Blended learning

By Carol Adams

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed education in our country. The quarantine forced schools to create online content quickly so students could continue their education virtually. Some teachers had to learn how to navigate the distance learning environment along with their students. Now that individual states are beginning to lift stay-at-home restrictions, many institutions are trying to balance how to offer face-to-face classes while keeping students and instructors safe and obeying social distancing and occupancy requirements. An answer to this may be blended learning.

Blended learning is instruction with both face-to-face and online components, also known as a hybrid course. Blended learning can offer the best of both traditional campus and online classes, one complementing the other. In today’s environment, one thought is to split classes into groups and have them alternate days on campus to maintain small class sizes. For example, a Monday/Wednesday/Friday class is split into three groups and each group attends campus classes on one day each week.

Here are a few benefits of utilizing blended learning courses:

  • Hybrid courses offer flexibility for students. They can access content at anytime, anywhere, which is important when juggling work and family.
  • Commuters are driving to campus fewer times a week, which saves time and gas money. 
  • Learners can review online content as many times as they need to master the concepts.
  • Streaming media – Ted Talks, podcasts, YouTube – allows students the opportunity to learn from outside resources and engage with professionals in the field.
  • Blended courses retain the human touch, plus the bonus of learning and interacting with new technology.
  • Classes with lab activities or other tasks that are difficult to complete virtually can be completed during the weekly classroom meeting.

There are challenges with implementing blended learning: 

  • There is an initial time investment for instructors, developing and then implementing content for two environments. Teachers may have difficulty managing the online classroom if they are not computer savvy.
  • Students with limited computer or internet access are going to struggle with the online component.
  • Learners who have issues with time management and organization may have trouble staying on task.

If you are interested in building a blended course, here are some additional considerations.  Start by focusing on the course objectives. Analyze what the students need to know when the course is completed, divide the material into manageable segments, and then organize the material into a weekly format. Look at the amount of time the students will be on campus each week and determine what learning activities would be best delivered face-to-face versus online. Best practices dictate that class time be used for discussion, group work, and tasks that cannot be completed virtually. Short lectures, voice-over PowerPoint presentations, podcasts, readings, and YouTube videos or other streaming media can be utilized for online learning content. Quizzes, discussion boards, worksheets, and blogs are all excellent online assessments to measure student success.

The syllabus must communicate both student and teacher expectations. Students need to know the best ways to communicate with you throughout the week and when they can expect feedback on assignments and responses to emails. The syllabus must set clear guidelines for student submissions and how the work will be evaluated. Learners need instruction on what is expected during classroom meetings and online each week.

Hybrid classes may be the answer for institutions in our current climate. If this model fits into your teaching strategy, my hope is these tips assist you in getting started.

Carol Adams, RPR, MCRI, is the Distance Education Director at Huntington Junior College in Huntington, W.V.

Students and teachers learn to cope with COVID-19

When stay-at-home orders were put in place across the country, brick-and-mortar schools were forced to shut their doors. The last couple of months have been challenging, but court reporting programs have found ways to adapt and serve the needs of their students during this unusual time. Whether they already had online programs in place, or are starting from scratch, everyone is learning to transition. Up-to-Speed asked teachers and students, “How are you coping with COVID-19?”


My speed building students are rocking right along in their daily assignments since we have the use of Blackboard at GSCC and Realtime Coach for all students. Since we are a brick and mortar school, the students are not fond of being absent from the classroom, their classmates, and the environment of being in school, but they are doing fine. Most prefer to be at school rather than home because school is their place of focus.

Testing has become much more of a challenge online because they get better feedback being in the classroom rather than getting it in an email. It has increased my workload tremendously to give them feedback on daily homework, classwork, and tests since I am not able to sit face-to-face with them. However, we are all adjusting and making it OK. I have actually had two graduate at the end of April!

I have made myself available as much as possible by using Facetime, texting, or phone calls. We are constantly coming up with new ways to make this transition of temporary online schooling as smooth as possible.

