We often highlight the success stories of our industry. I think this is very important because it keeps current students open to the idea that they can succeed. Like every industry, we will have people that make colossal gains, start businesses, and create a great life with lots of opportunities and experiences. On the other hand, there may be individuals out there who, for whatever reason, cannot finish school or do not land very lucrative work at the start of their journey. I had a rough time starting off. I didn’t have a lot of life experience and most of the work I got was from being a reliable and steady “yes man” instead of having strong negotiation skills or even strong steno skills. Things worked out great for me with time and effort, but it’s time to acknowledge that not everybody is going to have that same experience, and let you in on America’s best-kept secret.
Student Loans Are Dischargeable For over a decade America has sunk deeply into the myth that student loans are never dischargeable. I heard this as a student. I was told this by my mother and countless role model figures in my life. This myth is so prevalent that I never once bothered to fact check it. These days, you can find resources online to explain to you that they are forgivable, dischargeable, and under what circumstances. There are even United States government sites with that information. For easy access, I’m going to repeat some of the highlights here. Student loans can be…
The courts must decide if repaying the loan would cause you undue hardship. Undue hardship was not defined by the Congress, and so the courts look at whether you would be able to maintain a minimum standard of living if forced to repay the loan, whether there is evidence the hardship will continue for a significant portion of the repayment period, and whether you made a good-faith effort to repay the loan prior to filing for bankruptcy. A court may order the loan fully discharged, partially discharged, or the court may order you to repay the loan. In the event the court orders you to repay the loan, the repayment may be structured differently. It is notable that this is not a magic fix-everything button. There are significant hurdles and it is harder to discharge student loans through bankruptcy. But if you’re stuck in debt and can’t seem to claw out, it just might make sense to put together some money for a lawyer to help you navigate your way out of tens of thousands of dollars of debt.
This is really important to get out there because compound interest works both ways. When you have a savings account or certificate of deposit, every accrual period means more interest added to your money, which means more interest on future accrual periods. When you take out a loan or take on credit card debt, it works the other way, where your minimum payments are meant to pay the interest and pay a small part of the principal. Many people fall into a trap where they make partial repayments that do not cover the interest, and the debt begins to grow instead of shrink despite making consistent good-faith payments. This is how you come across nightmare stories where a person pays for years and yet their loan amount never goes down or doesn’t go down much. Unfortunately, it’s perfectly legal for people to sign agreements that they do not fully understand and incomes in any industry or with any education are not guaranteed. So when things go wrong, it seems like the right thing to do to let people know they do not have to suffer with lifelong debt that they genuinely cannot repay. Rights don’t matter if they go unspoken and unasserted, so if you know somebody stuck in the debt spiral, let them know there’s a way out.
Chris DeGrazio is one of the newest professionals on our scene and he’s already making a great impact on the field. You might’ve heard Chris interviewing Anna Mar on Confessions of a Stenographer. You might’ve seen the wonderful collage put together for Court Reporting & Captioning Week 2021. No matter where you’ve heard of Chris, I’d love to boost his next creative idea. In celebration of March 8, International Women’s Day, Chris DeGrazio will be working on a collage for court reporter women and their hobbies. So if you’re somebody that wants to be in that spotlight or help put together more content to showcase our profession, here’s your chance, make sure to reach out to him.
While I’m on the topic of highlighting new or upcoming reporter accomplishments, let me just again promote Shaunise Day and her work with Confessions of a Stenographer. I had the privilege of being able to sponsor the episode where Kimberly Xavier was interviewed by Kristine Utley. I had some time yesterday to sit down and listen to the entire interview, and everything Kimberly said resonated deeply with me. She talked about the diversity of our field, the importance of diversity in leadership, the importance of getting involved, and the nonprofit Stenovator Pathway Solutions (Facebook). Getting to hear from her really made me realize that we could be almost two thousand miles apart and still be thinking so many of the same things.
It’s a fascinating time for reporting. When I was a student the common-sense advice was “settle down, don’t rock the boat, don’t stick out too much.” Let me be one to say that did not work. That did not get us to a good place. As Connie Psaros put it, we need more lions, not lambs. So if you’re a working reporter reading my blog and you’ve got a little extra time on your hands, please take the time out to support students and new reporters. These are our upcoming lions, and we cannot let their passions be tamed in the same way that I know some of ours were. Rock that boat, stick out, and keep doing your best to showcase our field! You’re doing an amazing job.
While we’re on the subject of court reporter humor, a best friend sent me this video from Andy Bajaña. Steno students, somebody understands! Andy says on the post he wrote this song when he was in school and didn’t think he’d graduate. So students, if you’re watching and you feel the same, just remember it can be done!
