Access to a master: The value of having a mentor

Man in a suit sitting at a steno machine next to a screenBy Joshua Edwards

Back in 2016 before giving my first speech at my local Toastmasters club, I emailed a draft of my speech to my assigned mentor, Jason. Jason is a seasoned member of our club and has given dozens of speeches over the years. He had developed a keen eye for how to craft an effective speech. Jason redlined through several paragraphs of my speech and typed a note about getting right to the point. I accepted his input and rewrote the speech. Had I not worked with a mentor and had I done it on my own, I would probably have droned on and on about things that are interesting to just one person — me — and barreled through the four- to six-minute time limit.

In the field of court reporting, I am a mentor to several students through both NCRA and the New York State Court Reporters Association. I try to give them the same beneficial insight in reporting as Jason gave me in Toastmasters: to avoid pitfalls, discover best practice habits, and stay disciplined and focused. I’ve heard anecdotes of students spending precious time in useless practice habits like sitting in front of a television and writing the news while the writer is turned off. (How do you know what you are writing?) A student may think that is effective practicing, but without the feedback of either paper notes or a realtime display, it is just a vain exercise.

All of us know how hard court reporting is. In fact, speedbuilding can be just as nerve-racking as public speaking. We can all empathize with the student who has been stuck at a particular speed for what feels like eons, and the bitter disappointment of failing that speed test week after week. That student may be just one more failed test away from jumping ship and abandoning a significant investment of time and money. The difference between walking away in frustration and becoming a successful court reporter often hinges on wise input from a mentor.

Mentors guide students, and they offer encouragement and practical advice based on personal experience. When a student works with a mentor, that student has prime access to an individual who has mastered the craft of court reporting and worked in the field long enough to know a thing or two. A well-qualified mentor has operated in a wide variety of settings and has faced and survived both the tedious routine and the exciting challenges that can happen in the course of a court reporter’s day. Think of a young voice student who had the chance to work with the legendary opera singer Luciano Pavarotti. Pavarotti had a passion for singing and for encouraging young singers to refine their craft. He not only performed in major opera houses across the globe, but he coached many voice students as well.

Whether a reporting student needs help, an occasional pep talk, or a serious high-voltage motivational speech, the mentor is willing to commit the time and to be responsive to the student’s needs. It goes without saying that the student must be equally committed and willing to put in his or her due time and effort. Remember, this is a volunteer effort. Time is valuable to us all, and being a mentor means being willing to give some of that precious time for free. Likewise, the student needs to respect the time and energy given by the mentor for his or her benefit.

I have a mentee* who occasionally sends me her transcribed assignments to look at the punctuation. While reviewing a jury charge, she had put in so many underscores denoting drops that I had to stop marking the grammar. Instead, I wrote a note in red ink: “It is critically important that you practice at a speed you can actually get down.” Her practice habits were not going to yield much success if she continued practicing at too-high speeds, dropping too many words, and trying to learn punctuation from incomplete passages.

*(Yes, mentee is a real dictionary word. Be sure to define it so you don’t get minty, men tea, men tee, or heaven forbid, meanty.)

Communication is key for a mentoring relationship to be successful, whether it happens by email, phone, text, video conference, or in person, if possible. Each week I send an email to a list of more than 90 students and working reporters. The email may cover anything related to the field. After coming back from NCRA’s convention in Las Vegas, I wrote a lengthy piece summarizing my experiences there. Being a mentor means sharing your professional expertise to help a student reach his or her goals. Being a mentee means receiving valuable tutelage, for free, from a pro who has already been there. So go ahead and sign up. Your future may well depend on it!

Joshua Edwards, RDR, CRR, is a captioner in New York, N.Y. He can be reached at

Five ways to support the court reporting and captioning profession on #GivingTuesday

#GivingTuesdayNCRA members and staff are all part of the service economy. NCRA members are keepers of the record, and NCRA staff serves its members. The profession has service in its blood, so NCRA is encouraging all members and staff to take part in #GivingTuesday on Dec. 1.

What is #GivingTuesday?

