How to Start Realtime
This has been written as a manual for you to use to get yourself set up and going as a REALTIME reporter. I have been a court reporter for 20 years. I have gone out in the field and worked with realtime, discovered how and what to do, and now I have written up what I know. I hope you find it useful and inspiring.
- What Is Realtime?
- Why Realtime?
- The Decision to Write Realtime
- What is Needed to Write Realtime
- Your First Realtime Deposition
- Accepting the Challenge
- How to Do Realtime in 12 Easy Steps
Realtime is the immediate translation of the reporter’s machine shorthand into English, with the English appearing on the computer monitor. Here’s the way it works in a deposition setting. The reporter is writing on the shorthand machine with a computer, usually a notebook. As the reporter writes, the testimony is translating against the dictionary and appearing in English on the screen. This is similar to translating a job, in that it is appearing on the screen in rough draft form. However, the translation is appearing within seconds of the words being spoken. It can also be set up where the attorney’s computer is connected to the reporter’s computer so that the attorney is receiving the translation on his computer.
An extension of the above is adding a scopist to the line. As the reporter is writing, the data is coming to the scopist, who then edits it. At the end of the deposition you have a final transcript.
Realtime makes court reporters irreplaceable. Realtime is our answer to the age old problem of being replaced with audio recorders. No audio recorder can provide an instant transcript. Even the voice recognition technology needs to be programmed to a voice, and who better can interpret accents and mumbles than a real human being?
Technology is becoming so advanced that 300,000 pages of text can be stored on a CD. Testimony, exhibits, and any other needed data can be stored in a compact, virtually indestructible form. Retrieval of this information can be accomplished within seconds. Technology is also available to synchronize the videotape with the reporter’s notes, enabling search of specific testimony on the videotape by use of key words. No audio recording system can compete with this.
Realtime Makes Being a Court Reporter More Interesting
Instant translation as you are writing gives the reporter a new game to play — the game of getting a perfect translation, or as close to perfect as possible. It takes a little getting used to because watching your translations can be somewhat distracting at first. However, this lasts no more than two or three depositions.
My experience is that most depositions proceed more slowly than what I consider a challenging pace. You’d be surprised at the amount of editing and dictionary entries which can be accomplished while the questioning attorney is making his notes. I have found that at most depositions there is ample time to enter all needed dictionary entries, either during pauses in the proceedings or during the breaks. This is great fun because by the end of the deposition, the translation is coming out beautifully.
On those days when you’re not writing at your best, seeing your translation instantly on the screen can have the impact of pointing out just how imprecise you are writing that day. After all, sloppy writing only creates more work later, so why not do it right the first time? Particular keystroke combinations which are commonly misstroked soon are readily apparent.
For those of us who have been reporting for years and/or who were not taught a computer-compatible theory, those conflicts stand out immediately. Usually just seeing them on the screen prompts the mind to think of alternatives very quickly. I have found that when reporting full time, I can repattern my writing on anywhere from five to ten points per week. The point is: Just seeing your translations immediately prompts correction of your writing. These are points which you wouldn’t otherwise be aware of.
Overall, realtime takes the drudgery out of sitting through what would otherwise be boring depositions and puts some fun back into it. Not only that, you get to talk more because the attorneys want to know what you’re doing over there.
Realtime Makes Editing Faster
In just a matter of months, your writing will be cleaned up noticeably. Untranslates and misstroking get cleaned up, as well as any existing conflicts, whether entered in your dictionary as conflicts or not. This makes for faster and more efficient editing of transcripts, which equals faster production — or more pages out in a shorter amount of time.
Realtime Reporters Can Make More Money
Realtime reporters are the top-of-the-line reporters. A premium is charged for realtime reporting, as with any service which is valuable. The best reporters become realtime reporters; you do have to be a very good writer. This translates into getting the more lucrative jobs, as the big cases will be the ones where realtime is requested.
Cleaner writing and better translations naturally occur over the long run, as a result of constant attention to improvement of shorthand skills. Many reporters are finding that easy personal injury depositions need very little editing to get them into final form. This eliminates the need for a scopist and makes turnaround of transcripts quicker. Less time turning out a final transcript translates into higher hourly return for the court reporter’s time.
Realtime Reporters Use Their Skills to Expand Into Other Areas of Life
Realtime reporters are now using their skills to work in other areas besides reporting depositions and court proceedings. Some reporters are captioning for television. Others are writing realtime for deaf and blind students in schools and universities. The realtime can now be translated into braille, so that blind students can read. The spoken word in classrooms can be translated into print, so that deaf students can “hear.” There is an endless list of possibilities.