Our college has not yet determined when we will be back in the classroom, but hopefully it will be before summer is over, “God willing and the creek don’t rise.” It’s a Southern thing. 😉

Leah M. Elkins, CRI, CCR Instructor/Advisor, Gadsden State Community College (GSCC), Gadsden, Ala.


Many people may feel that online learning is difficult, but I love the flexibility of it. Since life as we know it has changed due to COVID 19, online learning is the perfect option for someone who is looking for a career path or a career change.

I currently work in a skilled nursing facility in which there are patients and staff who are COVID positive. Life is very stressful caring for these sick people and then worrying that I could possibly get my family sick. I have days in which I may work long hours and then days that may be much shorter. Due to this uncertainty and chaos, the ability to take every class online for the captioning and court reporting program has been wonderful. I am able to practice on the steno machine at my own convenience which could be before work on some days or after the kids go to bed on other days. Even though the course load may feel overwhelming at times, the ability to do the work during my free time has been a blessing.

For me, if I were doing a traditional in-class learning schedule, I would not be as successful. There would not be enough time in the day to go to class, work full time, and be able to spend quality time with by children and husband. Online learning was the perfect option for me.

Allison Berg, student, Cuyahoga Community College, Parma, Ohio


Even though SimplySteno has been exclusively online for the last 15 years, changes have been made during Covid-19 to increase the social aspect of the program in these times when social distancing is encouraged. That has meant adding more live classes, which is another opportunity for students to see other students. In addition, Covid-19 has inspired us to create an online social network exclusively for our students – a safe space where they can share their stories with others in the SimplySteno program. 

Marc Greenberg, CRI, SimplySteno


Our spring semester took on a new look due to COVID-19. We were actually one step ahead of the “new normal” by already starting to use a platform called Bluejeans to teach from, as well as for the students to attend classes from. We had started a pilot program using Bluejeans in the fall of 2018 to allow students who did not have access to one of our shared-program technical colleges to attend our program from their home or a place where they had the required internet capability. So, when the safer-at-home order hit, we were up and running immediately. All students just attended their live classes on their regular schedules via Bluejeans from their homes.

Jackie Rupnow, RPR, CRI, our other instructor, and I had a few challenges in getting all our materials together and utilizing my husband and Jackie’s daughter for our second voice for our testimony classes. We thank them both for stepping in to keep our students on track! We did also set up speed tests through Realtime Coach just in case for April and May, which the college paid for so there was no cost to the students for that additional Realtime Coach feature. 

With that said, all students were able to complete their spring courses, and we had one graduate for the spring semester. 

Barbi Galarno, RPR, CRI, M.S.Ed., Court Reporting Instructor, Lakeshore Technical College, Cleveland, Wisc.


It seemed as if the crisis just snuck up on all of us locally and around the country. We were all watching the news and aware of the statistics surrounding the virus across the country when suddenly, faculty and students at Tri-C were informed that we would all begin to work remotely.

The fact that we had an online program already established alleviated stress for our students as well as our faculty. It was truly a ready-set-go situation for us. Amid all kinds of other frustrations and worries as they determined how to manage changes in their professional workplace, support their children’s teachers, deal with loss of income, and worry about health, our students expressed that their classes were a nice break from those things. Students found tending to coursework without hesitation to be a welcome way to spend their time and a sense of relief while adjusting to their new normal. The need to finish up with their schooling became even more important as many students faced changes in their employment situations.

A community college with access to grants and support, Tri-C provided laptops to nearly 150 students in financial need. It also has programs to help students find other financial support, food sources, and counseling. Overwhelmingly, Tri-C’s students have done very well academically as they shoulder the coronavirus in these uncertain times.

Kelly Moranz, CRI, Program Director, Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C), Parma, Ohio

Stenopalooza inspires student

On May 1, NCRA held its first-ever Stenopalooza, an online, all-day event put together by the Board of Directors. Webinar topics ranged from learning to caption Facebook live, to adding Zoom to your remote office toolkit. Only a handful of students attended the event. But one student, Angela Rojo of Argonaut/Charles A. Jones Court Reporter Program in Sacramento, Calif., got a jumpstart on her career by taking in a full day of webinars, and she learned that advocating for the profession starts with advocating for yourself.