#GivingTuesday, an annual day of giving following Black Friday and Cyber Monday, was created in 2011 to empower a new community of philanthropists. #GivingTuesday is based on the concept that anyone, anywhere, can be a philanthropist. Participants don’t have to be billionaires to participate, and they don’t have to give funds. Giving can mean money, time, advocacy, or education.

On Dec. 1, NCRA are members encouraged to participate on #GivingTuesday

  1. Sponsor a student membership.

For many students, typical daily expenses combined with the cost of tuition means NCRA membership falls outside their budgeted expenses. Often when students choose which bills to pay, membership in NCRA falls off the list, despite the fact that being a part of the national association provides numerous resources, such as access to professionals for support and other benefits that can help lead to professional success.

  1. Donate to NCRF.

NCRF raises funds throughout the year to support programs created to benefit the greater court reporting community. NCRF also awards four scholarships and grants to court reporting students and recent graduates each year. Donate to NCRF by calling 800-272-6272.

  1. Become a virtual mentor.

NCRA is committed to excellence both in the court reporting profession and in the next generation of court reporters. To this end, the Virtual Mentor Program is one way to bring court reporters and students together, so students can get the guidance and encouragement they need and today’s court reporters can nurture the future of court reporting.

  1. Download brochures and posters.

Put up posters at local high schools and community colleges. Do a presentation about becoming a court reporter for high school students, parents, and/or school counselors. Talk to a neighbor or friend about court reporting careers.

  1. Find 30 more ways to give back on #GivingTuesday.

Share how you participated on social media by using the #GivingTuesday and #crTakeNote hashtags.

Thirty ways to give back to the profession

10 ways Infographic_logo_2015Giving back to the profession does not require a significant investment of time or money. You might pen a simple post to your Facebook page telling the world what you love about your job or make a short presentation at your child’s school on career day. Take the opportunity where it presents itself. A friendly chat with a neighbor over the backyard fence or at a cocktail party could showcase our unique profession and perhaps become a life-altering encounter for a man or woman whose curiosity you’ve piqued.

Here are thirty ways that anyone can do to give back to the profession. Acting on just one or two is bound to create a lasting impression that will benefit our profession and all of us in it.

  1. Tell someone new what you do for a living. Be enthusiastic! Court reporters, captioners, and legal videographers do interesting stuff. It’s great cocktail party conversation.
  2. Point out the TV captions in a public place, say at your gym, a bar, a hotel lobby. Ask your friends, do you know how those captions get there? They won’t know – but they’ll be curious to find out!
  3. Write to your city council or town government, thanking them for having transcripts of public meetings. (And if they don’t provide that public service, ask them why not.)
  4. Tell the attorney you’re working with why a court reporter’s impartiality matters. It’s part of what makes us special.
  5. While you’re at it, tell the nice attorney how realtime services can help him or her.
  6. Sponsor a student member in your state or national association.
  7. Give a Career Day presentation at your local high school. Bring your steno machine and write to an iPad.
  8. Mentor a court reporting student.
  9. Offer to talk to a court reporting class about what life after school looks like. Give them good advice. Alert them to some just-out-of-school pitfalls to avoid. Be encouraging.
  10. Thank your Congressional representatives for supporting legislation that supports realtime, court reporting, and captioning.
  11. Talk to a class of law school students about the nuts and bolts of making the record. (Nobody else is going to tell them!) NCRF has materials to help you with this outreach.
  12. Thank the attorneys for hiring you, a certified court reporter, and tell them why certification matters, for court reporters as well as legal videographers. Certified means professional.
  13. Team up with a court reporter friend or two and put together a short primer of do’s and don’ts of making the record. Your local bar association will be grateful to you for the educational opportunity. Maybe your favorite law firm would like you to come in and address their young associates. Get bonus points for offering CLEs!
  14. Transcribe an interview with a veteran for the Library of Congress Veterans History Project. You can earn PDCs. And it is a very satisfying thing to do.
  15. Host a Veterans History Project event for veterans in your area. Do it at a court reporting firm or court reporting school. Get your community involved! People like to honor our veterans.
  16. Get involved with students on the NCRA Student Facebook page or other student networking sites. They’ll love it! An excellent way to motivate students.
  17. Sponsor a student’s attendance at an NCRA event.
  18. Write an article for the local ABA newsletter about what to look for in a court reporter. Or write a letter to a local community organization about the importance of accessibility for all citizens, especially our fellow citizens who are deaf and hard of hearing.
  19. Pass along your experience. Write an article for your state association newsletter or the JCR about a valuable lesson learned. Your readers will appreciate the heads up.
  20. Volunteer your services (or find volunteers) for your neighbors who are deaf or hard of hearing. They might love to have CART for church or local meetings.
  21. Volunteer for a state association or NCRA committee. A great way to meet people!
  22. Attend a TRAIN event, upgrade your realtime skills — and then help others do the same.
  23. Share your expertise with your peers; put on a seminar at a court reporting event. Sound scary? Okay, sign up to learn something new yourself!
  24. Send NCRA membership forms to court reporters you know who are not members, and tell them why they should be. Size matters. There’s power in numbers!
  25. Send a testimonial (written or video) to NCRA to support NCRA’s efforts to inform people about the benefits of court reporting as a career.
  26. Write an op-ed for your local newspaper advocating for the use of stenographic court reporters in the courts; explain the value of captioning at community events.
  27. Become involved with your state CSR board. They need your expertise. And you’ll be surprised how much you will learn!
  28. Pay it forward. Remember to thank the people who’ve helped you along the way.
  29. Donate to the National Court Reporters Foundation, which will put your money to good use.
  30. Social media — Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn — are great venues to tell people what you love about your job. No need to vent about rush transcripts and fast-talking lawyers. Create some positive buzz! Celebrate your profession, your career, the unique job you do where you are the expert. Be proud of your role as a court reporter, legal videographer, captioner, or CART provider. You are part of a long and proud history of service to the bench, the bar, and the public at large.