The turning point to getting going on realtime is the decision to do it. This is probably the hardest step as well. Nagging little worries and concerns can stop a person from forging ahead into the unknown. That’s all these are really: little worries and concerns. Change can be a difficult thing to confront. The thing to do is to put one’s attention on the goal, and then just do the necessary steps to accomplish the goal.
So what do you think? It is the greatest good for all concerned: It is a good expansion of yourself, your skills, and your income. It is an excellent expansion for your profession and fellow court reporters.
Have you decided to write realtime? Good. Now to the how to’s…
Certain Types of Equipment are Needed
You need a CAT system with the capability of realtime translation. Also needed is the ability to run a cable to the attorney’s computer and run the data into his computer. You need to be able to do this for several attorneys at once. I have found that if one attorney has his notebook computer there, the others want to have the same advantage.
A little further down the line you will need the ability to add on a scopist, so choose a system which can accommodate all of this.
A word of caution here: When purchasing a realtime software package, be sure to clarify with your vendor what exactly you are getting with your “Realtime” software. Some offer “free” or a low-cost package, and then later you find out that you can get an immediate translation but can’t edit or scroll on the screen.
Some Questions to Ask
1. Does the software have the capacity to allow you to edit while realtime is happening? Or does the reporter have to go into another mode to add changes? One software system has a version where the reporter has to go into what’s called the “Edit Mode” and out of the “Real Time” mode in order to add globals and edit.
With my CAT software, you just reach over to the notebook keyboard and type in the change. Realtime software is totally worthless if you have to go into another mode because there isn’t time to do that while the job is going on, and if you wait until a break or after it’s over, the transcript has already gone into the attorney’s notebook. Also, it is frustrating to see conflicts or untranslates coming up which need correction and not be able to do anything about it.
2. Does the software have the capacity to hook up the attorney by cable into his laptop, so he can see on his screen what is coming up on your screen? Does this cost extra? From what I understand, on certain CAT software, you can update to better software, which costs more, and you can run into costs of several thousands of dollars to get this capability.
Some reporters have found out that, indeed, their CAT system does have these features but there is an additional charge for the capability of hooking up an attorney’s computer. Find out what you are getting for the cost quoted.
3. Does the price include the attorney hook-up software, which allows the attorney to have word processing functions while he is receiving the realtime, via cable, into his notebook computer? For example, on my CAT system, the attorney can do word searches to locate a particular place in the transcript where the witness testified to a certain thing or where a particular question was asked. They can also scroll forward and backwards at their will. There is a function where the attorney can pull down a window and write his notes right onto a file instead of his notepad. There is also a function where the attorney can go into other programs while the depo is going on, and meanwhile the transcript is coming through the cable into the file in the background. All these functions make the realtime more valuable to the attorney — and in the end make the reporter more valuable.
The purpose of getting on realtime is to be able to provide instant service to attorneys, i.e., an instant transcript. The advantage to reporters is that once the attorneys really get used to it and want it, it becomes a valuable commodity.
So the reporter needs the software that will help to put out the cleanest transcript possible and the software which provides the most functions available for the attorney. The reporter is going to be instrumental in selling the attorney on this high tech service, so the reporter needs the tools to do so. It is not the end product to have a notebook computer in front of you with the transcript coming out in realtime. That is a start and is what you need to do first to be able to get comfortable with it and confident enough to be able to do it for attorneys.
But in the end, the product is to have a system where the realtime translated testimony is going into the attorney’s computer, with some word processing functions for him to execute on his end.
As far as hardware goes, you need a notebook computer. A very fast one is preferred. The reporter’s computer must have two USB ports: one to connect a cable to the steno machine and one to connect a cable to the attorney’s notebook. You will need several USB port serial adapters. These can be obtained from a computer accessory store.
You will need a null modem cable which can hook up to at least three attorneys. This is the cable which you use to connect the attorney’s notebook to yours.
A luggage carrier is needed to carry around your equipment. You’ll be carrying your stenograph case, your laptop computer, and probably a briefcase.
You’ll also need some duct tape. This is the type of tape that is cloth on one side, with adhesive on the other side. It usually is metallic gray color. Sometimes it is called “Duck Tape.” You can find it in most drug stores or large grocery stores. This tape is used to tape down all cords, so no one trips and falls or trips and pulls out some of your wiring.
