ability to speak. As you can imagine, relearning is a slow, painful and deliberate process that has taken many, many months. Harvey said this about speaking deliberately in a Globe and Mail article January 3rd, 2012
“Many lawyers speak too fast. They think they have a minute or two minutes, and they race to get the most words in a minute. That’s wrong. You have to think about the concept of the judge being persuaded. If you take your time, he’ll or she’ll get the idea simpler and faster.”
What Mr. Strosberg opines is very true. Having been a court reporter for 30 years, I have reported and transcribed hundreds of speakers over the years. The ones who speak deliberately, carefully, and thoughtfully always get their point across. Too often lawyers and speakers are trying to cram hours of speech into small time allotments, and the result may be this:
- No one can follow what is being said coherently, or can appreciate the nuances and subtleties of arguments and thoughts
- Long, rambling questions can confuse witnesses
- Not allowing one speaker to finish his or her thought and being interrupted by another creates a very choppy and hard-to-read transcript
This is a case where quantity is not better than quality.
It’s time to rethink the “quantity v. quality” argument. I would suggest honing a speaking style that allows everyone to be heard without interruption, one that incorporates brevity but imports meaning into each statement, and speaking deliberately – in the moment, as it were, and not to the next three points – will produce an excellent transcript for future use.
In this time-squeezed world, it’s easy to forget that the listener can only absorb so much. If you can remember speak deliberately, carefully, and thoughtfully; you can prevent them from losing the thread completely.
Here is a blog post that I wrote for Tech Tested Lawyer Approved.
As an owner of a court reporting firm, words are my life. I hear them, write them in shorthand, and reproduce them in a written format – the transcript – whereupon the words of witnesses and counsel are forever memorialized, discussed and commented upon. A witness may be convicted of perjury because of these words. A misplaced phrase by counsel may come back to haunt him or her later. People’s lives are directly affected not only by the accuracy with which I record the words, but with the accompanying intonation and meaning I apply, as exhibited by appropriate punctuation, to what I put on a piece of paper.
Recently a headline in the Toronto Globe & Mail newspaper caught my attention. It read, “The $2-millon comma.” With interest I read how a tiny comma had changed the entire meaning of a sentence in a contract between Rogers Communications and Aliant Inc. The sentence in dispute read: “This agreement shall be effective from the date it is made and shall continue in force for a period of five (5) years from the date it is made, and thereafter for successive five (5) year terms, unless and until terminated by one year prior notice in writing by either party.”
The position put forward by Rogers before the CRTC (the Canadian broadcasting regulatory arm) was that the contract was good for a five-year period, automatically renewable for successive five-year terms, and could not be terminated within the first five years. The position of Aliant, and with which the CRTC ultimately agreed, was that the contract could be cancelled at any time with notice of one year. The result may cause Rogers to pay an extra $2.13 million to Aliant Inc. (the matter is currently under appeal).
As the Globe & Mail writer points out, this dispute “serves as an expensive reminder of the importance of punctuation.” Recently I attended a conference of court reporters in New York City. Our speaker was Dr. Richard Lederer, a self-proclaimed “verbivore.” Dr. Lederer shared with us two interesting letters – only the punctuation is different. Here are the letters:
My Dear Pat,
The dinner we shared the other night – it was absolutely lovely! Not in my wildest dreams could I ever imagine anyone as perfect as you are. Could you – if only for a moment – think of our being together forever? What a cruel joke to have you come into my life only to leave again; it would be heaven denied. I face the time we are apart with great sadness.
P.S. I would like to tell you that I love you. I can’t stop thinking that you are one of the prettiest women on earth.
Pat the dinner we shared the other night. It was absolutely lovely – not! In my wildest dreams, could I ever imagine anyone? As perfect as you are, could you – if only for a moment – think? Of our being together forever: what a cruel joke! To have you come into my life only to leave again: it would be heaven! Denied by the possibility of seeing you again makes me giddy. With joy I face the time we are apart.
With great “sadness,” John.
P.S. I would like to tell you that I love you. I can’t. Stop thinking that you are one of the prettiest women on earth.
