NCRA members aid in law school’s court simulations

Sharon Saalfield, RMR, CRR

At the University of New Hampshire (UNH) Franklin Pierce School of Law, students in the Daniel Webster Scholar (DWS) Honors Program are allowed to graduate without having to take the traditional two-day state bar exam because the program involves a course built around court simulations and practical experience more than lectures. The program, which is the first of its kind in the nation, was launched in 2008 and has been accepted as an alternative to sitting for the bar exam in virtually all states. As part of the program’s court simulations, several NCRA members participate by volunteering their time to do what they do best: serve as the court reporters during court simulations.

“I hadn’t done any volunteer work outside of being on the board of the New Hampshire Court Reporters Association (NHCRA), so I decided to give it a try,” said Sharon Saalfield, RMR, CRR, a freelance court reporter from Merrimac, Mass., and president of NHCRA, who added that she volunteered for the program last year at the urging of then association president Kimberly Smith, RDR, CRR, CRC, a freelance court reporter from Salem, N.H.

“The room is set up like a courtroom, with the court reporter next to the witness. There was no judge when I was there. Next to me were four law students representing the defense team and four law students representing the plaintiff,” said Saalfield, who has been a court reporter for 27 years.

“Each student took a turn asking the witness questions. I’m not sure who the witnesses were, whether they were actual witnesses from an actual case or not. The case was an actual case, and the program uses this particular case year after year. In addition to the plaintiff and defense teams, there were many students in the room listening to the proceedings,” she added. 

Saalfield explained that her role in the proceedings was to act as the court reporter normally would during a trial. “I set up my realtime and gave the students access to my iPads so they could see the testimony as it was happening. At the end of the day, I was asked to give feedback to the students, which I did.”

According to the UNH website, students are accepted into the DWS program prior to their second year of law school and discover firsthand what it takes to succeed in today’s legal marketplace. They hone their skills in both simulated and real settings – counseling clients, working with practicing lawyers, taking depositions, appearing before judges, negotiating, mediating, drafting business documents – while creating portfolios of written and oral work for bar examiners to assess every semester.

Years in the making, the DWS is a collaboration between UNH Franklin Pierce School of Law, the New Hampshire Supreme Court, the New Hampshire Board of Bar Examiners, and the New Hampshire Bar Association. The program remains without parallel at any other law school and has drawn praise from judges, lawyers, and legal education scholars around the country.

“I think this program is extremely beneficial for those who take part in it,” Saalfield said. “They get to interact with a real witness and a real court reporter and make a record. They got to listen to my feedback about how to make a proper record and how to interact with court personnel and to see firsthand what a court reporter does,” she added. 

“As a court reporter, I definitely benefited from taking part in this program. I got to interact with students and future lawyers that I may be working with someday. I was able to show them what the court reporter’s role is in a deposition and/or courtroom and show them how to make a proper record.” 

Saalfield, who graduated from Hesser College in Manchester, N.H., said that as a junior in high school she was thinking about what she wanted to do with her life.  Her mother, she said, suggested becoming a court reporter. 

“She knew I was a good typist and that I wanted to be involved in the legal field. We went to Hesser for a visit, and I fell in love with it,” she said.

“The best part about my career is the flexibility. Being a freelancer gave me the flexibility that I needed as a mom with young children. I was able to schedule days off when I needed to be there for my kids’ activities or doctor’s appointments. Now that my children have grown, I’m able to spend more time at home. I love traveling to different places every day for work, but it’s great to be able to come home and finish my transcripts there.”

High school career day goes virtual

Kiyoko Panzella, RPR

A group of court employees from the Kings County Supreme Court in Brooklyn, N.Y., recently hosted a virtual career day via Google Meet for some high school students in lieu of an onsite one that was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Among the participants was NCRA member and one of the court’s official reporters, Kiyoko Panzella, RPR. She joined several judges and other court staff to provide an overview of their jobs in the courtroom. The event lasted about two hours and provided 37 high school students with the opportunity to learn more about careers in the legal field. The Brooklyn Eagle posted a story about the event, and the JCR Weekly has since reached out to Panzella to learn more about her experience.

JCR | How did you become involved in this event?

KP | The judge who organized the event contacted me and asked if I would be willing to be a part of the court career day she was organizing. Since the high school we were presenting to is predominantly black and Latino transfer students who are behind in credits, it was important to her to include a diverse group of presenters from all areas of court personnel so we could highlight the different paths that could lead to a career in the courts.

