Bloomfield College announces certificate programs in court reporting

Bloomfield College, Bloomfield, N.J., announced on June 10 that it will begin offering two certificate programs in court reporting starting in the fall of 2019. Admission to the program is contingent upon successful completion of NCRA’s  A to ZTM Intro to Steno Machine Shorthand program.

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Court reporting: An under-marketed profession

JD Supra posted an updated blog on June 13 that reminds readers about the need for court reporters in the legal system and the need to promote the profession as a viable career.

Read more.

Pennsylvania court reporter gets perfect score on an online skills test

Alison Moffett, Elizabethtown, Pa., recently scored a perfect score on the RPR literary skills test.

“Congratulations to Alison!” said Eva Liu, NCRA Certification and Testing Program Manager. “It’s extremely hard to match word for word on a test to get a perfect score, but it’s not impossible.”

JCR Weekly asked Moffett for more information about her perfect score.

JCR Weekly | When did you take the test?

Moffett | I took the test on April 30 around 7:30 in the morning. I had previously had problems with internet connectivity and losing my connection during the middle of the exam, so I wanted to take it at a time when less people would hopefully be using the internet.

 JCR Weekly | Are you working as a court reporter? Where? How long?

Moffett |Yes, I work as an official in the courthouse in York County, Pa., for just 3.5 years.

 JCR Weekly | Why did you decide to test for your RPR?

Moffett | We provide realtime for nearly all of the judges and occasionally some attorneys, and I would like to earn my CRR. Getting my RPR is the first step towards that goal!

 JCR Weekly | How did you prepare?

Moffett |I did the practice tests in Realtime Coach a couple times, but the most important thing was practicing the testing procedures so you aren’t overly anxious when it comes time to test.

 JCR Weekly | How did you think you did when you finished the test?

Moffett |I thought I did pretty well.

 JCR Weekly | How did you react when you got your score?

Moffett | I was excited but also had to leave to go to work, so I didn’t have much time to celebrate except for a quick call to my fiancé.

  JCR Weekly | How do you think having your RPR will help you?

 Moffett | It will allow me to get further certifications such as CRR or CRC  and open up other options for careers going forward!

  JCR Weekly | When do you plan on taking the next test?

 Moffett |After the wedding! In all seriousness, I plan on practicing over the summer and testing in the fall. The last leg I need is the Q&A.

My (not so secret) life as a weekend rock star

By Patricia Nilsen (with Kiki Kim)

Patricia Nilsen

As a lifelong fan of Mötley Crüe, the glam-metal band that became famous in the 1980s, my dream as a child was to someday meet the band. In the mid-2000s, an inspirational Mötley Crüe reunion show at Madison Square Garden in NYC gave me this wacky idea to start an all-girl Mötley Crüe tribute band. The fact that I played zero instruments seemed just a minor detail at the time. A friend of mine — blonde, like the Crüe’s lead singer — loved the idea and said she could sing. I thought: “Done, here we go!” And Girls Girls Girls was born. I asked my husband for a bass guitar for my 31st birthday, and he obliged with a shiny pink bass and the words he would probably one day come to regret: “You better actually play that thing.”

I was working as a full-time federal official in the Southern District of New York in Manhattan — a pretty busy gig, if you’re not familiar with it. Lacking the time for lessons to start with the fundamentals, I essentially learned online. I also couldn’t be bothered to learn how to use a pick — my fingers had always been fast on the machine, so I went with what I knew.

I had been noodling at home for a few months when I saw an ad for a ladies’ rock camp, which seemed like a good place to meet my future bandmates. Most importantly, I needed a guitarist that could really shred. Sadly, the guitarists at camp were more Jewel than Lita Ford. I did, however, meet a wannabe drummer who did finance by day and just came for fun: Kiki Kim. She and her friend invited me to ditch camp at lunch to get a beer – rock ’n’ roll already! Over drinks, I told her my idea, which she probably laughed off as a “Sure, I’ll join your (finger quotes) band.” We exchanged business cards, and that was likely the last she thought she’d ever hear from me.