Without a doubt, it is not just words on a piece of paper. As lawyers or their assistants, you may choose who your court reporter is, at least in the freelance arena. Are you asking the right questions to ensure that the person you entrust your transcript to is truly accurate? For example, is your court reporter certified? In the Province of Ontario, court reporters require no certification whatsoever. It is by choice that a court reporter will become fully certified; indeed, it is the hallmark of a true professional committed to their craft. What is the experience of your court reporter? Are they just out of high school and trying to produce a transcript of your complex litigation involving patent rights? Understanding what is being said is just as important as transcribing the words onto a document.
Have you experienced a similar situation in your field? What was the outcome? Please leave comments, all are welcome.
Neeson & Associates recently completed court reporting services on Canada’s longest-running class action trial, styled Andersen et al v. St. Jude Medical Inc. In 1997, St. Jude Medical began to coat the sewing rings of mechanical heart valves and annuloplasty rings with a product called Silzone®. This product was intended to reduce the risk of bacterial infection. However, by January 2000 a world-wide recall was announced by St. Jude, and by August 2000 the class action Neeson performed services for was launched by the plaintiffs. It was subsequently certified, and we found ourselves in Superior Court, designated as the official court reporter, by February 2010.
This was one of the most complicated, technical pieces of work ever undertaken by Neeson. Not only was the trial very complex – where all but two of our witnesses were experts in every aspect of the medical, biological, bioengineering, pathology, etc. aspects of the case – but Neeson reporters were providing realtime court reporting services both in the court and over the internet. Special permissions were required before streaming could occur. Justice Joan Lax wanted to ensure that the streaming was secure and not available to the public at large, and this was also Neeson’s mandate.
Realtime streaming allowed counsel in this case unprecedented freedom of participation. The defendants had not only Canadian counsel assisting them, but US counsel as well. Additionally, experts from around the world were engaged on this case. Instead of flying people from all over the world to the Toronto courtroom to hear evidence, Neeson’s streaming allowed these participants to view the proceedings in real time over a secure internet site provided by Remote Counsel. It should be noted that no software purchase is required to view the streaming. Not only could participants view the realtime transcript, but they could “chat” to one another through the chat feature enabled in the software. A “group” is set up for each set of participants. A group can consist of lawyers for either the plaintiff or defendant, their law clerks/paralegals (both in court and back at the office), US attorney counterparts where applicable, the clients and the experts (for example, when the plaintiff’s expert in x testifies, the defendant’s counter-expert could be viewing their testimony online). Through this private, secure group chat strategies can be discussed, comments on the evidence made, reference to relevant documents made – all in the moment of the testimony happening.
Neeson’s work on St. Jude provided our reporters with some of the most challenging – and most satisfying – work of our careers to date. It was a wonderful opportunity to showcase the advances of technology in the court reporting arena.
In my next blog, I will discuss a new product which allows realtime streaming, audio and video connections!
As a court reporter I am asked many, many times, “How do you do that?” And while I try to explain that writing live, voice-to-text realtime – where the spoken word is instantaneously translated into readable text via a trained shorthand court reporter (me), sophisticated software which contains my English dictionary, and a computer – is much like playing concert piano; a neuropsychologist, testifying in a U.S. Federal Court had this to say about the process of writing shorthand in regard to the complexity of the human brain:
Neuropsychologist: “May I give an example of this?”
Neuropsychologist: “Okay. If you look — and the example is this: Our brains are a miracle. Okay? They’re a miracle that needs to be protected. And if you look at the court reporter right now, as an example, okay, this is a miracle in progress happening right before your eyes.
Let me just explain what she needs to do. I am speaking, so the information has to come in through her ear into her temporal lobe, and it has to go log itself into the language center. She has to be able to comprehend what I’m saying.
Then it has to get rerouted to the prefrontal cortex where it has to hold — she has to be able to hold the information, because, you know, I continuously talk so she has to hold it. Right? Then she has to analyze it, integrate it and synthesize it. Then it has to go back to the cerebellum and she has to be able to execute this, and she has to be able to then convert my words into those little squiggly marks. Have you ever seen court reporters have little squiggly language things?
So she has to convert it into a different language, and the white matter tracks allow her to reroute all of this information simultaneously without effort. Okay.
