By Laura Brewer
When I was in court reporting school, my theory teacher, Al Kerwin, planted the seed in me early: Obtain the Certificate of Merit, CM (now the Registered Merit Reporter, RMR).
Kerwin not only spoke in glowing terms about the merit writers he knew, but he specifically encouraged me to pursue the Certificate of Merit as soon as I was eligible to sit for the examination. He believed in me, and it made a difference. He instilled in me early on the desire to excel and the confidence that I could succeed.
Our court reporting students are the future champions of our profession: They are the future merit writers, the International Criminal Court record keepers, the Congressional reporters, the realtime and speed champions, the association presidents, our teachers, and our mentors. Starting them on the path to success begins with showing them the way.
I believe it is important to start early, in theory class, letting the reporters of the future know what certifications are available, what it means to excel, the behaviors that good reporters model, and what is possible through a career in court reporting.
A few key points made early and often when I was a student remain good advice today:
● Get certified. Get as many certifications as you can and reach for the stars. One of my proudest achievements was earning my CM as soon as I was eligible to sit for the exam. In addition to my California CSR, I have the RPR, the RDR, the CRR, and the CRC. These certifications and the skills I developed pursuing them defined my career. Advanced certifications not only make you a shoo-in for the best work, but they also make your job easier and allow you to make more money and enjoy more time off. The single best thing you can do for your career is to obtain advanced certifications.
● Join your local, state, and national reporting associations. The expense of membership is far outweighed by the rich networking opportunities, referrals, and many friendships you will treasure for the rest of your life. Most reporters work alone, and having access to a network of reporters through these associations will be a lifeline for you professionally and personally.
● Strive for constant improvement in the form of skills development and other avenues of professional and personal growth. Champions look for opportunities to learn and improve themselves – and to help others do the same. The time and money spent on continuing education is an investment in yourself.
● Volunteer. You will make lifelong friends and ensure your profession’s future by volunteering. There are myriad opportunities to make a difference:
○ See if you can volunteer for your state CSR board or testing panel. Volunteers help by grading, serving on a testing committee or state licensing board, or even dictating.
○ I cannot overemphasize the importance of joining your local and state associations, as well as NCRA. But take the next step, too. Volunteer to assist at a seminar or conference. Volunteer to serve on a committee. Run for office. Get involved in political activities in your state.
○ Mentor another student. In this way, you pass what you’ve already learned forward, benefiting not only the student, but the industry and our clients and consumers.
○ Write articles, give presentations, or speak at schools.
● Form a lifelong habit of reading. Frequently throughout my career, I have come across an unfamiliar word in testimony, only to come upon the same word in my reading that evening. Without the added context, I would have likely second-guessed myself and “corrected” the testimony incorrectly. Reading enriches your life and, once again, makes your job easier and more enjoyable.
Some thoughts for teachers, new and experienced
These tried-and-true suggestions are pure gold for motivating students:
- Introduce your students to the many career paths available to reporters. Invite working reporters from all walks of the reporting world to talk to students of all speeds about the world of the working reporter and how students can achieve excellence and career satisfaction.
- Provide newsletters and magazines produced by reporting associations for your students to read. Consider using articles from the JCR or your state magazine or newsletter as dictation material.
- Have a feature in the fall showing the notes of the speed and realtime competition winners. (The notes from the winners of the NCRA Speed and Realtime Contests are published throughout the year, so keep an eye out for those features.) Talk about the champions’ styles of writing and how they achieved their speeds and realtime prowess.
- Don’t forget to introduce your students to Intersteno, where reporters from around the world meet and compete at exciting venues. There are even events for students.
- Celebrate the successes of your students, those who qualify for certification exams and those who pass. Be sure to include alums who have attained advanced certifications.
- Help your students build a plan to attain certification and encourage them to enter speed and realtime competitions once they are certified. There is a first time to hear about everything, and let the first time your students hear about these opportunities for success be from you in school.
Sow the seeds early and encourage them to grow.
Some thoughts for reporters
As a busy working reporter, there never seems to be enough time, but the busiest people are truly the ones who can always do a little more. The opportunity and the obligation is ours to groom the next generation of reporters for success and to ensure the future of our profession. Find the time to help a student or to promote reporting.
- Start a mentor program or participate in one that is offered through your state association. Work with local or online schools to provide a communication channel with students. If you can’t make the time to mentor in person, NCRA and many state associations have virtual mentoring.
- Speak to the bench, bar, and the general public, getting the word out about our profession and what reporting has meant to your life.
Some thoughts for students
If you have already taken some of the steps below – brava! If you haven’t, consider this your call to action.
- Seek out a mentor – or two or three. Talk to your mentor about your problems, your successes, ask questions, and start forming relationships with reporters.
- Join the local, state, and national reporting associations. Many associations offer low-cost student memberships.
- Attend a conference or seminar. Many state associations offer sponsorships to promote student seminar and conference attendance.
- Work part-time for a reporting agency. You will make crucial contacts and acquire invaluable knowledge that will jump-start your career.
It is never too early to plant and nurture the seeds of greatness: Certification, participating in elite reporting competitions, and striving for the unimaginable job. The rewards will be enormous, to the profession and to the individuals who attain greatness.
Laura Brewer, FAPR, RDR, CRR, CRC, is a CART captioner and freelance court reporter based in Nevada City, Calif. She serves on NCRA’s Contests Committee and the Written Knowledge Test Committee. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.