JCR | Have you promoted the court reporting profession before at onsite career days? If so, how was this different?

KP | This was the first career day that I’ve taken part in, so I don’t have an in-person experience to be able to compare it to. I will say that, before we started, I was a little apprehensive about the students actually paying attention and engaging since we wouldn’t physically be with them, but I shouldn’t have worried. The event actually ran an hour past the scheduled time because the students had so many questions! One of the students was a little too “engaged” — he got kicked out of the meeting because he kept muting the speakers.

JCR | What tips would you offer others who might be interested in participating in this type of virtual event?

KP | The “shared screen” feature that many of the virtual meeting platforms have is a great tool for demonstrating realtime. By using that feature I was able to not only demonstrate the realtime feed, but the students were able to simultaneously see the digital notes on my screen and I was able to show some of the features that end users don’t necessarily ever notice such as the “fix one word mistran” AccelerWriter. Google Meet has a captioning function that uses a voice-to-text program, which is a great way to compare their capabilities with a live reporter. It also helps to stay patient and keep a sense of humor. No matter how well prepared you are, technical glitches will happen, so you have to be ready to just roll with the punches.

JCR | What types of questions did the student participants ask?

KP | Most of the questions were for the judges and lawyers about what it’s like to practice law and how they make decisions, but I was specifically asked how I deal with a bunch of people talking at once and what it takes to succeed in my profession.

JCR | How long have you been working as a court reporter?

KP | I’ve been working as a court reporter for about eleven and a half years, about seven as a freelancer and four and a half in the New York court system.

JCR | Where did you go to school for court reporting?

KP | I went to New York Career Institute in Manhattan.  (The school has since merged with Plaza College in Forest Hills, Queens.)

JCR | How did you learn about this profession?

KP | I have an aunt who was a court reporter in the Los Angeles Superior Court Criminal Division. 

JCR | What has been the best thing about choosing this career path?

KP | Definitely the relationships that I’ve developed. This career has enabled me to meet a wide variety of people in different capacities who I probably never would have crossed paths with if not for the profession. I also love that no two days are alike, and I never know what will happen when I walk into the courtroom.

Kiyoko Panzella, RPR, is an official court reporter with the Kings County Supreme Court in Brooklyn, N.Y. She can be reached at panzellak@gmail.com.

Stenographers — we’re everywhere!

By Margary Rogers

The board of the Maryland Court Reporters Association proved that stenographers are everywhere on Feb. 15 during Court Reporting and Captioning Week. 

We promoted court reporting and stenography at the largest mall in the state of Maryland, Arundel Mills (owned by Simon Property Group), where around 5,000 shoppers visit on an average Saturday, and 291,667 shoppers visit each week.

I thought about doing a court reporting pop-up at Arundel Mills back in December 2019, but holidays got in the way.  Meanwhile, the MCRA had a board meeting Feb. 1, and we were brainstorming 2020 events and activities. The board consists of President Valerie Dawson, RMR, an official reporter in Salisbury, Md.; President-elect Ronda Thomas, RPR, CRR, a freelance reporter from Catonsville, Md.; Treasurer David Dawson, RPR (Ret.); Secretary Margary Rogers, RPR, CRI, an official court reporter in Washington, D.C.; and Board Member Cindy Davis, RPR, an official court reporter from Annapolis, Md.

We talked about Court Reporting & Captioning Week, Feb. 8-15, and discussed events that could be done quickly and effectively to promote the profession. We knew we only had two weeks to plan, so schools and job fairs were not available within that two-week time frame. 

So how could we make the most impact in a short time frame and in the presence of many people?

I mentioned promoting the profession at Arundel Mills Mall, an outlet mall.  The board agreed and thought it would be a great place to promote the profession where young people love to go and usually parents are in tow.  We, along with other court reporter volunteers, set up tables, handed out flyers, and provided realtime demonstrations to mall shoppers.

Ronda Thomas and I spearheaded the event. Ronda downloaded and printed NCRA career flyers and posters from the NCRA Resources online page, and I contacted the managers at Arundel Mills Mall. The mall managers were briefed on the profession of court reporting and about Court Reporting & Captioning Week. All relevant information, flyers, layout of the steno machine, and demonstration displays were provided to mall management.