We take our brains for granted. She’s sitting here. I’m probably talking too fast for her, but she’s able to do this simultaneously. Seamlessly. Okay?
No animal on the planet can do this. All right? That’s why I believe court reporters will never be replaced. Because no technical — no technology could replace the beauty of that brain and the miracle of that brain. And that’s why your brain should always be protected and you should take care of it. It takes a special brain to be a court reporter.”
Hey folks, it’s all in a day’s work! This in part explains why it is so difficult to become a court reporter – there is only a 10% success rate of those who enroll in a court reporting program. Like the concert pianist, only a few will ever reach the abilities required to deliver accurate realtime or CART/captioning services.
Toronto, Ontario (Canada) – Kimberley Neeson, President of Neeson & Associates Court Reporting and Captioning Inc., has again been selected as one of Canada’s 100 Top Women Entrepreneurs in the 13th annual PROFIT W100 ranking.
Ranking Canada’s Top Women Entrepreneurs on a composite score based on the size, growth rate and profitability of their businesses, the PROFIT W100 profiles the country’s most successful female business owners. Published in the November issue of PROFIT and online at www.PROFITguide.com, the PROFIT W100 is Canada’s largest annual celebration of entrepreneurial achievement by women.
“The 2011 PROFIT W100 are a diverse group of entrepreneurs united by their passion, dynamism and smarts,” noted Ian Portsmouth, Editor-in-Chief of PROFIT. “They set a tremendous example for business leaders of all kinds, and we are proud to recognize them in our 13th annual ranking of Canada’s Top Female Entrepreneurs.”
“Throughout her -year reporting career, Kim has consistently ‘pushed the envelope’ – developing her own reporting skill, building her business into a premier realtime service; promoting and developing new markets; leading our association through adversity; and, in mentoring working reporters and court reporting students – much of this work as a volunteer while a working reporter, CEO, and mother of a young family,” said Karin Jenkner, President of the Chartered Shorthand Reporters’ Association of Ontario.
About Neeson & Associates
Based in the heart of Toronto’s downtown business district, Neeson & Associates is Canada’s foremost realtime court reporting, captioning and arbitration service. Neeson has a strong emphasis on complex litigation, where fast turnaround, realtime and rough draft transcripts are the norm. Neeson pioneered the use of live CART (also known as captioning or voice-to-text translation) in Ontario upon founding the company, and Neeson is Eastern Canada’s only CART providing company. Recently Neeson expanded its business through the creation of the Neeson Arbitration Chambers, a unique office space for independently practising arbitrators and mediators. The Chambers’ members include many prominent former members of the judiciary.
Neeson & Associates is located at:
141 Adelaide Street West, Suite 1108
Toronto, ON M5H 3L5
About PROFIT Magazine:
PROFIT: Your Guide to Business Success is Canada’s preeminent publication dedicated to the management issues and opportunities facing small and mid-sized businesses. For 28 years, Canadian entrepreneurs and senior managers across a vast array of economic sectors have remained loyal to PROFIT because it’s a timely and reliable source of actionable information that helps them achieve business success and get the recognition they deserve for generating positive economic and social change. Visit PROFIT online at www.PROFITguide.com.
On September 22nd, we had the pleasure of holding a luncheon event in Toronto for arbitrators and members of the legal community where Jason Fry, Secretary General of the ICC International Court of Arbitration, presented. The main focus of the event was to provide the legal arbitration community with an overview of the changes to the rules of the ICC International Court of Arbitration, which will apply in January 2012. Jason outlined the changes and spoke about the reasoning surrounding them.
Here are some highlights from an article by Jennifer Brown, Editor of Canadian Lawyer InHouse.
“The objective was to design a modern set of arbitration rules to meet the needs of the business community and states engaged in international commerce that would serve those needs for the next 10 years. “There is a strong emphasis on time and cost management and so we have introduced case management procedures to help address those concerns,” said Fry.
“What we want to encourage is a tailor made approach to the arbitration. We want to discourage arbitrations going on autopilot. Everyone needs to turn their minds to what is needed for this particular case. In doing so, the tribunal may include the case management techniques outlined in the ICC’s publication in controlling time and cost in arbitration,” said Fry.
