There’s No Substitute for a Real Live Court Reporter

Law.com posted an op-ed piece on Aug. 12 authored by a court reporter that sets out the reasons there is no substitute for a real live court reporter.

Read more.

Why I love court reporting: Isaiah Roberts

Isaiah Roberts, RPR, Magnolia, Ill., recently posted this in the Facebook group “Encouraging Court Reporting Students.”

Students,
So many times I see you guys asking the question, “Is this worth it?” “Is there truly a demand?!” “Am I going to make enough!?” They’re VALID questions. I had the same exact ones when I was in school!!

Isaiah Roberts and Stanley Sakai ready to caption Lollapalooza

All I want to say is this: IT. IS. WORTH. IT. I can PROMISE you. I’m in Chicago and there are SO many opportunities and jobs available for you. Opportunities to travel? You name it. Last week I flew to Louisiana for deps, yesterday I got to work at my dream location (the federal courthouse downtown Chicago 😍), next week I got asked to fly out to Laguna Hills for a deposition, and if not for previously scheduled depositions, I got asked to go to Hong Kong this week for depositions. On top of everything, I scored some free tickets to Lollapalooza in Chicago this weekend from a connection I made at a past captioning gig, Coachella.

Isaiah Roberts

I don’t say ANY of this to brag. I say this because THESE are the awesome opportunities we have in this job, and I wish someone would’ve told me as a student that they’re out there. I’m nothing special — I didn’t fly through school, nor have I won (ha, or let alone am eligible to compete 😂) in a speed competition. I’m just an average stenographer. If you work hard, the opportunities are LIMITLESS.

School is hard. Theory is hard. Speed building is super hard. But seriously, guys, I PROMISE you it is so much more worth it than you can even imagine … whether that be measured by income potential, travel opportunities, or most of all, how much you’re going to LOVE this profession. Keep up the hard work! 💪💪

Stenograph announces release of Luminex II

In a press release issued Aug. 2, Stenograph announced it has unveiled its latest writing machine, the Luminex II.

Read more.

Why I love court reporting: Aimee Edwards-Altadonna

Aimee Edwards-Altadonna is a freelance reporter in California and a CCRA board member. She recently posted this in the Facebook group “Encouraging Court Reporting Students.”

Students, I want to talk to you about how quickly your life can flip into an amazing place once you are certified and out there busting your butt as a court reporter. There is so much work out there, and it’s just crazy. I could work every single day, multiple jobs a day if I chose to. Instead I choose to work about 8-10 jobs a month and am comfortably making six figures by my fourth year reporting in California’s Bay Area and Central Valley. It’s a true story, and I promise you it’s there for the taking if you work hard.

I am about 4 1/2 years into working now, and in that short period of time, my family’s lifestyle has been able to change dramatically for the better. We went from living paycheck to paycheck as a family of four as I struggled through the end game of certification, finally passing all three legs of the Califonia CSR after winning my appeal on the skills portion and overcoming a pretty horrific ankle injury on the night I qualified for the CSR. We were so strapped, my dad had to help sign for the loan for the $2,000 upgrade to professional software. He even paid for my $1,000 local CSR prep class since I could no longer travel for school with my busted ankle — we were financially spent and had nothing else to give to school — but I didn’t give up. Thanks, Dad. I tell you this to give you perspective. We have been the family living on $26 for over a week until the next check came in and just hoping nobody got sick or broken or any other unforeseen event that can happen with a young family with no safety net.

And yet today I am writing you from the Airbnb in Venice on leg two of an epic 25-day trip to Italy! Worry-free because I just worked extra hard last month and billed out twice as much, so I was set to not work this month. We did a long layover in London and are going all over Italy and Sicily and Cagliari for Intersteno so I’m writing off a portion of this awesome adventure.

This career allowed us to plan and pay for this amazing trip. My kids had never been on a plane, let alone a plane to Europe, and my husband and I have waited 21 years to take this trip. At 9 and 12 they will have such a broad world view, and it will change them at their core for the better for having been explorers in another country. This is a profession that can give you the freedom you’ve dreamed of and can take you places you can’t imagine and didn’t even know you wanted.