I also carry an extension cord or two and a surge protector, which provides another several electrical outlets should you need them.
Additionally, you will need some wire twists or Velcro strips to wrap around any extra cords, so that your equipment looks nice and neat and so that you don’t have any extra cords laying around.
The Disclaimer Form — Atkinson-Baker requires that a disclaimer be placed at the beginning of each rough draft transcript. This can be prepared as an auto-include which reads into each job at the beginning of each rough draft transcript handed out or each time the transcript is reading into the attorney’s computer. Be sure that it conforms to the Atkinson-Baker approved form.
You Need To Be a Good Writer and To Have Confidence in Your Writing
This comes with speed. If you can write fast and write anything, you will have confidence. This is why Atkinson-Baker encourages reporters to get their RPR and RMR. Just the exercise of practicing speedbuilding for 20 or 30 minutes several times a week will keep you sharp, so that when you do get that fast witness and fast attorney in the same deposition, your realtime translations will still come out looking like you’re a professional.
As you know, depositions aren’t always fast enough to keep your speed writing skills sharpened. At the bottom of all accuracy problems with transcripts lies speed. If you can keep up comfortably with speed to spare, you will have an accurate transcript that is an exact duplication of what was said.
Speed building is an ongoing process and should be done every week. Download speed building audios and sit down to your machine several times a week, even if only for 20 minutes. You can use earphones and warm up while waiting for the deposition to begin. Or if you watch the news, set up your machine and write that. You will notice a big difference in your abilities as well as your confidence.
You can obtain a list of finger drills, which can be done while waiting for the deposition to begin. They are a tremendous help in cleaning up sloppy and imprecise stroking.
Once you have obtained your software and hardware, set it up and break it down many times at home. Do this until you are comfortable with your equipment and until you can easily set it up.
Load your attorney hook-up software on a second computer. Then hook up your realtime to that second computer, as if it were an attorney at a deposition. Check to make sure that what you are writing on your shorthand machine is coming across perfectly on the other end. Check your Q and A symbols, speaker indicators, parentheticals, delete stroke function, realtime disclaimer auto-include, and new paragraph stroke to make sure they are translating well on the attorney’s end.
Get all of your questions answered and work out the bugs. Then you’re ready for your first realtime deposition.
Arrive at least a half hour early, to allow yourself time to set up. If the receptionist doesn’t show you the conference room right away and instead asks you to take a seat in reception, ask her politely if it would be okay for you to go ahead and get set up in the conference room. You can explain that you have a little extra equipment which will take some time to set up. Usually this is not a problem. If it is for some reason, don’t push it. There’s always the next time, if you don’t have time to set up this time.
When you walk into the room, decide at which end of the table you will set up. I usually try to determine which end will have the least amount of foot traffic. If the coffee is set up at one end, I usually set up at the other. However, there are other considerations, such as the location of the electrical outlets. I pick a spot which is the least conspicuous and will have the least amount of traffic. If the attorney prefers to have you in a particular spot, be sure to accommodate him, even if it isn’t the spot you would have chosen.
Set up your notebook computer and shorthand machine. Run the electrical cord to the electrical outlet. Use an extension cord if necessary. Use your duct tape to tape down all electrical cords, so that there is nothing to stumble on. If you use an extension cord, try to organize it so that the place where the extension cord plugs into the other cords is not in the middle of a walkway. If it is, taping will not help. It will still bulge out and be a potentially dangerous situation.
When the equipment is all set, the next thing to do is get the caption and the appearances. If you have time, enter the attorneys’ names with the speaker designations you’ll be using in the job dictionary. I also try to enter the witness’s last name, the attorneys’ last names, and names from the caption, in case they are used. This is not a vital step, but I have found that attorneys usually refer to each other, and also parties’ names from the caption often come up. It’s just nice to get as much translating as you can, as this alone will give you confidence, to see a nice clean translation.
You will find when sitting there watching your translation that you will get the urge to fix any untranslates, as they come up. If the pace of the deposition is such that you can’t enter it right then, it can be disconcerting. Not that it’s a big problem; it’s just nice to get as much as possible translating.
Some attorneys are not yet aware of realtime. The attorneys may not even notice that you have something different. Some may simply ask what is that, while others will express a much higher interest. Make it simple when answering questions. Since some attorneys don’t use computers much, you have to answer questions in simple terms. The usual questions are: What is that? Why do you have a computer there? Are you editing a transcript?