By Angela Rojo

Did anyone else see posts about Stenopalooza on social media? I can hear my teachers and other professionals in the industry telling me to put my phone down and to get back on my writer. Admittedly, social media is one of my weaknesses and such a time sucker. Anyway, Dineen Squillante, RPR, a freelance court reporter from Arlington, Vt., first planted the seed of attending Stenopalooza in one of her posts. After being invited to the Steno Strong group by Rich Germosen, RMR, CRR, a freelance court reporter from North Brunswick, N.J., and catching the infectious positive energy found there, signing up for the all-day seminar was a no-brainer.

I say no-brainer only because being aware of the trends in the industry will help me to be more effective once I transition from the role of student to that of Certified Shorthand Reporter (CSR). I want to be able to advocate compellingly for the profession (read, advocate compellingly for myself). My choice to attend Stenopalooza was fueled by my desire to become an in-demand, California CSR. I am a single mom, and school is tough. However, my family would be underserved if I failed to seek information readily available pertaining to my chosen future profession. Honing my writing skill is only one of the elements of playing a vital role in either the system of justice or providing an important service for those with hearing impairments. What do you depend on to stay informed? I depend on my teachers, coach, association conventions, and training events. Oh, and social media.

Out of the nine webinars I watched during Stenopalooza, my favorites were the Lights, Action, ZOOM – Improving the New Normal; Captioning Facebook Live; and POW Knowledge is Power and NCRA is FLEXING. These were among my favorites because I think of them as double-dipping. I learned practical tips and skills that can be utilized immediately in school, and they will also serve me well in my future as a professional.

The presentation about Zoom helped pinpoint some of the connection problems I’ve been running into while transitioning with my school’s now online classes. There were a few absolute light bulb moments! Hello, mesh router!

Completely over the top was the Facebook Live class. Denise Hinxman, FAPR, RDR, CRR, CRC, a captioner from Reno, Nev., expertly walked attendees through clear steps. The presenters began with teaching us to seek out untapped and out-of-the-box opportunities, transitioned to training clients previously unfamiliar with the elevated service value, and really guided us through all the areas necessary to providing a polished, valuable service. My words dull the class a bit, but this presentation had serious value. Dineen ended the seminar with the words, “If we don’t market ourselves, nobody will do it for us.” Let that sink in. “Not out-skilled. We’ll be out-marketed.” Not to strike fear at all, but rather action. Her words prompted me to sit up straighter and pay closer attention. “Don’t assume that all lawyers and consumers of our products know that — what this job entails and the importance and sanctity that comes with it.” 

With all the resources available to us as students, it really is up to us to pass those tests and get out of school. I think of advocating and marketing ourselves as trusted, ethical professionals in the same way. It’s up to us.

In five years – nope, make that one year — I want to be prepared to have a meaningful conversation when the opportunity arises to advocate for myself. Like Rich said, “Look for someone who’s advocating and try to follow.” There are local and national groups, like Steno Strong, where students are invited to participate and get to know our future peers. I encourage you to do so. There are valuable resources available in each group and association I’ve encountered. Don’t be intimidated to get out there and introduce yourself. Attending the Stenopalooza Happy Hour event was a fun opportunity to “see” reporters relaxed and real. Students, we will be out there with our licenses and certifications sooner rather than later. Why not jump in on the socializing and educational activities now? I hope to see you next time!

Angela Rojo is a 180 word-per-minute student attending Argonaut/Charles A. Jones Court Reporter Program in Sacramento, Calif.

If you would like to purchase a webinar from the Stenopalooza event, please visit NCRA’s Continuing Education catalog.

From streaming video games to streaming steno

Brian Binkney

How would you like to livestream your steno practice on Facebook? How would you like to do it with 700 followers watching? Brian Binkney, a student at the College of Court Reporting in Valpiraiso, Ind., has spent his life serving others. Now he has created an online community of students learning from each other. “People are watching me practice and practicing along, usually on their own machines in their own CAT software. It’s like a huge practice session for anyone to join.”