To find the last piece of the puzzle, my graphic-artist husband photoshopped our faces over an iconic photo of Mötley Crüe with a blank over guitarist Mick Mars’ face and the words “YOUR FACE HERE.”I used the picture in an ad containing the same language Mars used for his own ad in search of the band that would eventually become Mötley Crüe: Seeking “loud, rude, and aggressive [fe-male] guitarist.” Months went by with no reply, and I was ready to hang it up when I finally got the call. Denise “D” Mercedes, who had played in a famous influential punk band called The Stimulators in the 1980s, hadn’t played in 20 years but loved our ad so much that she said: “I just gotta see who these chicks are!”
We were now a full band, and it was time to play. In contrast with my sweet and innocent idea of practicing in my city apartment, D, our lone professional musician, knew how to find rented rehearsal-studio space. And, boy, could she shred. My friend couldn’t sing over the loud guitar and was gone by morning. My finance-professional beginner drummer took one look/listen at D and wanted to follow suit. Fortunately, my powers of persuasion were as strong as my will to start this band, and I convinced her to stay at least temporarily (spoiler alert: she stayed for good). And now we were on the hunt for a new singer. The three of us continued rehearsing for months until we found one.

Our first gig was at a club in Jersey, where we played the owner’s birthday party. We hired a party bus to shuttle our friends from New York City for the show, and it was an incredible time! Little did I know that what seemed like the culmination of a dream was only just the beginning. Over the next two years, we played almost 50 shows. I spent two to three weekends a month in a van, visiting new cities, making new friends, and rocking my heart out.

I was living three distinct lives: Patricia, band manager and court reporter; Patty, wife, New Yorker; and Nikita Seis, Goddess of Bass. My life as a court reporter wasn’t much different except that I took more Fridays off and spent Monday watching the black nail polish slowly chip from my nails, in a daze, with a smile on my face and bags under my eyes. We had enough adventures to fill a book. Our rise was fast, as was our fall. The potent mix of four women with strong and distinct personalities led to a dramatic breakup.

During our time off, one member moved on to form a different band, and I had my first child. During maternity leave, I created a photo book of our time together as a band that made us nostalgic and drew us back together, supposedly with new insight into what went wrong and how to change it. Three years after our breakup, a reunion show was in the works, and I was newly pregnant with baby number two. Four months later, I squeezed into my stage clothes (with much lower heels!), and we packed Brooklyn Bowl with a crowd as eager for our return as we were. Everyone was flying high, so I found a replacement bassist and continued just managing the band from home. Now that I had more time, I was able to take the management role more seriously and brought us to new markets, better money, the cover of The Village Voice, and our first international tour in Mexico.
But two years later, the wheels fell off again, and the band broke up for all the same reasons and more. In total, we played exactly 100 shows in 16 states before I moved to Nashville, when I thought that chapter had finally ended. In December 2018, I was a freelance reporter who hadn’t played in three years. Thanks to maintaining our presence on social media, we had continued to receive inquiries from random clubs and people who wanted us to play their brother’s barbeque for chump change. But then I got the email: Netflix wanted us to play a private party in Hollywood for the premiere of the upcoming biopic about Mötley Crüe, The Dirt. It was contingent on all four members of Mötley Crüe signing off onus. Phone calls were made, singers auditioned, and the bass was officially out of the case. We landed the gig with about seven weeks to get our act together!

The film producers chose four songs and would decide if the crowd liked us enough for an encore — no pressure! Before the show, we were thrilled to hear that Mötley Crüe singer Vince Neil and drummer Tommy Lee were in the house. We hit the stage in front of a capacity crowd at the world-famous Whisky A Go Go and ripped into our namesake song, “Girls Girls Girls.” The energy was electric; it felt amazing. During our fourth song, “Kickstart My Heart,” Tommy Lee and the actor who played him in the movie came dancing down the stairs and made their way to the stage, leading to the cue to play our encore, “Live Wire.”

