Trolls and You

We try to keep political stuff from being published here unless it’s educational, about court reporting, or about the industry. I’ve been pretty good about this. Commentators have been great about it. The occasional guest writer has been amazing with it. This topic touches with politics, but it’s not strictly political, so it should be fun to learn about.

It’s established that the United Kingdom, United States, China, Russia and several other countries view the internet as, more or less, another theater of war. They’ve had operatives and people hired to create fake posts, false comments, and advance the interests and ideas of the government. The prices reported? Eight dollars for a social media post, $100 for ten comments, and $65 for contacting a media source. In the case of China, they’re reportedly working for less than a dollar. If the host country allows it, you have trolls for hire.

So in the context of stenography and the court reporting industry, seems like whenever we get into the news, there are regular comments from regular people, such as “why not just record it?” Typical question. Anyone would ask this question. There are fun comments like “Christopher Day the stenographer looks like he belongs on an episode of Jeopardy.” Then there are comments that go above and beyond that. They make claims like — well, just take a look.

“…I gonna tell you that in modern technology we can record something like court testimony for hundreds of years back very easily…” “…the technology is smarter every single second…” “…if you store data in the digital format we can use an AI to extract the word from the voice in the data, it will be very accurate so much so the stenographer loses their jobs.” Wow! Lose our jobs? I felt that in my heart! Almost like it was designed to hurt a stenographer’s feelings. Right?

We can store the video for hundreds of years? Maybe. But consider that text files, no matter what way you swing it, are ten times smaller than audio files. They can be thousands of times smaller than video files. Take whatever your local court is paying for storage today and multiply that by 8,000. Unless we want a court system that is funded by advertisements a la Youtube, the taxpayer will be forced to cough up much more money than they are today. That’s just storing stuff.

The technology is getting smarter every second? No, not really. Whenever it’s analyzed by anybody who isn’t selling it, it’s actually pretty dumb and has been that way for a while. Take Wade Roush’s May 2020 article in the Scientific American (pg 24). “But accuracy is another matter. In 2016 a team at Microsoft Research announced that it had trained its machine-learning algorithms to transcribe speech from a standard corpus of recordings with record-high 94 percent accuracy. Professional human transcriptionists performed no better than the program in Microsoft’s tests, which led media outlets to celebrate the arrival of ‘parity’ between humans and software in speech recognition.”

“…And four years after that breakthrough, services such as Temi still claim no better than 95 percent — and then only for recordings of clear, unaccented speech.” Roush concludes, in part, “ASR systems may never reach 100 percent accuracy…” So technology isn’t getting smarter every second. It’s not even getting smarter every half decade at this point.

“…we can use an AI to extract the word from the voice in the data…” This technology exists, kind of, but perfecting it would be like perfecting speech recognition. Nobody’s watching 500 hours of video to see if it accurately returns every instance of a word. Ultimately, you’re paying for the computer’s best guess. Sometimes that’ll be pretty good. Sometimes you won’t find the droid you’re looking for.

Conclusion? This person’s probably not in the media transcoding industry, probably doesn’t know what they’re talking about, and is in all likelihood a troll. Were they paid to make that comment? We don’t know. But I think it’s time to realize that marketplaces are ripe for deception and propaganda. So when you see especially mean, hateful, targeted comments, understand that there’s some chance that the person writing the comment doesn’t live in the same country as you and doesn’t actually care about the topic they’re writing about. There’s some chance that person was paid to spread an opinion or an idea. Realizing this gives us power to question what these folks are saying and be agents of truth in these online communities. Always ignoring trolling leads to trolling leading the conversation. So dropping the occasional polite counterview when you see an obvious troll can make a real impact on perception. The positive perception of consumers and the public is what keeps steno in business.

The best part of all this? You can rest easier knowing some of those hateful things you see online about issues you care about are just hired thugs trying to divide us. If a comment is designed to hurt you, you might just be talking to a Russian operative.

Addendum:

I understand readers will be met with the Scientific American paywall. I would open myself up to copyright problems to display the entire article here. If you’d like to speak out against the abject tyranny of paywalls, give me money! I’m kidding.

