Be the Best Professional You Can Be
By Jan Ballman – FAPR, RPR, CMRS
Principal – Veritext/Minneapolis
The role of the court reporter in our judicial system is critical to due process. That fact alone creates for us a niche in the legal industry as respected and relevant professionals. Here are a few tried-and-true tips on how to be a top-tier professional in our industry.
By whom would you rather be treated: The doctor investing in new technologies, using the most modern equipment, attending annual medical conferences, and keeping up with the latest medications and the greatest in treatment options… or the one still using an x-ray machine from the 1990s and prescribing the same pills released decades ago “because they still work”? You can extrapolate this question out to lawyers, to financial planners, to realtors…. to court reporters. The consummate professional lives on the cutting edge and embraces the new. It’s imperative to stay abreast of what’s going on in your profession and invest in the latest and greatest in order to remain an “industry expert.” Strive to offer clients only best-in-class services and technologies.
True professionals are life-long learners who are never satisfied with “good enough” or “it’s still working” and are always planning ahead and looking for ways to be better than the status quo. One of my mentor’s favorite sayings is: “What got you here won’t get you there.” The way we did things yesterday, let alone five (or, goodness knows, ten) years ago isn’t going to be good enough to be best in class today, let alone tomorrow. Resist the urge to coast in the right-hand lane in order to stay in the comfort zone. The ultimate professional gets comfortable in the left lane in order to get where the industry is going faster/first.
For court reporters, certifications are an objective and outward demonstration of competence, professionalism — and improvement. Go after them and display them proudly.
Reliability is a pattern of responsible behavior that repeats itself over time. Professionalism and reliability go hand-in-hand. For court reporters, being reliable means having taken the time to prepare in advance for an assignment to ensure an early arrival (nothing stresses out attorneys quite like worrying whether the court reporter is going to show up), with all equipment and systems ready to go. Being reliable in our industry also means getting work done on time, which includes returning exhibits according to protocol and properly filling out all attendant paperwork from the Giver of the Depo (as voluminous and annoying as that arguably can be).
BE POLITE, PLEASANT, POSITIVE & PATIENT.
Someone once told me, “In the business world, your EQ is more important than your IQ.” Take any professional—CEO. CFO. Lawyer. Business executive. Sales manager. They can be as smart as a whip and possess amazing skills …but if they are viewed by others as rude, unfriendly, negative or abrupt, then in spite of their expertise, they undoubtedly will not be described (or reviewed) as possessing professionalism. Soft skills matter. Maybe even more than mad skills.
Competition makes the world of professional services go ‘round. We’re at our best when we can’t stand the thought of anyone or anything “beating us at our own game.” Competition nipping at our heels keeps us on our toes! When there is no competition, we get casual, we get comfortable, we get lulled into complacency. Every great athlete trains hard and diligently on a daily basis. Every great coach is forward-thinking and has a comprehensive game plan for how to get better. Every great team looks ahead at where they need to go versus back at where they just were…even if they just won the Super Bowl. Compete with yourself every day to be better than you were yesterday and the best you can be tomorrow.
BE A TEAM PLAYER.
The job of a court reporter doesn’t necessarily end when hitting send / uploading files to a portal. If there is any information that would be helpful to the agency or to the next reporter on the case, the consummate professional reporter takes the time and makes the effort to pass along those important details to The Giver of the Depo. “Note the spelling of my witness’ name is Smythe, not Smith.” “Despite the case notes, Ms. Jones requests that the reporter check whether she needs a rough.” “Client requesting consecutive exhibit numbering on this case. My last exhibit marked was 22.” “Parties were talking about a new trial date of January 10.” Communicating small but important details like these goes a long way toward closing the gaps where many issues are commonly found.
GO THE EXTRA MILE.
It’s a given that attorneys and reporting agencies expect court reporters to capture the record, hit deadlines, and expertly deliver whatever services were ordered. So if every reporter does this as a matter of course, then what can one do to set themself apart from the crowd as being the consummate reporting professional? Plenty!
Start with the tips given above… and then go the extra mile!
Exceed client expectations whenever possible. Under-promise, then over-deliver! Carry extra deposition accouterments such as a stapler, an extra set of reading glasses, paper clips, an extension cord, and an extra phone charger or two in case the client or the witness needs any of the above. Whenever possible, get those transcript orders before the parties leave the room. And perhaps most importantly, ask all parties present when they need (expect?) the transcript so there is no misunderstanding in that regard and everyone’s on the same page as to when to expect delivery, thereby getting out ahead of the #1 after-depo issue agencies and reporters face together. And I know this seems silly, but food remains a magically and insanely powerful marketing tool that can set one apart from the last reporter occupying that conference room. Reporters who carry packets of almonds to throw on the table mid-day, or share holiday-themed treats, or bring something funor home-baked to a depo are held up as doing something unique; unexpected; special; outside of the job description. Going the extra mile will often get you out ahead of the pack!
In every profession, there are professionals…and then there are consummate professionals.