When you’re feeling stressed or wondering how long it will take before it’s your turn, just remember that the other side is a magical place of freedom and release and all the amazing things. Even on the ickiest day, this is still the best job ever, and we can’t wait to help you get to the other side. On the dark days, I hope this message will inspire you to keep going. I promise the other side is so worth all of the struggle.

Keep going. Just keep going!

NCRA member making her dream a reality with Stenovate

Lauren Lawrence, seated, with Karen Fenaroli of the Fenaroli Minverva Fund and Karen’s husband, Paul.

Lauren Lawrence, RPR, from Kansas City, Mo., recently started a new business, Stenovate. She told JCR Weekly more about it.

JCR | Can you give us a little information about Stenovate?

LL | Stenovate is the only organization and collaboration platform built specifically for legal transcript professionals. There are two major benefits: First is streamlined project management. We designed a tool that allows reporters, scopists, and proofreaders to work together seamlessly on a single platform. Second, we’re in the process of building a freelance marketplace for finding help and picking up extra work. The marketplace will include professional profiles, ratings and reviews, and a job board so that it’s easy to find good help. The idea for Stenovate has been in my mind for years, but we’ve only been in development since December of 2018.

JCR | What made you see a need for Stenovate?

LL | Over the last six years, as I hunted for the perfect unicorn scopist and proofreader, I started to get really frustrated with the process. It takes effort to find good help. You can spend a lot of time vetting someone, and it still may not be the right fit. Then add in all the disjointed tools we needed to collaborate: Facebook, email, Dropbox, text, PayPal, etc. Everyone has a slightly different system, so it was tough to get on the same page and be truly efficient.

Finally, when I learned about the reporter shortage, I realized how important it was that reporters maximize their time doing what they do best: reporting. I started talking to a lot of people on the phone, asking about the tools they used, what they would like to improve about their process, and what the “perfect” tool would look like. Their feedback was fantastic, and the need for a new solution was clear. I just had to figure out how to make it happen.

JCR | Tell us about the big news of a new investor.

LL | When I started looking into creating Stenovate, I had no idea the amount of capital and connections it would take to make it successful, but I was determined to help reporters. So I started self-funding the project, but I knew that wouldn’t be sustainable if we wanted to make a great product. I knew the court reporting community was supportive. After all, we have more than 500 people on Stenovate’s waitlist, but there comes a point when you have to go out on a limb and look to the business community to see if anyone believes in you and your idea enough to back you up financially. Karen Fenaroli, my initial investor, is a crusader for small, women-owned businesses, and she was the first one to take a chance on Stenovate and on me. We all have to start somewhere, but if we have capital and support, it allows us to be user-focused. This opens the door for other opportunities that help us improve our product faster.

JCR | What will the new investment allow you to do?

LL | It takes a lot of brains and a lot of hours to build something like Stenovate. I’ve recently brought in a few amazing women to help me. While I know and love everything about court reporting, I’m not a software designer, a business analyst, or a client success manager. Those are really important roles, and our new investment is allowing Stenovate to establish a solid team of smart, compassionate, and innovative leaders who aim to help our community thrive.

JCR | Are you still looking for investors?

LL | The short answer: Yes. I’d be happy to talk to anyone seriously interested, especially if they can offer industry insight in addition to capital. We’re looking for strategic investors who can help guide us to do what is best for our users and the transcript community as a whole. Our industry is at an inflection point. With Stenovate, we have an opportunity to empower our users and benefit the industry at the same time.

JCR | What are next steps for Stenovate?

LL |We’re launching Early Access for our beta users Aug. 6! For the next 30 days, we’ll be hanging onto their every word of feedback and making continuous improvements. Then we will open up the platform to the public so that everyone can work better together. The current version of Stenovate has the project management component, but we’re furiously building the freelance marketplace as we speak. We have lots of other little features up our sleeve that we can’t talk about quite yet. We’re working as fast as we can, and we’ll keep you updated as we launch new features. If you haven’t already, join the waitlist at www.stenovate.com to stay in the loop!

JCR | What is your court reporting background, and are you still working as a court reporter?

