The JCR reached out to several members of NCRA who made the decision to switch careers and enter the court reporting, captioning, or legal video professions and asked them to share what they did before, how they decided to make the change, when they knew they made the right choice, and insights they would share with others considering making a change.
CURRENT CAREER: Student at the Community College of Allegheny County; Plans to work as a freelance reporter
upon graduation in July 2017
PREVIOUS CAREER: Master’s level mobile mental health therapist for about 18 months
After I finished my degree, I was trying to get enough client contact hours to sit for the exam and earn my professional license as a mental health therapist. I was doing anything and everything for the company I worked for, even sitting as a secretary. But they would not fill my client schedule, so I left. I interviewed at another company for a similar position, and they informed me they needed someone with their professional license, which I was working toward, but in order to sit for the exam, you had to complete direct client contact hours. I knew I needed to do something that wasn’t dependent on what others thought I could do or doing something that others had to help me fill my schedule.
My cousin is a court reporter and currently reports on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. I contacted her to get more information because I knew she was making a good living, and I knew she enjoyed what she was doing. I am one of three girls, and my cousin tried to talk all three of us into going into court reporting after high school. It was always sort of in the back of my mind, but I never really knew much about court reporting as a career. But once I realized I wasn’t finding my way as a therapist, I decided to look into court reporting further.
I do think some skills from my previous work transfer. I continue with the need to listen to people, I continue to provide a service for people, I continue to be mobile with that service, and I continue to hear stories about people
(some more awful than others, but I feel my previous experience has prepared me for such things and to not be shocked).
I think I am most excited to be entering a field that is highly valued, highly in demand and highly respected. I look forward to having a full schedule because of a proven, black-and-white skill that I possess. I would say to look at all the options, talk to some people in the field (both new to the field and seasoned professionals), and learn as much as you can. I continued to work in my first career when I started school for the career change and, if it didn’t work out, I would’ve stayed with that job and pushed harder for my chance and what I wanted. It never hurts to try something new and make yourself more marketable.
After the first few weeks in school, I knew that making this change was going to be a good, positive, life-changing choice. I was picking up on this new (steno) language, and all the working court reporters that came to speak to
us about the field only had great things to tell us. Students ahead of me were getting their speeds and passed on advice. There is so much encouragement and happiness and excitement in this field. I can’t wait to get out there and
Carolyn Kerr, RPR
CURRENT CAREER: Working as an official court reporter for the state of New York Unified Court System, family
court in Niagara County
PREVIOUS CAREER: Worked in radio and television
I’ve actually had two careers before court reporting. I have my B.A. from the University at Buffalo in communications. Because of my love for music, I became involved with the campus radio station and was soon the program director. I also interned at a local radio station and, while still attending college, was hired full time as a disc jockey and promotions director at that radio station. The radio and music industry is very volatile, and I discovered that while I loved music and the fun of working at a radio station, I wasn’t enjoying the people I worked with very much. Many of my coworkers had drug and/or alcohol problems, had multiple marriages, were not particularly well educated, but they had huge egos. I was 23 years old and decided I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life surrounded by people I didn’t respect. But being in radio did give me a very important skill that I believe carries over to court reporting. That
skill is the ability to perform.
I lucked out and got kind of a weird job next, one that combined my skill in performing with the stability of a real job. I was hired as a traffic reporter, working for the local public transit agency. The bus drivers on the road would call
in the traffic delays they saw, and I would compile traffic reports and provide them to most Buffalo area radio stations and one TV station during morning and afternoon drive times. In return, the public transit system got advertising
on these stations. On some of the stations I would broadcast live; on others I would just provide the information to their on-air personnel, who would read it. I also appeared on the local ABC-TV network affiliate during their morning
show. For three hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon, I was typing up and churning out constant traffic updates to 12 to 15 media outlets. I could always type fast, but this experience really improved that skill. Again, another transferable skill to court reporting.
Eventually marriage and children came along, and I didn’t want to work the split shift this job required, so I bid on another job in the transit agency and became the supervisor of the customer service department. Essentially I ran a
call center and resolved customer complaints. You can imagine the types and amount of complaints a public bus and rail company receives! What I learned from that job is that I do not like supervising anyone and that I missed the performance component of my other jobs. I was a really good typist and enjoyed typing, but I knew there wasn’t much money in it.
While I was at a family party, I was complaining to my sister-in-law about my job as a customer service manager, and she suggested court reporting. It was one of those duh moments, as my sister-in-law was not only a court reporter but also owned a freelance agency. From there everything just fell into place, almost as if it were meant to be. The local school was not too far from my house, not too expensive, and worked with my schedule, and oh, by the way, they were having an open house the following week. I enrolled on the spot, and a little over two years later I began working for my sister-in-law’s company.
At its heart, court reporting is a performance job. The skills from my broadcasting career definitely have translated to court reporting. And while we do interact with judges, clerks, lawyers, the public, and other reporters, court reporters are essentially solo workers. It’s us and the machine, and then it’s us and the transcript. I found from working in customer service that I really like working independently, and court reporting fulfills that preference.
What most excites me about court reporting is my certainty that I am performing an essential but unique service. Keeping the record is one of the main principles of our legal system. The written word allows ideas and facts to be conveyed and shared through generations. In 2015 we marked the 700th anniversary of the Magna Carta, the document upon which our nation and many other democratic nations are defined as a nation of laws, not of man. Someone wrote that down. Scribes were the early court reporters. Without them, where would our understanding of history be? I am very proud to be a part of this institution. I also love that court reporting is both a physical and mental job. While our fingers are flying over the keyboards with a profound dexterity, our minds are working in dual tracks. One track is hearing and committing the spoken word to writing, the other is devising a way to create a shortcut or inserting punctuation. That makes our job feel like a craft or skilled trade to me, which I love and value.
