NCRA Net Assets Dwarf Competitors, Digital Court Reporting Bad for Business

I’ve raised questions about the Speech-to-Text Institute’s data and some companies’ blind reliance on that data. Today I’ve got to raise the fact that, if we compare net assets on 2020 tax returns and information found on ProPublica for NCRA, STTI, AAERT, and NVRA, it seems like NCRA is the clear leader at over $6 million, and its nearest “competitor,” AAERT, had about $217k. STTI came in dead last, more than $100,000 in the red. This doesn’t even account for the myriad court reporting associations and nonprofits across the country and the money that goes into them.

It still remains a serious question why the public and court administrators would rely on the word of an organization that doesn’t seem to have the monetary support needed to address the court reporter shortage in California, let alone America. Think about it. If you want to raise a workforce of possibly 20,000 professionals, who do you turn to, the organization with $6 million or the organization that’s in the red and being kept afloat by some undiscovered means?

There also remains a question about the severity of the shortage. As told by the document linked above, it states that over 50% of California courts have reported they are unable to routinely cover non-mandated case types. California’s shortage was forecasted to be the worst in the country, about 20x worse than many other states. If around 50% of California courts are having trouble, it would follow that somewhere around 2.5% would be the average across the country. Devising relocation incentives could pull more people to California and solve the problem.

This has implications for the big business bosses and the small businesses they bully. They’re going to have to spend a whole lot of money to match stenographic initiatives. Eventually shareholders are going to ask why these businesses are swimming against the direction of the market. Why would you spend time and attention trying to cultivate a professional community in digital court reporting when one clearly exists in the stenographic community? Why would you aggravate the talent/labor until it starts discussing things like misclassification, pay, and working conditions?

Stenonymous reporting live from the dead internet.

NCRA 2020: $6,293,223 net assets.

AAERT 2020: $217,609 net assets.

NVRA 2020: $122,098 net assets.

STTI 2020: -$119,169 net assets.

Automation Less Likely, AI Success Gap Being Ignored?

Artificial intelligence. Last year I shared a prediction by Gartner that 85% of AI business solutions would fail by 2022.

With a wave of recent tech layoffs, it seems unlikely the tech giants will have a massive tech breakthrough. They’re preparing for tough times, which signals to me they’re probably not expecting anything revolutionary. According to some sources, as many as 73,000 tech workers have been laid off this year.

As reported by Fortune and Kevin Kelleher, Deloitte has released a report. A survey of 2,620 executives in 13 countries found 94% of respondents considered AI critical to success in the coming five years. Yet only about 50% of solutions were considered high achieving, leaving about 50% of solutions low achieving.

The article does state that global spending on AI is set to nearly double from $33 billion in 2021 to $64 billion in 2025, but this does not seem to comport with the dropping interest in AI investment reported. Only 76% of respondents plan to boost AI investments, down from 85% a year ago. As I see it, there are two possible futures. Either executives will take a step back and realize that somewhere between half and 80% of these projects are not working out, or they’ll continue down the path of burning money on what’s essentially a hand of blackjack with a nice side bet. For those that don’t gamble, that’s “okay odds of winning something with a very small chance of making a lot of money.”

Of course, this is all about AI generally. Automatic speech recognition (ASR) or natural language processing (NLP) is the subset of AI that deals with or theoretically threatens our profession, and if regular AI solutions are not working out, something as complex as ASR doesn’t seem like it’ll be perfected any time soon.

We are in a bad time for factual information. Some sources claim 15 to 30% of market research data is fraudulent. I can’t help but wonder if the ballooning estimates on market size for AI and ASR are wishful thinking put out there to get investors and decision makers to part with their money and avoid another AI winter. After all, it looks attractive to say speech recognition will grow from $11 billion in 2022 to $49 billion in 2029, and it looks attractive to say the AI market will grow to $1.3 trillion by 2029. “Buy in now!” But if half the solutions are low achieving, aren’t they throwing half of that trillion in the trash? And isn’t it a little odd to forecast that an industry will miraculously grow from $64 billion in 2025 to $1.3 trillion in 2029? Some of the fastest-growing industries are around 12% growth. Meanwhile they’re talking about something like 500% growth every year for 4 years. I know jobs don’t necessarily relate to revenue/profit, and I accept these figures are from different sources and therefore may be calculated differently, but how is such explosive growth expected to take place without adding jobs? Were the thousands of workers just laid off not contributing to the growth? Would the growth not slow with such future uncertainty? The AI industry is set for 500% growth but the world GDP is something like 10% growth in a great year?