The mall managers knew MCRA’s mission, and they were more than accommodating. They said “Yes, you can set up and promote your profession in the mall.” They gave MCRA three location options to host their event, and MCRA strategically decided on the food court, aka the Dining Pavilion, because this would be an area where shoppers would most likely be sitting down or walking slowly, making it easier for the court reporter volunteers to communicate with shoppers. The Dining Pavilion was also one of the entrances to the mall that was less crowded with walking individuals. (MCRA members were very cognizant of expensive steno machines and having enough safety space.)

 On Feb. 5 after the mall management said yes to setting up to promote the profession, they also said, “Just send us over your certificate of insurance, and you will be all set.” I immediately contacted the MCRA president and said, “We need a certificate of insurance to set up in the mall.” MCRA President Valerie Dawson and Treasurer David Dawson came to the rescue. They stepped in and contacted MCRA’s insurance company. After hours and days of being on the telephone with the insurance company and mall management, Valerie and David made sure we had the correct amount of insurance needed to set up in the mall. It was a small yearly amount, and MCRA has the insurance to use for a year in that mall and other malls in the DMV area.

The MCRA president, Valerie Dawson, made sure the event was advertised to all Maryland court reporters that MCRA had emails for and asked for support and volunteers. Ronda and I also were able to secure volunteers.  The court reporting volunteers were Juanita Price; Michelle Houston, RPR, a CART captioner in Brandywine, Md.; Roz DiBartolo; Susan Wootton, RPR, a freelance reporter in Brooklandville, Md.; and Dan Williams, RPR, a freelance reporter in Baltimore, Md.  Steno machine/realtime demonstrations were done by Susan Liebrecht, RPR, a freelance reporter in Eldersburg, Md.; Ronda Thomas; and me. There were also other court reporters that stopped by to lend their support, Marian Calhoun and Mary Ann Payonk.

The event was a success! There were many passersby. Our new court reporting prospects were teenagers and young adults interested in the steno machine, a career-oriented occupation, realtime and coding. Some words that were used to catch the attention of the patrons were “coding, career, flexible working schedules, working from home, income, closed captioning, and the free six- to eight-week NCRA A to Z® Intro to Steno Machine Shorthand program.”

The reactions from some reporters were, “Wow, how were you able to pull this off?” or “We should try the same thing in our association.”

The mall patrons were curious, often doing double-takes as they were walking by.  They were turning around to see what that little machine was. Their reactions were, “Wow, we’ve never seen anything like this set up in a mall before. What are you typing? How do I learn more about it for myself or my child?” There was one shopper who was interested in stenography when she retires. She was interested in captioning from home.

MCRA handed out more than 50 NCRA career flyers, connected with about 25 people and directed those interested people to the Discover Steno web page to sign up for an A to Z program.

Now that we have insurance set up, we have more opportunities to promote the profession in many different venues. Other places of interest to promote the profession are museums, MGM National Harbor Food Court, grocery stores, schools, and department stores like Wal-Mart and Target. We are thinking about hosting Promote Our Profession pop-ups at least three more times this year.  

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

School counselors see court reporting in action

NCRA staff connected with school counselors at their annual convention recently to spread the word about the court reporting and captioning professions.

The American School Counselor Association met in Boston, and Cynthia Bruce Andrews, NCRA Senior Director of Education and Certification, attended, along with Content Manager Heidi Renner.

“Attending the American School Counselors Convention continues to be a great event to get the word out about court reporting and the shortage,” Andrews said. “It is especially nice to have counselors who receive our newsletter compliment us on its content. It’s great to get that type of feedback; it demonstrates that we are making inroads with this group.”

NCRA members from the Boston area volunteered to demonstrate steno writing and talk about what they do with the counselors.

NCRA member Joan Cassidy demonstrates while NCRA Senior Director Cynthia Bruce Andrews speaks to school counselors.

“It was such a great experience,” said Joan Cassidy, RMR, CRR, a freelancer from Norfolk, Mass. “I loved explaining what we do to others, unraveling the ‘magic’ they think we court reporters make. Hopefully school guidance counselors from all over the country will in turn inspire and inform their students about this great profession of ours.  Additionally, it was wonderful to be able to give back to a profession that has been so generous to me and my family.”

Comments heard most often from school counselors included:

“I didn’t even know about this career!”
“My students really need to know about jobs like this.”
“Can I have a court reporter come to my school?”
“Is it too late for me to be a court reporter?”

