Likes and dislikes about my primary occupation, court reporting
Since November 1974, my primary occupation has been as a court reporter utilizing a variety of Stenograph Corporation's stenotype machines starting with the then modern $300 manual machine and an IBM Selectric typewriter that cost $500. That, along with a business license, was all it took to break into the field, and due to a nationwide shortage, a reporter could just about go anywhere in the world and find a position with a reporting agency if you could prove your skill level. In February of 1975, I passed the National Court Reporters Association's Certificate of Proficiency test and was allowed to use the postnominal RPR, Registered Professional Reporter, after my name.
My first position in 1974 was as an independent contractor freelance court reporter with the firm of Associated Court Reporters in Norfolk, Virginia, a relatively new firm at that time, owned and operated by Doris O. "Pinky" Derieux. She provided a small office and desk where, after reporting a case, I typed transcripts from my stenotype notes, and Pinky proofread my work and provided training until I became experienced enough to proofread my own work.
Clearly, typing transcripts was labor-intensive and time-consuming--the part that most reporters dislike--and I was no exception. I learned rapidly and before the end of my first year, Pinky sent me to report medical malpractice trials in Circuit Court and medical depositions--some of the most difficult type of work there is.
With an ever increasing workload, within four to five months, I graduated to dictating my notes for a typist, and I purchased a De Jur Grundig Stenorette reel-to-reel dictating machine. For Christmas that year, Pinky gave me a Stenoprompter, an $80 motorized contraption that held our paper notes, and with the use of a small motor and foot pedal, it pulled the notes so they could be easily read without having to use your hands to turn pages. It was a practical gift, one that I used for many years, and the only significant Christmas gift I ever received from any court reporting agency
Once a reporter started dictating, a typist was necessary, and I was very fortunate to find an experienced typist in Delia Waldrop, who at that time resided off Rosemont Road in Virginia Beach. She had previously typed for Court Reporter Meade Howard of Crane & Snead in Richmond and still did some work for him at the time she took on my work.
Every time I left my home, though, in rural Virginia Beach to go to my office, a courthouse, or an attorney's office, I had to first go by Delia's house to drop off reels of tape for her to type from or pick up transcripts to proofread or deliver transcripts for corrections.. She lived about midway between my home and Downtown Norfolk. I couldn't go anywhere without going by her home, which, fortunately, wasn't too much out of the way for me but nonetheless took time to do. Sometimes I'd send my husband or mother by there, too, for pickups and deliveries. This part of the job became tiresome and something I dreaded. Not that Delia wasn't wonderful. I enjoyed seeing her every time I stopped by, but it just became another tedious part of reporting.
Due to a misunderstanding with Pinky, after being there about a year, I left to become associated with Biggs & Cheshire Court Reporters, another Norfolk firm, owned by Lois Biggs and Richard Cheshire. They had a contract to cover the felony hearings in General District Court (police court), and I covered that court for seven years until the Graham-Rudman Act went into effect and funding for the work was eliminated.
During my nine years with Biggs & Cheshire, in 1977, they purchased a Baron mainframe computer probably because one of their competitors, Zahn, Hall & Zahn Court Reporters, had done so. Lois and Richard asked me to be the first associated with their firm to use it, to which I agreed. Using the computer required the purchase of a specialized stenotype machine that had an attachment to hold the cassette tape recorder that recorded the electrical impulses from our key presses onto the tape, which was them removed and placed in the computer's tape drive to read our notes.
The new stenotype machines were very cumbersome and heavy, and it required using a piece of luggage on wheels to carry the machine on jobs. Some people described the machine as having a goiter, which I didn't consider so funny since I had had a goiter at age 15! But the machine was a pain to lug around, so I purchased two and left one in the courtroom and one in my car to be ready for other jobs other than police court. At that time, the machines cost about $3,000 apiece.
It took an inordinate amount of time to define EVERY word that I wrote, and many times I remarked that I could have typed that transcript several times in the time it took to produce it on the computer, but after a couple months, I must admit, it was miraculous see your notes pop up all translated into English on an electronic page.
While translating a case, you could not perform any other functions on the computer, and sometimes a large case might take 45 minutes to translate, which was a waste of valuable time. The Baron mainframe was finicky and often broken, which required a serviceman to come and repair the problem. If a part had to be ordered, the computer could be down for days.
It soon became apparent that a second computer was a necessity, and Biggs and Cheshire purchased another. Because of the heat generated by two computers, they required special air-conditioning in the computer room where the desk-size units were located on the eleventh floor overlooking the Elizabeth River in the First Virginia Bank Building on Main Street, an office suite they moved to when their previous offices in First & Merchants Bank Building on Plume Street was slated for razing. I was told that the mainframe computers were $180,000 each, and they charged the reporters seventy-five cents per page to translate a case. What was aggravating was when we accidentally translated a case again and had to pay double, in addition to redoing all the editing we probably had already done! The disks holding our dictionaries were encased in plastic and about the size of a large pizza, and the disk drive was the size of a pizza oven opening.
As more reporters started using the Baron mainframe, it became increasingly more difficult for me to have access to a computer to use, and I could not be in court by 9 a.m., work all morning, go home and return to work on the computer at night because of the distance I resided from downtown. Therefore, I hired Debbie Gray (no relation that we know of), a young woman who worked with my husband at the Virginia Beach Boys Club when she was a teenager. Debbie was enrolled in court reporting school and knew how to read stenotype, so I trained her to "scope" my notes, edit, make final edits, and print my work. She was the first "scopist" in Norfolk and probably all of Virginia, for that matter, unless in Northern Virginia-Washington, D.C. they were using scopists. I laughed to myself every time I thought of scopists listing their occupations because hardly anyone knew or knows what that is!
With Debbie coming in during the afternoon when almost all reporters were on cases, she was able to do my work and save me lots of time and aggravation. She printed the transcripts, rough drafts and finals, then ripped off the edges of the paper that held the holes for pulling through the loud dot-matrix printers. She also used a manual--later automatic--decollator to remove all the carbon paper from the multiple-copy sets of paper, then put the transcripts through the electric burster, which bursts the pages apart. After decollating and bursting, she then bound the finals in a binder and gave them to me to bill, and she sometimes delivered them or took them to the post office for me.
Those mundane chores, such as editing, decollating, bursting, binding, and running to the post office were all things I disliked doing anyway, and with Debbie's help, I was able to use my time more efficiently, reporting cases.