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.
Dictionary.com defines “association” in many ways:
- “an organization of people with a common purpose and having a formal structure.
- the act of associating or state of being associated.
- friendship; companionship.
- connection or combination.
- the connection or relation of ideas, feelings, sensations, etc.; correlation of elements of perception, reasoning, or the like.”
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.
- The CSRAO represents a group of people who share a common purpose – to provide a verbatim transcript of various proceedings and voice-to-text communication access for those with a hearing loss – whether in court, in discoveries, in hearings or interviews, meetings or events – in a timely way, delivered with the utmost professionalism. The CSRAO’s purpose is to educate its members, to provide the public and the legal profession with independent testing and accreditation of its members in an unbiased and neutral way to assure the memberships’ qualifications independently, and to represent its members’ interests.
- While attending CSRAO events, one undertakes the act of associating – with like-minded professionals, with friends and colleagues, and with those new to the profession looking for guidance and mentorship. When supporting the CSRAO at events or otherwise, one is associated with a group whose clear vision is that of creating a professional, accurate, highly readable record through highly skilled, accredited service providers – shorthand court reporters and CART/captioning writers.
- There is no doubt that the CSRAO provides a place for old friends to get together, for Fellows and Associates to catch up with one another and share information – from technology to great shorthand outlines – and to provide a place where one doesn’t have to feel the isolation many reporters and captioners do as a result of our work.
- Another wonderful thing about our “association” is the connections it can establish. All professionals know that networking is one of the crucial keys to success. By attending events and participating in workshops or writing articles for our journal, court reporting and captioning professionals can spread their wings, let others know they are out in the field and open new doors.
- Lastly, the CSRAO provides a wonderful venue to share ideas around our profession and to also share our feelings about our experiences – whether it’s how to deal with a difficult client, how to be sensitive to the needs of a hard of hearing individual, or how to help a student get over a hump at a certain writing speed. It is a place for sharing concepts and technology, and a place to shape our place in the legal industry.
- So if you haven’t joined this “Association”, I would highly encourage you to do so! You’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Blog contributed by Kimberley Neeson, RPR, CRR, CSR, CCP, CBC, Realtime Systems Administrator, President of Neeson & Associates (and former President of the CSRAO)
Contact Kim at firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
It’s hard for me to believe that I have been providing court reporting services
for over 30 years (I was but a child when I started!) I’ve been thinking about how technology has morphed what was once a manual function into a fully integrated piece of technology…but one that that hasn’t changed for me personally is the fact that I am still writing shorthand, just like I learned over 30 years ago.
However, lots of things have gone by the way of the do-do bird, such as:
• Using a manual shorthand machine, with a paper tape and a blue ink ribbon
• Typing multiple copies of transcripts on an electric typewriter using carbon paper and a carbon eraser for mistakes
• Dictating from shorthand notes onto a reel-to-reel tape recorder and handing them off to my typist
• White-out to get rid of typing errors
• Researching names, cases, etc. in places like the phone book, the law library or the public library
• Reading back notes in court from my paper tape (where the shorthand notes are written)
• Flagging spots I wanted to check with bits of red paper thrown into the paper tray as I wrote shorthand so I could find them later
• Once the computer did appear, saving files to 5-1/4” floppy disks
• Waiting 40+ minutes for my computer to translate my shorthand notes into English for a half day’s worth of testimony
• Trying to hook up realtime for the first time in the ‘90s with cables, the “black box” and no clue why it wouldn’t work (and praying every time it would!)
• Sending audio cassette backups with a 3-1/2” floppy of the file by courier to my proofreader
• From my steno machine I can read my transcript on its LED display, send my work wirelessly to my computer, and make all kinds of adjustments instantly, and create an audio backup of my work on an SD card
• I work paperlessly on my steno machine
• All my work is stored not only on my hard drive but up in the cloud where I can access it anywhere as long as I have an internet connection
• I can provide realtime feeds to computers easily and can troubleshoot when there are issues
• I can send my realtime feed over the internet to anyone with access to the internet so they can view the proceedings as they’re happening, and integrate this with video and audio streaming
• I can send my files – both audio and transcript – to my scopist who used to live in British Columbia within minutes
• I can do all my researching of names, spellings, etc. on the internet
• I can give my clients not only a hard copy of the transcript, but an electronic version in several formats including pdf, database-friendly, Word and Etrans
• I can fill out and hand in my workslips electronically
• I can read my translated notes that are in English on my computer screen
But the one thing that hasn’t changed – I still provide my court reporting services via shorthand reporting.
As a court reporter with over 30 years of experience, I’ve had the opportunity to listen to hundreds of lawyers/attorneys conduct examinations and depositions over the years. In this fast-paced world, where everyone is trying to cram in as much as possible, the taking of evidence is no exception. Oftentimes not only counsel but the witnesses themselves are in a rush to get as much done as possible, as quickly as possible, and as efficiently as possible. The down side to rushing, though, is often a record that contains many false starts, questions or answers that are interrupted or incomplete, and sometimes questions or answers that are not posited in the way they were actually meant.
One thing I’ve noticed in reporting U.S. depositions is that there is a boiler plate set of instructions that is very often given to witnesses prior to the testimony really beginning. The dialogue goes something along these lines:
Q. Sir, as I mentioned let me just go over a few of the mechanics of a deposition so that you understand. The product of this deposition will be your testimony. It is being taken stenographically. The court reporter, Kim, is taking down everything that is being said and you should assume that everything will be taken down and be on the record. The videographer is also making a videotape of the proceedings. Because there is a printed record, we need to try to speak distinctly and clearly. I’m going to try to keep my voice up. If at any time you can’t hear me, or anyone else who may speak and pose questions to you, please just ask the speaker to speak up.