By Brian Binkney

I was raised in rural Arizona and played video games and performed with my band around the state. I joined the U. S. Marine Corps in 1996 and served as a military policeman.  After I was discharged, in 2004, I continued my public service and became a law enforcement officer in Arizona where I worked for the Mohave County Sheriff’s Office and Kingman Police Department. I got to work with amazing people, serve my community, wake up with purpose, and care for my family.

At about 40, I was still looking for what I wanted to do because I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life in a state of vigilance. I wanted to have purpose but not brace for a fight. I wanted to be able to relax for the first time in more than 20 years and let my body have a break. As I was looking, I worked in a local brewery that was just starting. I sold beer and talked about something I loved, traveling all over Arizona putting on events and getting the beer onto taps. I also worked as a substitute teacher mainly with middle school kids who had behavior problems. But I was still searching, thinking where to go and what to do. I was looking at job boards, looking for what to start, wondering what to do. And, somehow, the idea of court reporting came to me; probably from my wife who has all the great ideas and sees court reporters daily at the courthouse.

This is a profession that gives purpose, can be flexible, and ultimately felt like a challenge I could take on. I started at the College of Court Reporting in 2018 and attend through the Veteran Administrations Vocational Rehabilitation and Education Program (VA). Having the assistance of the VA has made this new career choice possible. I push toward learning new skills and accepting the idea that this will take time. To that end, I decided to share it. I needed something to hold me accountable to my practice, so I decided to stream my practice sessions. I was not expecting anyone to watch. I also didn’t realize that no one else was doing this. I had started streaming video games as a way to stay connected to my family who is far away, So I would stream video games via Streamlabs to Facebook live and Twitch. It would be me playing video games and chatting with people who were watching. As time went on, I figured I’d give streaming my practice sessions a shot

Streaming my steno was just another way to share my day. It’s a lonely world of online school where it’s just you doing it. More and more people started following and it was awesome to interact with other students and officials while practicing. It made it feel more like a classroom environment. The Streamlabs program lets me do scenes transitions, overlays, etc. I am able to start a live stream for both Twitch and Facebook from within the program itself and allow people to chat with me. Streamlabs is kind of like my own little TV studio at home. 

Much to my surprise people wanted to watch and interact. The positive reaction has been incredible and has created a community for me as I push through the difficult process of speed building toward graduation. I’m enjoying sharing what I do. My friends who have no exposure to stenography expressed interest and explained they had no idea what this was before. I also love building a steno community. People are watching me practice and practicing along usually on their own machines in their own CAT software. It’s like a huge practice session for anyone to join. 

Additionally, I appreciate that this holds me accountable to daily practice. I enjoy the conversations that are held during the stream between students and certified court reporters alike. There are funny stories, brief exchanges, and career advice freely exchanged. This is a community I am so proud to be a part of and that I am proud to represent. I finally have a plan for what I am going to do when I grow up.

Brian Binkney is a student at the College of Court reporting in Valparaiso, Ind. Brian’s livestreams can be found on Facebook at Stenogamer and at Twitch.tv/Stenogamer.

Facebook group celebrates certifications

Margary Rogers, RPR, CRI, recently started the Facebook group Stenographers Leveling up with Certifications. She talked to the JCR Weekly about what she hoped to accomplish with the group.

JCR | What gave you the idea for the group?

MR | The main reason I created this group is to encourage stenographers, including myself, to level up and take and successfully pass certifications tests. I wanted to provide a safe space for test-takers. There are many reporters who fear taking tests; many are embarrassed that they haven’t passed tests after many tries. I also wanted experienced reporters who obtained the highest level of certifications to join the group to encourage, train, mentor, and provide answers to questions that many reporters have. I want reporters to know that we are all in this together and that we have to help each other and celebrate each other when we fail and when we pass. This is a no-judgment-zone group. We learn from each other and support each other.

