Arizona has been, as best I can tell, trying to deal with stenographer shortage. This is not surprising. The 2018 opportunity number from the Ducker Report and forecast was just over 30% of the forecasted supply of stenographers.
Of course, the first thing that they think about is electronic recording. This is not surprising either. Many people believe automation of our work is imminent. They don’t work in the field. They haven’t seen my video on the court reporter crisis. They likely haven’t even considered the possibility that modern automation is actually a misnomer and that much automation is carried out by people, as published under this Bloomberg Opinion. They don’t think about the likelihood that electronic recording has existed for decades and that if it were truly cheaper or more efficient, it would’ve beat us a long time ago.
Well, Arizona asked for public comment on this proposal to use electronic recording. I decided that the best thing to do was let them know exactly what they were walking into. Check out the text of my public comment below and check out all the other public comments there. If you’re ready to support Arizona, also consider becoming a member of the association for this year. They need our help right now and holding the line there is step one to recruiting enough people to save our field.
“OPPOSITION. My name is Christopher Day. I am a court reporter in New York and creator of the Stenonymous blog. I have recently released a video explaining some very nasty things going on in my field. There has been a push by several companies, big national names in our field, such as Veritext and US Legal Support, to build digital court reporting as opposed to stenographic court reporting. Summarily, these companies are telling the legal profession no stenographers are available, but they are generally not making good faith efforts to recruit stenographers. We know that because they have failed to attempt to recruit stenographers from Sourcebook/PRO Link, a national directory of stenographers. Their push towards digital recording is not one of genuine need, but one of agenda. In fact, the chief strategy officer of US Legal, Peter Giammanco, wrote in an email regarding adopting digital reporting versus stenographic reporting, “does it matter if done legally and ethically…?” The legal profession is, without a doubt, being bamboozled, and courts with it. Because images are not allowed, I will link the article containing the image of that email. It is my contention that the court should be very aware that very large and powerful players in our industry could be acting with an intent to deceive. Similarly, there are nonprofits in our field, such as the Speech to Text Institute, which claim to be for all modalities of taking the record, but are a thinly-veiled attempt to give legitimacy to digital reporting, which is, as I will explain, wholly inadequate.
Digital court reporting is often painted as modernization, as this current change proposes. “Modernize the law.” But, in fact, all available data points to digital reporting being an inferior modality to stenographic court reporting. There are studies such as Testifying While Black (2019, pilots 1 and 2), and Racial Disparities In Automatic Speech Recognition (2020) which show that stenographic court reporting can be over three times as accurate as digital reporting with the African American Vernacular English dialect dependent on whether one is using record and transcribe method or automatic speech recognition. One has to wonder what the results might be if similar studies were done on other dialects and accents and how the justice system will be automatically discriminating against minority speakers by adopting digital recording.
Our efficiency lies in the way our system works. Our stenotypes are chorded. When we press on the keys we can take down a word in one or two hand movements. Sometimes an entire statement in one hand movement. The average word being about five characters, the average person needs at least five hand movements and the space bar. Simple math tells us that either 6x the number of transcribers will be needed to fill each court reporter’s seat, or 6x the amount of time will be needed to transcribe. Courts that have moved towards digital recording in the past, such as Massachusetts and New Jersey, have started to recruit stenographers again because they learned what my colleagues and I already know, that they were sold a lie.
Not only that, digital reporting proponents, such as Verbit, have shown an utter disregard for the quality and care standards of the court reporting industry. I recently exposed that they had posted Kentucky family court proceeding audio from Kentucky on the internet, as well as a template transcription that they offered. Thanks to my investigation, the audio was taken down. Because images are not allowed, I will link an article explaining the situation and with an image of the transcription template. The errors are horrifying, numerous, and egregious. Some of the least dangerous ones? “Point” is spelled with a zero (p0int) and “virtually” is spelled with an SH (virshually).
There has also been some evidence that digital reporting companies are dishonest. I recently raised $5,000 for a consumer awareness campaign and one woman claiming to be a digital reporter stated they were not paid enough to care [about the transcript] and trained to obfuscate, presumably by typing tag or guide files during the proceeding. This is not a direction which the courts should allow legal records to go under any circumstance.
Beyond that, there is reason to believe that digital reporting companies are operating beyond their means. I must point to VIQ Solutions, a company which last quarter lost over $10 million despite its $8 million in revenue. It is possible that companies operating in the digital reporting sphere are zombie corporations. Therefore, should they succeed in pushing stenographic competition out of the market, the costs of transcription and digital recording will rise dramatically. And we know from a study done by Justice Served on the Californian and Floridian courts that digital recording and stenographic reporting costs were already close. (https://www.cal-ccra.org/…/Justic…Dec09.pdf)
It is also notable that our stenographer shortage is used as a justification to do away with us. But transcribers are experiencing a similar shortage because they are poorly paid. The situation is so dire that the Association for Healthcare Documentation Integrity noted in its FAQ as recently as 9/24/21 that the shortage of medical transcribers was being compensated for through automatic speech recognition. This means that the transcription will almost certainly be offshored outside the subpoena power of the courts. This is not theoretical. Digital reporting companies have already employed or contracted transcribers from India, the Philippines, and Kenya, and if asked, I would gladly provide evidence collected of that. Again, with this rampant dishonesty perpetrated by digital reporting company owners, do we really want a world where the person that prepares the legal record cannot be brought in to testify if there’s a question or issue?
In the sake of brevity, I will largely skip comments about the audio failing to record or being unclear. But reliance on electronic recording would create a storage issue. Our raw stenographic text files are many times smaller than audio files. Take whatever the court pays for computerized storage of steno notes and multiply that by eight. If the court currently pays nothing and the responsibility of retention is on the court reporter, then imagine how those costs will now be shifted directly to the court.
And finally, this move creates the illusion that the stenographic court reporter is no longer in demand. Instead of broadcasting the need for the reporter, it will be assumed that the reporter is replaced, and make it even harder for my field to recruit via NCRA A to Z, Project Steno, Open Steno, and other initiatives. I have to ask this court not to contribute to the death of my profession. We have served yours for so many decades and spend so much time and energy training young people to take our place. They need confirmation that their hard work and training will provide for them. A rejection of these changes will serve as a broadcast to entrepreneurs across your state: Keep our courts efficient, build steno schools and businesses.
Though I am not from Arizona and though many of the things I point to occurred outside of Arizona, I must ask Arizona to take its blinders off and consider the mountain of evidence that points to recording being an inferior modality for taking down the legal record. The continuing education and ethics first culture of stenography and the National Court Reporters Association is simply unmatched. It is mimicked by digital reporting agencies and organizations so that they might have some of our $3 billion industry. The harm to minority speakers and the potential for runaway costs related to digital recording is too great to ignore. Keep stenographers on as guardians of the record and commit to the training of many more stenographers; the civil and criminal justice systems will only benefit. Your procedural rules, in their current form, defend the integrity of the record far more than the proposed amendments will. Thank you.”
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Arizona later passed this despite my public comment, my personal email to Director Byers, and the fact that it had more public comments against it than any other measure by a lot.