May 2021 –
As I sit down to write what is my fourth President’s message, I’m thinking about how this was the one duty of being USCRA President that I was most dreading before taking office. Creative writing is not a skill of mine so I knew this task would be difficult. Looking back on this time, I can honestly say it hasn’t been the hardest thing I’ve had to do as USCRA President.
A year ago no one would have guessed the things we dreaded most in February would take a back seat to the worry of contracting COVID-19. We have all lived through months of changes in how, and sometimes where, we work. Most of our members have seen their income decline because fewer trials meant fewer transcripts. Our personal lives have been disrupted by social distancing requirements, and many of us celebrated the holidays by seeing our loved ones via Zoom rather than in person.
With all the turmoil that came with 2020, I was hoping flipping the calendar to 2021 might allow us to turn the page on what have been trying times for everyone. While the return to pre-pandemic life seems to be taking longer than I had hoped, as we get ready for the days we don’t have to remember to put on our masks, we can reflect on some good things that happened while getting through 2020.
A year ago I had never used Zoom and hadn’t heard of Webex. Our Executive Committee meetings and Board of Directors training sessions were done via conference call, which made for some really tedious meetings. It’s much easier to connect with your colleagues when you can see them rather than just hear their voices. It allows better communication and exchange of ideas. While there is no substitute for meetings in person, using videoconferencing has improved that process immensely.
In the past many courts would never have been willing to allow reporters to telecommute, but now they see we can be available if needed without being physically present in the courthouse. For those of us with divisional offices to cover, the expanded use of videoconferencing has meant hearings that once may have required hours of travel can now be done from our main courthouse with no additional commute.
What the pandemic has proven is that federal official court reporters truly are essential. Our members have shown judges and court personnel how flexible we are when it comes to finding a way to protect the record. While this job can be a challenge on a good day, reporting words spoken by people wearing masks has raised the level of difficulty. The silver lining to that dark cloud has been some attorneys have realized they need to slow down and speak more clearly so we can accurately report what they say. More than one attorney has taken the time to thank me for the work we do and acknowledged how much harder our jobs are in this time.
As an organization, we have found ways to provide some of the benefits of USCRA membership that were previously available only at on-site conventions. Our Reporter Testing Committee navigated the travel restrictions across the country and offered the FCRR Examination at three locations in September, which allowed three more reporters to add the FCRR designation after their name. The Convention Committee put together an awesome virtual convention that allowed members to receive CEUs with a registration fee far below what other organizations were offering. These are important benefits that were successfully offered because of the willingness of our member volunteers to figure out how to make it work. While it’s disappointing we can’t gather in Minneapolis in April, you can check out our virtual seminar and regional testing plans in this issue.
If all goes well, by the time I sit down to write what will be my last President’s message, we will be gearing up for our 2021 Annual Convention in Kiawah Island. Hopefully by then the dreaded months of travel and work restrictions will be behind us so we can see each other and reconnect in person rather than via Zoom.