I am also a Certified Reporting Instructor (CRI). So I, along with other test-taking experts and highly decorated certificate holders, post test-taking tips, online testing tips, and test practice links. I also like to keep members of the group abreast of what tests are being offered and registration dates. Even though NCRA sends out weekly reminders of events, I thought having a page specifically based on certifications will keep people focused on their goal of obtaining certifications.

JCR | What do you hope to accomplish with the group?

MR | I firmly believe in teamwork. My desire is to have all members share test-taking strategies, common test-taking mistakes, post pictures of testing set-ups, how they prepare for tests, provide practice material, tips on how to write smarter, and discuss smart software settings. I want to hear good reports. I want to hear: “I passed the test that I have been trying to pass for the last five years.” I want to hear: “Ok, I am going to take an online test for the first time.” We also like to celebrate and acknowledge members when they pass tests and become certified. We want to celebrate every stenographic testing achievement and lessons learned.

What’s really ironic is at the time I created and launched this page on March 6, 2020, I had no idea that NCRA had a Celebrate Certification Month. When I realized May was Celebrate Certification Month and May 1 was the first day of online testing, I thought I have to do something big to celebrate the month with this group. We have to get some great, well-respected, certified leaders to come and encourage the members of this group during this month.

NCRA President Max Curry, RPR, CRI

The first thought I had was, who is better than the president of NCRA, along with the leadership team, to encourage Stenographers Leveling up with Certifications members about obtaining certifications. I was very excited and honored to have President Max Curry, RPR, CRI; President-Elect Christine Phipps, RPR; Vice-President Debbie Dibble, RDR, CRR, CRC; and Immediate-Past President Sue Terry, FAPR, RPR, CRR, CRC, join our Celebrate Certification Month Zoom events during the month of May. They all provided great advice. They were all down-to-earth and realistic.

Kim Xavier, RDR, CRR, CRC, CMRS, CRI, a highly experienced court reporter who has obtained many NCRA certifications, was also one of our speakers for our Zoom event. She gave great test-taking advice, and she has also contributed to our group by giving encouraging words to our members.

Another reason that I created the group is because I have always been concerned about the disparity with stenographers of color not having court reporting certifications and realtime certifications. I also recognized that some freelance reporters had more of a hustler mentality, and some officials had more of a complacent mentality or are more comfortable with the status quo, me included. I have also been concerned about not seeing reporters of color participating/represented in Speed and Realtime contests.

JCR | What is your personal certification story?

MR | The certificate that I am most proud of is my Bachelor of Science degree in court reporting from Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island, which I earned in 2000. I have also obtained the RPR and the CRI, which are NCRA certifications, and I also earned NCRA’s Realtime Systems Administrator. I am geared up now and hoping to pass the RMR and CRC between now, 2020, and 2021.

JCR | Are you welcoming new members to the group?

MR | The group is always open to new members, members who would like to learn more about obtaining certifications, receive alerts about when online test registration opens and closes, and helpful tips about taking tests online. We also focus on writing cleaner to pass the CRC and CRR tests, writing “Real Realtime” as Anissa Nierenberger, RPR, CRR, CRC, CRI, says. Anissa is one of the top contributors to our page. She’s phenomenal. She’s very quick to answer questions that are posed by members of the group. I truly appreciate her and everyone else that contributes to the page to help others.

We also welcome contributors, coaches, and highly decorated, experienced certificate holders to help, train, and encourage those of us who are working toward earning certs. On our page, we have a mentorship program where experienced reporters with certifications are matched up with reporters who want or need help to level up.

Margary Rogers, RPR, CRI, is an official court reporter in Washington, D.C.

Reopening the legal world after the COVID-19 quarantine

By Early Langley

The learning curve that courts face

I recently shared with the Presiding Asbestos Calendar Judge of Alameda County, Calif., a few of my thoughts on what reopening courtrooms for jury trials would be like. My email to her was prompted by confusion in everyone’s minds about where and how to start the reopening. Based on reporting remote informal discovery/scheduling conferences in her department, I knew that the courts were struggling with how the jury voir dire process would work. She was happy that I started the conversation and thought that my ideas were informative – so much so that she forwarded them to the court CEO and the presiding judge.

