Surviving court reporting school: The last 24

By Roanna L. Ossege

6:30 a.m. I awaken to the familiar sound of my nerve-crushing alarm clock. I bought this particular clock because it shrieks in just such a way as to ensure that I will not oversleep and miss any speed tests. That is, after all, one of the worst nightmares I face as a court reporting student.

7:00 a.m. I am in the all-important phase of determining the quality of my sleep and thus my ability to write. If I did the “zombie” sleep routine, that warrants a Grande at Starbucks. I am sure that I only enjoyed an hour of REM and spent the rest of my night writing in my head to a pounding Metallica tune. On this particular morning, I decide that a Grande is in order. If I’m lucky, I will hit that sweet spot of being amped, but not too much, and have just the right amount of frenetic energy to get that last 225. If I am wrong, my hands will dance right off the keyboard onto my neighbor’s machine. Other students get really prickly about that.

7:35 a.m. I arrive at school to an empty classroom. I always feel a strange sense of pride about being the first one here. I never understood the late arrivals. I am too vulnerable to the threat of readback to risk missing my warm-up. I take out my 47 pounds of equipment and begin to set up. Is my machine cord fraying? Did someone sneeze on my laptop screen? I need to figure out how I can reorganize this suitcase for the 20th time this semester.

8:00 a.m. Dictation begins. This sounds like 160. This is going to be a good day. Ten minutes of perfection. I will get my last test. I am ready for the first three-minute readback take. Ready, set, go:

  1. Slate you tame and a dress, cheese.
  2. Bill 1#13 west

What is going on? I had this. So this is what 300 words a minute sounds like. Is she going to call on me first? Can I remember the address so I sound like I got it? Oh, crap! Get back in. Maybe she will call on me for the last minute.

Thank God that’s over. Now to pretend that I need something out of my bag so she won’t call on me. That fake sneeze sounded totally real. And now I need tissue. Perfect. Phew. Some other poor soul got called on. Just nod along as a fellow student reads — like you got every word. Nobody suspects a thing.

There is no way I am getting my last 225 today.

8:50 a.m. Break time. Do I dare have another coffee? My heart rate is approaching the dictation speed, so maybe not.

9:00 a.m. Mid-speed hour. No readback. Just write your heart out. Why is it that when I don’t have to read back I can write like Mark Kisslingbury going for the world record, but when there is readback, I am suddenly back in theory learning how to write “and” as “SKP” for the first time? Total mental breakdown.

11:00 a.m. Testing hour. This is it. One more and I am free. If I miss, I have to come back for another semester. That guy who rustles his paper better not pull that today. I would hate to go to jail before I can finish court reporting school! That other guy who has a bad habit of staring in the window while he awaits his lower speed tests walks by. I give him the evil eye as a silent warning as he exits the room.

Here it goes….

11:05 a.m. I think I got it! I don’t want to be overconfident. I need the next one too. Just in case. For the sake of my sanity.

11:10 a.m. OMG! I think I got both of them. Now, do everything right. Fill out the transcribing sheet. Don’t erase anything. What is that buzzing? Oh, just my nervous system on overload. Don’t add words, Roanna! Don’t believe that voice in your head that tells you that you remember what they said better than your notes!

11:35 a.m. How did I transcribe that test so fast? I have gone through it three times already. Should I go through it, again? No! I have to grade it. There are so many pages. Please, oh, please.

11:41 a.m. Thirty-two errors. I did it! I must have forgotten to count a bunch of pages. I think of the obsessive-compulsive, psychotic night ahead as I imagine all of the uncounted errors and how I could lose this test before final grading. I count them again, and again, and again. That’s it; 32. Somehow that will balloon to 64 by morning, right?

I clumsily attempt to put on sunglasses as voluminous tears begin to form, preparing to drown my flushed face. Why is this so hard? Did my head get bigger?

I ask the lab assistant to call my instructor for grading. She is gone for the day. I will have to wait until morning. I know I am done, but I cannot stop the doubt. Another student says, “You got your last one?” I say, “Don’t even say it. I don’t want to jinx anything,” as my practical self suddenly turns into a certain believer of superstition, magic, and all kinds of voodoo.

I make it to a side room where my friends sit. The doubt begins to leave me. I give them the thumbs up, and they say words. I go running. I make it to the elevator. I don’t remember how to turn my phone on. There it is. Just get inside the elevator doors. My husband answers, and I sob into my phone. He says, “It’s okay, honey. You will get it next semester.” “I got it,” I squeak. He cries. I cry. I drive home calling everyone that has been on this insane journey with me. By the time I get home, my phone looks like a clown in full makeup has been talking on it.

The rest of the day and night is a blur.

6:40 a.m. The next day. I wake up to a text from my most respected instructor. “Congratulations!” I roll over to go back to sleep exhausted from five hours of the same dream where my test is really 23 pages instead of eight, and I forgot to grade 14 of them. My hubby kisses my cheek and tells me how proud he is of me. The next text arrives moments later: “No time to rest now. Put on your game face. The RPR is on Saturday. See you at school in an hour.” I should have shut off my phone. Geesh! She’s always right, though. Up and at ’em. Venti Starbucks with an extra shot — after all, my heart is now beating at a comfortable pace for the first time in five years.

