Dear Nancy: I’m a solid writer, but haven’t provided realtime for attorneys. My firm now advertises that all its reporters are realtime-ready, on any job; the lawyers need only ask. Frankly, this scares me! You never know what a job will be like, and I’m not one to provide a service that isn’t “just so”. But the message from the firm owner is clear: Be ready! Can you give me some advice to help me to “be ready” every day on my job? Signed, Not Ready for Prime Time
Dear Not Ready for Prime Time: See Overlooked (above). She’s looking for your job!
Your question actually highlights a dilemma agencies face: how to compete. If the best reporters distinguish themselves from all others by their ability to do interactive RT, and fast-turnaround drafts, then we (the agency) want to advertise that that’s who we are. Hire us!
We take it as an article of faith that stenographic writers are superior to all other forms of making the record (voicewriters and Stenomaskers in particular) because of our ability to provide quality realtime output. Realtime has been with us for two decades. (My husband, Ed Varallo, published his Realtime Writer’s Manual in 1992.) Students learn RT in school. You can’t escape the many RT seminars on offer. NCRA has RT certifications. So every stenographic reporter is realtime ready, every day, on every job. Right?
Well, maybe not. Maybe some of us have been happy to let the firm’s all-stars do the RT heavy lifting while we set the bar lower for ourselves. But let me not place blame. Nevertheless, the uncomfortable truth is that too many reporters have not upped their game to meet the standards of the topflight court reporters of today. The all-stars in my agency look forward to arriving on a job and being asked, “Can you hook up to me today?” You bet! Extra bucks per page!
How to be RT ready on short notice? First, of course, you need to write cleanly. Then all things are possible. You can make yourself a clean writer by practicing — not for speed, but for clean execution. Practice a bit below your comfortable speed, until you can write that speed cleanly; then notch up your practice speed a bit, not more than 10 wpm. Clean writing is an acquired skill, and you can do it! Make sure you use enough briefs to cut down the many strokes you will have to write each day. Fewer strokes = fewer misstrokings = cleaner notes. Each time you work on a job in a particular subject-matter area (accident reconstruction, asbestos, banking & finance, construction, environmental), keep a discrete job dictionary containing entries, and special briefs, specific to that subject. They are then available to be looked over before any job you go on.
Ask for a prior transcript for every job you go to. Read it, and prepare your job dictionary before you get to the job. Create easy-to-write briefs for the vocabulary you see. No prior transcript? The Internet is a great place to research the case. Can’t find the lawsuit? Research the company and read about its key players. What do they manufacture or sell? Look up the witness. Is he an expert? GoogleScholar.com is a great resource to find scientific articles and literature references.
I know this sounds like a lot of work, but it’s what our most competent writers do. For them, preparation is part of the job – every day. You wouldn’t go to bed without brushing your teeth. Don’t go to a job without preparing for it. Your notes will be cleaner, your editing time reduced – and your clients will be well satisfied. If the client is happy, your agency owner is happy. Sounds like a win-win to me.