COURT REPORTING: Adventures with Ben Harold

By Art Richardson

Sometimes life introduces you to people and/or events that make an impression on you and you don’t even realize it until years later when you look back on the event or the person and measure it over the context of time. In my life, Ben Harold was such a man.

In 1961, right after college graduation, I had gotten married and moved my bride to Houston, Texas, where I took a job with the Harris County District Clerk’s office and where I became acquainted with the field of court reporting. At that time, there were no schools in Houston that taught court reporting, but there was an official court reporter, Ben Harold, a Merit writer, who liked to teach and consented to add me to his next class.

Ben was a World War II Navy veteran who had come to Houston after the war and founded a freelance court reporting agency. When he discovered I was studying to become a reporter, he offered to give me all of his scrap stenotype paper so I could tape it together and use it rather than buy a new pad. It saved me some money over the year and a half I studied, and I have always appreciated that encouragement and gesture. Ben was a nice guy and was typical of that generation in that he was a serious man, not one to suffer foolishness or fools; you could always trust what he said, which, again, typical of that generation, was not much — you had to really listen and draw conclusions. For instance, I didn’t know until a few years after the assassination of John F. Kennedy that Ben was his roommate in the Navy and visited with him at the Rice Hotel in Houston the fateful day before he traveled to Dallas.

Another thing about Ben was that he was originally trained as a court reporter in the Pitman theory of writing, and, later, taught himself the Stenotype machine, combining Pitman and Stenotype theory into what he called the “Harold Theory.”

A few years after I became certified and began reporting, Ben sold his freelance agency and came over to the courthouse and took over one of the district courts as the official court reporter. At that time, all of the officials had been trying to get a raise for years but had been unsuccessful. When Ben came over, he told all of them if they would each give him $500, he would get them a raise. One hundred percent of the officials gave Ben the money he asked for, and, sure enough, he not only got them a raise, he got their pay tied directly to the district judges’ pay, and every time the district judges got a raise, the court reporters did, too. All it took was hiring the right lobbyist, and Ben knew the right lobbyist.

After I had been reporting for several years, I became interested in passing the Certificate of  Proficiency and Merit examinations and began studying for the next test. At that time, there were about five Merit reporters in Houston, and I wanted to be number six, so I dove into practicing. To make a long story short, I passed the Merit and became the seventh, not the sixth, Merit writer in Houston, Texas.