I wanted to share them with you as well and suggest that you consider what your situation might be like as courts and the legal world reopen after the COVID-19 quarantine.

The key comes from virtual Zoom depositions of a high-risk plaintiff

The set of virtual Zoom depositions that prompted the suggestions to her involved my reporting the depositions of a high-risk plaintiff. Based on the square footage of the deposition room, the high-risk plaintiff and his attorney, one designated defense attorney agreed to by all defense, and one videographer were present. All were protected by plastic shields. The size of the room limited my ability to be present. No masks were used by the questioning attorney and the witness so that everyone remotely via Zoom could see and hear. A Zoom PC was placed in front of the witness, and another was placed in front of the attorney. The witness could see any defense attorney on the Zoom feed. Five attorneys viewed the proceedings remotely and took turns asking questions. I was the “host” and had control over who entered the virtual Zoom “room.” With the help of Alameda County Designated Defense Counsel, I obtained appearances before the depo started. Until I admitted them to the “deposition room,” they remained in a “waiting room,” sort of like a breakout room but virtual. I was able to interrupt for a clear record. Every participant used a landline to avoid audio echoing and feedback – a significant problem. The “computer audio” option worked poorly because internet speeds vary. High-speed internet was a critical component for everyone attending.

The reopening of courtrooms using the same metric

It hit me, after my experience doing this set of high-risk plaintiff depositions, that using the same metric in the courtrooms could work. I envisioned a virtual Zoom voir dire process like this: Jurors are summoned to the VD process in groups not to exceed a 6-foot distance from one another in as large a room(s) as possible. They are assembled in multiple rooms. All wear masks. Through virtual Zoom screens placed in every room, they remotely view one prospective juror being questioned at a time in the presence of the judge, clerk, reporter, court attendant, and designated plaintiff and defense counsel. Shields are set up to protect the staff and attorneys. No mask would be worn by the attorney asking questions and no mask would be worn by the individual prospective juror being questioned. I realize that raises eyebrows, but it is almost impossible to decipher what a person is saying through a mask. Accents and quiet, soft-spoken people make it impossible for the court reporter, placed 6 feet away, to hear. The placement of microphones on lapels, a practice only employed by videographers heretofore, would be the new normal.

After the jury is sworn and impaneled, each juror is placed 6 feet apart within the courtroom with masks on. They sit far enough away from attorneys so that they cannot see their computer screens or hear any private conversations. That may limit the number of spectators allowed in the courtroom. It may limit future use of subscriber-only televised trials. Deliberations would need to be held in larger rooms.

Conclusions for the legal world

After doing virtual Zoom depos, I concluded the following, using the same metric for courts, law firms, deposition agencies, and arbitration venues: a room’s square footage dictates the number of people that can be in a room; protective shields should be placed directly in front of the speakers; lapel mics and an excellent audio system are a must; Zoom technology on screens satisfies the requirement that attorneys, judges, jurors, and court reporters see and hear everyone at the same time; meticulous sanitization, masks, gloves and temperature checks become the standard.

It can work. It takes a lot of planning ahead of time, investment in large screens for Zoom, excellent audio equipment, sanitation practices. With everyone’s help and everyone’s patience, we can brave the new world.

Early Langley, RMR, B.A., is a freelance court reporter based in Danville, Calif. She can be reached at early.langley@icloud.com.

Swag update: new items added to the NCRA Merchandise Shop

A number of new items have been added to the NCRA Merchandise Shop including adult and youth-size face masks that can be customized with the NCRA, NCRF, or several newly designed logos.

“What better way to support your national association and show your pride in your profession than by sporting a customized face mask while staying safe during these trying times,” said Cynthia Bruce Andrews, NCRA Senior Director of Education and Certification.

“Since NCRA launched the merchandise shop, response from members has been very positive. Members are purchasing an array of items and have shared with us how much they like the quality of the products and the ease of customizing and ordering. Plus, the free shipping and easy return policy have won kudos from NCRA members who have shopped in the merchandise store,” she added.