One of the biggest challenges of any professional’s career is time management. There are so many things we need to find time for. We need to find time for our families, our friends, and ourselves. We need to meet deadlines. We need to remember important events and time-sensitive information. Below are some really basic tips for finding time and staying organized in my words and style. If you want a much more professional look or if you’re a visual learner, you may actually benefit greatly from skipping my blog post and checking out Lauren Lawrence’s Stenovate Time Management Master Class.
Most of you hold in the palm of your hand a tiny supercomputer capable of wonderful things. Any time you schedule something, stick it in that phone calendar. There have been times where I’ve double-booked friends, work obligations, and life goals because I failed to make a calendar. I failed to take that extra step every time someone said “save the date.” I failed to take scheduling seriously and it bit back hard. If you have Gmail connected to your phone, it’ll even automatically update your phone with Google Calendar invites when you send or receive them. A calendar is a simple extension of your memory and you are ten steps ahead of the game when you start using yours. You can even even stylize it to be as neat or cluttered as you want. For example, my mind works best when it’s in a constant state of chaos:
Whether you want to take a nap or get a full night of sleep, waking up is pretty important. Getting out the door is pretty important. Hitting whatever goal you want to hit is pretty important. There have been a few times in my life where I’ve suffered a night of bad sleep and had to take a snooze on my lunch hour. This stuff isn’t ideal, but it can help you get through rough days. Whether you use a loud and obnoxious alarm like Online Alarm Clock or select custom alarms by hand in your phone, setting alarms can mean the difference between getting in on time and having to explain to your boss why you’re habitually late.
Long used by fitness enthusiasts as a way to measure time and progress, the stopwatch is an incredible tool for the court reporter. At least once in your career, sit down before you transcribe a job and start running the stopwatch for an hour while you’re transcribing. At the end of an hour, see how many pages you’ve transcribed. In my own career, dependent upon my layout and the subject density, I found I was able to transcribe between 20 to 60 pages an hour. If I had a really bad day, that number could drop to ten pages an hour. This isn’t just useless trivia, it allows you to mentally gauge how much time you need to set aside to complete your work. Let’s say I went to an afternoon deposition and that was 120 pages. I knew that if I got home and sat down at 5 p.m. to do it, it would be done between 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. This helped me schedule stuff around my transcription habits. I was able to avoid scheduling recreational time that conflicted with transcribing time because I knew roughly how long almost every transcript would take.
If you use Gmail, you might be surprised to learn you have the option to schedule e-mails. This is helpful if you have a situation where you find time at 1:32 a.m. to draft an e-mail but don’t want to look crazy. You can click the little arrow next to send on the Gmail e-mail on your computer and schedule to send it tomorrow morning, Monday morning, or any time you want. If you’ve ever gotten an e-mail from me at about 8:00 a.m., responded, and then gotten no response from me until about 11:00 a.m., it probably meant that I was unconscious somewhere and had thoughtfully scheduled the e-mail to send to you regardless of what I was doing. I haven’t figured out a way to do this on my phone, but I spend so much time at my desktop / laptop it hardly matters. An additional benefit? The e-mail goes to your “scheduled folder,” so you can cancel it and edit it any time before it sends. If you’ve ever thought “wow, I come up with my best work right after I click send,” e-mail scheduling is for you.
Coincidentally, if you have a WordPress blog or its equivalent, you also have access to a scheduler. Many people have asked me where I find the time to write. Magicians and salespeople don’t reveal their tricks because they want to stay in business. I show you how the magic works and ask you to believe in it anyway. A scheduler will let you do stuff on your time and send it off when it needs to be sent. A two-hour bus commute can turn into a two-hour writing project that launches by itself without any further input from you. Automating broadcasts through a scheduler means productivity gains!
Your Word Processor & Spreadsheets:
The most famous example of a word processor is Microsoft Word. It helps you type notes, letters, and express yourself in many different ways. Keeping accurate notes on a meeting or situation is vital. It saves you an incredible amount of time and energy trying to remember things. Spreadsheets, like Microsoft Excel, also work this way. You can use spreadsheets as a budget, database, a calculation tool, or even just a list of ideas. The best thing about these tools is that they are so necessary that there are alternatives for people who cannot afford or do not wish to pay for Microsoft products. As of today, I know that Apache Open Office has a Writer and Calc version, which are akin to Word and Excel. Google also offers Google Docs and Google Sheets, also akin to Word and Excel. For the average user, any of these will likely suit your needs, especially if you’re starting from the position of having no word processor or spreadsheets. Personally, I am a fan of Google, because their phone apps allow me to access my documents anywhere with cell service or wi-fi for free.