This is just a glimpse into my last day in court reporting school. The preceding five years went a lot like this without the last test and immense relief. There were triumphs and tears. I wrote this to tell all of you out there trying to make it happen: If I can do it, you can do it! Much of the advice I can offer is the simple stuff: Practice, get some sleep (easier said than done sometimes, I know). The real advice that no one wants to hear is even more effective: Get to school early and practice in addition to your regular home practice. Write to some crazy speeds and read it back. Sit in court and produce a transcript. Again and again and again, read your notes, edit your work. That feedback loop is crucial to success.

I stupidly waited five years to be called a “natural.” It was only in that last semester that I realized that if I wanted this, I would have to defy the odds. I had to do some crazy things, like meet my friend Gretchen in the cafeteria at 6:30 a.m. before class and read back 240 Q&A to each other. It was not easy. It was not comfortable.

The day I passed that final test changed me forever. All the doubt and the anxiety melted away. I became me again. I had forgotten what it was like to be me. I have never had a child, but I imagine court reporting school might be like a really, really long and painful labor and you forget some of the pain after you see that beautiful, crisp, unblemished fruit of your labor. In my case, it is a beautiful Technical A.A. in Realtime Reporting. It just sounds pretty, doesn’t it?

Court reporting school is not for the faint of heart. You have to be persistent. You have to get mad. You have to grab each test. Stop waiting for someone else to tell you how to do it. Get in there and do something different, something uncomfortable. Keep doing it until you win. You can do this!

Roanna L. Ossege is a freelance reporter in Virginia and a member of the NCRA’s Student Community of Interest.

Do you have a funny, inspiring, and/or interesting story about an experience you had in court reporting school? The NCRA Student Community of Interest would love to hear about it. Submit your best stories for possible publication to

Take back your power from these tests

TakeBackYourPowerBy Meridith Knepper Carsella

As students, we’re taking tests all of the time, particularly in speedbuilding classes. My teacher will remind us frequently, “I can’t think of any other student who must get an A+ (95 or better — for some it’s even higher!) to even pass their tests.” So the standards are very high. This is great, though, because we must retain those same high standards when we are out and working.

I have a confession to make. I was a former “A” hound. I’m not proud of it, but I once dropped out of college over an unfair “B”. Yes, you actually read that correctly. I realized that failing every single speed test that I take until I’m at speed and can pass one might actually take a lot of out of me. I set about finding a way to make each test important.

1. If you take a test, transcribe it.

I’m a hypocrite here. There are days, particularly the days when my children get out of school early, where I test and run. Some teachers will let you transcribe your test on another day, though.

This is so important to do, however.

  • This will teach you how to read through your garbage. Every honest professional court reporter is going to tell you that they have good days and bad days. You need to be able to read it anyway.
  • This will show you patterns. I keep a list of common misstrokes and turn them into word lists to practice later. When you see common misstrokes and then work on them, they become perfect strokes. (Or dictionary entries.)
  • This is another opportunity to build your dictionary! Obviously, if you’re seeing groups of words coming up, or words you cannot stroke properly to save your life, define them.
  • Keep track of how many words you wrote. Over time, you’ll see the word count trending upwards and this will allow you to see progress, even when you aren’t feeling it. This can be powerful.

2. If allowed, go ahead and check the test. This will let you see what kinds of errors you are making: what grammar you may need to work on, or if you have trouble hearing (processing, really) inflected endings, or you need to work on your vocabulary skills. (Wont and want are not the same word. Patience and patients are also different words. Although a lack of patience can certainly lead to patients.)

3. Do a forensic exam on your test. For each and every test, if you have the time to figure out why you didn’t pass that particular test, you are adding to your likelihood of passing another one sooner. I’m going to have to oversimplify it here: There are many solutions to each of the scenarios I’m going to put forth, but hopefully it’ll point you in the right direction.

Here’s what I do: I ask myself (nicely), “Why did I fail that test?”

I didn’t have enough words to pass it.Okay. That’s understandable. Most of us are in that very same boat! If this is the issue, it’s time for some serious speedbuilding, practicing muscle memory, and warming up with finger drills. You may want to really work on finding ‘the zone,’ the place where your ears hear the word and your fingers type the word and your brain is out having lunch. You will hear people talking about “getting their brains out of the way” a lot in high speeds.

Poor punctuation sunk this ship!

This is good news because it’s such an easy fix. Brush up on punctuation! Perhaps your school offers a class, or you can pick up a used copy of a grammar book. There are wonderful resources online such as and Grammar Girl. There are also online courses. Most public schools or even community colleges offer free or very cheap classes in punctuation.

Keep track of every single punctuation mistake that you don’t understand, look them up as soon as possible, and commit them to memory and/or make a crib sheet for transcribing (if your school allows you to have references while transcribing). Find a source and learn how to punctuate. It’s important! So many people say, “I’ll just hire a scopist.” I’ve got news for you, Charlie. Proofers and scopists don’t work for people who make their job really difficult. If you are just dreadful at punctuation, they will do one or two jobs for you and then be “too busy” when you call them again. I’ve heard this over and over again from graduates and professional court reporters, and I’ve heard it from actual scopists and proofers.