This also calls into question the market research and data in our field. Will our “sten tech” companies’ AI ventures be successful? Could numbers be played with to get court reporting consumers to buy into new tech ideas? Could the numbers be played with to make court reporting firms more attractive to private equity buyers? I’m already certain they’re being played with to sell digital court reporting.

Christopher Day’s remarks on the data in the court reporting and stenotype services field.

I will continue to document the stats. Let this serve as a reminder that we need to be careful what stats we accept in our minds as true and always be open to new information. As always, I invite readers to share comments, contrary ideas, or even correct me. What do you think?

Addendum:

Tech giant Amazon basically admits mileage varies depending on who’s speaking.

Bulletin: Court Reporter Shortage or Fraud?

Law360: A Dire Court Reporter Shortage? Depends on Who You Ask.

Certain court reporting companies are exaggerating and exacerbating the stenographer shortage for the purpose of selling digital court reporting to lawyers/courts/consumers.

Veritext, US Legal Support, and Planet Depos have all publicly made statements about the unavailability or shortage of stenographers while putting most of their effort into expanding digital court reporting. Succinctly, utilizing their market share to obfuscate the availability of stenographers and artificially increase digital court reporter demand. It is unknown whether this is concerted or a form of tacit parallelism.

The resulting atmosphere is also misleading to those seeking a career in court reporting.

The nonprofit Protect Your Record Project was formed to educate consumers on the bait and switch tactics occurring in the court reporting industry.

In 2021, US Legal Rep Peter Giammanco wrote, “Does it really matter if done legally and ethically and both methods end with the same final transcript?” A consumer awareness campaign was subsequently launched. There are questions about whether digital recording is reliably the same as stenography. In one New York case, the court remarked that past holdings that recording was equivalent to stenography were belied by the record in that appeal.

Companies continue to profess shortage while placing the bulk of their effort into expanding the digital reporting market, effectively limiting consumer choice and ignoring consumer preference for stenography. The 2013-2014 Court Reporting Industry Outlook is used to add credibility to these claims, but that forecast is nearly a decade old and does not account for recruitment initiatives such as National Court Reporters A to Z, Project Steno, and Open Steno.

Attorneys, courts, and support staff can attempt to find stenographers or stenographer-run businesses through their state court reporting association or NCRA Pro Link.

The FTC has stated it will crack down on companies taking advantage of gig workers. It is unknown how this will affect court reporting, a field that is approximately 70% independent contractors according to available data. It is also unknown how rampant misclassification may be in the field.

Stenonymous (Christopher Day) is dedicated to informing the court reporting and legal community and has faced legal threat for accurate reporting in the past.

Does this look like they’re looking for stenographers?

Members of the community that wish to support advertising for this bulletin may send money through the donation box at Stenonymous.com.

NCRA: Pay Rates Often Lead to Replacing Stenographic Court Reporters with Digital Methods

In a press release yesterday, the National Court Reporters Association acknowledged that different markets are having different experiences when it comes to court reporter or stenographer shortage. NCRA President Jason Meadors is quoted as saying “Claims of a court reporter shortage are all too often a matter of geography and market. When courthouses pay and offer benefits competitively, they become fully staffed, and litigants are not faced with the choice of paying market rates to have the best system available or rely upon what the courthouse is willing to provide for keeping the record.”

The press release is concise and worth a read. It gets across some important ideas, such as stenography being modern, the gold standard, and acknowledges in its own way that economics plays a role in where court reporters are available. Very similar to the realizations I had when I saw that many reporters in New York City were working 30 years behind inflation while agencies were crying shortage.

This could not come at a better time. The courts in California just more or less declared that funding was not the issue, with some screenshots below. With our profession setting the stage to dispel the misinformation spread by the Speech-to-Text Institute, there’s a real chance at educating court administrators as to the controversy and issue (ultimately, if they want there to be court reporters, they have to stand behind us and help keep the demand steady. If they continue piecemeal replacement of us across the country, there will be fewer of us to hire. It’s an unfortunate elephant-in-the-room scenario. It’s a self-fulfilling prophesy.)

We’ve also passed a milestone here on Stenonymous. Many of the claims I’ve made and articles I’ve published are over a year old or rapidly approaching such, and the statute of limitations on defamation in my state is a year. The best defense of the corporate juggernauts against my claims of fraud was to ignore me. At the very least, I hope some of the things I did help many of you connect, educate, and advocate without fear. It really does appear to me that the corporate powers that be are milking the shortage for the purpose of selling digital reporting and the equipment associated. That’s not the easiest problem to deal with, but we are a strong profession, and we’re on the road to dealing with it.

