From Court Reporter To Court Reporter Scheduler: An Interview with Jane Norman, RPR
By Jan Ballman FAPR, RPR, CMRS; Veritext-Minneapolis
Jane Norman spent four decades reporting legal proceedings as a freelance court reporter. One day while passing through the office after a depo, Jane mentioned to me (the owner of the reporting agency at the time) that she was contemplating retiring from active reporting, as “the wear-and-tear starts taking its toll after 40 years in the biz.” (Actually, I think for most of us, it starts a lot sooner than that!) As it happened, we were in desperate need of help in our scheduling department at that time. A thought occurred to me, and I posed it to Jane: “What if you were to give office life a try? You would be plug-and-play from the standpoint of understanding assignments, our clients, and our reporters. If you hate office life, you can either keep reporting or retire completely. But if you like it, you could stay in your chosen profession, work a lot less/more normal hours, have weekends off, have a salary and benefits, paid vacations, no more schlepping equipment…AND, it would be great for us to have all your industry experience working for us. You could even start in the office part-time and see what you think. What do you say?”
Well, you already know what Jane said. That was three years ago. I thought it might be fun to hear from Jane on her unique perspective of going from someone making her living as a court reporter… to someone who schedules court reporters for a living.
Q. JANE TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOUR CAREER AS A COURT REPORTER A. I started my career in 1977 in Hudson, Wisconsin as a freelance reporter with Northwestern Court Reporters. In 1987, I joined the firm of Oliver, Mitchell & Maves in Minneapolis, which was one of the three firms that merged and formed Paradigm Reporting & Captioning in 1997. I continued working with Paradigm for the next 20 years, retiring from active reporting in 2017 with a 40-year career behind me, of which I’m very proud. I joined the Paradigm staff, first part-time, then sold my machine and became a full-time employee. Paradigm became part of Veritext in 2018, and I currently work in the scheduling department for the Midwest Region of Veritext.
Q. DID YOU ATTAIN ANY COURT REPORTING CERTIFICATIONS ALONG THE WAY? A. I held the Registered Professional Reporter certification for my entire career.
Q. WHAT DID YOU FEEL WAS THE HARDEST ASPECT OF BEING A COURT REPORTER? A. Well, going back to the “olden days;” early on in my career reporting was really a lot of work that took a lot of time. We didn’t have much help from technology back then. We typed our own transcripts (on typewriters, using carbon paper to make the copies!), which was a lot harder than transcribing on computers with CAT software. As the years went by, technology did make many aspects of reporting easier, but I admit I was normally one of the later adapters, kind of preferring to do things the way I already knew how to do them versus being one of the first to jump on the newest technology. Today, as a Scheduler, I really admire those reporters who are out there on the forefront. Other things I found difficult about reporting were being “at the mercy” of attorneys, which sometimes made it hard to have a life outside of work, and the hours were kind of brutal. Also, it’s a very physically and mentally taxing job.
Q. WHAT WAS THE BIGGEST SURPRISE YOU ENCOUNTERED ONCE YOU CROSSED OVER TO “THE OTHER SIDE OF THE FENCE” AND BECAME A SCHEDULER OF REPORTERS? A. I was really surprised at how much is involved in the scheduling process. There’s way more to it than you realize as a reporter. There are lots of steps that have to be done correctly by a number of different people in order to avoid the issues that we as reporters have all experienced when human error happens in scheduling. It’s a lot more challenging than I thought it would be, which isn’t ALL bad! Also, now working in a national company, I was very surprised at how different things are in different parts of the country, as far as things like the reporter shortage, turn-around times, various regional customs.
Q. I’M INTERESTED IN KNOWING WHICH JOB YOU’VE FOUND MORE CHALLENGING…AND WHY? A. Well, court reporting was/is challenging on many levels. You never knew what you were walking into. You never knew how fast people were going to talk or how much they’d argue. Expert testimony was always challenging. Sometimes getting to where you needed to go was a challenge, especially in Minnesota in the winter! And as I mentioned, it’s hard physically and mentally to write for hours at a time. But the scheduling job is surprisingly difficult. It requires a lot of attention to detail. And since COVID, we’ve probably added an additional 10 steps that need to be taken for every virtual job we schedule versus in-person depos. Most days, there’s more work to do than hours to do it in, so that’s challenging. And as a Scheduler at Veritext, there’s always new things happening. The job changes constantly as we grow, and the technologies we use are routinely updated, so you’re always learning new things. So this “Late Adapter” has had to learn more new things faster as a Scheduler than I ever did as a Reporter. But it’s interesting to realize that you really can do whatever you put your mind to. So both jobs have proven to be equally challenging, just in very different ways.
