I started reporting in 1986. Those days were so much different. We were just embarking on computers. We still used carbon copy paper and dot matrix printers and dictated and looked up facts and spellings in books! We read back actual steno notes and not translated verbiage on screens. I hate to say that you have it so much better, but you sure have it so much … different.
Well, and maybe not.
Now you are up against very computer-savvy lawyers and judges; information and transcripts are more instantaneous; and real-time writing is an expected skillset. That is a much different stressor than I encountered.
But some of the nuances of the career of court reporting remain the same. The professional relationships with clients and agencies, the juggling of schedules, the production of transcripts, the bookkeeping, citing of cases, and the research are all still very prevalent in every court reporter’s world. And learning how to mange all of that has just begun. I hope I can help you with a few tips to begin this amazing career on the right foot.
First things first: Find a mentor. Find a reporter who has the time and the willingness to answer your questions, who has connections, but better yet, a reporter who will give you answers before you even know to ask the question. Now is the time for you to learn to keep records and stay organized, to produce transcripts accurately and efficiently. But this is also the time where you enter boardrooms and deposition rooms and courtrooms, and you must do this with confidence. That only comes from feeling in control and calm, and that feeling will make all the difference in your ability to keep a good, clean record. You must be professional and trustworthy for both the agency and the clients. If you are with a specific firm, a mentor will be much easier to access. If you have decided to work for many firms, you must find someone whom you can trust and turn to. There are Facebook groups you can tap into if you prefer a mentor online, but you must learn the ropes daily, and a reliable guide is your first step to achieving success.
Next, find an experienced and reliable proofreader… or three! The best thin you can do for yourself and your clients is to have another set of eyes on your transcripts. Proofreaders with life experience and transcript experience are worth every cent you spend, the value being in the accuracy of your product, the time saved, and your ability to now tap into the education and years of hands-on knowledge from the proofreader. Most experienced reporters use proofreaders because of the time saved and the accuracy if affords; but in terms of experience, you can’t buy a better education than that of a good proofreader. You will need more than one proofreader as you get busy. Remember, you are not the only reporter they work for, so they will have a caseload to deal with, and they may not want to work seven days a week. Ask your mentor and your office manager for recommendations. With a good proofreader, you will learn more about the reporting world than school can ever teach you, and it will free you up to keep your hands on your machine. After all, that is really where your skill is, right? And believe me, that is also where you value is. The more time you spend on your machine, the more money you will make.
The last tip I have for now is never take on more than you can handle. I mean this in terms of time and ability. Some assignments are not meant for new reporters. Protect yourself from situations and workload issues that will put you in a position of failure. Learn to say no. Ask questions about the job. Don’t let money take over better judgment and misguide you. Take your time and do this right. You are building a reputation with every encounter, and an important factor in the career of court reporting is about being able to keep a balance so that your work is complete, accurate and timely. This leads to happy clients and happy agencies and a very happy reporter.
Life is hard enough; don’t make court reporting harder than it has to be. You will plenty of time to build your confidence, build your experience and build your reputation. With just a few tips and some life experience under your belt, court reporting will be an amazing and fulfilling career! Your success depends on you taking care of you. Be diligent, be committed and be happy. Good luck!
Kelley Simpson, RPR, is a freelance reporter based in St. Petersburg, Fla. She can be reached a t firstname.lastname@example.org.