With the extremely public release of information confirming that automatic speech recognition and digital court reporting services are inadequate for court reporting at best and actively harmful to consumers at worst, U.S. Legal Support has decided to continue its recruitment of digital reporters and transcribers instead of stenographers.
For years in my industry it has been claimed that digital reporting expansion was only for emergency use due to stenographer shortage. It was only for jobs stenographers allegedly would not accept. That was largely a lie. In reality, these companies with millions in revenue are utilizing their market share to push stenographers out of the market, despite consumers’ preference for stenographers, which is reflected in the Court Reporting Industry Outlook 2013-2014.
As a reminder, U.S. Legal’s Chief Strategy Officer, Peter Giammanco, was kind enough to put in a Summer 2021 email, “does it really matter if done legally or ethically…” [if the products are the same, which they are not.]
Who does this hurt? African American Vernacular English speakers. How do we know? The Testifying While Black (2019) pilot studies told us stenographic court reporters understand the dialect at a rate twice as good as the average person and 1.5x as good as the average lawyer. The Racial Disparities in Automatic Speech Recognition study (2020) showed us that automatic speech recognition has 80% accuracy for white speakers, 65% accuracy for black speakers, and as low as 25 to 50% accuracy for AAVE speakers. This is something stenographic court reporters have been painstakingly fighting to bring to courts and lawyers since at least earlier this year. Nonprofits like Protect Your Record have been educating on the inappropriate substitution of digital in place of machine shorthand stenography for over two years. There is no good reason to believe USL is unaware of the data or my claims. If they are unaware, then we would all like to know exactly why the legal record should be entrusted to a company that can’t be bothered to keep current in the industry that was 70% of its business as of 2013.
After all, if you look at their public-facing materials, they consider the stenographer shortage to be a big deal. They must care about our industry (sarcasm font).
And yet in the face of an ongoing national consumer awareness campaign, they still cannot be bothered to attempt to recruit stenographers. But they know how to recruit digitals. They’ve got that down to a science. I get alerts on my phone to become a digital court reporter!
But they must promote stenography in some way to avoid being accused of not making good faith efforts to find a stenographer in accordance with consumer preference. Right?
So I can get recruitment notifications for digital court reporting, but by the admission of US Legal rep Rick Levy, the company was not using Sourcebook to recruit people. NCRA Sourcebook / PRO Link is a national directory of stenographers. It’s been in this field for over a decade. About one third of our field holds membership in NCRA and a large percentage of them are in that directory. It’s a great way to find stenographers. Rick Levy, a reporter of over 25 years and said to have been on the board of the National Court Reporters Association, asked me what it was!
But this politeness from Levy was a ruse and excuse to spend more time obfuscating the fact that USL was doing effectively nothing to build interest in stenography, as I later realized and called him out on.
It gets worse. Thanks to one brave person’s response to our national ad campaign, we know that digital reporters and transcribers are not being paid enough to care and they are being trained to obfuscate.
Meanwhile, stenographers are paid enough to care not just about our own jobs, but digital reporters’ jobs. I’m no longer willing to participate in any delusion that digital court reporting is an adequate solution to shortage. Remember, we got a glimpse of the digital court reporting future when Verbit posted a transcription template to the internet where they spelled “point” with a zero, spelled “court reporter” as “core reporter,” and spelled “state your appearances” as “state your up here.” That’s just three errors. How many can you count?
We also know that USL is not the only company committed to lowering the standards of court reporting. Naegeli, Veritext, and Planet Depos are all in on expanding digital reporting and transcribing at the expense of the consumer. The only question is whether they are actively working together, illegally colluding to screw the consumer, or whether they just happen to all be doing the same exact thing and using similar language (sarcasm font). If nothing else, investors are being misled to believe digital court reporting is the future when it is a clear regression and a rollback of the industry standards we’ve been shaping for over a century.
I am not denying the shortage. I have spent unsung hours writing and posting about ways people can get into steno or help stenographers, including Open Steno, Project Steno, NCRA A to Z, StarTran Online, Simply Steno, CRAH, StenoKey, PAF Steno, Paying It Forward, and association mentoring. I have made a compelling case for how our shortage is being exaggerated and exacerbated by companies that may not even be profitable. I have simply advocated for students to make more money and have a better career than I did. I have simply advocated for a future where the working court reporter is not abused and where the public gets the best legal records possible. Anybody against that can get out of my way.
Tired of bad news? I’ve got some great news coming Friday. Stay tuned.