On the Monday following my test, I was receiving a lot of congratulations from other reporters, and during the lunch hour, I was visiting with another reporter named John Leydens in his office when Ben walked in and congratulated me. We began talking about the test. John Leydens was a Merit writer, also, and during our visit, he casually asked Ben why he had never taken the test.

Ben just kind of shrugged and said he could pass the test anytime he wanted; he just never took the time to do so. Well, this comment was like throwing down a challenge to John. John couldn’t let that remark go and so challenged Ben to write an old Merit test he had lying around the office – John was one of the reporters in Houston who gave of his time unstintingly to help other reporters upgrade their reporting efficiencies and frequently dictated the test for NSRA, the predecessor association to NCRA.

Ben accepted the challenge, and John and I marked off the test and gave Ben a two-voice 260 wpm test for five minutes, using John’s Stenotype machine, whereupon Ben immediately picked up his notes and reread it verbatim, exactly to the word, perfect! What an exhibition!  I was shocked and impressed at the same time. Ben rose even higher on my “A-List” that day, and I remember him fondly.

John was also impressed and became a student of Ben’s theory. A few years later, Ben died, and John transcribed his notes on four or five appeals Ben had accumulated. John then gave the money to Ben’s widow.

For you students reading this, you, too, will meet many good reporters during your career. Some will astound you with their competency and efficiency. Learn from them! Keep the good things you learn and discard the bad things. Help and encourage others wherever you find them. Who knows, maybe one day, you could make someone’s “A-List.”

Art Richardson is vice president of business development for Stratos Legal, based in Houston, Texas. He can be reached at




STUDENT REPORTING: The impact mentoring can have on court reporting students

By Ahlam Alhadi

As a current student, I have had the good fortune of being mentored by numerous credentialed court reporters, from officials working for the superior court to freelancers working for reporting firms. I have found the advice and positive reinforcement to be the most beneficial aspects of interning, given the competitive nature of court reporting. This profession has its perks, but it also has high expectations. Attaining a 95 percent on the Registered Professional Reporter exam and a 97.5 percent on the Certified Shorthand Reporter exam is a difficult and daunting task, so it helps to be surrounded by individuals who encourage you to look on the bright side.

During my internship, I was privileged enough to shadow many seasoned officials, each of whom had gone out of their way to give me as much advice, knowledge, and positive reinforcement as possible. I was taught various software applications, including how to distinguish between multiple speakers as well as different software commands. We discussed different ways to stay organized and how to report during a jury selection. Many officials would spend their breaks advising me and would even take me back to their offices to meet other reporters and judges. I felt as though every court reporter I shadowed was taking me under her wing, and each of them had great advice and pieces of knowledge for me. I was so surprised by their willingness to help. I was so appreciative. It wasn’t until then that I realized how important it is to have a mentor and to be among those who have gone through this process and have come out of it and achieved success. One official told me that the hardest part about being a student is that there are times when you become so discouraged and stressed that your negative thoughts often cloud your mind and affect your performance. She assured me that I was doing very well and told me the best thing to do is to stop worrying, continue to do my work, and stick with my schedule. I think of that piece of advice daily as I try to limit my stress and frustration.

Many of the freelancers who I have met have been just as supportive and encouraging. A friend of mine who works for a reporting firm is always there for me when I have a question or a concern. If I text her a brief question, she will respond with a lengthy message or a long phone conversation, and she is always able to give me very beneficial information. She suggests helpful books to purchase, and she stresses the importance of speedbuilding. Not only that, but she is always telling me to stay positive because I am so close to becoming a court reporter, and she reminds me to work very hard and stay persistent.

My court reporting instructor has been great at addressing my areas of strength and weakness in a way that is both constructive and encouraging rather than disparaging. In fact, her critiques often alleviate my stress because they give me the opportunity to focus on very specific areas that need more attention. I know that she will always provide me with information that will allow me to make necessary changes. A discussion with her fills me with such relief as she reminds me of all the strides that I have made in my speedbuilding.

