What Verbit Leadership Needs To Know

I had a lot of fun writing the Verbit investors article. But the more I explore opinions and ideas outside our steno social circles, the more I see that most people totally don’t get stenographers or the work we put in. A lot of us have had sleepless nights trying to get a daily out, time lost for ourselves or our families trying to do the job we signed up for, or some amount of stress from someone involved with the proceeding being unhelpful or antagonistic. It happens, we take it in stride, and we make the job look easy. So it doesn’t surprise me very much when people say “why not just record it?” It doesn’t surprise me that investors threw money into the idea that technology could disrupt the court reporting market. But I can only hope that proponents of digital really take the time to understand and step back from the cliff they’re being pushed towards.

For this exercise, we’re going to be exploring Verbit’s own materials. They recently circulated a graphic that showed the “penetration” of digital into the court reporting market. It shows 5 to 10 percent of the deposition market taken by digital, and 65 to 75 percent of the court market taken by digital. It also notes that only 25 to 35 percent of courts are digitally transcribed. I take this to mean that while they have 75 percent of the “court market,” they only transcribe about 25 percent of it. This is a massive problem. So the technology, when it’s not breaking down in the middle of court (29:20), is ready to record all these proceedings. But you only have the capacity to transcribe about a third of that. So in this magical world where suddenly you have every deposition, EUO, and court proceeding, where are you going to get all of these people? We’re talking about multiplying your current workforce by 28 assuming that every person you hire is as efficient as a stenographer. And the math shows that every stenographer is about as efficient as 2 to 6 transcribers. So we’re really talking about multiplying your current workforce by 56 to 168 times, or just creating larger backlogs than exist today. By not using stenographers, Verbit and digital proponents are setting themselves up for an epic headache.

Of course, this is met with, “well, there’s a stenographer shortage.” But what you have to understand is that we’ve known that for seven years now. All kinds of things have happened since then. You’ve got Project Steno, Open Steno, StenoKey, A to Z, Allison Hall reportedly getting over a dozen school programs going. Then you have lots of people just out there promoting or talking about the field through podcasts, TV, and other news. Showcasing the shortage and stenography has brought renewed interest in this field, and we are on track to solve this. Again, under the current plan, you would need as many as 60,000 transcribers just to fill our gap, and the turnover will probably be high because the plan promotes using a workforce that does not require a lot of training. So if you’re talking about training and retraining 60,000 people again and again over the next decade, I am quite sure you can find 10,000 or so people who want to be stenographic court reporters.

Look, I get it, nobody goes into business without being an optimist. But trying to upend a field with technology that doesn’t exist yet is just a frightening waste of investor money. How come when you sell ASR, it’s 99 percent accurate, but when Stanford studies the ASR from the largest companies in the world, it’s 60 to 80 percent accurate? How come when you sell digital it’s allegedly cheaper and better, but when it’s looked at objectively it’s more expensive and comes with “numerous gaps and missing testimony?” These are the burning questions you are faced with. There’s an objectively easier way of partnering with and hiring stenographers. If you don’t, you’re looking at filling a gap of 10,000 with 60,000 people, or multiplying the current transcription workforce of 50,000 by 56 (2.8 million). In a world of just numbers, this sounds great. Three million jobs? Who wouldn’t want that? But not far into this experiment you’ll find that people don’t grow on trees and the price of the labor will skyrocket unless you offshore all of the work. What happens when attorneys catch onto the fact that everything is being offshored and start challenging transcripts? Does anyone believe that someone in Manila is going to honor subpoenas from New York? Again, epic headache.

So if I could get just one message out to Verbit leadership and all the people begging for us to “just accept technology,” it would be to really re-examine your numbers and your tech. The people under you are going to tell you that a new breakthrough is just around the corner, that things are going well, and that you shouldn’t worry. But you should worry, because you very well might find yourself a pariah in your industry like Peter Molyneux ended up in his. If you’re not familiar, Peter became famous for promising without delivering. One of the most prominent examples of this was 2009 E3, where he stood up on stage and introduced Milo. This tech was going to be interactive. It was going to sense what you were doing and respond to it. It turns out it was heavily scripted, the technology did not and still does not exist to do what was being talked about and presented to consumers. Now, anyone with a bit of sense doesn’t listen to Peter.