Watching the drummer who made this music famous air-drumming to my band was a moment I will never forget. After the show, Tommy told us our set was “dope,” and we all went home smiling from ear to ear. I share this story because it all began as a crazy idea I had. The most I imagined was playing a gig for our friends at a real New York City venue. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would create something bigger than myself, and that 13 years later, it would still be going. As court reporters, we tend to think that our job is our life and that we don’t have time for anything else. But one of the greatest benefits of this career is the flexibility, and we can do what we choose in our off-time. Choose big. Dream big. And don’t be surprised when your dreams come true.

Patricia Nilsen, RMR, CRR, CRC, is a freelance reporter with Alpha Reporting in Nashville, Tenn. She can be reached atpatricianilsen@alphareporting.com. For more on Girls Girls Girls, check out the band at www.girlsgirlsgirlsnyc.com and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/girlsgirlsgirlsnyc. Girls Girls Girls drummer Kiki Kim helped with this story.

Get the edge by attending NCRA’s CRR Boot Camp

Professionals considering taking the Certified Realtime Reporter (CRR) test have the opportunity to gain an advantage by attending the CRR Boot Camp being offered at the 2019 NCRA Convention & Expo in Denver, Colo., being held Aug. 15-18.

NCRA’s CRR certification represents realtime pro­ficiency for those who earn it as it is recognized in the industry as the national certification of real­time competency. Holding the CRR also can lead to an increase in salary, as noted by a number of recent NCRA surveys.

“As the CRR Chief Examiner in Massachu­setts, I saw so many candidates come back time and time again to take the certification test. It was bittersweet. They couldn’t pass, but they kept trying,” said Kathryn Sweeney, FAPR, RMR, CRR, a freelance reporter and agency owner from Acton, Mass., who helped develop the boot camp pro­gram and who will be teaching it at the NCRA Convention & Expo.

“The idea of the boot camp came about when the Board of the Massachusetts Court Reporters Association (MCRA) approached me with ques­tions as to why there were not more people pass­ing the CRR exam and what I could do to maybe help those candidates,” said Sweeney, who also served as a beta tester for NCRA’s online testing system and as CRR Chief Examiner on behalf of the Association for 17 years.

“They gave me two hours and a place to give a seminar back in October of 2009. It was originally named ‘Ready? Begin.’ Those are the two most dreaded words for even the most skilled court reporter,” Sweeney said.

Because it was felt that the original name of the program might actually scare people away, it was renamed the CRR Dress Rehearsal. Over the years, however, said Sweeney, the presentation turned into a three-hour session and was appro­priately renamed again to the CRR Boot Camp.

Word about the program has been spreading across states, according to Sweeney, who has been presenting the session all across the country, with more state associations contacting her about presenting it at their meetings.

Unlike NCRA’s newest certification, the Certi­fied Realtime Captioner (CRC), which requires participation in a 10-hour workshop before being able to take the test, the CRR Boot Camp is not a prerequisite for taking the CRR test. However, said Sweeney, it can certainly help with increasing the chances of passing on the first take.

In the course, she explains to attendees the testing requirements, covers NCRA’s What is an Error?, discusses what is not an error, and talks about the online testing process. She also offers tips on working on self-preparation, includ­ing what to have on test day, what to do and not do on test day, and how and why candidates fail. Participants in the session are also asked to bring their equipment with them because Sweeney said she also lets them take a couple of practice tests, as well as manipulate the system settings and dictionary entries.

“There is so much material. Even if just one thing I teach resonates with an attendee, one thing that they can go back and fix or change, it may just be the one thing that pushes them over the hump and gets them that CRR desig­nation,” said Sweeney.

One reason she attributes the program’s success in helping CRR candidates be suc­cessful in passing the test is because much of the material she covers about being prepared includes information often missed, such has having flash drives or SD cards properly for­matted, which is included in the recommended reading on the testing website and contained in the pre-test emails they receive.

“The most frustrating part of being the proc­tor at brick-and-mortar testing sites was that I could not help the candidates. It was simply not allowed. They were supposed to just know all this stuff. Heck, candidates showed up without their driver’s license because they didn’t know they needed to show it to me,” she said.

“I strongly believe taking the CRR Boot Camp will increase the chance of passing this test. When I finished my presentation in Geor­gia, a woman who already had her CRR came up to me and said that she wished this seminar was around when she was preparing for the test; that it had all of the information and steps that she muddled through on her own. She said it took years of figuring out what was being asked of her and then changing her writing and learning her equipment and software in order to pass,” Sweeney said. “With this boot camp, I can help you in three hours.”

