To E Court Reporters and Transcribers

I’m writing to you today because chances are high we aren’t that different. Maybe we both like law, or depositions, or working with lawyers. Maybe we both heard this was a great career with lots of potential. Maybe we will both face the same hurdles and challenges. Maybe you’ll cruise around my little blog here and find articles that pertain to you.

For the longest time, the deposition was the space of the stenographic reporter. Depending on where you’re at, we were making a lot of money and still have great careers today. Now what’s happened is the companies that previously used stenographers are trying to move towards transcription. They’re using you all to record and transcribe what we take down and transcribe. And I’m here today to make two points for your benefit:

  1. Try stenography. It’s easy to learn, it’s hard to do fast, and our community is in the process of building free resources for you to try it out.
  2. There’s a constant and unending thing at play called the market.

Stick with me, because I’m going to offer solutions. We all know that there are buyers and sellers of goods and services, and they are always, through one way or another, negotiating. If Law Office A doesn’t like Reporting Company B’s style or service, they can always use Reporting Company C. That’s the market at work. But there’s an unspoken side of the market, the labor force. Stenographers, voice writers, electronic reporters, transcribers, are all players in the market, and our actions can dictate our future.

Succinctly, when I was a deposition stenographer I was making only about $3.50 to $4.00 a page, and 25 cents to 50 cents a copy. That’s on a regular 14-day turnaround. There were also services where we’d rush the transcript for more than 6 bucks a page. To put that in perspective, let’s say that a fast-talking lawyer can do at least 60 pages an hour. 240 an hour. But for every hour at a deposition it would take me about an hour of transcription, 120 an hour. Sounds high, right? But I was an independent contractor and had to factor in the days where I made $0.00.

So now let’s take you, the valuable, amazing person they’re now pitching $20 an hour at, or $40 an hour at. Let’s say that you’re also doing the transcription work, and let’s assume it takes you much longer so you’re getting more hours transcribing. $40 at the 1 hour deposition, then four hours of transcription. $200. It takes you 5 to 10 hours of work to make pretty much the same $200 I was getting in two hours. Don’t forget, you’re doing pretty much the same work, it’s just taking you longer and making your life harder.

So what are the solutions? I’ve got 3:

  1. Try stenography. It’s going to make your life easier. You’re going to command higher rates and pump out work fast. Has someone told you it’s dead? Consider whether they have a financial interest in telling you that.
  2. Negotiate for more. Just like I’ve told stenographers for the last 4 years we are what we ask for. The work you’re doing is hard, and it is valuable. They can afford to pay you more and they know it, and I know it, and now you know it too. They’re not passing the savings of using you off to the lawyer, they’re pocketing it. And as capitalism teaches us, the money is always better off in our wallet.
  3. Unionize. I’m not even kidding. As freelancers we deposition reporters would’ve had an uphill struggle to unionize. Unions are a dirty word now but let’s look at what they’re entitled to by law: Good-faith negotiations. Ultimately the union gets a peek at company finances and the company and union negotiate on what would be a fairer market rate for the services being provided. Where direct pay isn’t available, a union could negotiate for job security, better workplace rules, and medical or other benefits. There are even already legal workers unions in NYC.

If you found this helpful, spread the knowledge. Empower your colleagues. Fight because this is a fight worth winning. If you found this strange, consider that the rules in life are too. The longer you play by the rules dictated to you by others, the more you are set to lose. Take control. Be polite, be professional, be the best, but go forward with the understanding that you are a market force, and your actions dictate the future.

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