I can’t read my notes at all!

Deep breath. This could just be an accuracy issue. Try to slow down practice to your tar- get speed and slightly below. Pay more attention to what your fingers are doing. Look for patterns such as dragging extra letters, omitting them, using the wrong side for a particular letter (R is my big offender), and so forth.

Learning your own quirks will give you an opportunity to read through your garbage, correct common mistakes through targeted practice, and define things to your dictionary that you know would never be anything else. Suddenly these quirks are no longer a problem. They translate!

OR: You aren’t a good steno reader. Practice makes perfect. Start reading your notes. Print them up and take have some in your car, by the bed, in the bathroom — places where you may find yourself with a few minutes to kill. Bliss!

I’m fast enough usually, but there are some common phrases that just trip me up!

Briefs and phrases, my friend. I couldn’t embrace learning a ton of these in theory or speedbuilding, to be honest. I’m not good at memorization. What I am good at, though, is getting really sick and tired of stroking out “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury” and deciding to learn a better way to write them, one or two at a time. I learn the briefs or phrases for the ones that make me roll my eyes when I hear them. You really will end up with a nice arsenal of them. I did embrace, and still do, brief families. Or are they phrase families? You know the old, all of, all of the, and all of it, or I know, I don’t know, you know, you don’t know, he knows, and she knows, etc.

When you try new briefs and phrases when you’re writing, but they don’t come to you when you’re transcribing, that means you really need to read them when you write them for practice. Just looking at a flash card and memorizing it, then writing it, doesn’t always make it clear when it’s in the middle of a bunch of other steno. If you practice a brief or phrase to learn it, go ahead and read your notes back so you’re seeing it, too, in situ. It helps.

I failed because my teacher hates me, she read it too fast, it was too slow and I had too much time to think, the girl in front of me was jiggling her shoe, a dog barked outside, someone coughed, I could hear someone’s stomach growling …

We call this blame shifting. It’s a sign that you need to take a step back and really evaluate what’s going on for you. It’s always a worrisome sign to me when people are looking outside of themselves for the reasons that they’re not passing tests. We can’t control what’s happening outside of ourselves. Some people will hate you. Some will talk really fast. There will be distractions in the court- room that you can’t even imagine yet. (A field trip for me clued me into the rattling of chains, no kidding! I don’t know how that court reporter could hear the witness!) Those things are outside of our control. If we focus on things that are outside of our control, we don’t have a solution. This can lead to just giving up in despair!

But the good news is that we can control ourselves. We can choose not to care if some- one hates us. We can go faster, if necessary, when someone is talking too fast. (That will just make you a better court reporter anyway!) We can learn to tune out distractions. We can learn to focus on what we are doing. We can know that this is something we will do and just do it. Nothing can get in our way once we make up our mind. (Barring any serious industrial accidents, of course.)

We really have a whole lot more power over our journey than it sometimes feels when we see failed test after failed test after failed test. Instead of seeing the failure, letting our confidence take a hit, becoming depressed or frustrated about it, we can re- member that we have power, real power to turn things around and to make each failure count. They say attitude is everything in court reporting school. I choose the powerful attitude. I choose the positive attitude. I choose to conquer those tests, complete my journey, and enjoy the payoff later when I’m a bona fide court reporter! How about you?


Meridith Knepper Carsella can be reached at

Student Report: The shock of the real world

“You all right in there?” hollered the attorney as he knocked on the bathroom door.

I could not answer him as I continued to vomit, an already embarrassing situation made worse by the fact that the law office was an old wooden house located in midtown Houston. In these types of structures, loud noises reverberate with ferocity across every room. No sounds are hidden in this longstanding house, especially the ones my unforeseen sickness was producing. When I finally regained the strength and stillness to answer the attorney, I faintly answered, “Yes, sir. I just need a few minutes. I’m sorry.”

Hundreds of panicked thoughts raced through my mind. Do I call the court reporting firm that assigned me to this job and let them know what is going on? Will the attorneys automatically send me home for this? Did I mess up the record when, minutes ago, I asked everyone in the room to please excuse me? The uneasiness of my stomach was exacerbated by the fear and uncertainty starting to run through me.

After I carefully paced myself back to the conference room and said that we could resume the proceedings, the attorney asked me if the court reporting agency that sent me should dispatch another court reporter. I politely denied the idea and insisted that I was fine to continue. Six hours later, we concluded with the final witness for the day. I packed up and slowly limped to the car carrying my steno machine and laptop. My equipment seemed to weigh a thousand pounds more than usual after a long day of recording testimony for more than eight hours, with no shortage of the attorney and deponent angrily talking over each other at what seemed to be more than 300 words per minute.

This was my very first job ever as a licensed court reporter.