In particular, my aunt, who is a freelance reporter, has been a wonderful mentor to me. She has given me so many of her briefs and textbooks that once helped her as a student. She never hesitates to take the time out of her busy schedule to meet with me and see how I am progressing in my work. When my writer suddenly needed to be repaired, she lent me her student writer in a moment’s notice. She is always giving me great advice in regard to which reporting firms to work for, when to intern, and how to make better use of my practice time. Not only that, but she has been very open about her past experiences as a student and has not been shy about telling me how difficult and discouraging being a court reporting student can be. She has told me that many students worry about the length of time it will take them to finish school and get their credentials, and many think about whether or not it will all be worth it. She assures me that these are all normal feelings to have, and that with time, all the hard work will surely pay off. For a student to hear that is an enormous relief. It is great to know that many reporters have felt discouraged at one time or another, but they were ultimately able to achieve their goals and are very happy in this respected profession.

Knowing that these successful men and women have gone through what I am currently enduring really puts me at ease. I feel lucky to have had such amazing experiences with these reporters. I believe that every student needs to have a reporter or reporters who can mentor and guide them. It can really change your outlook and push you to achieve.

Ahlam Alhadi is a court reporting student. She can be reached at



NCRA members embrace #GivingTuesday

#GivingTuesdayNCRA wants to thank the many members who celebrated #GivingTuesday by devoting their resources to supporting the future of the profession.

NCRA’s Education Department reported a spike in the number of members volunteering to join its Virtual Mentor Program on #GivingTuesday.

“Giving back always pays. It’s the whole ‘paying it forward’ or Golden Rule philosophy,” said NCRA member Kathy  A. Cortopassi, RPR, RMR, CRR, CCP, CBC, from Crown Point, Ind., who was one of ten NCRA members to sign on to the Virtual Mentor Program on #GivingTuesday.

“I don’t expect to gain; I expect to help. Help my profession. Help spread positive about our profession. Help potential rock stars join our ranks,” she said about volunteering. Cortopassi, who is president of Voice to Print Captioning, LLC, and QualCap, LLC, also holds the Realtime Systems Administrator certificate issued by NCRA.

BowStern, the public relations group handling NCRA’s TakeNote campaign, also reported a spike in downloads on Tuesday. The TakeNote materials include logos, flyers, customizable ads, and photos for social media.

#GivingTuesday, the Tuesday following Thanksgiving, provides an opportunity to support a favorite charity during the holiday season.

NCRA and NCRF participate in #GivingTuesday

#GivingTuesday NCRA members and staff are all part of the service economy. NCRA members are keepers of the record, and NCRA staff serves its members. The profession has service in its blood, so NCRA is encouraging all members and staff to take part in #GivingTuesday on Dec. 2.

What is #GivingTuesday?

#GivingTuesday, an annual day of giving following Black Friday and Cyber Monday, was created in 2011 to empower a new community of philanthropists. #GivingTuesday is based on the concept that anyone, anywhere, can be a philanthropist. Participants don’t have to be billionaires to participate, and they don’t have to give funds. Giving can mean money, time, advocacy, or education.

On Dec. 2, NCRA are members encouraged to participate on #GivingTuesday

1. Donate to NCRF by calling 800-272-6272.

NCRF raises funds throughout the year to support programs created to benefit the greater court reporting community. NCRF also awards four scholarships and grants to court reporting achievers each year.

2. Become a virtual mentor by completing this form.

NCRA is committed to excellence both in the court reporting profession and in the next generation of court reporters. To this end, the Virtual Mentor Program is one way to bring court reporters and students together, so students can get the guidance and encouragement they need and today’s court reporters can nurture the future of court reporting.

3. Download brochures and posters.

Put up posters at local high schools and community colleges. Do a presentation about becoming a court reporter for high school students, parents, and/or school counselors. Talk to a neighbor or friend about court reporting careers.

4. 30 more ways to give back on #GivingTuesday



VOLUNTEERING: NCRA’s Virtual Mentor Program gives back to both sides

Benjamin Franklin once said, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” For many of the court reporting students and professionals who are involved in NCRA’s Virtual Mentor Program, those words ring loudly. The program pairs working court reporters with students to create relationships that often lead to long-term friendships for both parties.

