Happy to report that months after being accused of fraud by me and days after the Law360 article broke on the debate about the shortage, U.S. Legal (USL) posted an advertisement for a stenographic court reporter. While I do feel my blogging played a part in all of this, Dineen Squillante’s contact with journalist Steven Lerner is likely what tipped the scale. Dineen’s a role model, and if every stenographer put in effort like her, I doubt the corporate types would ever try to walk on our profession again.
I hope our friend Nick Mahurin is watching, for his sake.
I am happy about this. I am hopeful that it will be a change in direction for USL. I am wary of heaping on praise because companies in our field often do symbolic little gestures to appease us, only to turn around and continue to try to tread on the stenographic legion. It’s kind of like if someone smacked you every day for about half a year and then on day 181 apologized. Sorry doesn’t cut it. Continued recruitment and support of our existing profession is the only thing that will really mend US Legal’s image in the eyes of court reporters. The only court reporters I’ve met that disagree with me are friends of Rick Levy or among the precious few that USL treats well, and I’m not about to let the opinions of two people dictate the future of 30,000.
In many ways I feel vindicated. A few have balked about my methods or beliefs. But we have all collectively shown each other that we have the power to change things. If you follow me on social media, I said as much yesterday:
I remind every court reporter that while U.S. Legal, according to Owler, controls an estimated $100 million annually, court reporters control an estimated $1.7 billion. Over the course of my blogging and ads, you’ve all chipped in about $15,000 (guesstimate). About 0.0009% of stenographers’ annual revenue was able to meet the threshold for change. If you’d like the fight and my media work to continue, then I have to ask for donations at the Stenonymous.com home page.
My personal feelings are that we should turn our attention toward our treatment and end disparity in treatment. For example, if we look at USL’s cancellation policy, canceling a court reporter can be done at 5:00 p.m. the day before. Canceling an interpreter must be done 24 to 48 business hours ahead of time, which I’m going to take to mean 1 to 2 business days, since 24 business hours is a whopping 3 days.
Why does such disparity exist? Because we allow it to. Another example? Videographers, interpreters, and captioners all operate on a two-hour minimum. Court reporters are the only ones that have yet to figure out the value of their time and demand it. But it’s not long before people estimate how many pages they usually get in an hour multiplied by their page rate and realize that that is the true value of their time. Once stenographers know the true value of their time, they will start asking for it, and the shortage will take care of itself.
For anyone that hates math, as a young reporter that was being taken advantage of, I made about $3.25 per page and the layouts at that time gave me about 40 pages per hour. That’s $130 in 2011 money. That’s about $164 in December 2021 money. That would be $328 on a two-hour minimum. I was making $75 bust fees. This is simple economics. When we are busted on, we’re often scheduled at the exclusion of being elsewhere. We cannot have a functional field when people are being paid 22% of what they should be making, and this has arguably driven our shortage more than the games being played by USL and Veritext. Less money in our pockets means we cut expenses, like associations, and then our associations are in famine mode. A vicious cycle ensues and our death as a profession becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The only way out of that is to break the cycle and admit to ourselves that we have a problem with pricing. Our race to the bottom comes at a cost, the loss of integrity of the legal record. Are we willing to accept such a loss simply because corporate entities claim we are not worth more? And do not give me the false narrative that we would price ourselves out of the market. The rapacious behavior of multiple companies has not priced them out. It is a lie sold for one purpose: To keep the working reporter down.
A dozen years in the industry have given me the courage to stand up and say enough is enough. Demand more of the companies. Where they refuse to do better, compete with them. That is the way forward now that everyone knows that they can be beat.
But what do I know? I’m just a stenographer.