Your Case Naming Convention:
Many reporters today struggle with naming their cases and folders appropriately. You can burn hours of time looking for a case if you are not careful about how you organize cases. My personal suggestion with regard to standard case naming? Use the date. When you use the date to name a case, if someone places an order, you do not need to know anything else about the job except what year, month, and day. I do not disparage reporters who like to name things by last name, location or any other naming scheme, but the date has always been incredibly effective. If you ask me whether I took court notes on any particular day, I can tell you almost instantly, because it’s all neatly sorted by year, month, day.
In my particular case, I have a “COURT” folder. That folder then has two folders inside it named “TAKEN” and “TRANSCRIBED.” “TAKEN” contains all the notes taken and not yet transcribed. “TRANSCRIBED” contains all the finished transcripts ordered by anyone ever. Inside “TAKEN” and “TRANSCRIBED” there are year folders for each year, and inside the year folders are month folders with the number of the month and the name of the month. Inside each month folder is a file named after the date, the courtroom, and the judge. For “TRANSCRIBED” these files also include the defendant’s name so that they are easily identifiable. If you have the date, I know where the notes are, and I know whether the transcript has been transcribed before. If you’re going to use “my” naming scheme, you must put a zero before single-digit numbers because otherwise the computer will not sort them correctly when you sort by name. This is idiot-proof. I know that because I am an idiot.
Your Ability To Stop Fooling With Tooling:
I think I’ve made my case for all the tools that can help you become better at time management. But to echo the work of Euan Williams, beware of busywork. The more time you spend trying to find the perfect tool, develop the perfect routine, or think about how you will manage your time, the more you will watch time slip away without accomplishing much of anything. Your ability to stop fooling with tooling combined with your ability to identify and use the tools at your disposal will find you the time you need to succeed and get to the things that matter most.
There are several opportunities available to stenography students this month, and students should be on the lookout for opportunities whenever possible. There are a number of NCRA scholarships, including the Milton H. Wright scholarship, with a deadline of March 1.
California Court Reporters Association has announced the chance for students to win a free membership. The deadline is much tighter, February 14, but it’s a chance to get connected with just one of the many professional associations that cares about court reporters. Rumor has it that it’s open to students anywhere in the country, so court reporting and captioning students interested in CCRA membership, jump on this. CCRA’s contest highlights something very important in the stenographic reporting world. Students are making a big difference. Whether it’s creating new and amazing podcast content or creating TikTok sensations, you can be a part of making that difference and bringing attention to our field in a way that old people like me can’t. And remember, age is a state of mind!
Project Steno’s Merit Award Program is also available. If you are hitting speed goals rapidly and meet the requirements, you could be eligible for up to $2,000 according to their website.
New York students, please keep an eye out for more information on the Horizon Scholarship Fund. There are reporters donating every single year to ensure there is money set aside for students just like you. The website has not yet been updated, but there is no doubt in my mind that updated information will be available soon.
Anyone that attended the NYSCRA Student Panel, in addition to hearing me ramble, got to hear from Meredith Bonn, a past NYSCRA President. She’s the embodiment of her workshop, Power of the Positive Attitude, and she made an important point. These scholarships, grants, and programs, can sometimes have very few applicants. You could have as big as a one out of thirteen shot at money for your stenographic education. For some perspective, the odds of winning the lotto can be as low as one out of 300 million. So do yourself a favor, have a positive attitude, take some time out to check whether or not you are eligible, and make an entry in some of these programs. Worst case scenario, you’re just about where you started. Best case scenario, hundreds or thousands of dollars in aid that you don’t have to worry about!
Telling grown professionals what to do and how to conduct themselves online is generally not in my business plan. But I know that some of us are not 100 percent caught up with techy stuff, and I feel obligated to write this one.
2FA is a creative shortening of “two-factor authentication.” You may also hear it referred to as multi-factor authentication. No matter who you are, you’ve probably heard these words. Maybe you looked into it and you know exactly what I’m talking about. Maybe it looked too complicated and you said “not for me, thanks.” Whatever the case, I can show you in one image why you need two-factor authentication.
We’re in a hacker’s world now. Hackers will get your passwords. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. As a matter of fact, Google now has this handy feature to show you how compromised your passwords are. Want to guess how many times hackers have gotten their hands on my password?