Though the program is not new to the association, NCRA is working to expand it by encouraging more members to volunteer and more students to take advantage of the unique resource. The program, which is available on, provides students interested in finding a mentor with access to a directory of NCRA volunteers broken down by the categories of captioners, CART providers, officials, and freelancers. Students can search the directories to find an NCRA member they feel would be suitable for meeting their needs.

The site includes a list of state court reporting associations that offer virtual mentor programs. There are also student and mentor guidelines available to help ensure both parties have a common understanding and appreciation of each other’s time, as well as a list of questions frequently asked by students who are being mentored. According to both students and NCRA members, the program provides valuable benefits to everyone involved.

“I’d heard about mentorships being a vital part of the industry since orientation day at school. When I heard that mentors are working reporters who dedicate themselves to answering students’ questions, it was a no-brainer for me to look for mentors,” said Katherine Schilling, a student at West Valley College in Saratoga, Calif.

“Now that I’ve been in school for a while and I understand just how much there is to learn about the profession – and that it can’t all be covered in school – mentors are a must-have. It makes much more sense to ask your questions and voice your concerns while in school rather than on the job,” added Schilling, who plans to work as a freelancer reporting in Japan upon graduation.

Court reporters and captioners are in a unique position to mentor students because they empathize with the difficulties of getting through court reporting school and being a new reporter or captioner.

“Unless you have a close friend of family member who is a court reporter, it will be hard to find people outside of your pool of classmates to talk to about your court reporting woes. A mentor has gone through everything that you are now facing and has come out of it alive and kicking. They’re living proof that it can be done, and the stories they tell you about their time in the field will help to stoke your excitement about the profession,” Schilling said.

NCRA members who have served as volunteer mentors report that some of the benefits they earn go deeper than just being able to give back to the profession. In many cases, the mentorships lead to long friendships as well.

“I remember very well what it was like to be a new reporter. As good as my school was, there was no way they could have prepared me for the realities of actual reporting. Everyone needs someone who has been there to answer questions and reassure them they are not crazy,” said Jeanne Cahill, RDR, CRR, CBC, an official reporter from Magnolia, Del., who has been in the profession for 29 years and has mentored about 10 students through NCRA’s program over the last 10 years.

“I was fortunate to have an extremely knowledgeable, helpful, and patient first boss. I also made friends with a wonderful coworker who took me under her wing in my first year. Twenty-nine years later, I helped her get her dream job, and we are once again coworkers,” she added.

Volunteering to mentor has allowed Sherryl Davis, a captioner from Parker, Colo., the opportunity to step out of a self-centered approach to life and see things from another’s perspective, as well as working one-on-one with someone. “I remember the challenges of court reporting school, and I empathize with students. Knowing that someone else has been where they are is a great benefit to the students,” adds Davis.

“The greatest benefit to mentored students is that they know that others want to help them,” said Santo “Joe” Aurelio, a retired court reporter from Arlington, Mass., and a mentor since 1959. “I strongly feel that all reporters should help student. I consider it their duty.”

Lisa Selby-Brood, RPR, turned to NCRA’s Virtual Mentor Program when she returned to court reporting after a 17-year hiatus. She said her experience homeschooling her son led to a love of teaching, resulting in her volunteering to be a mentor. Since reentering the court reporting field, Brood, who works as a freelance reporter in Palm Harbor, Fla., estimates that she has mentored between five and 10 students each year.

“The greatest benefit of being a mentor is the satisfaction of helping a student through to completion, especially if you hook up with them in the early speeds and see them graduate. It is a real feeling of accomplishment for both of you,” Brood said.

“For students, if they do it right, they have a leg up from their counterparts. If they ask all the questions that pop into their head throughout a couple of years, then most of those questions are answered by the time they go to their first job,” she added.

“NCRA’s mentoring program is extremely important to students. I feel that a new graduate without a mentor might not continue reporting if there is no one to reach out to when things get incredibly tough,” said Cahill. “My own sister, who graduated before me, became frustrated with her first freelance job and quit reporting after a year. I wish she had had a mentor to talk her through that tough first year.”

Students and NCRA members interested in learning more about the Virtual Mentor Program can find more information at