LL |I graduated from AIB College of Business in 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in court reporting and moved straight to Kansas City to start freelancing. I remember getting my first reporting job from a phone interview without a résumé. They really needed the help! Since then, I have focused on building my dictionary and getting realtime ready. Providing realtime has allowed me to cover big trials, have a transcript about Trump in the Huffington Post, and even travel abroad to places like Italy and Peru. It’s been a total whirlwind!

Now, I’m reporting very little due to Stenovate’s major time demand, which means I’m not getting paid either! Startups are not a walk in the park or for the faint of heart, but if I can keep my team paid, I can skip vacation and live on PB&J. Have you ever tried something and then wondered how you ever lived without it? I know that’s going to be Stenovate. I’m so inspired by the court reporting community’s work ethic. My sole purpose right now is to save us time and headaches. I know how hard we work. I know how bad we need this. As my mother always says, “I’m here to help.”

Realtime Reporters’ mock trials assist case preparation

The West Virginia Record posted an article on July 23 that features an interview with NCRA member Teresa Evans, RMR, CRR, a freelance court reporter and agency owner from Charleston, W.V., about the services her firm offers.

Read more.

How to set yourself up as a new freelance reporter

The JCR Weekly recently reached out to Michael Hensley, RDR, chair of NCRA’s New Professionals Committee about what makes a good freelancer and what you need to know in the first few years as a freelancer. If you’re new or considering transitioning from another area of the profession, consider his insights into his first few years as a freelance reporter.

JCR | Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Michael Hensley, RDR

MH | I am a freelance deposition reporter, and I’ve been doing that for a little over three-and-a-half years now. I’m currently located in Dublin, Calif., which is an eastern suburb of San Francisco. My home location is a great spot because I’m equidistant from most major areas for work in Northern California. I’ve covered assignments as far north as Sacramento, as far east as Stockton, and as far south as Monterey. I’ve even gone down to Southern California to cover assignments as well.

I still maintain a license for Illinois, and I recently obtained my CSR for Nevada. So I am able to accept assignments in those regions. I’m open to traveling for a lucrative opportunity. It’s part of what makes me a successful freelancer, in my opinion.

JCR | What was tough for you when you first started working?

MH | I found it difficult to keep up with the workload when I began. My intent was to take on as much work as possible to earn the income I wanted. What I failed to keep in mind was that I needed to still make time to produce transcripts as well as cover depositions. I had many nights where I slept very little to try to stay on time with production deadlines. Fortunately, I’ve learned how to allocate my time and resources to manage that more smoothly, even in such a way to be able to take vacations occasionally.

JCR | Did you have a mentor when you started?

MH | I have had mentors at every level of my education and career. To this day, I still have those I go to and seek advice. I was very fortunate to have some amazing individuals share their knowledge with me along my journey. I worked in a court reporting firm while finishing my education, and I feel that experience gave me a wealth of knowledge that would have taken me years of trial and error to figure out.

Even so, I’m the kind of person who likes to learn things by doing. I feel that making mistakes is the quickest and most valuable way to learn how you can perform a task with greater success. I learned by asking a lot of questions along the way. I then took that information and applied it to my own ideas and processes to develop a system that works for me. I’m continually evolving and growing to sharpen my skills and abilities so that I can be at the top of my game.

JCR | What do you think is the hardest part of starting out?

MH | I think the hardest part of starting out is learning how to interact with others in the profession. There is a certain way to communicate with attorneys; there’s another way you speak with reporting agencies; and there’s a way for you to connect with colleagues. Any of these encounters feels awkward at first. However, if you keep doing it over and over and pay attention to what things you do right and what things you can improve, then you eventually find the way that works best for you to get the job done.

JCR | You’re giving a session called Freelancer Starter’s Kit for NCRA on Tuesday, July 30. How did this session come about?

MH | As part of my efforts with NCRA’s New Professionals Advisory Committee, we are striving to produce content and educational resources to assist individuals who are new to the profession. I often hear many new reporters asking questions such as, “I got my license. Now what do I do?” Entering the freelance arena can be overwhelming at first, and I’m hoping to share what I’ve learned with others so that they can begin a career or a transition smoothly.