In its early days, even this blog got hacked into! 2FA prevents that every day. 2FA, at its core, means you sign in with your password, and then the service you’re logging into sends you a numeric password via text message or it sends a numeric code to an authenticator app on your phone. This numeric code changes every minute or so, so somebody who wants to log into your stuff without your permission needs to get your username, password, and be tapped into your phone OR have physical possession of your phone. It doesn’t matter if they’re trying to hack in from India, China, Beirut, or next door, they’re not getting in without very substantial access to your personal life.
PRO TIP WHERE APPLICABLE: Put 2FA for your e-mail, link that to your phone, then use 2FA and link everything else to your e-mail. The result? Every time someone tries to hack you, you get an e-mail about it.
There is one major exception to this, and the most common way that you will be hacked using 2FA: You. Hackers and scammers may send you a site by e-mail that looks legitimate. If you go to log in, they will record your login details, and they will record the numeric code that’s sent from your authenticator if you give it to them. Always double check that you’re logging into the correct site, because if you don’t, you’re going to end up giving away valuable information to people that don’t deserve to have it. So, for example, let’s say you get an e-mail saying it’s from Chase Bank. They’re going to close your account unless you act now. Don’t click anything in that e-mail. Go to your browser and type in the Chase website that you know and love. Scammers and hackers design stuff to make you feel rushed and fearful because that’s when you’re least likely to think about a minor decision like logging into a site. Any time you’re feeling rushed or fearful, take some extra time to think before you act.
That’s really it. I have countless old accounts and usernames that I opened as a kid, before the age of 2FA, and they’ve all pretty much been taken over by bots and spammers. Given the importance of our work and the transcripts we produce, we can’t afford to let our clients down and let the bad guys seize information. 2FA for most services is free. Google Authenticator is free. “Free” is a great price for peace of mind, so check if the services you use have 2FA today.
Wind the clock back about eleven months ago. I grabbed my RPR after a decade of not grabbing my RPR, and I was quickly introduced to the world of court reporting continuing education. We have to complete 30 hours of continuing education every three years. There’s a lot of ways to get it done. You can hit up prerecorded educational material. You can pay per credit. You can also do longer courses and effectively pay bulk prices for the credits. I want to talk about the value of a longer course today.
Last year I tuned into the Spring 2020 and Fall 2020 CCR Seminars webinars. I have to say that overall I really appreciated the presentations. There were things like building your brand, apps for court reporters; all kinds of stuff that gave me new perspectives. Last year, thanks to CCR Seminars and NCRA’s Stenopalooza, I was able to complete all my required credits. So that brings me to this year, I get this in my inbox:
The value being offered here is high. This is a little under $15 per hour or per 0.1 education credits. There are instances where you can pay $45 per credit, so this is cutting your cost down by 66%. Using these types of services and events can bring your cycle cost down by up to $900. My advice? Get on the mailing list. If you need the credits or just want to attend courses that might be helpful to you, CCR is a great option. The user experience is positive. Everything is logged into your account on the website so it’s easy to track.
If I had to come up with a “negative,” it was that I disagreed a little bit with one presenter’s personal opinion on one topic. That, to me, is a great presentation. Disagreement makes you sit there and think a little bit. It makes you examine why you feel the way you do about a topic, and it doesn’t take anything away from what you’re actually learning. Good value, good customer service, and presenters who aren’t afraid to present professional opinions right alongside facts/content. I’m definitely thinking of attending again this year despite my unfortunate credit situation:
If you’re not sure about where you are on your cycle, remember that you can always check the transcript here. It can be a little intimidating if you’re just starting out, but it becomes really easy and second nature. Feel free to chime in with thoughts on continuing education!
Some will remember that in 2019 I put together a list of associations that offer mentoring. I now took the time to create a list of New York court reporting agencies and their office locations. Generally I erred on the side of inclusivity and pulled names and numbers mindlessly off Google. Please feel free to let me know about more firms that have New York coverage. I envision this as a resource for students and working reporters. Back when I was in school, we tended to gravitate towards a very limited selection of agencies, and it was probably to the detriment of some of us. Here’s the list. It’s available to share or download. You cannot edit my master copy, but you can edit any copy you create.
I put aside my personal feelings and included anything that came up as advertising court reporting services. Some entries on there are not stenographic-reporter friendly. Hope springs eternal that they’ll change their tune and embrace the unmatchable efficiency of stenographic reporting. Great example, stenographic reporting could probably bring up Cutting Edge Deposition’s rating from 1 star to 5. Our stenographic reporters across the state are going to be competing directly with the businesses that don’t use steno, and this is really a golden chance for those businesses to turn things around. Regardless of how that goes, let this stand as a reminder to students how valuable your skills really are. There would not be over 200 offices for over 150 businesses across the state if there was not money there. The vast majority of these are stenographic reporting agencies or utilize primarily stenographic reporters. Hone your skills and get ready for a bright future not only in the courts, but in freelance and the private sector.