A. I will do so.
Q. Likewise, I will try to make my questions clear to you but if they’re not clear, simply say so and I’ll try to rephrase the question to make it clearer.
Q. Let’s try not to speak over one another. Let me get my questions out before you start answering and I’ll try not to interrupt your answers.
You need to answer audibly rather than in nods or gestures. The videotape can record nods and gestures but the printed transcript cannot, so please answer audibly to all questions.
I anticipate that my questions at least will take probably an hour and a half or so. Nonetheless, if you need to take a break at any time for any reason, just let me know and we’ll go ahead and take a break. The one exception to that is we won’t take breaks while a question is pending.
In other words, if I have asked you a question and you haven’t started or completed your answer, then I’ll ask you to do so before we take a break, but if you need a break for any reason, please just say so, we’ll go ahead and take a break.
Q. You will have the opportunity to review the printed transcript after it’s prepared to and to note any errors you believe have been made either in the transcription of what you said or if you think you misspoke and want to change the record, you can do that.
One of the parties may seek to reconvene the deposition at that point to ask why you made changes, but that is your right, sir. And the court reporter will ask at the end of the deposition but let me just ask now, would you like to review the transcript of the deposition?
A. I would like to look over the transcript if that is the question, just to be sure that I have understood the questions correctly and answered correctly.
Q. Very good. We’ll make sure that that happens. Sir, do you have any medical conditions that would prevent you from testifying fully ‑‑
A. I am in perfect health.
Q. Again, let me just get out my question before you start answering. Just so the record is clear, you do not have any medical conditions other than your hearing issue that would affect your testimony here today?
A. No, I don’t.
My experience is by repeating these admonitions or instructions, it reminds counsel about the importance of creating a readable record later, and it also helps the witness understand their role. Often counsel will say to the witness, ‘This will feel like a conversation, but unlike a conversation, we have rules we need to observe so that you clearly hear the question and are able to provide the best answer possible.”
Time is the only real commodity all of us cannot replace – and we all want to use it efficiently – but let’s not forget that the written record may be the only thing you can rely on later, and you’ll want to create the best possible product!
Recently I had the opportunity to do an hour and a half presentation at the National Court Reporters’ Association’s TechCon 2012 conference in Reston, Virginia. It was a real honour to be asked to present, and my topic was Realtime Internet Streaming, stemming from a large class action trial my firm reported over an 18-month period (Andersen et al v. St. Jude Medical, Inc. et al). It’s a pretty daunting task, speaking in front of your peers for that length of time, and it got me to thinking about my journey to this point where I could actually do this comfortably.
Back in the early nineties, our profession in Ontario faced a daunting prospect – the wholesale removal of certified shorthand reporters and stenomaskers from the court system, to be replaced by audio recording and a typing pool. At the time this occurred I was vice-president of our association, the Chartered Shorthand Reporters’ Association of Ontario (CSRAO). I was a freelance court reporter, mother of two young children and someone who had never taken a leadership role in anything of note. Through a number of circumstances, I suddenly found myself as the President of our association, and leading the charge against this looming decision.
Now, I didn’t fear taking on this role when it came to writing letters and articles, or speaking with the press. However, I had never spoken in public before, save for my grade 8 speech competition, and don’t I well remember the case of nerves I had for that! But it seemed to me the issues facing our profession were greater than my fear of public speaking. So of course the day came when we had a big town hall meeting at the venerable Osgoode Hall – judges, lawyers, court reporters and media were invited and we had a fantastic turnout. I had my speech prepared and I had rehearsed it over and over again. But suddenly standing in front of all these people – well, I could barely speak! However, after what seemed like an eternity, I found my voice and proceeded to deliver our message in a strong and forceful way.
Over the course of our fight against the government’s plan, I had several opportunities to speak publically. What I noticed was that my nerves, while still ever-present, lasted for less and less time. Eventually we won our fight (although recently our government has introduced wholesale digital recording once again).
As a business owner, over the years I found myself making presentations from time to time at law firms. Again, the nerves were ever-present but much more manageable. I knew I had finally conquered my fear of public speaking when I gave a presentation at a law firm and had everybody laughing, and I felt really comfortable. But were it not for pushing myself to conquer this fear in the first place, I would have never gotten to this point…ever. Because if you don’t push yourself, no one else can do it for you – whatever your fear may be.
There are some things I do in order to be prepared before I speak in public, such as:
- Write an outline of the points I want to cover – I never read from a prepared text
- Know the subject matter inside and out
- Arrive early and get more comfortable with the environment
- If you’re using props, make sure everything is working properly and leave plenty of time for setup
- Practice the material in advance – even in front of others – and make sure you say it out loud, not just to yourself
- Deep breaths!
Conquering my fear of public speaking has helped me tackle other fears in my life. Oftentimes our fear is illogical and always much bigger in our heads than it is in reality. I learned that at a Tony Robbins’ seminar many years ago – he had over 2,000 people walking across a bed of hot coals! He spent several hours preparing the group for this challenge, and when the time came to do it, I thought, ‘Why do I need to do this? I have nothing to prove to anyone! This is silly.’ Yet, it was my fear of walking across hot coals that was really stopping me. As I inched closer and closer, I thought ‘I’m going to do this.’ And walk across the hot coals I did…the point being, if you can walk across a bed of hot coals (something most of us would fear doing), you can do anything you set your mind to. It wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be (as built up in my head), and sometimes when I fear doing something, I think about that.
So go out and conquer a fear today!
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.