Perhaps the greatest benefit of taking the CRR Boot Camp is that attendees will know if they’re ready to take the test or not, while those who have taken the test before will realize why they didn’t pass, she noted.

“I am a huge proponent of not throwing money away. If you’re not quite ‘there’ yet, then don’t spend (the money) on this test. You will learn what you need to work on before you take the plunge and sign up for the test. You will know when you’re ready, instead of just winging it and hoping for the best,” Sweeney added. “The CRR really is the easiest test you’ll ever fail. But why fail at all? Learn what you need to do in order to pass. Come to my boot camp!”

Sweeney, who has been a court reporter for 28 years, served eight years on her state association’s Board of Directors, two years as president, and recently joined as a director again in April.

To earn the CRR certification, professionals are required to hold the Registered Profes­sional Reporter (RPR) certification, be a current member of NCRA, and pass a realtime testi­mony skills test at 200 words per minute with 96 percent accuracy.

For more information about or to register for NCRA’s CRR Boot Camp and the 2019 Convention & Expo, visit NCRA.org/events.

New Professional Spotlight: Amy Yarbrough

Amy Yarbrough

Amy Yarbrough is a CART captioner and freelance reporter in Neptune Beach, Fla.  She serves on several committees and the board of directors of the Florida Court Reporters Association.  In her spare time, she enjoys biking and running on her local beaches.

JCR | What was the hardest part of transitioning from school to the real world?

AY | Entering a very competitive job market.  Northeast Florida is full of talented reporters.

JCR | What do you know now that you wish you’d known when first starting out?

AY | Practicing to dictation is not just for students!  Short, clean writing will be a lifelong pursuit and should always be the cornerstone of your focus as you grow professionally.

JCR | What’s the most exciting experience you have had working in the profession?

AY | During the 2016 presidential race, I was asked to provide CART during a campaign rally President Obama was headlining.  The energy in the room was electric.

JCR | What was the best piece of advice you’ve received from another court reporter?

AY | Always be prepared.  Perform regular maintenance of your steno bag to make sure you have plenty of pens, paper clips, and exhibit stickers. And never, ever arrive late!

JCR | How has involvement with state and national reporting associations benefited you so far?

AY | My state association has given me friendships to last a lifetime.  The support and camaraderie of our colleagues is very special and something to be cherished. Having seasoned reporters to lean on for advice and encouragement has inspired me to always do my best, and I believe we bring out the best in one another.

Careers in court reporting: From Grandma’s diner to Rick Springfield

Aaron, Adam, and Kenneth Alweis

By Heidi Renner

Brothers Adam and Aaron Alweis recently each reached career milestones. They were both named the chief reporter for their respective courts in the New York State Unified Court System this year. Aaron, RPR, CRR, CRC, is chief in the 6th District and Adam, RPR, in the 5th District, but their careers as court reporters started well before 2019.

Their father, Edward, was a court reporter who retired in 1989, and they also had two uncles and an aunt who worked in the profession. It can all be traced back to their grandmother who owned a diner in Miami Beach in the 1940s. One day a court reporter came in, sat down, and ended up telling her all about his job. She decided it sounded like a great opportunity and told her children that’s what they should do. Their father had just started in court reporting when he went in the Army and worked in the Judge Advocate General Corps. They say it probably saved him from going overseas to Korea.

“We grew up in the profession,” Adam said. “We had some involvement most of our lives. It sort of just happened that way.”

Aaron said their father thought it was very important for them to have a marketable skill. They also say credit must go to the tremendous support their mother, Mary, has given to their father and how encouraging and supportive she has always been to her three boys.

“I was typing transcripts for my father since I was 12 years old,” Aaron said.

“I got out of school and within 12 hours, I was doing my first deposition,” Adam said.

At one time the family owned a freelance reporting agency and all three brothers worked for it. The third brother, Ken, is now a lawyer and partner in the firm of Goldberg Segalla.