JCR | What do you hope people will take away from your session?

MH | I hope participants will gain the confidence they need to operate as an independent entity so that they can enjoy the experience and thrive. While it can be overwhelming, even fearful, working as a freelance reporter is ultimately a thrilling adventure. It is truly liberating to have a sense of control over your destiny, and it is so rewarding to see a direct payoff from your hard work.

You can earn 0.125 CEU by attending the Freelancer Starter Kit, which will be held July 30, 7 p.m. – 8:15 p.m. (ET). This session is sponsored by NCRA’s New Professionals Committee, which Hensley chairs. Webinars do not need to be viewed live. They can be purchased now and viewed within a 30-day window of presentation date. They will also be available for purchase later as E-seminars.

Six strategies for event networking

By Megan Rogers

In-person events, such as local happy hours, state association seminars, and the NCRA Convention & Expo, are often advertised as great places to network. This is true, but only with some strategizing to intentionally build the right network for you.

It’s often easier to think of networking as relationship building. Here are six steps for strengthening and building new business relationships at events.

  1. Have a goal. Think about the specific contacts you want to find at this event. Are you a new professional looking for work? A firm owner looking for new freelancers? Maybe you’re facing a particular challenge and want to meet others who have dealt with the same issue. Having a goal gives you more focus in seeking out contacts, asking helpful questions, and following up after the event.

  2. Gather your resources. If you don’t already have them, print business cards. Places like Vistaprint or Mint are quick and inexpensive. Mine have my name, job, and contact info (email, website, and professional social media links). Some people also have their photo on their card.

    If you’re an introvert (like me) and talking to strangers makes you nervous, write down some conversation starters. Some go-to convention questions can be: “What did you think of the keynote?” or “What session are you planning to go to next?” Ask about their job: “What’s an interesting assignment you recently had?” or “What is your favorite thing about being a court reporter/captioner/legal videographer?” Brainstorm open-ended questions related to your goal.

  3. Contact people before the event. Events are an opportunity to reconnect with people you’ve intended to keep in touch with or want to get to know better. Call or email people in the field that you already know to ask if they’ll also be attending. If there’s someone you especially hope to see, suggest getting together during the event, such as getting breakfast.

    If the event has an attendee list or app, use that to contact people you want to meet ahead of time, perhaps including why: “I read your JCR article about doing pro bono work, and I’d like to talk about getting started” or “I see you’re in Florida — I’m moving there and want to learn more about the area.”

  4. Get out of your comfort zone. It’s OK to talk to people you already know, but growing your network requires talking to new people. Sit with a stranger during the Awards Luncheon and introduce yourself (or sit at a mostly empty table — people will come to you). At a reception, find a group that includes friends and strangers so that you can be introduced. After a session, share a follow-up question or comment with a presenter.

    Conversations don’t always have to be about business; sometimes the best connections come from conversations that have nothing to do with work because they’re the most organic and genuine. Regardless, exchange business cards afterwards and write a quick note on theirs about the conversation (or find them on social media right away).

  5. Share your knowledge. People will come to you if you’re a recognizable source of information. Some of this needs to be arranged ahead of time (e.g., being published in industry publications like the JCR or becoming an event speaker), but you can also do it on-site by sharing takeaways, photos, etc., on social media. Twitter is the most event-friendly platform, but you can use others. Other professionals at the event (and some still at home) will see your name come up a lot and might interact with your posts or connect with you (don’t forget to do the same). If you’re a speaker, that ribbon on your nametag is an instant conversation starter because people will ask what you’re presenting. I also love introducing people to each other — networking is reciprocal!

  6. Follow up with contacts. After the event, following up is the key to turning someone into “that person I met once” to “the person I now work with or get advice from.” Contact everyone you talked to with a brief message, including a new question or comment about your conversation (this is where those notes on business cards are helpful). I aim to email people within a week of the event, but it’s better to reach out later than not at all. You can keep using an attendee list or app after the event, even for people you didn’t meet but wanted to (if it’s not obvious, mention that you both attended the same event). Then, develop a system to keep in touch. Interact with their posts on social media and email them every 2–3 months.