I cannot claim to always agree with NCRA, but it remains a pillar of our profession and today I am very proud to be a member. Thank you to our president, Jason Meadors, for speaking up and speaking out.

Readback Seeks Reporter in Charge After Smashing Steno Machine

Readback, the company most known for declaring it’s going to do away with steno and making bogus claims, is on the hunt for a reporter in charge in California.

Active Readback seeks stenographer after bashing steno.

I cannot think of a company that has made it more clear that they hate stenographers, and stenographers would do well to lock them out of the California market’s whole licensing scam by just not working for them. It’s very simple. The data we have today is that stenography is more accurate. They effectively advertised wanting to be less accurate. In a field that’s all about accuracy, consumers and court reporters are going to run the other way. As for this game of “oh, your poor joints…” Maybe we were gullible enough as an industry to believe such a thing half a decade ago, but not now.

One has to wonder if the business types have taken notice that we are allegedly on our way out and have this massive retirement cliff, but we are able to organize, get legislatures to act on our behalf, and just generally be a pain in the ass of anybody that wants to eliminate positions for our students. It’s almost as if the data they were relying on is wrong. I wonder who could have predicted that?

Perhaps this message goes beyond the businesses and meets us directly. We have value for as long as accurate court records have value. A major part of the game is learning and pricing that value. Another part of the game is communicating the value of accuracy in a way that only we really can. A third piece is realizing that organization constitutes part of our value. The more we are able to organize and fund associations or entities that will advertise and advocate for the profession, the more collective benefit we pull.

One thing is clear: Stenographers will not let the shortage be the scapegoat for our replacement. Readback, what’s your next move?

I Diverge From NCRA on Independent Contractor Classification

NCRA has set up a campaign to oppose a rule change around independent contractors. We are all entitled to make public comments via the little comment bubble on this page.

Welcome to the little comment bubble.

Sadly, I have to take the complete opposite stance on this. I’ve written about misclassification in many articles. My public comment will reflect as much, and I’d like to share it here.

“The proposed rule change is exactly what my industry needs. I am in the court reporting industry, and though our national association, the National Court Reporters Association, stands against this change, I feel it is of paramount importance. Many stenographers today are treated as common law employees. The agencies/companies control the customer. They decide the prices. They have the advertising. We do the work, and despite being the mainstay of the business, many of us are labeled independent contractors. All of the ‘benefits’ of being labeled an independent contractor could be secured through unionization and adequate employment contracts.

I suspect there are many industries like mine where people will be rallied against change by the powers that be because the powers that be benefit the most from the status quo and the people cannot take the time to read through and understand your wall of text.

The true independent contractors of my field would be unaffected by this change whether or not they are willing to acknowledge it. Please go forward, do the right thing, and consider the economic dependence of workers when deciding whether they are independent contractors or employees. It will secure a lot more rights for a lot more people.”

Why? For better or worse, I have decided to be an advocate of the working reporter. We have been conditioned to think “independent contracting good.” It has been used to systematically rob us of rights we should have as working people. Rights against illegal discrimination, something that probably saved my career after my mental health episode. Rights to compensation when injured on the job. Rights to unionize. Even our most basic right of free speech is destroyed by the independent contractor label under the cloud of “we can’t discuss rates.” As an employee, the working reporter would have the absolute right to discuss pay and working conditions.

To the extent that trade associations are groups of independent contractors, this kind of thing probably seems threatening to NCRA. If there are fewer independent contractors, they may have fewer members, fewer dollars, and less power. But this is a shortsighted observation. My publications stating that the New York market is 30 years behind inflation have gone undisputed. Many of you in many markets across the country are feeling a pinch in the wallet thanks to stagnating pay and rising inflation. That’s while the agencies charge consumers sky-high prices and blame us for them. If associations want to survive, they need to understand that court reporters at the bottom end of the pay gap need to make more money. We can’t afford to rally against things that are good for the overall long-term health of our profession, and in my estimation, this is such a moment.

Note that the big box agencies will likely be really quiet about this and let the NCRA handle it. They wouldn’t be quiet if it wasn’t in their interest to be so. They benefit from the status quo more than NCRA or any other player on the field. If they come out in opposition to the rule change, it’s a dead giveaway that it’s bad news for the working reporter.

