Preparation, preparation, preparation

By Sandra Mierop

Last October on a conference call to come up with ideas about what the Technology Committee was going to accomplish over the next year, I volunteered to participate on the “Realtime Tips” project. It was right in my wheelhouse. Of all the things that I do as a stenographic reporter, nothing jazzes me more than realtiming, whether it’s for a trial, a deposition, CART for somebody who has difficulty hearing, or even to a big screen at a convention with 500 attendees.

What I didn’t expect was an email from Lynette Mueller, FAPR, RDR, CRR, chair of the Technology Committee, assigning me as the “lead” for the assignment. To tell you the truth, I didn’t even know what a “lead” does for an assignment. I called Lynette, and she told me that I’m the one who pulls the assignment together and then writes the article for the JCR. I’m very lucky because Lynette also assigned two superhero reporters to this small team: Kimberly Greiner, RDR, CRR, CRC, of Lenexa, Kan., and Alan Peacock,  FAPR, RDR, CRR, CRC, of Mobile, Ala.

Well, panic still set in because I’m a court reporter, I write other people’s words, I’m not a writer for a published journal. So the first thing that I did was dive into old JCR articles to check out how other “leads” on assignments handled their tasks. After reading a bunch, I saw a theme develop. When an author writes in the JCR, very often the common denominator for their topic is preparation. I thought, “Well, that’s what I do whenever I realtime a job. I prepare for it. That sounds like the most important tip to me.”

Before any realtime assignment, I start with the basics, the Notice if it’s a deposition, the topic if it’s for CART and the big screen. I do a deep dive into terminology, put speaker names into my CAT job dictionary, and I try to get a copy of speeches for a convention or lesson plans for a college class from the professor. Then the day before a realtime job, I always do a test of my equipment. I make sure that my MiFi will connect to my tablets and CAT computer and go through my checklist of all of the equipment and backups that I need to bring. If I’m realtiming a trial or an arbitration, I have a practice session with the scopists and proofreader who are on the other end of my CAT software.

Invariably, something goes wrong at the job no matter how much I prepare. But I do the same preparation for every single realtime job, and so many things have gone wrong that figuring out the problems becomes a nonissue because most of those problems have already been solved on previous run-throughs or jobs. The key is to remain calm and think the problem through.

Greiner also spoke about preparation when she shared her tips. “The best realtime provided is when you’ve had an opportunity to prepare a dictionary that’s case-specific. As a freelancer and now as an official, I go to the court websites and look at the case information. I am then provided with the Complaint, so I know whether the case is a product-services issue or an employment-related dispute. I wouldn’t want to waste my time researching what a company manufactures or some damage claim to only find out that it’s an HR case. I like to put the words that I’m likely to hear again in my personal dictionary because it can never hold enough. I only create a job dictionary for case-specific briefs, attorney names, and speaker IDs.”

Kimberly continued, “You’ll always be relaxed if you show up with plenty of time to set up and anticipate any unforeseen troubleshooting that might arise. I use a WiFi realtime delivery. Be prepared with a WiFi system with or without the firm’s WiFi available to you. Also, always carry duplicates of items in your bag. Cables can go bad. We bend them and fold them into our bags daily. Be sure to charge your machine the night before. Bring water and food so that you can stay focused and not have food brain drain. When you’re relaxed because you’re prepared, your realtime will reflect that.”

Alan Peacock had some really great insight on preparation, too. He said, “If you’re in real estate, you know the three key words are ‘location, location, location.’ For the realtime reporting world, the three words are ‘preparation, preparation, preparation.’

“When you’re assigned to a realtime job, you must always do your homework. And just like in school, waiting for the last moment is not a good idea. You need to have a sense of the subject matter that you’re about to address. For example, say that you’ve been assigned a realtime deposition in a class-action suit and the broad subject is coronavirus. Where do you begin?

“We are all so fortunate today to have the internet to help us with topic-specific terminology. I first contact the scheduling attorney or the reporting firm and request a copy of previous depositions in the case. I also request to have a copy of the Complaint, the Interrogatories and the Answers to Interrogatories.  Then I search the internet for my witness. Is she published? Is she on YouTube? Can I preview her speech? Is there information on her specifically or her publications? What about searching terminology related to the subject? All of that will give you a wonderful base to start building a job dictionary. Once you have the terms, work on developing one-stroke briefs for difficult terms or high-frequency words.

“Have a checklist prepared for the day of the job and double-check that you have all of your equipment, your backups, your chargers, your dictionaries— everything that you need.”

Alan mentioned that he once spent hours developing a dictionary for a job and then forgot to load it onto his laptop. It was a tough lesson to learn, but he learned from it nonetheless.

Alan continued that we need to learn from our mistakes. “Know yourself and what you are likely to do and not to do. Take note of those issues and use a checklist to make sure you are prepared and ready to go. And if you ever feel like you don’t know enough or you are not up to speed on the technology or the topics, there are hundreds of reporters who are experienced realtimers who will help you. Find them on Facebook or in online user groups and reach out to them. I am always happy to help anyone who reaches out to me with questions, and I find myself reaching out to others more and more.”

Alan ended his interview with his very wise counsel, “My message would be to prep, take notes, make checklists, and prep again. Then go and be confident and show the world what you can do!”

And that’s what I did. I prepped. And now I’m an author in a published journal.

Sandra  Mierop,  FAPR, RPR, CRR, CRC, is an agency  owner  and freelance court reporter based in Anchorage, Alaska, and a member of NCRA’s Technology Committee. She can be reached at sandi@nlrr.com.