I feel that the new rules are a positive step towards streamlining the arbitration process, and customizing each case accordingly.
Thank you to everyone who came out to the Neeson Arbitration Chambers.
Read Jennifer’s full article: New ICC rules of arbitration aim to cut costs and time.
As Neeson & Associates celebrates its 15th year of business, I’ve reflected on my career not only as a business owner, but as a person who provides court reporting and captioning services to our clients. As “15” is the number, here is my list of my top 15 reasons why I think this career is amazing!
1. Writing shorthand is like using another language, and once you “get it” you feel on top of the world.
2. I learn at least one new word a week.
3. Every day is a new teaching experience because each case is unique.
4. I love to challenge myself by improving my shorthand writing statistics every time – reducing the number of untranslates and “funny English” outlines.
5. I’ve had the opportunity to travel to a number of interesting places in Canada and abroad.
6. Technology has allowed shorthand reporting to transcend all other methods of reporting, thereby ensuring a long career.
7. Court reporting has allowed me flexibility in my scheduling, so that as a young mother I could spend time with my children and continue to shape my career.
8. Seeing the smile on a hard of hearing person’s face when they feel totally included in a meeting because my captioning allows them full communication access to what’s going on.
9. Having the ability to produce an excellent rough draft that allows people access to a record they would otherwise not have almost instantly.
10. Realtime reporting – there’s nothing like it! Watching your clients refer to your work to cross-examine a witness, or highlight a critical piece of evidence – and the fact that the record is available immediately – allows us the opportunity to be an important part of the legal process.
11. History – I’ve had the privilege of reporting some very important Canadian cases such as the Beaverbrook Art Gallery dispute and the exoneration of Stephen Truscott – to memorialize the proceedings is a very important role to play and something that will be examined by fugure generations of lawyers and historians.
12. Technology – in the last couple of years we’ve streamed our text to clients in remote locations allowing them full participation in the proceedings – whether a hard of hearing client who lives in Sudbury and who can now participate in a meeting, or an expert who is online while his counterpart gives evidence – who would have thought we’d deliver this kind of service when I started in 1982?
13. Working in litigation has afforded me the ability to watch some of the best minds in our country at work. It is no easy feat to be a great cross-examiner, but when you are, wow, it’s something to behold!
14. With captioning, I have been able to learn so many things about life, as we often work at disability conferences where a multitude of people with various challenges are present, and I am always awed by their grace under fire, their positive outlook and their tenacity to keep persevering through life’s challenges with good humour.
15. Court reporting and captioning has allowed me to provide a roof over my head, good food on the table, and an education for my children.
Court reporters! Why do you think court reporting/captioning is fantastic career?
On Wednesday, July 13th I had the opportunity to learn about another aspect of PACT’s programs: PACTFarm. Tucked in between the Sir Sanford Fleming Secondary School building and its large field is an urban garden that will yield approximately 3,000 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables for the local food bank in North York, Ontario.
The farming project is one of the many programs offered by PACT, an organization which teaches at-risk youth practical life skills while providing mentoring and coaching. At Sir Sanford, the PACT garden has become a part of school life in several ways – through biology in the growing of the seedlings in the garden; through art, in providing an oasis on school grounds to foster poetry, writing and a quiet reading place; through community outreach, by providing healthy food to the local food bank; and through changing negative outcomes for a number of high school kids who are either at-risk or close to becoming incarcerated inmates. The garden employs university students to help oversee its management, and provides summer employment for a number of local high school students who fit into PACT’s mandate.
Another terrific aspect of the garden is the fact that PACTBuild built the farm shed which you see on the premises – again providing different life skills to another set of disadvantaged youth.
I was very moved by the site of this oasis in the middle of a disadvantaged urban community only a short distance from my own home. Those of us who live in the City of Toronto can certainly appreciate how even a simple road can divide between the “haves” and the “have-nots”. As a community we are blessed to have the vision and leadership of the PACT team in helping so many youth who do not have the advantages of many of our own children.
To learn more, including a feature on PACT’s Farm-in-the-Village, click here.
To donate, click here.