Both brothers remember their father saying: “Thank God I found this profession; otherwise, I don’t know what I’d end up doing.”

Aaron went to graduate school for business, which he said has worked very well with being a court reporter. He was looking for a marketing position after college but didn’t find one, so he went back to court reporting and has stayed there.

Both Adam and Aaron started official court reporter positions and have been working in the courts for years.

They talk to each other often about their jobs.

“We bounce ideas off each other all the time,” Adam said.

Aaron has taught his children to scope, but he said none of them have wanted to start a career in court reporting. They both say they are in a profession where you are never bored.

“You’ll never find another profession where you are continually challenged by the material in front of you,” Adam said.

“It’s fascinating, it’s better than TV, it’s a front-row seat to history,” Aaron said. It’s a tremendous field. You can come into the field from any background. Whatever you bring into it adds to your knowledge base.”

Aaron said he remembers the first time he offered realtime in 1992 in a case involving a defendant who was deaf. Back then, offering realtime involved carrying a 50-pound computer into the courtroom. They also set up a viewing area for people from the community who were deaf and wanted to watch the proceedings.

“The advantages today are just tremendous,” Aaron said. “I recently did a CART assignment (outside court) where I sat with a hearing-impaired person at a conference. They were so appreciative to have access to what was going on. It’s because of the court reporting profession that people can do this. You make a difference in people’s lives.” Aaron also said he has been “incredibly fortunate to have the support and love and understanding from my wife, Miriam, through all of the very long hours involved in being a court reporter.”

“The advantages are far more than when we started,” Adam said. “We didn’t have realtime or captioning. Now with the technology, there is so much people can do with us. We are dying to have new blood come into the profession. This is a great field to get into; people should really think about it.”

While every day brings something new in their careers, both brothers have some cases that stick in their minds more than others.

Aaron remembers a case involving the death of the former New York Yankees manager Billy Martin and through that meeting some very interesting people.

Adam Alweis taking the testimony of Rick Springfield

Adam remembers an unusual case involving singer Rick Springfield being sued.

Adam said when Springfield got up to testify, he was fascinated at what Adam was doing and asked how he did it. Adam told Springfield it was like writing music, and the keys are like putting notes together.

“If it helps, you can think of me as the rock-and-roll court reporter,” Adam told him.

NCRA member quoted in article about the Veterans History Project

NCRA member Debbie Sabat, RPR, Trumbull County, Ohio, a probate court reporter, was quoted in an article posted May 28 by the Tribune Chronicle about NCRA’s involvement in the Veterans History Project program.

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Why certifications are beneficial – according to members

If you are interested in earning an NCRA certification, official reporter Cindy Shearman, RDR, CRR, CRC, of Vail, Ariz., advises: “Keep on keeping on. You only fail when you quit trying to earn the certification.”

People have many different reasons for earning NCRA certifications – from it being required in their state, to the increased pay it brings, to the confidence and sense of accomplishment they feel about earning a new set of letters behind their names. The JCR Weekly reached out to several NCRA members during Celebrate Certification Month to learn more about why they earned their certifications and what the benefits are.

“I wanted to continue to improve my skills and qualifications and, on some of my jobs, there was a pay increase associated with an additional certification,” says Shearman. “I feel the certifications help my self-confidence and also have helped in obtaining employment and salary increases. I always feel a sense of accomplishment when I earn another certification.”

“While I was a court reporting student at MacCormac College, we were encouraged – no, expected – to achieve the RPR in addition to the required CSR. After I passed my RPR, I wanted to continue to distinguish myself and earn the respect of my family, mentors, and peers,” says Sabrina Lewis, RDR, CRR, who works as an official court reporter in Birmingham, Ala.

Freelancer Marvie Votaw, RPR, CRR, of San Diego, Calif., said that she earned her NCRA certifications “to become more employable and later on [to receive] higher pay.” She says that earning her certifications gave her everything she was hoping for — better opportunities and higher pay – and that she is proud of her accomplishments.

