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Visually certified

Visually certifiedBy Merilee Johnson

Do you get nervous when you walk into a room of strangers and having clients stare at you, as if trying to predict if you’re good at what you do? Does it stress you out, having attorneys judge your competence simply based on first impressions? At one point, I thought attaining my NCRA certifications would change these judgmental looks, that having letters behind my name would define my skills as a competent reporter. I thought entering a room would feel different. I thought there would be some drastic change in how I would feel when engaging a client for the first time. But the truth is, despite how valued those certifications are within the court reporting community, those outside it rarely understand their meaning well enough to understand their significance. Because our clients don’t have any other point of reference, they tend to draw their conclusions about our professional capabilities from how we present ourselves.

So how do we control how we’re viewed? Walking in a room and saying “I’m a court reporter” doesn’t automatically command the same respect as saying, “I’m a president, judge, or CEO.” In fact, it seems to be the exact opposite. When I walk into a room, clients don’t automatically respect me. I’m merely seen as a girl who can type really fast. (Ah-hem, ever seen someone mimic typing gestures to define what we do?) And I’m tired of the repeated cycle of trying to educate the outside world that we’re not going to be replaced by digital recorders and that it takes more than a couple brain cells to do what we do. So if we’re going to be judged by initial appearances, then let’s control how we’re judged. Let’s look the part of a highly certified reporter. In other words, let’s be visually certified!

The first thing people see is our attire. Make it a point to wear attire that reflects your position as a professional reporter, regardless of your clientele. It doesn’t have to be complicated; a basic suit can command a lot of respect. And by basic, I’m not talking about boring and cookie-cutter but a nice suit with a subtle flare of our own style. Simply looking professional will ward off that initial judgment.

Secondly, our equipment is an extension of us. It represents the manner in which we will handle transcripts, exhibits, or a CART session. Having an up-to-date steno writer and laptop with the screens wiped clean of fingerprints, fur, and crumbs represents that we can keep our professional and personal lives separate. And don’t forget cables. Making sure they’re not a tangled mess but folded nicely with Velcro straps provides a subtle message that we are organized and efficient. And what’s better than Velcro straps wrapped around cables? The absence of cables! Providing iPads and wireless connections shows you have the ability to troubleshoot your realtime systems and gives the appearance of an advanced and educated reporter/captioner.

Also, we have the advantage of sitting at the head of the table, which allows us to be in control of the room and project competence and professionalism. Non-verbal cues help guide clients’ opinions and inform them about how they should be interacting with us. Instead of slouching in our chairs and hunching over our computers, sit with purpose. Our posture will help decide how much merit we have in the room.

So by looks alone, we have gained visual certifications, and we haven’t even started writing our job yet.

That’s when we hit them with the next layer of certifications. By that, I mean be the Mary Poppins of the room. It’s amazing how providing a few extras, maybe personalized clips or pads or pens to help them do their job can gain respect. And to update the Mary Poppins effect, be virtual. In other words, be the Google of the room. Be able to inform your clients of the nearest and most popular restaurants, where to catch the train or taxi, and the best way to the airport or hotel. The ability to save them a few minutes by gaining knowledge from the “locals” helps make us invaluable to their experience.

So take control of those judgmental looks and be the respected, highly certified reporter/captioner you are! Take ownership of our diplomatic role as independent officers of the court. Show off your realtime streams, because we can all be Certified Realtime Reporters. The reality is, we are in a profession where we will continually be judged on our looks. So look the part and play the role. Let them judge us on our looks, because our actions and appearances can earn for us the respect we deserve. Because sometimes, actions speak louder than words … or letters.

Merilee Johnson, RMR, CRR, CBC, CCP, is a CART captioner in Eden Prairie, Minn. She can be reached at This article was originally published on the Paradigm Reporting & Captioning company’s website.