The Question To Ask Yourself When Viewing An ASR Demo

One last point on ASR and its enthusiastic marketing. I’ve hit this topic a lot in the past few weeks. I hit it a few times last year too. There is one very good way to tell that proprietary speech recognition companies haven’t hit the big leagues, and that is looking at the way they’re marketing. It’s behind closed-door demos to people who aren’t likely to know very much about technology. We know for a fact that when you have a product to sell, the giants buy in. Microsoft bought Minecraft off Notch for $2.5 billion. Have you looked at Minecraft? It’s not exactly an example of the latest and greatest technological wonder, but there’s money there, so now it belongs to Microsoft. They didn’t just buy it, they rewrote it from its Java edition to create its Bedrock edition. Another giant buy? Hopstop was a company that figured out how to give really good mass transit directions, and Apple allegedly bought them for $1 billion. That tech ended up in Apple Maps before they quietly killed Hopstop.

“Thanks for the history lesson, Chris. What’s the point?” The point is when you are being told that something is wonderful, new, and that you should buy in, you have to ask yourself why it hasn’t been sold off to someone way bigger than you. With these far less impressive feats of technology being sold off for billions of dollars and tech giants willing to spend real money on promising technology, there’s a solid question as to why a company hasn’t cashed out. Alphabet’s subsidiary Deep Mind has shown a willingness to burn through half a billion dollars a year on AI research. Youtube’s automated captions fall apart whenever there’s a bit of an accent or some music in a video. Ask yourself, if you were running a company, and you had about $100 million in investor money, would you not sell out for $1 billion or $2 billion? Somebody would buy good ASR. Just ask your wife:

To be frank, Youtube’s automated captions dominate proprietary software from what I’ve seen. Voice recognition is open source. Anybody can get their hands on it. That doesn’t mean the claims behind it are true. Take, for example, this blog post, the seven best spots for open source voice recognition software. They boldly claim that it is “more cost effective as the software performs the task of speech recognition and transcription faster and more accurately than a human.” I’m sorry, but if software that is “more cost effective,” “faster and [more accurate] than a human” is available free on the internet, I’m quite sure that Google, and by extension Youtube, would have figured it out by now. As I said over a year ago, there is an indeterminate amount of time and money needed to get this tech from where it is to where people are saying it is. That won’t stop sellers from selling it to consumers or investors anyway. Similarly, we cannot stop being advocates for consumer awareness.

(P.S., you can buy the Stenonymous Blog for about $6 million.)

What Verbit Leadership Needs To Know

I had a lot of fun writing the Verbit investors article. But the more I explore opinions and ideas outside our steno social circles, the more I see that most people totally don’t get stenographers or the work we put in. A lot of us have had sleepless nights trying to get a daily out, time lost for ourselves or our families trying to do the job we signed up for, or some amount of stress from someone involved with the proceeding being unhelpful or antagonistic. It happens, we take it in stride, and we make the job look easy. So it doesn’t surprise me very much when people say “why not just record it?” It doesn’t surprise me that investors threw money into the idea that technology could disrupt the court reporting market. But I can only hope that proponents of digital really take the time to understand and step back from the cliff they’re being pushed towards.

For this exercise, we’re going to be exploring Verbit’s own materials. They recently circulated a graphic that showed the “penetration” of digital into the court reporting market. It shows 5 to 10 percent of the deposition market taken by digital, and 65 to 75 percent of the court market taken by digital. It also notes that only 25 to 35 percent of courts are digitally transcribed. I take this to mean that while they have 75 percent of the “court market,” they only transcribe about 25 percent of it. This is a massive problem. So the technology, when it’s not breaking down in the middle of court (29:20), is ready to record all these proceedings. But you only have the capacity to transcribe about a third of that. So in this magical world where suddenly you have every deposition, EUO, and court proceeding, where are you going to get all of these people? We’re talking about multiplying your current workforce by 28 assuming that every person you hire is as efficient as a stenographer. And the math shows that every stenographer is about as efficient as 2 to 6 transcribers. So we’re really talking about multiplying your current workforce by 56 to 168 times, or just creating larger backlogs than exist today. By not using stenographers, Verbit and digital proponents are setting themselves up for an epic headache.