The answer to this is: I’m going to be doing an instantaneous translation of the deposition today. As I’m writing on the shorthand machine, the translation will be coming up in English on the screen in a rough draft form. Although it’s a rough draft, it comes out fairly accurately; it’s about 90 to 95 percent translated.
The more interested attorneys will ask other questions, and I’ll get into that later when I go over the public relations aspect of realtime.
At your first deposition, set it up, watch your translations, and get accustomed to your equipment and to seeing your writing coming up translated. Notice what kinds of things are coming up most often. Those are the things to correct first. The less frequent kinds of things can be taken up later. Don’t try to change everything at once, as you don’t want to lose too much speed or drop.
Continue to set up your notebook computer at all depositions, except the ones where you don’t have time to set up before you start. Don’t make the attorneys wait for you while you set up.
By embarking on this new adventure you can open your horizons to levels of production that you never thought possible. You will begin to write shorthand faster and more efficiently than you previously dreamed. Your production will increase (along with income) by sheer ability to more efficiently produce a page of transcript.
And you can help further the profession of court reporting, all of us who depend on it for a living, by becoming such an integral and useful part of the system that the legal profession wouldn’t think of replacing us.
Use this step-by-step instruction guide with the accompanying realtime checklist, and you will soon be a realtime reporter:
1. Decide that you can become a realtime writer. This is the first step. Decide that you will do it, no matter the barriers which arise. Things will go much smoother, once you honestly decide. Hidden intentions that you may fail or that you don’t really want to do it will only complicate the process.
Chances are that there are doubts floating around in your mind, “Can I really do it? My writing needs some work. What do I do if the attorney comments about a misstroke? What about the notes I write to myself or my scopist?” These questions are natural. I don’t know of a single reporter who didn’t have questions. The point is that this road has been crossed by many. There are solutions to all the barriers, and there are answers to all the questions. When something comes up, simply find out the answer, and then move forward with the project.
Talk to other reporters who are already doing realtime. This is a very important step in deciding that you can do realtime and that you will do realtime. In expressing your concerns and worries about realtime, you will find that they had many of the same concerns. They will share with you how they overcame them.
Decide to become a realtime writer.
2. Decide which realtime CAT software to purchase by getting some demonstrations, asking friends what they use, and doing price-feature comparisons.
All major CAT systems on the market today have realtime features. When shopping for realtime software, some questions to ask are:
- Can I add globals and edit my transcript while in the realtime mode? Or must I go out of realtime and into an “edit” mode to edit?
- Does the software allow me to hook up one or more attorneys via cable when I am writing realtime? Does this cost extra? Do I need to upgrade the software in order to write realtime to another computer (such as an attorney’s notebook)?
- Is there a “browser” software which the attorney can use to browse and scroll the testimony, mark passages, and make notes? How much does this cost the attorney?
- What is the cost of cables to hook up three or more attorneys?
Look at several CAT systems. Make sure you understand what is being shown you. Don’t buy the first system you see.
Ask other reporters how they like their realtime software. Find out if they received helpful service from their CAT vendor. Ask about the CAT vendor support.
3. Purchase realtime software.
Gather the information and decide which CAT system to purchase. Make sure you purchase the version which allows you to hook up a cable to the attorney’s notebook and “output” your realtime through the cable to his notebook. (The hardware needed to do this is covered in Steps 4 and 5.)
4. Purchase a notebook computer. This will take another shopping expedition but this time not with CAT vendors. Although many CAT vendors provide computers as part of a package they sell, you do not want to blindly purchase without first becoming a knowledgeable consumer. Find someone to help you who knows basics about computers, if you do not already have this knowledge.
If you are purchasing a notebook separate from your CAT software purchase, check with your CAT vendor to make sure that the notebook you are looking at purchasing will be compatible with the software. Some brands of hardware simply don’t work well on certain CAT systems, and you don’t want to acquire software trouble and/or incompatibility problems.
5. Purchase a cable to run from your steno machine to your notebook. This is the vehicle through which the data written on your steno machine travels to your notebook computer for translation from steno to English. These cables should be purchased from your CAT vendor, as they are sometimes proprietary to the CAT system.
6. Practice setting up and taking down your realtime equipment until you are very comfortable with it. Pretend you are at a deposition. Become at ease with the new software and hardware.
You may need to set up and take down your new software and hardware 15 to 20 times before you are comfortable enough with it to take it to your first realtime job. This is okay. The important thing is that you have worked with it enough so that you are at ease with it and it is not a distraction for you to use it. Know it well enough that you no longer need to refer to your manual or notes to do basic setup.