Also a tip for students, if someone says they can’t afford XYZ but they have 9 different offices, they might be pulling your leg.
Interesting trivia, Southern District Reporters is actually a corporation for the officials of the United States District Court, Southern District of New York. Last I checked, you need Eclipse to work there. I’ve heard great things.
This one is for the people whose dream job is officialship or becoming an official court reporter. Just to get some quick links out of the way, there are two major Facebook discussion boards that I’m aware of. There’s the Officialship Job Board and the NCRA Officials group. I’m going to talk primarily about New York State Unified Court System officialship here, so if you’re looking for federal employment, please check out and bookmark the federal judicary jobs page. You’ll likely need your RPR for federal employment. As a matter of fact, if you’re looking for employment in New York City generally, you should check out one of my very first posts, Get A Real Job. Just keep in mind that if your dream job is Southern District NY, you’re going to need Eclipse last time I checked.
I’ll be writing most of this from memory, so feel free to correct me if I am factually wrong anywhere. This is not, in any way, a “guide” that is endorsed or published by the New York State Unified Court System (NYSUCS). I am not writing as an employee of NYSUCS. This is me as an individual just retelling my hiring experience in “guide format.” If you get a job with NYSUCS, you listen to your boss or your union over anything you might read or interpret here. If you’re looking for official information about NYSUCS, you should go to the site and ask that question through official channels.
The Tests, Classifications, and Eligible Lists:
Before we go anywhere, let’s just address how you get a court job. There are rarely per diem assignments available. These are court reporters that are hired and paid per day to come in and take the record. Per diems are rarely sought as of writing. Then there are what we refer to as provisional postings and then there are permanent positions. Provisional postings go up whenever there is a spot that needs to be filled and can be found by going to NY courts current opportunities. You can also search for “NY courts careers.” Civil service examinations are posted at “NY courts exams.” Reporters that apply for a provisional position usually must pass an in-house test. The court system may waive the provisional test for NYSCRA or NCRA certified court reporters. Reporters looking for a permanent appointment must pass the civil service test. That test is never waived. By law, civil service tests must be given every one to four years. Provisional employees can be considered temporary in your mind. If a civil service test is given and a provisional employee does not pass it, they may be let go. Provisional appointment should not be underestimated though, since an employee begins to accrue vacation time, sick time, time in the title for raises, and pension time. Many reporters begin their career by obtaining provisional employment and then passing the civil service exam to become permanent employees.
There is a separate civil service test for court reporters and senior court reporters, but they are substantially similar. “The test” consists of a multiple choice written knowledge portion and a skills portion. The written knowledge portion focuses on grammar, spelling, and technical knowledge. The skills test consists of an opening statement, a jury charge, and a four-voice dictation. The dictation is in the ballpark of 200 WPM. Two of the skills tests are transcribed and one is read back from the court reporter’s notes into a tape recorder. The readback portion is only graded for accuracy and not for inflection. If a reporter misreads their notes and corrects that misreading, the error is not counted against them. There is a readback time limit. Generally, court reporters have been expected to bring their own printers, stenotypes, pencils, and other equipment to the testing site. There has been discussion within the system about the possibility of online testing, but no civil service test has been given in that manner as of today. There are two eligible lists created when the civil service examination is graded. One list is a promotional list and one list is an open-competitive list. The promotional list is for anyone that held a court title prior to taking the test. The open-competitive list is for people who are not in the system that take the test. Everyone on the promotional list is scored above everyone on the open-competitive list. For example, let’s say that Mary Sue is a freelancer and scores a 100 on the open-competitive list for the senior court reporter title. John Doe is a court reporter working for the New York State Unified Court System and scores a 96 on the promotional list for the senior court reporter title. John Doe will be considered for a position as a senior court reporter before Mary Sue. When someone accepts a job with the New York State Unified Court System, typically they complete one year of probation. It is easier for the employer to discharge an employee during probation. In addition to provisional and permanent appointments, there are also contingent permanent appointments. Succinctly, every employee in the court system is a “line.” Sometimes there are situations where someone permanent is sick, injured, or not present. Contingent permanent people fill their line until the permanent employee returns, if they return. The most important thing to remember about the civil service examination is that when it is posted there is an orientation guide and accompanying materials posted to the exams page. Test takers must read and follow the orientation guide. Failure to follow the guide can result in an applicant’s disqualification.