Q. WHAT’S THE BIGGEST CHANGE YOU’VE SEEN IN THE INDUSTRY IN YOUR 40 YEARS IN THE PROFESSION? A. Technology. It’s amazing how much things have changed and how fast they continue to change. Realtime, virtual depositions, paperless transcripts, linked exhibits, videosynching and back-up audio were not even imaginable in 1977 when I started. Data security is another big thing. It’s amazing what is needed to protect transcripts today compared to being the guardian of the record when everything was paper. Lately, the biggest change I’ve seen across the country is how much harder it is to get calendars covered by the end of the business day due to the reporter shortage.
Q. WHAT IS THE MOST STRESSFUL PART ABOUT BEING A REPORTER SCHEDULER? A. Probably the pressure of working in a busy scheduling department and trying not to make any mistakes, because we know that one missed step or just one wrong click along the way can cause a problem with the location or the start time or with a Zoom link or the exhibits or the billing process, or it could mean there’s not a videographer present, or that we have a reporter present but not a Realtimer as requested. And we schedule lots of jobs each day, and each one can require as many as 15 steps, so it’s kind of stressful knowing how many opportunities we have each day to cause an issue for a reporter or client.
Q. WHAT’S ONE TIP YOU’D LIKE TO SHARE WITH OUR REPORTERS AS A REPORTER SCHEDULER? A. I know as a reporter I just sort of expected that every job assignment had 100% accurate information, which is a reasonable expectation, but the reality is that it’s hard to make that happen 100% of the time. And I know how stressful it is to be on the reporter side of a scheduling error. So my tip is to remember that when you do experience a hiccup (or worse) with a job, know that the team behind you feels awful. We want every assignment to go perfectly, of course. But when it doesn’t, and reporters are patient and gracious around our human errors, it is very appreciated.
Q. WHAT’S ONE PIECE OF ADVICE YOU’D GIVE REPORTERS IF THEY WANTED TO BE “A SCHEDULER’S BEST FRIEND”? A. Well, I know from experience how much I did not like taking certain jobs as a reporter, but now as part of a scheduling team, I appreciate that even those jobs still need to be covered. So if you want to make a Scheduler’s day, say “yes” even when you really don’t want or need a job (at least once in a while), especially if you’re getting a personal call from a Scheduler at the end of the day (which means we’re pretty desperate!). And if you want to score points with the Client Services team, they really appreciate quick responses to their VMs and EMs, because we have clients waiting (usually impatiently) for a call back with information that we need from you, so the quicker you can get back to us, the faster we can get back to the client.
Q. JANE, THANKS SO MUCH FOR SHARING YOUR STORY! IT SURE HOLDS MANY INTERESTING AND DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVES A. You’re welcome. Thanks for asking!
About Jan Ballman – FAPR, RPR, CMRS – Principal, Minneapolis
Jan began her career as a court reporter in 1981. In 1990, she was elected President of the state court reporters association. This experience afforded the opportunity to meet many outstanding court reporters and industry leaders. In 1993, Jan collaborated with two highly regarded colleagues–Jayne Seward and Lisa Richardson–to form Ballman, Richardson & Seward. Five years later, Jan led the merger of BR&S with two well-known and highly respected firms–Schultz & Sorenson; and Oliver, Mitchell & Maves—and launched Paradigm Reporting & Captioning on January 1, 1998.
After a 20-year career as a court reporter, Jan retired her steno machine in 2002 in favor of taking the helm of Paradigm on a full-time basis.
A recognized leader at both the state and national level, Jan was bestowed Minnesota’s highest honor, the Distinguished Service Award, by the Minnesota Association of Verbatim Reporters and Captioners in 2004. In 2010, Jan was elected to serve on the Board of Trustees of the National Court Reporters Foundation and was honored to accept the appointment as Chair of the Board from 2014 to 2016. In August of 2017, Jan was inducted into as a Fellow into the Academy of Professional Reporters. Currently, Jan Ballman is the only court reporter in Minnesota to have attained the professional distinction of FAPR.
Outside of her chosen profession, Jan enjoys working with local nonprofits, mentoring tomorrow’s leaders, and exploring the world of wine. Since 2011, Jan has been delighted to chair “Legal Wine Lovers,” an official affinity group of Minnesota Women Lawyers.