Networking takes time before, during, and after the event, but the more that people remember you, the stronger your relationships will be.

Megan Rogers is a freelance journalist and proofreader. She can be reached through her website, meganstolzeditorial.com.

TechLinks: Standing desks – Are they right for court reporters?

By Lynette Mueller

Court reporters are always looking for ways to be more productive on the job and at the desk when completing their transcripts. Recently, I shared a link of the best standing desks of 2019 on my Facebook business page and received some great feedback and sharing from it! As the chair of the Technology Committee, I thought our members would love to learn more about the benefits of using a standing desk, as well as some top picks to choose from. 

According to healthline.com: “A standing desk, also called a stand-up desk, is basically a desk that allows you to stand up comfortably while working. Many modern versions are adjustable, so that you can change the height of the desk and alternate between sitting and standing.”

Several peer-reviewed studies suggest that sitting for prolonged periods of time may reduce life expectancy. There is much speculation and not much good data at this time to suggest that using a standing desk will combat the ill effects of sitting. While there is nothing to prove a good outcome from using a standing desk, there may be some benefits for court reporters.

Healthline.com also mentions these benefits when using a standing desk:

  • Lowers your risk of weight gain and obesity
  • May lower blood sugar levels
  • May lower your risk of heart disease
  • Appears to reduce back pain
  • Helps improve mood and energy levels
  • May even boost productivity
  • May help you live longer

If court reporters do decide to make the plunge and purchase a standing desk, they should keep in mind that standing desks may also have some “side effects.” Some of the reporters’ comments on my Facebook post had a few suggestions to help with the transition.

  • Purchase an anti-fatigue mat for your desk
  • Purchase a drafting chair so that you can move freely from standing to sitting

Wirecutter.com writes about these suggestions for the best anti-fatigue mats. The posters on my shared Facebook link specifically mentioned the FlexiSpot and Varidesk as their personal favorites. According to the Wirecutter article: “The Varidesk ProDesk 60 Electric is more stable in each direction than the Uplift or Jarvis, and a little bit quieter than those desks in raising and lowering (minus an occasional thudding sound when starting). It also comes with built-in cable management and was the easiest desk we’ve ever built. But it has no wood or bamboo desktop options, just five colors of laminate, which our testers disliked.”

Ready to consider getting a standing desk? Wirecutter.com also offered their picks for the best standing desks of 2019. Forbes.com also published an article with their best standing desk picks. Those are two great places to start your research.

Lynette Mueller, FAPR, RDR, CRR, is chair of NCRA’s Technology Committee. She can be reached at lynette@omegareporting.com.

Working from home while parenting

Holly Smith with her sons

The benefits of working from home for some people are priceless. For example, a work-at-home situation can offer flexibility, a more casual surrounding, and more time with the family. But for work-at-home professionals with small children, the situation often means creating a balanced environment where both work and family receive the needed attention.

In a recent JCR Weekly question of the week, readers who work from home and have small children were asked to share insights into how they manage to create a successful balance between the two. The answers ranged from hiring child care or sending a child to camp, to cutting back on work, relying on friends and family for help, and employing the game Fortnite or turning on YouTube.

Holly Smith, an online student at Brown College of Court Reporting in Atlanta, Ga., has two sons, ages 2 and 6 years old. To help manage her studies and parenting duties, Smith said she typically works on her assignments or other tasks involving school while the boys are preoccupied. “My 6-year-old loves video games, and my 2-year-old is usually playing with trains and cars or coloring,” she said.

“It’s important to me that my kids don’t feel ignored. They will only be little once. Typically, I will pull my machine out and practice in small 15- to 30-minute increments so that I don’t get overwhelmed. That’s usually the amount of time that my kids will stay preoccupied until they need or want something,” she said. “If they do happen to interrupt me during class time, I end up just putting my machine to the side and tending to them or playing with them until I can get back to my machine. It’s definitely a juggling act, and when my husband is home, he tries to help and distract as much as possible. But if you want it bad enough — and I do — you have to make it work. My boys, as well as my husband, are my reason to push through. So it makes it all worth it and keeps my motivation alive,” she added.