My mind began to reel at how my very first assignment actually unfolded. I did not have any answers or points of reference for a day like this. My court reporting school or instructors never mentioned days like this. I had no idea if I handled the day’s unusual events correctly or not. I experienced a lot of emotions as I sat quietly in my car that evening, but mostly I felt simply unprepared — unprepared for dealing with belligerent witnesses who refuse to slow down their speaking as they direct livid orations at the questioning attorney; unprepared for the pain and stiffness shooting through my arms after the first three hours of writing to intensely brisk back-and-forth testimony; unprepared for dealing with an unexpected sickness while simultaneously trying to make the best possible impression on my first freelance assignment.

I just felt lost.

Thankfully, there would be more jobs. There would be better depositions. There would be kind attorneys and compliant witnesses who converse with a friendly calm. There would be days where I am complimented for my professionalism and sharp appearance. Thankfully, those days would slowly become average for my life as a court reporter. But I also experienced my fair share of court reporting “horror stories,” as CSRs love to share with each other when they convene. It is interesting to listen to court reporters regale others with their more embarrassing, frustrating, and bizarre jobs. Sometimes these stories are told to entertain; sometimes they are told to educate; other times they are told for what seems like the sake of experiencing a therapeutic catharsis — or even a confession.

But many times, you will hear the same final thought with these old court reporting war stories: “I was not prepared for that.”

As I took some days to alleviate the shell shock of my very first job, I began to realize that my training for being a court reporter and the real-life application of being a court reporter turned out to be two completely different things. Yes, my court reporting procedures class in school was invaluable in its practicality and relevance; yes, the interning I did with working reporters was an eye-opening educational experience; yes, my instructors did warn us of strange jobs that we may take as reporters. But there is still so much to absorb and figure out when you first embark on jobs as a bright-eyed certified reporter. For instance:

• What do you do when the attorney who hired you wants to go off the record, but opposing counsel demands that you stay on?

• What do you do when an admitted exhibit is a firearm or bag of narcotics?

• What do you do when an expert witness’s accent is incredibly heavy, to the point where you only understand every other word they are saying?

• What do you do about paying taxes as you begin to make money as a licensed court reporter?

Of course, there is a consensus for a “right answer” for all of these example situations. But would a student who is about to take their certification exam know what to do in these instances? Would a court reporter who has been working for only six months in the field know what to do in these scenarios?

I spoke to several court reporters about their own shocks of transitioning from a student of stenography to working in the profession full-time. Much like the surprise of my first day of proceedings having wild dictation speeds, many veteran court reporters recall their own dismay of trying to keep up as neophytes. A working professional confessed to me, “I wasn’t prepared to make the transition from five-minute takes to real-world conversation at 300 wpm for 20- to 60-second bursts, followed by a pause, and then an answer at 180 words a minute — rinse and repeat for hours on end.” A court reporter from Delaware communicates this same idea with sobering brevity when she said, “Depositions don’t happen in five-minute takes.”

Some reporters began their career with questions of how to handle everything that happens outside of the deposition proceedings. “I could write, and I could punctuate. I even expected the arguing attorneys,” a realtime reporter from California told me. “What I had no clue about was the administrative side of reporting: Worksheets, billing, calendaring, taxes, shipping, tracking receipts, and expenses. I was totally unprepared.”

I have had the pleasure of mentoring new court reporters, most of whom I know through the school I attended and developed friendships with. I cannot count the number of times I have guided new reporters on where to order exhibit stickers, how to keep track of their mileage for each deposition, or how to swear in an interpreter. Each time I give out these useful tidbits of information to burgeoning reporters, it affirms the harsh reality that new court reporters need a lot more attention and help than they are normally getting — whether through their school or not — to ensure that they are doing the best they can for the clients they serve.

My older brother became a certified shorthand reporter years after I did, and I remember every day answering a seemingly endless number of questions regarding the tiny, important details of working as a court reporter and how jobs actually happen on a day-to-day basis. There were times when the answers I gave him almost stunned him. Even with his four-plus years of intense training as a stenographer, he was still learning things about the industry that befuddled him. I could almost see the battle taking place in his mind between his expectations of responsibilities as a court reporter and the reality of them.

What’s more interesting to learn about many reporters is how long it actually took for them to feel remotely competent at their job — or not. A seasoned Washington, D.C., court reporter candidly told me, “After five years, I was amazed that every day was worse than school, and I was writing like the wind constantly. I was exhausted, discouraged, and ready to quit.” Meanwhile, another reporter said to me, “The real coldwater shock was how long it took me to get comfortable with the job — probably five years.” Just between these two court reporters, after more than 1,800 days on the job, one is barely coping with their assignments while the other is just realizing that they finally feel confident with the day-to-day workload.

What is it like, then, for court reporters who have only been doing it for a week?

The undeniable current of truth underneath all of the confusion, pain, and astonishment of transitioning from a stenography student to a professional is that they are desperate for information, for guidance, for a helping hand. Some court reporters reveal that they may not still be doing what they are doing if it were not for those that helped them along the way. One reporter emphasized to me that her mentors — two veterans who gave her a steady stream of kindness and help — were the deciding factor in keeping her in the business. “If it weren’t for these two gentlemen, I don’t know if I would have stayed in reporting.”