If the ASR tech worked, why not sell it to us at 10,000 a pop multiplied by the 25,000 stenographers in your graphic and walk away with a cool 250 million dollars? It does what we do, right? So why aren’t we using it? Why aren’t you marketing it to us? It’s got to be a hell of a lot easier to convince 25,000 stenographers than it is to convince 1.3 million lawyers. Sooner or later, Legal Tech News and all the other news people are going to pick up on the fact that what you are selling is hype and hope. So, again, consider a change of direction. Stop propping up STTI, shoot some money over to the organizations that promote stenography, and partner up with steno. You’d be absolutely amazed how short people’s memories are when you’re not advocating for their jobs to be replaced with inferior tech. Take it from somebody who’s done the sleepless nights and endless hours in front of a monitor transcribing, this business isn’t easy. But if you trust stenographers, we’re going to keep making it look easy, and we’re going to make every pro-steno company a lot of money.

8 thoughts on “What Verbit Leadership Needs To Know

  1. Such a great article!! Precise and to the point. What I always say is that reporting is SO MUCH MORE than getting words down. There is so much thought/research that goes into editing, along with punctuating, quoting, paragraphing…you know, all the stuff necessary for text to make sense, especially when dealing with convoluted/technical testimony. The fact that our knowledge base builds as we write/edit (and over the years)and that we are able to be in that mindset, aware, is a completely different mindset from a typist! This career REQUIRES brains, and that is what the general public/supposed tech people just don’t understand!!!!

    1. I mostly agree. And we are getting it out there. The really cool thing is there are a lot of digital reporters and transcribers out there who would make great candidates for stenography. Yet they’re being told the technology is old, inefficient, whatever. That’s just not true, and in some cases, it’s making them work harder for less money. So it’s also my hope that those superstars see stuff like this, the wheels get turning, and they join up too.

  2. Spot on. It’s becoming pretty clear that a lot of these investors are just throwing money at a solution in search of a problem. Proposing a more complicated and costly system than what is out there right now is a bad investment.

  3. I just finished reading this article printed Friday regarding court reporting technology and investors. I wanted to respond to a few things from the article. First, the machine you pictured as being in family court, though it does the job, most shorthand machines do not utilize paper any longer and are completely real-time capable, just as you see captions on the TV produced by a court reporter. The method is far from old-fashioned but is cutting edge. You also have voice writers that produce transcripts in realtime with their software. I have sat through a test of Verbit and found it to be a far cry from producing a usable transcript on the spot. You would still need an intelligent person relistening and practically rewriting what Verbit put on the screen to produce a usable transcript for counsel in the litigation setting. Investors would be better off spending their money elsewhere.


    – As Donna L says above, the stenowriters of today are digital, high-tech, Bluetooth-enabled wonders. The humans operating them are skilled professionals.

    – I was supposed to be present for a Verbit demonstration, but their representative couldn’t get it to work. Failed demo.

    – For years steno reporters have been digitizing the spoken word with an accuracy that AI will never achieve because of one feature we have that AI does not — the human brain.

    Link from Chicagonow.com: http://www.chicagonow.com/chaos-in-the-courtroom/2015/10/why-court-reporters-cannot-be-replaced-according-to-neurosurgeon/

    Here is an excerpt from a neuropsychologist’s deposition in which he describes the intricacies of the human (court reporter) brain, supporting the notion that court reporters cannot be replaced:

    Neuropsychologist: May I give an example of this?

    Counsel: Sure.

    Neuropsychologist: Okay. If you look — and the example is this: Our brains are a miracle. Okay. They’re a miracle that needs to be protected. And if you look at the court reporter right now, as an example, okay, this is a miracle in progress happening right before your eyes.

    Let me just explain what she needs to do. I am speaking, so the information has to come in through her ear into her temporal lobe, and it has to go log itself into the language center. She has to be able to comprehend what I’m saying.

    Then it has to get rerouted to the prefrontal cortex where it has to hold — she has to be able to hold the information, because, you know, I continuously talk so she has to hold it. Right? Then she has to analyze it, integrate it and synthesize it. Then it has to go back to the cerebellum and she has to be able to execute this, and she has to be able to then convert my words into those little squiggly marks. Have you ever seen court reporters have little squiggly language things?

    So she has to convert it into a different language, and the white matter tracks allows her to reroute all of this information simultaneously without effort. Okay.

    We take our brains for granted. She’s sitting here. I’m probably talking too fast for her, but she’s able to do this simultaneously. Seamlessly. Okay.

    No animal on the planet can do this. All right. That’s why I believe court reporters will never be replaced. Because no technical — ***no technology could replace the beauty of that brain and the miracle of that brain.*** And that’s why your brain should always be protected and you should take care of it.

    1. Oh, wow. I’m surprised by a failed demonstration. I hadn’t heard anything like that prior to writing this.

      I try not to say never, but for many reasons I think it’ll be a long time and a lot of money burnt. I don’t know if you saw but there was an AI subsidiary from Google that blew through half a billion dollars without getting a viable product. I know they were not focused on ASR but I think that’s a reasonable guesstimate for the amount of time and money needed for this problem.

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