Once you’re on the list, you get a preference letter asking you what courts you’re willing to work in. When I got that letter, my brilliant plan was to say I was willing to work in any court and then turn down canvass letters as needed. If you turn down canvass letters, you must make sure that you respond to the canvass letters and remain active on the eligible list. If you get put on inactive status on an eligible list, you can get skipped over for future canvass letters. In summary, fully read every official material you receive.
The Titles and Courts:
With the hard part out of the way, let’s talk titles. there are two major titles in the New York State Unified Court System. There are court reporters and there are senior court reporters. Senior court reporters typically cover Supreme Court. Court reporters typically cover what we refer to colloquially as “lower courts.” In the “lower courts,” of New York City most courthouses are supervised by a court reporter in charge or “CRIC.” These CRICs coordinate with a supervising court reporter and/or chief clerk when necessary. I am informed that in many courthouses, the CRIC title is obsolete and has been replaced with “county supervising court reporter.” The county supervising court reporters report to a “citywide supervising court reporter.” In Supreme Court, the courthouses are overseen by principal court reporters. The principal court reporters coordinate with chief clerks when necessary. Court jobs are all ranked with a judicial grade (JG) number, and that number links to your pay. Court reporters are JG-24. Senior court reporters are JG-27. The Supreme Court of the State of New York is our state’s highest trial court. It deals with the adjudication of felony criminal cases and civil cases with damages over $25,000. Then there are the “lower” courts. In New York City, we have criminal courts that handle criminal arraignments, violations, and misdemeanors. We have civil courts that handle cases under $25,001 in damage. We have family courts where people can file petitions for family matters, including the issuance of orders of protection. A court structure chart is also available. Do not be fooled by the terminology “lower courts.” All of the matters where court reporters and senior court reporters are assigned are extremely important, as are both titles.
In New York City, if you work in the “lower courts,” or grand jury, you are represented in the Local 1070 union. If you work in the Supreme Court, you are represented by ASSCR. Local 1070 is comprised of a number of different titles. Every title has its own chapter leadership, and the chapter leadership works with the main leadership to solve problems. In Local 1070, the chapter leaders generally perform union steward duties when directed by the president or vice president, or whenever necessary. In ASSCR, there are the officers and the executive committee. The officers can be thought of as the decision-making body of the union and the ones who carry out any union-steward-type duties. The executive committee typically assists the officers by keeping apprised of union news. The way one runs for a union office is decided by the organization’s constitution and bylaws. For example, in ASSCR, a nominating committee is formed and nominates a slate. If someone that wants to run is not nominated by the nominating committee, then they have to follow the constitution and bylaws. Generally court reporters and senior court reporters that do not work in New York City are represented by CSEA, a massive conglomerate of titles, workers, and workplaces. My experience with and knowledge of CSEA is too limited to write about its organizational structure. The most important thing to understand about a union is that it negotiates your employment contract for you. If there is something you want in your workplace, you need to let union leadership know. Employment contracts cover a vast number of topics including vacation time, sick time, disciplinary procedures, grievance procedures, employee standards and employer obligations. Raises, increments, and longevity pay are all things that are addressed through your union as well. There are two more important things about union membership. First, your union has a duty to represent every member equally. Second, you generally cannot refuse lawful orders unless compliance would lead to imminent life-threatening danger. Insubordination can cause you disciplinary problems up to and including termination. If you are being questioned by a supervisor, you have Weingarten Rights. You have the right to have a union representative present if a conversation with your employer can adversely impact your employment or working conditions in any way. The employer usually has zero obligation to inform you of these rights, and you must assert them.
A lot of stuff is on-the-job training. There are a lot of court-specific quirks that wouldn’t make sense to go into, such as night court and sealed criminal matters. Your first day on the job, you want to ask for common briefs and terms. In addition to our salary, when judges, lawyers, litigants, or members of the public ask for matters to be transcribed, we get transcript money as laid out in Part 108. Those terms, as far as I know, have been the same since 1999, so it’s a real lesson in the value of court reporters. A lot of transcription service firms jack up their rates every few years. By contrast, court reporters are consistent and reliable. We are responsible for maintaining equipment to take down our notes and produce and bind transcripts. We’re talking about a printer, ink, paper, computer, cables, stenotype, and transcript covers. Personally I am a big fan of pre-punched three-hole paper and A6 transcript covers. The drawback to using A6 covers is that you require different covers for differently-sized transcripts. Reporters that use standard transcript covers and separate fasteners do not have this problem.