Today’s digital age allows for all sorts of people with commonalities to come together and help each other, especially court reporters and court reporting students or the newly certified. The exchange of information going from wise working reporters to those who just became licensed is encouraging and sometimes moving. You can see the relief when a newbie reporter thanks everyone so much for their feedback and help after posting their current questions and frustrations. I gladly participate in the daily encouragement and guidance of students and new reporters. Telling a new reporter where to place a comma in a witness’s answer can be more than a brief lesson in grammar; it can be a reassurance that they are not alone.

In my mind’s eye, I sometimes look back on the young man who unintentionally threw up in the attorney’s guest restroom on his very first job. I would have gotten on the phone with him that night and asked him how his first day went. I would have encouraged him to laugh about it, convince him that it will make a great story for other new reporters in the future. Then I would have shown him how to handle things like that in the future if the occasion should arise.

Someone trying to pass their court reporting certification exam once wrote me after I offered them advice and said, “You are a blessing to the court reporting community.” While that is a very kind thing to say, it made me realize that is actually exactly what we are: a community. Communities thrive by being self-sustaining and self-healing, by letting the stronger portions support weaker portions, by having its inhabitants serve one other whenever they can. Everyone can contribute something in their own unique way, even if it is just a little.

There is no doubt: Offering your unique help to those who need it in our precious community goes a long, long way.

Student Report: Launching your court reporting career

Looking for a job in today’s competitive market can be difficult. So how do you make yourself stand out among the competition? How do you get a potential employer to take interest in you and want to interview you? According to the pros, the best way is to differentiate ourself. Focus your résumé around your strengths and goals. Let your unique skills and abilities shine, every step of the way — from your résumé to the follow-up after an interview.


Positive first impressions can help you stand out among the competition. Your first opportunity to make a good impression is with your résumé. The person reviewing your résumé is generally the one who will decide whether you will get an interview or not. So consider your résumé your first interview, as well as the first opportunity to promote yourself. Pay attention to detail. A résumé should be easy to read, concise, neat, and well organized. Undoubtedly, a future court reporter should use proper grammar and correct spelling. When a résumé is free of errors, it allows the reader to focus on the content.

Michelle Grimes, a recent graduate of the College of Court Reporting, located in Hobart, Ind., feels that proofreading your résumé is of utmost importance because it demonstrates use of correct spelling, grammar skills, attention to detail, thoroughness, and a strong integrity to make your work “sparkle.”

In addition, résumés should be tailored to each specific job or position you are applying for — they are not one size fits all. Read the job description carefully and figure out what qualifications the employer is looking for and what you can offer them. Then tailor your résumé around the skills and experience you have specific to that position.

Be sure to showcase your skills and abilities. List any credentials you have, as well as membership in any court reporting or other professional associations and any relevant experience. It is also important to include the court reporting program you graduated from and your academic achievements. In addition, make note of any efforts you are taking to further your skills, and include activities that reflect good social skills such as groups for which you volunteer or social groups with which you are involved. Along with listing your skills and experience, consider including how those skills can benefit your potential employer.

If you are a young professional just getting started in your career, outside activities can provide you with the experience to show skills you may not have had the opportunity to use in your professional life, such as leadership, organization, and time management.

Finally, always volunteer a difficult transcript for your potential employers to review. “When a reporter volunteers a transcript, I am always impressed, provided it turns out to be excellent, of course,” said Tiffany Alley, RPR, founder of Tiffany Alley Global Reporting & Video in Atlanta, Ga.


It is better to be 10 minutes early than 10 minutes late. Being prompt for your interview shows you want to be there and you respect the interviewer’s time. When introductions are made at an interview, be sure to make eye contact, give a firm handshake, and address the interviewer by name.

“It goes without saying that there’s never a second chance at first impressions, so appearance and friendliness must always be tops,” said Robert Gramann, RPR, President of Gramann Reporting & Videoconferencing, in Milwaukee, Minn.

During the interview, convey that you are willing to go the extra mile to keep attorneys loyal to the company you represent. Demonstrate flexibility and a cooperative attitude. Be yourself. Try to relax and enjoy learning about the job opportunity, expectations, and the people employed there.

Focus on what the interviewer asks and then be concise but thorough when answering. If it helps to illustrate your skills, provide an example of the work you have done. Be honest. If you don’t have a particular skill, just state that and follow up with your intentions of future plans to gain the necessary skill set. Research the firm before your interview. During the interview, ask great questions to show that you are familiar with the company and the specific position for which you are applying.

Bring a copy of your résumé to an interview along with two or three business references and their contact information, and be prepared to leave this information with the interviewer. Also, be sure to make contact with your references in advance to tell them you are interviewing and with which firms so they are prepared and not caught off guard.

Finally, ask the interviewer for their business card. Their business card will help you remember their name, provide the correct spelling of their name, and list their street and email addresses. This is all crucial information you will need when you send a thank-you note.