NCRA member Kathy Silva in the booth with Andrews and a school counselor.

“Getting the word out to educators and school administrators is essential for the future of our profession,” said Kathy Silva, RPR, CRR, an official in Andover, Mass., who volunteered in the NCRA booth. “Because of this effort, I am certain school counselors will keep court reporting and captioning in mind when discussing possible careers with students.”

Justina Pettinelli, RDR, CRR, a freelancer from Quincy, Mass., also volunteered.

NCRA member Justina Pettinelli volunteered in the NCRA booth.

“It was such a pleasure to participate in the American School Counselor Association Conference with NCRA,” Pettinelli said. “The NCRA reps did a wonderful job educating everyone about court reporting, a profession that is largely unknown/unfamiliar to the general public. Everyone was both intrigued and impressed with seeing realtime in action with the steno machine, and they responded very favorably to the information provided to them about the profession. Attendance at these conferences is crucial in spreading the word to people who have the ability to reach thousands of children who will be our profession’s future, and I’d like to thank NCRA for participating and working so hard on our behalf.” 

NCRA member Teri Gibson.

Teri C. Gibson, RPR, CRR, CRC, CRI, a freelancer and CART captioner from Chelsea, Mass., also volunteered.

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.

Read more.

The benefits of pro bono work

Lisa Migliore Black

By Lisa Migliore Black

The call from the out-of-state attorney seemed much like any other. “We’ll need a court reporter and videographer to cover a deposition. Are you available?” But this call turned unusual.

After obtaining the scheduling information, the next question was, “Do you do pro bono work?”

Now, I’ve done pro bono work before for select parties who couldn’t afford our services, for the Veterans History Project, even offering our services on immigration cases for which our existing clients were providing their legal services free of charge. My only hesitancy here was the lack of knowledge of this particular firm, the case at hand, or any of their history with pro bono work. This left me wondering if I would be agreeing to help promote a noble cause, aid someone truly indigent in seeking justice, or just stupidly discounting our services. Hesitantly, I said, “Yes.”

I provided the caller with a summary of our state association’s guidelines for pro bono work. In part, the pro bono guidelines state, “A volunteer reporter will provide 50 pages of transcript at no charge. All subsequent pages will be billed at the reporter’s regular page rate unless the reporter waives this fee or negotiates a discounted page rate.” The client happily agreed, and the first deposition date was set.

On the eve of the deposition, the reporter assigned to cover the case did a bit of research to prepare for the following day’s proceedings. The search of the case style, “State of Florida v. Clemente Javier Aguirre-Jarquin,” resulted interesting details about the case. Aguirre was serving a sentence on Florida’s death row for the murder of his neighbors Cheryl Williams and Carole Bareis, and his team of lawyers was seeking to have his conviction overturned.

“On the morning of June 17, 2004, Aguirre found the bodies of Cheryl Williams and her mother, Carol Bareis, in their trailer home. They had been stabbed dozens of times. Distressed by the violent scene, Aguirre checked the victims to see if they were still breathing, at which point he got the victims’ blood on his clothing. Realizing they were dead, Aguirre picked up a knife that was near Williams’ body, fearful that the perpetrator was still present, but then panicked, throwing the knife into the yard and returning to his neighboring trailer.

“When questioned by the police, Aguirre initially reported that he knew nothing about the murders; at that time, Aguirre was an immigrant from Honduras with no criminal history but feared deportation from the United States. Later that same day, however, he asked to speak to police again and voluntarily disclosed that he’d been in the trailer earlier that morning and discovered the bodies. The officers arrested him that day and charged him with evidence tampering. He remained a person of interest and was held without bond until he was charged 10 days later with the double murders. Aguirre had no previous criminal history.”

Our witness was to be Samantha Williams, the daughter and granddaughter of the victims. Williams did not appear for the first date scheduled, but ultimately the deposition did proceed. The attorney who hired us represented Aguirre through the Innocence Project, a volunteer organization whose mission is to exonerate the wrongfully convicted and seek justice reform, a mission near and dear to my heart.

Because I am a videographer, court reporter, and firm owner, I was able to pay the reporter in full, donate my time as the videographer, and heavily discount the remaining charges to about one-fourth of the usual cost. The payoff for me, other than the gratification of doing the right thing? Approximately nine months later, our office learned of Mr. Aguirre’s exoneration.