“Having credibility behind my name was always important to me, so I sat for the RPR WKT when I started high speed classes in court reporting school,” says captioner and freelance court reporter Donna Karoscik, FAPR, RDR, CRR, CRC, of Lancaster, Ohio. “After graduating, I took the skills portion and passed. At the time my employer did not require certifications and, being a new reporter with student loans, I let the RPR lapse for financial reasons. Wouldn’t you know it, a few months later the firm I worked for set a policy that all reporters needed to obtain any and all certifications we could, with the RPR being the required base-level certification? I took it the next time it was offered, passed all four legs, and will never let it lapse again.”

“One of the key benefits I have experienced is my certification credentials help me stand out from a sea of reporters. I’ve also worked for employers who paid more for higher certifications – both freelance and court,” says official reporter and captioner Allison Kimmel, FAPR, RDR, CRR, CRC, of Marysville, Ohio.

Captioner Kathryn Thomas, RDR, CRR, CRC, of Caseyville, Ill., shared that she earned her certifications “to show to others (and myself) that I’m always working on upgrading my skills.” In addition, she points out that the credentials increased her confidence in her skills. “It’s something specific and concrete I can point to, to say, ‘I’ve achieved this goal.’”

The many benefits of certification

Lewis went on to list all the ways that credentials were worth the time and effort: “First, your credentials speak for you. For example, attorneys or reporting agencies utilizing the NCRA Sourcebook are able to search for reporters by type of credential; i.e., RPR, CRR, etc. I have gotten countless referrals this way. Second, when a position needed to be filled on the state licensing board, my national certifications brought me to the attention of the nominating committee; I was appointed to the Alabama Board of Court Reporting. That service then led to a position on the board of the Alabama Court Reporters Association. Last, but not least, because of my credentials, I am at the top of the pay scale as a federal official court reporter.”

“I gained a new level of confidence with each credential I earned. That confidence increased my love for and commitment to the profession. I became more active in and encouraged others to get more involved in the court reporting and legal communities,” says Lewis. “Your credentials show the world that you believe in yourself and you believe in the importance of your profession.”

Karoscik agreed that both the recognition and the financial benefits were important benefits. However, she said: “I have always felt it is important to stay current on technology and information within the court reporting and captioning professions, even if they don’t directly apply to my current position. If I am asked questions about why we do this or why we don’t do that, I want to know the answer. It makes us more credible members of the business world. In my opinion, knowledge is invaluable, especially when marketing yourself, your business, and your skills as a reporter.”

Some advice on pursuing NCRA certification

When asked for advice to others who are pursuing NCRA credentials, Votaw urges: “Get as many as you can!”

“My best advice for others pursuing credentials is to take them seriously and take the time to adequately prepare. Preparation is key! Practice above the skills test speeds – including the CRR and the CRC. Look through the Job Analysis for whichever WKT exam is being taken, review the NCRA website, and examine books from school days on legal and medical terminology,” says Kimmel.

“Practice until you are better than the test,” advises Thomas. “Test nerves are ubiquitous, and for any student reading this, they never fully go away. You’ve got to work with and around the nerves until you are better than your nerves.”

When it comes to the skills tests, Karoscik says: “Practice at least 20 wpm faster than the dictation you’re trying to pass. Practice difficult, dense literary. Nowadays it is easy to find dictation on YouTube. There are social media outlets just for practicing. Rich Germosen, RDR, CRR, has an excellent dictation library which he shared with me. Eileen Beltz, CRI, CPE, has a vast YouTube presence with her dictation as well. I turn it on to practice for upcoming assignments or if I’ve been on vacation and away from the keyboard for a while. Don’t wait to try. Confidence works wonders. You can do it!”

Online skills testing moves to block schedule June 1

Beginning June 1, NCRA skills testing registration will start following a new block schedule designed to make registration easier and more efficient for test candidates.

Under the new block scheduling, registration for skills tests will be open every other month, with candidates registering in the first 20 days of the registration month. Test candidates will be able to choose their test day from the first 20 days of the month following the registration month.

For example, candidates can register for their next skills test between June 1 and June 20 and test between July 1 and July 20.

For the remainder of this year, registration blocks will be August (for testing in September), October (for testing in November), and December (for testing in January 2020).

For more information about block scheduling, visit NCRA.org/testing.