Interview follow-up

Follow up any interview with an email or hand-written thank-you note to each person with whom you interviewed. Since many people don’t follow an interview with a thank-you note, doing so makes you stand out from the crowd and can help reinforce that you’re a strong candidate. A thank-you note shows good business etiquette and reinforces your interest in the position.

A thank-you note can also be used to address any issues or concerns that came up during the interview. Briefly thank the interviewer for their time, restate why you want the job, and write something about how you intend to make a contribution to the firm. If you interviewed with several people, add something specific about that interviewer, making each note unique. Keep it short and simple — a couple of paragraphs is adequate — and make sure to proofread the note before sending it out. Try to send your thank-you note that evening so the interviewer will receive it the next day. If that is not possible, make sure to send it within 24 hours of the interview.

Even if you feel a particular job is not for you, follow up with a thank-you note. Potential employers will remember you and may call you back for another position or recommend you to another firm.


Personal contacts are invaluable when it comes to getting noticed. It is often said it is not what you know, but who you know. It is never too early to begin networking. Networking is all about building relationships. It goes without saying the more time you have to network, the larger your network is going to be and the greater the potential for launching your career. Networking is an investment in your career and your future. Start networking while you are still in school. One of the best places to network is at your state association events and NCRA conventions. What better place to meet prospective employers? “I’ve found lots of work because of contacts I have made there,” said Joshua Foley, a recent graduate of College of Court Reporting, in Hobart, Ind.

Social Media

Social media sites such as LinkedIn are also a great place to network. Join and actively participate in court reporting forums and other career-related sites. Social media can be used as a tool to promote yourself by connecting to sites like a company’s LinkedIn page. “Social media is like many other forms of advertising. If your name keeps popping up in different but related reporting venues, your chances of obtaining a reporting position increase,” said Gramann.

Make sure to recognize, however, that social media has the potential to make or break your career. Social media should focus on activities and endeavors that show good judgment. Many employers check social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to learn more about potential candidates, so consider social media sites as part of your résumé.

Advice from seasoned professionals

Use your spare time to increase your writing speed. “Extra speed is like money in the bank. Become an expert at using your CAT software by signing up for training, attending webinars, viewing tutorials, and reading the manual,” said Gramann.

In addition, be willing to contact all the major firms in your area and ask to be put on their overflow list. “Take whatever job is offered to you and exceed production expectations,” advises Valerie Seaton, RPR, CCR, president of Moburg, Seaton & Watkins, in Seattle, Wash.

Alley has this final piece of advice for getting yourself recognized and remembered,“ You need a twist — something that makes you unique and attractive to your ideal employer. Training new reporters is a lot of work; give the employer a good reason why they should be willing to invest in you. If you want the job, ask for it.”

Student Report: What brand-new court reporters need to know

Looking back 32 years ago when I started, the answer to what basic equipment was necessary for a new reporter was easy: Machine, paper, ink, dictaphone, an IBM electric typewriter equipped with what we called the court reporter ball, more paper, and carbon paper.

We have come a long way in that time period. Now the premise is all CAT, all realtime — or should be with brand-new reporters — and wireless technology. My list is going to be twofold: first the bare necessities, and second, what you need if you want to excel.

The bare necessities

  • The court reporter model writer. A student writer just isn’t going to be able to do the job.
  • The court reporter version of your CAT software. Again, the student version won’t cut the mustard, and most CAT companies won’t let you stay on it the first time you renew after school.
  • A good notebook computer. Notice I didn’t say expensive. You can buy a fullsized, no frills, yet completely acceptable notebook for under $400.
  • A good wheelie carrying case. Save your back from the start.

The above, except for the computer, can be purchased through your CAT vendor for a realistic monthly payment.

What you need to excel

  • More dictation material! You need to pass the RPR, so get the dictation material you need, and get the prep pamphlets for the Written Knowledge Test. Because you can earn the RPR in legs, there is no excuse for not taking and passing it as you are ready.
  • Get Wi-Fi for yourself on your jobs. You can tether your smartphone to your computer using, or you can often share your Wi-Fi connection with your phone if you have a data plan. I use a Mifi. It’s $50 a month, and I can share 10 connections if I wish. But you need Wi-Fi to quickly look up terms you’re not sure of on your breaks.
  • Searchmaster. You can look up tons and tons of information with cool word searches and also search your past transcripts for names or terms. You can get it from Eclipse, Pengad, or gosearchmaster. com.
  • A scopist. The number one problem most court reporters face when they get out of school is knowing how to put the page together. Unfortunately, the formatting can change from state to state, from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and even from court to court. The better you understand how it’s supposed to look on the page, the easier it will be to write what you need to on the machine to make it look that way. Scopists are an invaluable tool in helping you see the page like it should be, and they can help you build your dictionary. Find a good one and you can develop a partnership that will last for years. Oh, yeah. Pay them right away. Even if it means tightening up on your grocery money. You can find scopists at, in your CAT specific forums, or through NCRA’s Online Sourcebook.
  • Cabling for realtime. You need to learn how to hook up someone else to your computer, whether you’re ready for it or not. You want to know a secret? Nobody feels ready for it the first time. It’s like writing naked in a sandstorm. Raw, gritty, and very exposed. But we all had to do it, we all did it, and we all got past it. As with learning to write, practicing is important. By practicing, you keep getting better. No one wants to pay you for something that they could have understood better and made better notes in longhand.
  • Copies of the notices for the job you’re taking. You can glean items for your job dictionary from there. For example, look for the city, state, and jurisdiction of the case. Get the case name in full, including first and last names of the parties, the attorneys, their law firms, and addresses. Look up the name of the deponent online; e.g., looking up physicians can get you a pretty good idea what kind of medicine they’ll be talking about. Preload your job file with briefs or names. Your depos will be half done before you start.