7. Take your notebook to all your depositions and work on your writing to attain a higher translation rate. Do this until you feel you could pass the National Court Reporters Association Certified Realtime Reporter (CRR) test.
On this step you are not doing realtime for attorneys. You are simply doing it for yourself. You are getting the benefit of the feedback of the immediate translation, so that you can improve your writing skills. You will find that this immediate feedback is very useful, and that the mind absorbs, and resolves many of the conflicts and other problems almost automatically in some cases.
So at your first deposition, just set it up, watch your translations, and get accustomed to your equipment and to seeing your writing coming up translated. Notice what kinds of things are coming up most often. Those are the things to correct first. The less frequent kinds of things can be taken up later. Don’t try to change everything at once, as you don’t want to lose too much speed or drop.
Continue to set up your notebook computer at all depositions, except the ones where you don’t have time to set up before you start. Don’t make the attorneys wait for you while you set up.
There is some discipline involved here, as you are now committed to carrying with you to all jobs a notebook computer and the cable, as well as your software key. Purchase a professional-looking carrying case or luggage carrier, so that you can easily transport the needed equipment.
7(a). Learn how to put a “Non-Citable, Rough Draft Document” footer on each page of your realtime translations. Check with your CAT system vendor support or locate how to do it in your CAT system manual. This should be turned on for all your realtime jobs. This footer does not show up on your computer screen in realtime mode and also does not show up on the attorney’s, but should the attorney print the rough transcript, it will show up on the paper as a footer.
When you are ready, this is the step where you can start providing rough drafts to clients when requested. You simply correct your realtime rough draft transcript into ASCII format and email it to the attorney. Make sure to indicate on your worksheet that you did this, when you turn in the worksheet.
8. Purchase the software which allows the attorney to receive your realtime translations on his notebook. This is software which is loaded on the attorney’s computer. This software communicates to the attorney’s notebook to expect to receive data through a cable. This software also has word processing capabilities which are designed to help the attorney do things with the realtime feed from you, things which assist him to do his job better, at the deposition and afterwards. These functions are more fully explained in step 10.
With some CAT systems this “browser” software comes free as part of the package. “Browser” is a generic term used to describe this software because the purpose of the software is to allow the attorney to browse through the rough draft transcript on his computer, to search for particular passages or testimony, to make personal notes regarding the testimony, and to categorize types of testimony regarding issues which have arisen in the deposition.
The reporter need not purchase these software applications: they are for the attorney to purchase. But there are other proprietary software packages available from the CAT vendors which the reporter can carry and have available to load. These are used to load on an attorney’s notebook which does not yet have software designed to receive realtime.
It is valuable for the reporter to carry a version of a browser software, as you will find yourself at a deposition where one of the attorneys has a browser and another does not. Yet they both want you to hook up to them. By having a “free” browser available, you are able to maintain impartiality and service all parties equally. These “free” browsers (free to the attorney), have limited features and are sometimes limited to only several hookups, but they are a good opportunity for an attorney who is new to realtime yet does have a notebook computer to get a taste of how realtime works.
9. You will need a null modem cable which can hook up to at least three attorneys. This is the cable which you use to connect the attorney’s notebook. These are available from most of the CAT vendors.
10. Practice setting up and turning on this software until you are comfortable with doing it at a deposition. Do this by setting up your shorthand machine and your notebook for realtime translation. Then on a second computer, load the browser software and hook up the cable between your notebook and the second notebook, as if you were at a deposition hooking up an attorney. Begin writing on your shorthand machine and verify that the realtime translation is actually arriving on the screen at the second computer.
Work with your CAT vendor on the CAT system settings, if there is any problem getting the data coming across on the second computer. This can be a tricky step in certain cases, so be persistent with the vendors until it is worked out. Understand what you are doing, so if there are problems in the future with this step, you know how to troubleshoot. This is a key step, as you don’t want to find yourself at a realtime job, attorneys set up and ready to go, and the realtime feed is not coming across — yet you don’t know how to correct it.
As the reporter at the deposition, you will be looked upon as the person with the technical expertise to handle the computer hook-ups. So care taken in learning this step and learning it well is time well spent. It can be the difference between being the hero and being the source of disappointment and disaster, if the hook-up cannot be accomplished when it is requested. This is not intended to scare you, as it is not particularly complicated, but my message is: Know the equipment and software well, and practice it as many times as is necessary to put it to use without hesitation.