The pro bono work I’ve done has proven to be some of the most interesting and personally rewarding work of my career. This case was no exception. We applaud the efforts of the Innocence Project and take great pride in the role we were able to play in our justice system.

Lisa Migliore Black is a freelance reporter and owner of Migliore & Associates, based in Louisville, Ky. She can be reached at Lisacr99@hotmail.com.

NCRA member participates in fifth graders Law Day

On May 15, The Frontier and Holt County Independent posted a story about a Law Day that was held for local fifth graders in which NCRA member Kami Hooey, RPR, CRR, an official court reporter from Atkinson, Neb.,  participated.

Read more.

Court reporting featured at local career fair

NCRA Director Cindy Isaacsen, RPR, a freelance court reporter from Shawnee, Kan., was featured in a photo and quoted in an article posted May 10 by The Miami County Republic,  about her participation in a recent career fair held a local middle school.

Read more.

NCRA member showcases court reporting and captioning at California school

NCRA member Trudy O’Brien speaking at Grizzly Youth Academy

On April 19, NCRA member Trudy O’Brien, a freelance court reporter from Morro Bay, Calif., showcased the court reporting and captioning professions to students at the Grizzly Youth Academy (GYA) in San Luis Obispo, Calif.

The GYA is a partnership between the California National Guard and the Grizzly Challenge Charger School. It serves youth between the ages of 16 and 18 who have dropped out of high school or are at risk of dropping out. The curriculum offers a high-structured environment that promotes leadership, cooperation, and academic skills, while building self-esteem, pride, and confidence.

According to O’Brien, while she didn’t have any of the students asking where to sign up to learn the profession, she is hopeful the seed was planted in some of them.

“I could tell they were fascinated by my writing by what they were saying, so they definitely saw the magic happen. The kids enjoyed being able to take away bags and highlighters, and I made sure that they all left with a flyer,” she added.

A growing number of NCRA members have realized the value in attending career fairs as a way to promote the profession. Members report that they have participated in career fairs held at middle schools, high schools, community colleges, and other venues to promote the benefits of a career in court reporting or captioning. Below is a list of tips that include ways to find a career fair event near you and help you to plan a successful career day demonstration.

  • Visit a local high school website and contact counselors or directors of public relations/admissions.
  • Contact the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, or other youth organizations in your community to see if there is an opportunity to introduce the students to the court reporting and captioning professions. 
  • Contact high schools in your area to see if they are holding any college fairs.
  • Sign up to exhibit at your state’s high school guidance counselor convention to showcase what you do.
  • Bring along a short transcript to use as part of your demonstration. Let the students get a flavor for what goes on in the courtroom or the deposition suite by letting them have a turn at being the judge, the prosecutor, the defense attorney, or the defendant. 
  • Share personal stories of why you chose this profession. Let students know how diversified the profession is and more about the various work venues, flexibility, salary potential, training required, and job availability.
  • Be sure to have on hand materials such as flyers and information about where to learn more about the profession.
  • Be sure to pack plenty of your personal business cards. Offer interested students the opportunity to shadow you or a colleague in whatever area of our profession may be of interest to them. Give them the chance to see just how exciting the career is.

NCRA members who are interested in presenting at career fairs can access a variety of resources available from the Association. The Resource Center at DiscoverSteno.com has fliers, posters, a PowerPoint presentation, and more.

Members may also find value in the resources at NCRA.org/Awareness. These materials are focused on Court Reporting & Captioning Week, but members can adapt them for other promotional purposes or use them to find ideas for highlighting court reporting and captioning.

Other good sources to tap into for opportunities to showcase the court reporting and captioning professions include the American School Counselors Association (ASCA) and the National Association of College Admissions Counseling (NACAC), which holds college fairs on national, state, and regional levels.

Members who do participate in career fairs or any other promotional activities are encouraged to contact pr@ncra.org to have their stories possibly included in the JCR or JCR Weekly. Keep in mind that any photos taken at a school career event will likely need to hide any identifying features of minors, especially faces.

Sunrise Rotary learns about Veterans History Project

NCRA member Jill Layton, RMR, an official court reporter from Toledo, Ill., was featured in an article posted April 12 by the Effingham Daily News, about her volunteering to record the stories of Illinois veterans for the Library of Congress Veterans History Project.

Read more.