Dress for success

Guys, wear a suit. The most casual you should let yourself be is a sport coat, tie, and khakis. I know the attorneys are showing up sans tie. You aren’t an attorney. This is your workplace, and you need to dress appropriately. Don’t overdo it, though. What your wife or girlfriend might love to see on a formal date shouldn’t be worn in a deposition suite. You might get a reputation as a dandy. Yes, I know that’s a dated word. It still applies. Look it up.

Ladies, the courtroom is not a place for cleavage. Wear nice suits or pantsuits. The skirts need to be at the knee, not above the rear. You need to have a professional look. I’ve seen what some think passes for a professional look. It does — just not our profession.


After you get your RPR, don’t stop. Test-taking is habit-forming. Not taking tests is an evil addiction. It means you’re stalled and stagnant. So keep up the practice. You never stop learning.

You need to be well-rounded. Read the news daily on an Internet site of your choosing. Television is all well and good, but you’re not going to get the spellings out of the air. I guarantee they will talk about what’s currently in the news in your depositions, even in discussions that are not on the record. If you want to be seen as competent, don’t give the glassy-eyed answer to a question on current events.

To be confident, you have to give the appearance of being competent. Despite all the technology we use, this profession of ours is people-driven. If your clients don’t see you, if they don’t get to know you, if they don’t trust you, your tenure will be short-lived.

Remember, practice, practice, take tests, and become one of the members of the top echelon of court reporters so that you can compete with the big dogs and win.

Student Report: In pursuit of steno happiness


It’s like an ad on a matchmaker’s website: “Student seeks steno happiness with a partner who is reliable, understanding, and a good communicator.” Steno students are dedicated to the pursuit of steno happiness and finding the pleasure that comes from writing quickly, accurately, and easily all the words that someone says. Steno students enter their new relationship with their steno machine with as much preparation as they can muster. If you are a student, undoubtedly since you first explored the idea of becoming a member of the court reporting profession, you have been told that learning steno can be tough. You realize that practice is mandatory for speed development, that you will need to learn how to navigate and use a court reporting software program, and that you will need to understand court procedures. You have imagined yourself succeeding. You have changed your lifestyle to accommodate school and practice. You don’t watch (too much) television (anymore). The kids and your spouse are helping out with family chores. You feel like you practice all the time, but it still sometimes feels like you are not moving forward as well or as fast as you hoped you would. You’re not feeling all that happy!

Do not despair and give up and let steno happiness elude you. It can be yours, but it takes effort, and there are things that you can do to attain success. Let’s face it: Learning something new can be hard. Steno is usually very foreign to new court reporting students. Learning the theory concepts is sometimes complicated, and the rules tend to feel overwhelming. Executing keystrokes reliably is awkward and physically challenging. Remembering the rules and the outlines takes a lot of effort. And that does not take into account the work that goes into learning how to create a title page, fill out a worksheet, swear in a witness, and learn about how freelance jobs are assigned or how to prepare to caption the evening news — not to mention how your best laid plans to juggle work, family, and any semblance of a personal life have gone way off track.

So, what’s a student to do? There are a number of things that can be done to enhance the learning process, motivate one to practice, and build court reporting skills. In this article, we examine some tried-and-true activities that will support your overall educational efforts and help you reach your court reporting goals.

Get organized. At the start of the semester, find out what dates homework is due and when tests are offered. Put these dates in your calendar right away, and then modify the calendar as dates may be changed. Keep the calendar where you will see it every single day. If you are using a calendar app on your phone, you have access to that tool probably every waking minute. As soon as you know the dates, enter them! Check the calendar every day so that you know what is due and when. If you are using a paper calendar, put that calendar where you will see it. Keep it near your desk or hang it on a door that you use each day. Make it a point to be reminded at least daily of the requirements and the deadlines, and don’t ever ask to turn in anything late. It’s your job as a student to find out when things are due and what is expected of an assignment or test and to prepare for it.

Organize your personal life as well as your school life. Don’t make dates to go out the night before a speed test. Plan to get up early and practice if you have an obligation that must be met that evening. Look around the house and find out what really needs to be done by you and what can — and should — be done by someone else. Schedule errands ahead of time and then take care of those things in an efficient manner. Create a checklist of places you must go, such as the bank, post office, and grocery store, and then map out the most efficient way to reach each destination.

