Came across some commentary that I’ll call a smooth sales pitch by Steve Townsend, co-founder of AAERT. He correctly points out that the steno shortage has been widely reported, but goes on to draw a number of inferences and conclusions that I find remarkably questionable. There is the claim that steno schools are closing, graduation numbers are dropping, and interest in the career is very low. You can trust him, because he backs that up by saying this is all true.
Well, maybe a few years ago, we could’ve agreed. But this was written August 6, 2019, when stenography is headed back into a steep incline. Programs are picking up stenography. Established programs like Plaza College are creating more awareness through newsworthy events like the court reporting symposium. Several stenographic initiatives have drummed up support and interest for this wonderful field. Just to name a few, NCRA’s A to Z program, Open Steno, Stenotrain, and Project Steno. There are stenographers all around the country asking their local college programs to consider beginning a stenographic course, and interest in the field is ramping up.
Court reporting firms across the country are sticking with steno wherever and whenever it’s available. It’s no surprise that stenography is the desired method because we are four to five times more efficient than the average typist, and have some heavyweight software companies on our team. From advanced note analytics, like CaseCAT’s steno x-ray, to Eclipse’s translation magic, a single modern stenographer has the tools and capability to match the production of multiple transcribers. It was true back in 1972 when stenographers performed with a higher degree of accuracy when tested against audio, and that hasn’t changed. The FJC had all this data back then, and has had the data through the present, and yet somehow the district courts still use many stenographers. Reality tells us we are the superior choice when it comes to quality and cost. Townsend’s great argument, that years ago they said that they could record the court with appropriate management, is a far cry from providing the very best service available to the legal community. If there was a modicum of honesty, Townsend would tell lawyers looking for stenographers to go look in the NCRA Sourcebook. If the shortage is so severe that “soon” there won’t be stenographers, that’s no threat to his business.
There’s just nothing to match the institutional knowledge and commitment we have with regard to preserving the record. AAERT’s fabled Best Practices Guide hides behind a paywall. In stark contrast, our NCRA, the National Court Reporters Association, has publicly maintained its advisory opinions and continues to foster transparency and consumer awareness. It’s entirely open to public scrutiny. Who benefits? The consumer. The lawyers, litigants, and judges we serve every day.
Some easy math will tell you we are a ways off from not seeing stenographers at depositions. The Ducker Report told us about 70 percent of the court reporting field was freelance. That means that you’ll stop seeing stenographers in court long before you’ll see an end to them at depositions — and that’s assuming all the steno projects and programs I mentioned in the beginning fail. That’s assuming that every recruitment effort we’ll make as an industry in the next decade does nothing.
Now add on top of that the fact that if we’re inputting words at 225 wpm and the average typist is getting 40 or 50, you need 5 of them to replace every one of us. Even an exceptional typist at 100 words per minute — and having thousands of such exceptional typists — would mean requiring two transcribers for every single stenographer today. If anybody thinks there’s a problem getting transcripts today, just wait for the future promulgated by AAERT, millions of cases with no one to transcribe. As long as they can sell their equipment, they’re good. The transcript and the legal process is, at best, an afterthought.
I’ve reached out to Legal Tech News about possibly writing a commentary on why stenography is the best tech to protect the record. We’ll see if that pans out. But let this serve as a reminder not to let these folks demoralize you. They have a lot of money riding on most of us staying quiet and letting their voice dictate what is accurate. In reality, the gentlest glance at their arguments reveals a fragile facade. This is all true.
August 12, 2019 Update:
Eric Allen, ASSCR President, got his own commentary published on Law.com. This is precisely what I meant in terms of us actively participating in the conversation.