Rowan Knight working in the home office his mother made him out of a cardboard box complete with an open source steno machine, sound mixer, TV remote, and calculator.

Mirabai Knight, RDR, CRC, CRR, a captioner from New York, N.Y., often works from home and has a son Rowan, who will be 3 years old in August. While she said that sometimes he “works” alongside her when she has an at-home assignment or when she is practicing on her machine, she has the help of her wife when it comes to keeping the little one busy.

“My wife stays home and watches our son while I caption. I usually work in the living room, so he’s often in the room with me, but fortunately my wife is able to keep him from interfering with my equipment, though he’s actually getting much better about respecting that himself these days,” Knight said.

Smith said her 6-year-old also often helps her when she is practicing by working on his reading. “I have had him read me some Dr. Seuss books previously. It’s a challenge with all of the silly words that Dr. Seuss uses. My son is also getting so good at reading that it’s difficult to keep up with him, so it’s a challenge. A part of our homework assignment is reading steno notes to be able to understand them just as well as we understand English words. So I will treat those steno notes like little stories and practice reading them to my boys,” she added.

Machines fascinate kids

Mirabai Knight and her son, Rowan

“He loves playing with all my steno machines,” Knight said of her son. “He also knows how to get into ‘insert mode’ from ‘command mode’ in Vim, the text editor I use for much of my captioning, which makes me so proud! He always says, ‘I need to do some steno machine and computer work now! Let me work!’ And he knows where the R key is! I’m going to teach him steno as early as I possibly can.”

Likewise for Smith’s boys, said their mother, who noted that they are both also fascinated with her machine. “Sometimes I have to put my machine in a place in our apartment that they can’t get to just to keep them off of it, especially my 2-year-old. He knows how to turn it on and off. My 6-year-old has been interested in learning where the letters are and trying to write,” she said,

A flexible career that helps with parenting

Both Smith and Knight agree that a career in court reporting or captioning absolutely helps with parenting duties. For one, it allows parents the opportunity to spend more time at home with their children.

“That is one of the reasons I started looking into this career path,” Smith said. “I have been so indecisive with a career path that will allow me to be the mom I want to be to my boys, as well as allow the income potential that court reporting and captioning offers. I often feel like I won’t be good enough to make it. So the income and flexibility potential help push me to get back onto my machine when I’ve had a rough practice day and feel frustrated,” she said.

“It will open so many doors for my family that we wouldn’t be able to attain otherwise. My husband works so hard to provide for us, but while he makes good money, his job would never present the opportunities that court reporting can.”

Smith added that any money she can make once she enters the workforce will help with the family savings, as well as allow her husband to be home more often to spend time with the family. “We want to be able to take vacations together more often. We want to be able to retire at a reasonable age so that we can be the grandparents we want to be to our future grandchildren. I believe that this career choice is going to create a much better life for our family,” she said.

“Being able to work fewer hours with a fairly high hourly rate helps a lot. I’m the sole breadwinner for my family, so that let’s me be home with my son much more than if I’d had to work 40 hours a week,” Knight said. “Also I was able to take several months off and live on savings when he was born, which wouldn’t necessarily have been possible in a non-freelance job. And I can do some of my work from home. Being able to watch my kid eat breakfast while I remote caption international conferences has been such a joy,” she added.

Advice for other work-at-home parents

“It’s a battle in itself just choosing to open up your machine and spend time practicing, especially if you’re trying to be a full-time mom, keep your household chores up to date, spend time with your kids, and give your husband the attention he needs,” Smith said. “But you have to keep your eye on the prize. You have to focus on why you chose this field in the first place.

“Remember the possibilities that will open up to you. Those little people that are pulling on your arms and legs, interrupting your practicing and making you feel like you can’t do it, those are the same people that you have to do this for. Take your time. Close your machine and take a break when you’re feeling frustrated. Play with your kids for a little bit instead. Choose your battles, but don’t give up.”

And the best piece of advice Knight offers others: “Teach them steno!”