Share your steno happiness. Set aside personal time for your loved ones and take care of those relationships. Thank everyone who is helping you and thank them frequently. Share your goals, and let your loved ones know what’s on your calendar and how much you appreciate their support. You may be writing on the machine and studying the legal vocabulary, but your support team is helping you have that time to yourself. Share your success and steno happiness with others, and you will have more help, more success, and more steno happiness.

Be rested before tests. Get a good night’s sleep before every speed test. It is essential that you take a speed test when you are physically in the best shape you can be. Along with a good night’s rest, eat a healthy breakfast and/or lunch, depending on when you’re taking that test. Writing on too little sleep with a cookie for energy does not bode well for a successful test attempt. Like a race car driver, you need to put the best fuel into the tank to win the race. Be a winner by preparing like a winner, and remember that winning makes you feel happy.

Commit to practice every day. No matter what else is going on, practice. Even five minutes of practice or review will have a positive impact. Skipping a day of practice will never have a positive impact. Contrary to what anyone may say about taking a break, ignoring steno will not make it easier to write. If you can’t physically sit at the machine and write, you can read over some rules, look at any text, and think about how you’d write those words in steno. Keep a list of brief forms and phrases in your car or purse so that if you have a few minutes, you can just quiz yourself on those words and outlines. Talk yourself through a few theory concepts. When a moment presents itself that you can use for the pursuit of steno happiness, take it!

Practice and study with friends. Having a steno buddy who really understands not just what you are going through emotionally as you work toward your court reporting education, but who shares your educational goals is a sure way to build skills in a happy and friendly atmosphere. Learning in a social environment can boost your understanding and motivation. If you are a distance-learning student, no worries; with Skype or Facetime, you can talk face-toface, get questions answered, and explore ways to write. Log on to the Internet, make a plan to practice a while, and then reconnect to discuss how it went, which words were tough, which were easy, and which practice techniques helped the most. We often learn best when we are the teacher, so assisting a friend to decipher an untranslated outline will help you to recognize the same or similar mistroke in the future. Knowing someone else is practicing at the same time will lessen the isolation you feel when you are listening and writing in a world no one around you really understands. Some say misery loves company, and so maybe sharing the challenge of practice and study places students in good company. But perhaps Henry Ford said it better: “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.” Practicing and studying together can lead to great success and the acquisition of skills, along with a sense of accomplishment and happiness.

Have a happy attitude. Why not? Complaining won’t make anything better. Take each moment of practice and study, and consider it a valuable step toward your future. When you hesitate to stroke a word, be glad that happened when practicing and not in a test. Work out the outline and reinforce its correct construction and keystroke. Recognize your accomplishments, and push yourself to do more and get more out of each practice or study session. If you’re not positive you can meet your goals, then who else will be? Be happy with what you are doing to promote your learning goals.

Ask for help! Talk to your instructors when you are having trouble understanding theory or a procedure or a software process. Your instructors want to help you. Nothing makes an instructor happier than a successful student — except being the instructor whose advice is being used by the student. Take advantage of the knowledge and skill of your instructors. Let them help you. You’ll make them happy, and you will be happier in return.

Read, read, and read some more. When you are not particularly working on steno or school work, read the paper, magazines, articles, and books. Fill your mind with information, knowledge, and understanding. If you come across a word and you don’t know its meaning, look it up. Somewhere, someplace, someone else is going to use that term, and won’t you be happy that you know not just what it means, but how to write it in steno with perfect translation?

Write purposefully. Too many students spend too much time writing mindlessly. Select dictation for practice that is just a bit challenging. Write the whole take and check it against the dictation. Rewrite any mistroked words. Rewrite them many times correctly. Rewrite the dictation exercise and stop when you hesitate. Rewrite that section until you can do so without hesitation or error. Keep track of your mistakes as well as your successes. Really know by reviewing if you “got” the whole thing or not. Take responsibility for your writing. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you are a better, faster, and more accurate writer than you are by only looking at the untranslated outlines on the screen or by glancing at the accuracy report presented by your electronic performance support system. All mistrokes can and should be fixed purposefully so that they won’t happen again. By taking responsibility, you will be happy with your writing and not frustrated or disappointed.

Reinforce correct writing. Continually write something that you are writing well. That’s right. Build up your muscle memory by repeating exercises for accuracy and precision. Increase speed slowly, checking for accuracy and no dropped words, and then inch up the speed again. As a student building skills, you must be aware of what you are writing and that you are getting all the words with accuracy before going up in speed. Think of all the athletes and musicians in the world. They don’t throw the football the wrong way over and over again; they throw it the right way. The base ball player doesn’t swing the bat too low over and over again; he swings it at the correct height. The piano player doesn’t play the chord wrong every time she sees it in the music; she plays it correctly. Apply that method of reinforcement to your practice, and you will be successful and steno happiness will prevail.

Just keep going. When you think you cannot write another word, do it anyway. When you are too tired to practice another five minutes, practice five more minutes anyway. When you don’t want to review brief forms in the line at the store, choose the longest line and do it any way. It’s only too late to achieve success when you stop working. Just keep writing, practicing, and studying, and you will find yourself in the middle of steno happiness.