Newly released accessories include a bandana, ankle socks, an iPhone case, a fanny pack, a carry-all pouch, and a lunch box. For men, new items include a premium T-shirt, a premium tank top, and a moisture wicking performance T-shirt. In the women’s aisle, check out the newly added premium tank top and T-shirt dress.

In addition to the new logo designs for the facemasks, other available designs include official logos for NCRA, NCRF, NCRA STRONG, DiscoverSteno, I Love Steno, certification logos, and more. Spreadshirt, the online company that supports the NCRA Merchandise Shop, takes care of the customization and ships directly to the customer. The company also offers customers an easy exchange and return policy.

Currently available items already include a variety of styles of men’s and women’s T-shirts, polos, casual tops, a baseball hat, coffee and travel mugs, a mouse pad, and a canvas backpack.

Members who purchase items from Spreadshirt are supporting their national organization’s programs and scholarships while showing off the pride they have in being members of NCRA. 

Be sure to frequently check the NCRA Marketplace on NCRA’s home page to see what’s new in the NCRA Merchandise Shop; new items are continually being added. NCRA will also announce new items and merchandise during special events. NCRA members can also take advantage of special sales such as free shipping and more.

Help advertise the NCRA Merchandise Shop. NCRA members who purchase items are encouraged to share photos of themselves sporting their swag. You might just get featured on the store site or in other marketing materials. Send your photos to pr@ncra.org. Happy shopping!

Life as we knew it

By William Romanishin

As I sit here looking out

I’m not sure what to do but pout

About the way life has surely changed

And everything I used to do is rearranged

Mind you, but not by my choice

For in this situation if I had a voice

I would yell out to this deadly disease

Go away with the next gentle breeze

That passes by as I sit and gaze

And while away these meaningless days

Wondering when will life once again return

To those days of innocence and little concern

Of what will be on the table of life

With joy and wonderment and no strife

Going about our normal everyday lives

And thanking God when that moment finally arrives.

William Romanishin, RMR, CRR, is an official court reporter based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., He can be reached at romanson@aol.com.

Conducting meetings and depositions by remote means

By David Herrera and Jason Meadors

This article was developed by looking at the Colorado rules and regulations. Others in different localities may use this as a blueprint to figure out best practices for their state or other situation.

In this moment of social distancing and outright isolation, conducting meetings and depositions by remote means may be challenging, even foreign, to any number of practitioners. Here are a few guidelines and helpful hints for practicing under conditions that are suddenly the new normal.

The platform, i.e., the means to do so

For meetings, it will be helpful to have your own hosting capability. Any number of platforms are out there: Zoom, WebEx, GoToMeeting, among others. There are free versions, but free likely comes with restrictions (e.g., limited time, advertising, or decreased bandwidth). It behooves a law office to have a dedicated and dependable videoconferencing account.

As of this writing, and despite some disaffecting headlines, Zoom is the popular platform. With all platforms, use passwords to ensure security. The most basic premium services are inexpensive, at about $15/month, and usability and reliability are quite high. For ease of reference, any videoconference details mentioned in this article will refer to Zoom protocols.

For depositions, recommended practice is to engage the court reporting service as host. This provides a neutral third party for arranging access, impartiality in hosting protocols, and controlling on/off times.

Setup

The videoconference host, whether it is you, another party, or the court reporter, will need email addresses of all attendees to send out invites to participate. If you want your remote client to be able to attend, they will need an invitation to be able to join in.

A good backdrop is nice, but lighting is more important. Test your microphone and speakers during the setup phase.

An invitation will consist of a URL to click on or a phone number, meeting number, and perhaps a password in order to join.

The host should begin the meeting prior to the appointed time. The attendees can join once the host has begun the meeting. For security, it is recommended to keep the attendees in the “waiting room” and have the host admit them to the meeting.

If you are not familiar with the videoconference platform, take five minutes to take a virtual tour.

Conducting proceedings appropriately

Just like in a “normal” conversation, participants like to interact face-to-face. Please enable your video feed. A party may phone in absent the availability of a video feed, but this is unusual. Cameras have been embedded on cellphones for years now. Please use the video function. It doesn’t cost extra.

