NCRA: “We must warn legal professionals…” about digital!

For a long time on Stenonymous I’ve covered digital recording and its encroachment on stenographic reporting business. From an economic perspective, I see digital reporting as a way for companies to drag more people into the industry, use them to increase labor supply in the industry under the falsehood that the technology is equivalent, and then use the increased labor supply to force reporters to accept less money or fewer pay increases without passing savings, if any, to the consumer. I’ve pointed to the fact that the stenographer shortage being used to justify the expansion of digital court reporting is exaggerated and the entities that pull from the Ducker Report conveniently ignore the age of the report and routinely fail to adjust for real-world events after the report. A lot of the news around the shortage has been based around convincing people that the stenographer shortage cannot be solved through recruitment, leading me to the conclusion that the shortage is being pushed in order to push the digital service against consumer choice.

From a social perspective, I’ve extrapolated from the Justice Served (2009), Testifying While Black (2019) and Racial Disparities in Automatic Speech Recognition (2020) studies that on average digital is going to be less accurate than stenographers and not cheaper. While no methodology is perfect, recording and transcribing creates more room for errors because audio monitors are listening for problems — questions of spelling and audio overlap — that they anticipate the transcriber will have. Stenographers, on the other hand, are listening for problems the stenographer will personally have. It really puts us in a league of our own and is a good anecdotal reason for why stenographers and voice writers are not easily replaced by a Mechanical Turk transcription army.

I’m not alone. For months, stenographers have been attempting to educate attorneys on the differences. From Protect Your Record Project to NCRA Strong, there are lots of players helping to define and share what steno brings to the table. I am at a point where I occasionally get messages from people who are exploring the potential of a digital court reporting career. They want to know what they’re signing up for. In some cases they’re being asked to shell out a few thousand dollars in equipment and they want to know if it’s worth it. I generally explain why I believe stenography has more career options or opportunities.

I also explain to digital court reporters or prospective students that we are fighting against a world of inaccuracy. National Court Reporters Association President Debbie Dibble’s recent message about the article “Make sure your court reporter is really a court reporter” really drives this home. 55 missing pages of testimony in a single proceeding. The importance of having a live stenographic court reporter for proceedings is on full display, and NCRA is up to the challenge of letting the bench and bar know the truth.

Ultimately, stenographic reporting has the larger market share and the stronger lobby, something that digital proponents don’t seem honest about when it comes to introducing this work to jobseekers. As I see it, jobseekers left in the dark make excellent candidates for enlightenment. We may well be heading into a period where tons of resources are put down on attracting digital court reporters —

— and digital court reporters turn things around and pick up the stenotype.

Collectively, we have made sure there are numerous resources out there. NCRA A to Z, Project Steno, and Open Steno to name a few. The last frontier seems to be taking people who are being sold a career in digital and pointing them to the words of people like NCRA President Dibble and the ongoing shortage debate. Digitals will work out pretty quickly that they’re being sold on something less rewarding than promised, and stenographic market share will keep growing.

4 thoughts on “NCRA: “We must warn legal professionals…” about digital!

  1. As one of those transcriptionists who is often assigned digital recordings of depositions and arbitrations, I couldn’t agree more with the sentiment of this blog post and of President Dibble.

    The transcription company I work for does not split up recordings, and the thought of that being a practice for legal transcripts is unsettling. However, the range in skill of transcriptionists can be significant and lead to varying quality from transcript to transcript.

    I believe I produce quality work personally, yet it is not my name and signature on the transcript declaring it is a fair and accurate record. And so, every legal file I complete feels like an injustice to the parties involved because, as far as I can tell, they believe the (digital) court reporter is taking the record stenographically. When in reality, they’re just pressing “Record.” All I can do is try to give them the best transcript I can.

    And I can say that all the transcripts I have produced this year have been typed using steno with the help of Plover. The power of steno is incredible, and I aim to have one of those fancy three-letter acronyms someday…

    Always great to see Stenonymous spotlight this issue.

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