There are a few things that are universally frowned on or just plain illegal. Stealing time? Bad. Stealing supplies? Bad. Being habitually late? Bad. Be on time and ready to work. Remember when switching over from freelance to employment that you have a boss now. If you have doubts about something, you should ask your boss for guidance. Coworkers can also be a big help. You’re an employee, and you are now covered by all of the employee rights laws, including the New York State Human Rights Law, the Civil Rights Act of 1964’s Title VII, Workers Compensation, and unemployment, et cetera. The most important thing about the job is not to take advice from some guy’s blog if it’s different from your court rules or boss’s instructions.
This concludes the “guide” portion of this post. If you’re interested in a really weird story about why I wrote this post, keep reading. If you don’t really care, feel free to stop reading.
The History of this Post:
Over the last few years I’ve had lots of people write me about various topics. Usually it’s well-meaning or polite people who have a grammar suggestion, topic suggestion, or information. I love those people. I even love the people who come on my blog and disagree with me. Separate from those people, starting maybe two or three years ago, someone sent me about 48 e-mails through an anonymous proxy. The e-mails were usually nonsensical, poorly written, or tried to turn me against other reporters. Sometimes they masqueraded as helpful advice or a hint at a story that didn’t exist. When the e-mail campaign failed to turn me against my best allies, this person began to infiltrate our Facebook groups under the fake name Jared Leno. Jared Leno proceeded to write rude comments to agencies that would come on our job boards to post jobs. At that point, I called him or her out on what they were doing and I alerted Facebook admins of groups where I was a member so that Jared could no longer use that fake identity to harass court reporters. Jared did what all bullies do when they lose, “he” whined and cried.
Jared/Anonymous then turned to Reddit. As some people know, we have the r/stenography subreddit, the r/courtreporting subreddit, and the r/courtreporters subreddit. The admins of r/stenography and r/courtreporting appear to be either absent or squatting, and at one point we had frequent posts from our Mystery Messenger(MM). One intrepid reporter started r/courtreporters so that we could have a space with an active admin, and we began to report the MM for harassment. “They” constantly create new accounts so that they can spread disinformation, avoid bans, and make comments about my blog. One of their favorite “jabs” is that I am an official and I write about freelance often. There are two main strategies when you’re dealing with trolls. The first is to ignore it. Sometimes this works. If someone is doing something to annoy you, and you don’t show that you’re annoyed, sometimes they go away. The problem we face here is that there are people that are going to Reddit to ask legitimate questions about our field. So if we just leave these boards a confusing, spammy mess, we’re going to leave the impression that this is a dead field or that we’re all lunatics spouting nonsensical drivel. Strategy two? Drown the spammy posts out with reality. So if you’re on Reddit, definitely subscribe to those channels. They’re a great way to get information out to the public. If you’re not on Reddit, it’s free, it’s generally anonymous, and it can be fun.
It’s been an interesting relationship. At first I believed that MM was a court reporter in pain. I tried many times to reach out and help. As time went on, I saw that it was much more likely to be someone who hates steno and someone whose IQ is high enough to use the internet but low enough that they have nothing better to do with their life than to get my blog clicks. Maybe it’s Steve Hubbard or Justin “Mr. Stenoless” Higgins. Who knows? All I know is MM is a great case study in being your own worst enemy. Their tirades have helped my blog grow its readership by almost 400% 2018 to 2019 and an additional 40% 2019 to 2020. Without MM’s unassailable genius I never could’ve come up with the work of art that is this blog post. If I could make one plea to MM, please do not find anything better to do with your time than follow me across the internet. Without your 1/31/21 post and unending struggle to get my attention, today would not have happened. Thank you for these wonderful years of service.
It was a tough decision on whether to publish this story. Some in my circle believe that talking about an anonymous “agitator” gives them more power. But perhaps knowing that this situation exists will help others identify MM by their inarticulate, artless writing as they continue to impersonate court reporters and spam court reporting groups. Perhaps others who have been e-mailed anonymously by this person will be able to identify that there is malicious intent there sooner than I was able to. I know at least one other person that received communications from MM. There’s bound to be more, right?
One piece of feedback I get back from time to time is “we can’t stand up to XYZ Corporation. They make 100 million in revenue!” I deeply empathize with this reaction because I’ve felt that before. Back in freelance, that feeling was constant. How could I negotiate with a company that was only offering $3.25? They were a big company with lots of work. I was basically a kid just out of college with my extremely shiny AOS. I didn’t even have a squid hat yet.