Talking one at a time, that de rigueur instruction for depositions, becomes ever more important in this context. When more than one person speaks at the same time, one can be heard and the other(s) will be occluded. You will not know if your important words are actually being heard by anyone. Speak one a time; and if you find yourself talking at the same time as another, play it safe and repeat your statement when you have a chance to be heard solo. Pro tip: To avoid embarrassment, mute your microphone whenever appropriate. And … wear pants.

In meetings, the host can either serve as the moderator or the group may appoint a moderator to ensure full participation and, if necessary, control or regain control of the meeting. In larger group meetings, it helps to identify yourself before speaking. Remember, courtesy matters.

In depositions, due to the vagaries of remote access, if the court reporter asks for a repeat, be patient. This will occur more often in an environment where speech clarity is much more tenuous. In the instructions phase of the deposition, it may be appropriate to ask for the deponent to pause a beat between the question and the answer to allow remote counsel to state an objection before the answer is given.

Documents may be shared in advance. For a deposition, send a .pdf to the court reporter at least 24 hours before the deposition with your exhibits pre-marked. You may share documents with opposing counsel during the deposition but trying to do so “on the fly” is awkward and likely a doomed effort. Pro tip: Send your .pdf exhibits pre-marked to opposing counsel after you give them a courtesy notification that you will send the exhibits in advance. Use your own best professional judgment about how soon in advance you wish to share your deposition exhibits.

For documents revealed during a deposition, go off the record and consult with the court reporter. There are tools available to mark and share documents electronically.

The legalities of remote depositions

As to whether remote depositions, where no participant is physically present with another, are allowable, Colorado Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 29 provides, in part, upon written stipulation: “… depositions may be taken before any person, at any time or place, upon any notice, and in any manner and when so taken may be used like other depositions.” Ed. Note: Check with your state to see the exact rules in your state for remote depositions.

In the absence of a written stipulation, recommended practice is to have attorneys stipulate on the record at the opening of the deposition as to the acceptability of conducting the deposition and administering the oath remotely.

As to the legal authority for the officer (court reporter) to administer an oath remotely, Governor Polis issued Executive Order D 2020-019 on March 27, 2020, temporarily suspending the requirement of personal appearance for notarial acts. You may wish to check for similar rules in other jurisdictions if the case is not filed in Colorado.

Reminder: A deposition by videoconference is not the same as a video deposition that requires a certified court videographer. You may not use the Zoom recording as evidence or for impeachment purposes. Ask your court reporter for details.

Overview

At the time of this writing, the above outlines the preferred means for meetings of two or more in the interests of social distancing and allowing the gears of the legal system to mesh as smoothly as possible under these circumstances. Remote conferencing is literally the new normal. Attorneys can serve your clients best by being the reliable resource for conducting meetings or, in the case of a deposition, providing the court reporter with the information necessary for a successful proceeding.

We wish you success and good health as we navigate the current and unprecedented environment.

David Herrera, Esq., is a partner with Herms & Herrera, LLC, a law firm in Fort Collins, Colo. Jason Meadors, FAPR, RPR, CRR, CRC, is a freelance court reporter and CART provider also based in Fort Collins, Colo., as well as a member of the NCRA Board of Directors. Meadors can be reached at jason@meadorsreporting.com.

Register now for the May NCRA Town Hall

Register now for the next virtual NCRA Town Hall, scheduled for Saturday, May 30, at 10 a.m. (Eastern) with NCRA President Max Curry, RPR, CRI. Conversation will include the success of NCRA’s May Celebrate Certification MonthStenopalooza event, and an update on the latest stimulus bill and how it could benefit members. Curry will also provide an update about the 2020 NCRA Conference & Expo and share with members what the Board has been doing to help the Association get through the COVID-19 crisis, including the recovery that is beginning as some businesses and courts begin to reopen.

The NCRA virtual Town Hall meetings also offer members the opportunity to ask questions via the Q&A feature. Members can also catch up on previous Town Halls by clicking here. Only NCRA Members may attend the Town Halls. Why wait? Register now!