The advice I would give to someone considering a court reporting career is to, first of all, do an honest assessment of what’s going on in your life. Court reporting school is difficult. In our class of 30, only two of us graduated, and I am the only one still working. I believe you must have almost no distractions to get through school. No small babies. No ongoing divorces. No financial problems. Secondly, I believe that you must be ambitious and committed. Once you start working, take the difficult job. It will make you a better reporter. Take the certification exams. Those letters after your name will make you feel so good. And finally, you must view court reporting as a profession, not just a job.
Professions require ongoing development, investment, and education. For a job, you just show up. If you view yourself as a professional, I believe you will have a more realistic understanding of what it takes to get through school and to succeed once you’re working. The point at which I knew I made the right decision for a career in court reporting was the first time I looked down at that old borrowed manual machine and hit that initial key. I knew immediately. It just felt right. It was me. Having said that, it wouldn’t have been the right choice for me at the age of 20 or 25. I needed that experience of working in radio and television, and I needed to learn I hated being a manager.
CURRENT CAREER: Freelance reporter
PREVIOUS CAREER: Secretarial
I am a freelance reporter, but I cover various courts sometimes if they need me and if I don’t already have a freelance job. I’m on the coast and I’ll drive up to two hours for a good job.
I had a secretarial background originally. I went to a vocational school and learned typing, shorthand, etc., in the mid-1980s. Then I just worked part time at various jobs while raising four boys. I always worked a secretarial job
full-time till I started having kids in 1990. After that, I took a few years off and had three more kids in two years (twins in there) and then worked part-time till 2010 when I decided to pursue court reporting.
When two were in college, I decided to consider a second career. My boys were getting older; I had more time, and I wanted a good paying job that offered flexibility. I had never been exposed to court reporting. When I was considering a second career, I did some online research.
I would say my secretarial background and good command of grammar, etc., helped in my career as a court reporter. Just know it takes self-discipline and constant practice and self-confidence.
I never know when I walk out the door what story I’m going to hear that day. It’s like being a fl y on the wall and getting a peek into someone’s life.
I never doubted court reporting would be my second career. I remember being on my first job and thinking, yes, I did it, and pinching myself!
Kerry Irizarry, RPR
CURRENT CAREER: Freelance reporter
PREVIOUS CAREER: AT&T customer service representative, 11 years
Our office was closed, and everyone was laid off. As part of our compensation, we were offered money to go back to school and/or start a new business. I had seen court reporting commercials on television and thought it looked interesting. And after my experience with corporate America, I decided I wanted to go out and get a skill that was valuable and that would give me flexibility.
I had no idea what court reporting was about. I was always fascinated with closed captioning and when I learned that captioners were court reporters, I was hooked.
Working customer service required we use a computer all day. I became very adept at typing and operating computer software, which is beneficial to our profession. I also got experience interacting with people and resolving problems. These skills come in handy when interacting with attorneys and judges.
I love to read back. Our profession is stressful and comes with a lot of responsibility, but I love it when I can help an attorney out with a question or answer they repeated. Audio recordings can’t do that. I would also like to move into captioning or providing CART services. Ours is one of the few professions that we can provide a service for those with a disability.
I love court reporting, but it was a very hard road to travel to become proficient. Court reporters have to be very dedicated and meticulous in their work. They need attention to detail, flexibility, and good interpersonal skills.
Someone who has these qualities would probably be a great court reporter.
I didn’t realize I had a thyroid condition, and my work was suffering. I believe it had been going on so long that it had prevented me from graduating from court reporting school sooner. I had trouble focusing, which is crucial in our job. It really had me doubting my decision to pursue this as my second career. Thankfully, I found a doctor that straightened me out. Now I absolutely love my job and have no doubt this was the right decision for me.
Dave Leyland, CLVS
Kansas City, Mo.
CURRENT CAREER: Legal videographer
PREVIOUS CAREERS: Director of a nonprofit and state child welfare administrator
I had formerly worked as a director of a nonprofit for more than 19 years, and before that I was a child welfare administrator in the state of Missouri. I am currently owner of Kansas City Legal Videography.
Soon after leaving my nonprofit job, I began working with a certified court reporter company as their manager of production. I became very interested in legal videography when scheduling and interacting with video specialists. I always had a fondness for the legal profession, videography, and technology, and I realized that I could pursue all of these as a video specialist. I soon started researching how to pursue this interest and one of the first things on my list was to become certified as a legal video specialist through NCRA.
I’ve always believed that you gain so much value by associating with people in your trade. Professionals of all kinds must also keep up to date with the latest technology and equipment to be used on the job. I successfully passed the written test and went on to also pass the production test in Chicago at last year’s NCRA Convention & Expo.
I’ve had a lot of opportunities to use the skills that were first taught to me at the three-day training in Reston, Va. I’m constantly learning new techniques and upgrading my skills as I gain experience as a legal video specialist. Every job that you have comes with its challenges. I still have so much to learn because I always want to deliver the very best product to the client.
I can’t say how much I enjoy this profession and the great interactions I have with other litigation professionals, especially the court reporters who are the hardest working people in the room.