But about 3 years ago I started to teach myself very basic computer programming. I began to learn a little bit more about numbers and math. I had always hated math, and the whole experience completely changed that perception. I started to like math. One the first programs I ever wrote was a simple counter program similar to this one:
In this code, you start with the number 0 and it adds one forever until the computer malfunctions or the program is shut down. What you see happen very quickly is that when you’re adding one several times a second, one quickly becomes 10, 100, 1,000, 1,000,000.
What the hell does that have to do with stenographers? We are the ones that add up in this program called life. For example, let’s say we have XYZ Corporation and it makes $100 million a year in revenue. Now let’s say there are 23,000 reporters, like vTestify said almost three years ago, and let’s assume that reporters ONLY make a median salary of about $60,000 a year. Those reporters make $1.3 billion in revenue annually. You take two percent of that a year and throw it in advertising pot, and you’re talking a $26 million annual advertising campaign.
So now to bring this out of theory and into reality, you can see it happening in real life. There’s no group of people that’s going to have a 100 percent contribution rate. But when you look at the numbers, you start to see that overall we put far better funding into our organizations and activities than alternative methods or spinoffs. Take, for example, AAERT, which pulled in about $200,000 in 2018 revenue. For those that don’t know AAERT, they’re primarily engaged with supporting the record-and-transcribe method of capturing the spoken word. As I’ve covered in past blog posts and industry media, it’s an inefficient and undesirable method (page 5), and most digital reporters would do a lot better if they picked up steno.
Then we can look towards the National Verbatim Reporters Association, which seems to focus more on voice writing, but definitely includes and accepts stenographic reporters. We see the 2017 revenue here come in at almost $250,000. Not bad at all.
But then we look to our National Court Reporters Association, which is primarily engaged in promoting stenography and increasing the skill of stenographic court reporters. This is where we see the collective power of reporters start to add up in a big way. In 2018, the NCRA saw more than $5.7 million in revenue. The NCRF brought in an additional $368,000. That’s over $6 million down on steno that year.
What conclusions can be drawn here? As much as the anti-steno crowd wants to say the profession’s dead, dying, or defunct, there’s just no evidence to support that. Here you get to see some fraction of every field contributing to nonprofits dedicated to education, training, and educating the public. We know from publicly-available information that our membership dues are not 30x more than these other organizations, so we know that there are a lot more of us, and we know that there are a lot more of us participating in continuing education and sharpening our skills. We’re the preferred method. We’re the superior method. We’re training harder every day to meet the needs of consumers. There are only a few ways this goes badly for stenography.
We lack the organization or confidence to counter false messaging.
We lose trust in our collective power and institutions, stop supporting them, and stop promoting ourselves. Kind of like the Pygmalion effect.
We spend time tearing each other down instead of boosting each other’s stuff.
See the common theme? There’s really nothing external that’s going to hurt this field. It all comes down to our ability to adapt, organize, and play nice with each other. In the past, I equated it with medieval warfare and fiction. The easiest way to win any adversarial situation is to get the other side to give up and go home. It’s an old idea straight out of Sun Tzu’s Art of War. Applied to business, if you can convince people not to compete against you, you win by default. This might be in the form of a buyout. This might be in the form of convincing people that stenography is not a viable field so that there are not enough stenographers to meet demand. This might be in the form of would-be entrepreneurs believing they cannot compete and never starting a business. This might be in the form of convincing consumers that stenographic reporters are not available. This might be in the form of casting doubt on stenographic associations. This might be in the form of buying a steno training program and ostensibly scrubbing it out of existence. These are all actions to avoid competition, because as the numbers just showed you, we only lose if we do not compete. If you do nothing else for Court Reporting & Captioning Week 2021, please take the time to promote at least one positive thing about steno. If a guy in a squid hat could get you to think differently about just one topic today, what kind of potential do you have to make a difference in this world?
I’ll launch us off with an older quote from Marc Russo. “If you are a self-motivated person with a burning desire to improve your skills, this is the field.” This is our field. This is our skill. All we have left to do is stand up to the people that take advantage of our stellar customer service mentality and the public perception that we’re potted plants.
PS. That $3.25 I was having trouble negotiating up from? Some of my friends were making $4.00+ with less experience than me. The limitation was me and the way that I was thinking about it. We have all had to deal with hurdles that seemed insurmountable. Max Curry talked a little bit about it in his NCRA Stenopalooza presentation “Fear…Let It Go!” when he talked about his father and introversion. It was an amazing presentation. But here’s my takeaway for those that missed it last year. If you’re having a problem, try looking at it another way.