I understand these ideas may be unpopular, but I am a believer in the power of one. This is an issue that, from my research and experience, touches my soul so deeply I’m willing to speak out against an organization I’ve been a member of for over a decade. Ask yourself what you would do if you found yourself in such a position, and you’ll know exactly how I feel today.

Veritext’s Pro Steno Ad

Recently came across this ad. Since it’s so close in proximity to me asking whether the company does anything to actively promote stenography the way it does digital, I thought this was noteworthy and deserved to be shared.

Unfortunately, sometimes the link brings me to the Facebook reel and sometimes it says the reel is no longer available, but it’s one of the things out there in the world promoting the profession.

If you land on something like this, you’re in the right place.

I can’t help but wonder if maybe all these outfits were taken in by the buzz created by STTI, assumed the stenographer numbers would be too low to be meaningful, and then were all taken by surprise when we actually turned out to be robust enough to organize against the corporate narrative of “there just aren’t stenographers.” The truckers had to deal with the same narrative, after all.

But regardless, happy to see some stenography ads by Veritext. Hope to see more. I believe in our ability to recruit and maintain the profession even without the larger companies helping. With the larger companies helping, it would be a breeze. We could move out of this era of trying to erase the stenographic modality and into one where we focus on the customer service skills of the field. Maybe we’ll even address the pay concerns I’ve raised.

FTC to Crack Down on Companies Taking Advantage of Gig Workers

The FTC seems very conscious of gig workers, a label that freelance court reporters almost certainly fall into. Our industry was doing gig work before it was popular.

While nothing in the statement linked above specifically mentions our industry, it does show that they have a very good understanding of how markets like ours operate. It talks about the concentration of markets. In ours, this is similar to how the private equity brigade is quietly buying everybody out so that it’s an open secret they own dozens of smaller firms and are using that power to turn around and dictate rates to court reporters. This becomes illegal if and when they start agreeing with each other to fix prices on us, at least as can be inferred from this bulletin.

The FTC is more or less coming out for the workers here. That’s the “freelancers” that might be subject to the illegal conduct described below.

Court reporting companies should take note. This reads to me like a warning shot. “Clean up your markets and treat your people well, or the government gets involved.”

We made a lot of noise at the FTC back in January. While I can’t guarantee that this action is related to the concerns raised by us and other antitrust activists, I’ve got a feeling our industry is on their radar despite its size.

This also makes the deceptive actions of companies like Veritext risky. How long before consumers are aware that the company has used its market power to limit consumer choice? Can the company guarantee that not one consumer has been denied a stenographer under the guise of shortage? And if the company can, then it calls into question shortage claims, because the statistics say 20% of the jobs should be going uncovered. If I had some advice for the private equity brigade, it would be to stop squeezing the people that perform the work. It’s not a good look for you. It’s only going to shake consumer confidence when they find out that instead of helping to grow and develop the existing processes, you sought to make money off of worker turnover — virtually guaranteeing a workforce of amateurs, exactly what every lawyer asks for at their legal proceeding! Even if there isn’t some kind of suit and direct losses, the loss in reputation will be phenomenal, and in this business, reputation is everything.

For now, this is a solid case of “let’s see what happens.”

Veritext Partners with John Jay College on Digital Court Reporting

I’m informed that John Jay is now partnered with Veritext.

Of course, I object to this for many reasons. I still believe that stenography will lead to better accuracy outcomes, particularly for minority speakers. In the Testifying While Black study, stenographers were only 80% accurate taking down African American Vernacular English. Laypeople were 40% accurate (pilot study 1). Since emphasis in the above examples is on short-duration training, which accuracy level do we expect from digital reporting?

If Veritext wasn’t threatening the futures of our students with its lies and misinformation, I’d admire the company for its brilliance. It’s set up to earn money from digital, at least according to Twitter.

“They require you to buy their equipment…”

Of course, we still have the fact that we are honest, hard-working people on our side. We still constitute the majority of workers in this field. Our collective voices can still win this. We have a choice to remain silent and resign the future to the agendas of others or resist and lead this field into its next iteration.

Link 1, Link 2, Link 3

Thank you to my readers for informing me of this development. Without you, what am I?

If you have ever doubted that we are under attack as a profession and that the incomes and outcomes of our students are at risk, here is your sign. It is time to be bold. It is time to stand up for the profession that has given us so much. Share this with your fellow colleagues so that they know what’s happening and can begin to talk about solutions.