Of course, this is met with, “well, there’s a stenographer shortage.” But what you have to understand is that we’ve known that for seven years now. All kinds of things have happened since then. You’ve got Project Steno, Open Steno, StenoKey, A to Z, Allison Hall reportedly getting over a dozen school programs going. Then you have lots of people just out there promoting or talking about the field through podcasts, TV, and other news. Showcasing the shortage and stenography has brought renewed interest in this field, and we are on track to solve this. Again, under the current plan, you would need as many as 60,000 transcribers just to fill our gap, and the turnover will probably be high because the plan promotes using a workforce that does not require a lot of training. So if you’re talking about training and retraining 60,000 people again and again over the next decade, I am quite sure you can find 10,000 or so people who want to be stenographic court reporters.

Look, I get it, nobody goes into business without being an optimist. But trying to upend a field with technology that doesn’t exist yet is just a frightening waste of investor money. How come when you sell ASR, it’s 99 percent accurate, but when Stanford studies the ASR from the largest companies in the world, it’s 60 to 80 percent accurate? How come when you sell digital it’s allegedly cheaper and better, but when it’s looked at objectively it’s more expensive and comes with “numerous gaps and missing testimony?” These are the burning questions you are faced with. There’s an objectively easier way of partnering with and hiring stenographers. If you don’t, you’re looking at filling a gap of 10,000 with 60,000 people, or multiplying the current transcription workforce of 50,000 by 56 (2.8 million). In a world of just numbers, this sounds great. Three million jobs? Who wouldn’t want that? But not far into this experiment you’ll find that people don’t grow on trees and the price of the labor will skyrocket unless you offshore all of the work. What happens when attorneys catch onto the fact that everything is being offshored and start challenging transcripts? Does anyone believe that someone in Manila is going to honor subpoenas from New York? Again, epic headache.

So if I could get just one message out to Verbit leadership and all the people begging for us to “just accept technology,” it would be to really re-examine your numbers and your tech. The people under you are going to tell you that a new breakthrough is just around the corner, that things are going well, and that you shouldn’t worry. But you should worry, because you very well might find yourself a pariah in your industry like Peter Molyneux ended up in his. If you’re not familiar, Peter became famous for promising without delivering. One of the most prominent examples of this was 2009 E3, where he stood up on stage and introduced Milo. This tech was going to be interactive. It was going to sense what you were doing and respond to it. It turns out it was heavily scripted, the technology did not and still does not exist to do what was being talked about and presented to consumers. Now, anyone with a bit of sense doesn’t listen to Peter.

If the ASR tech worked, why not sell it to us at 10,000 a pop multiplied by the 25,000 stenographers in your graphic and walk away with a cool 250 million dollars? It does what we do, right? So why aren’t we using it? Why aren’t you marketing it to us? It’s got to be a hell of a lot easier to convince 25,000 stenographers than it is to convince 1.3 million lawyers. Sooner or later, Legal Tech News and all the other news people are going to pick up on the fact that what you are selling is hype and hope. So, again, consider a change of direction. Stop propping up STTI, shoot some money over to the organizations that promote stenography, and partner up with steno. You’d be absolutely amazed how short people’s memories are when you’re not advocating for their jobs to be replaced with inferior tech. Take it from somebody who’s done the sleepless nights and endless hours in front of a monitor transcribing, this business isn’t easy. But if you trust stenographers, we’re going to keep making it look easy, and we’re going to make every pro-steno company a lot of money.

How To Spot More Better Marketing

Count out how many times in your life you’ve seen a product in advertising that was similar to something you already do, have, or want. Did the advertiser tell you it would do more stuff? Did the advertiser tell you it was better at doing stuff than its competitors? Did the advertiser try to make you feel good and confident about a purchase in this product? February of last year, I touched on the magic of marketing. Today, we explore marketing that takes aim at us, how to identify it, and how to tell our students not to be swayed by it.

The genesis of this post is actually a marketing blitz by Transcription Outsourcing, LLC. Their ad boldly starts off “Tired of waiting for your court reporter?” They claim their prices are “up to” 50 percent less expensive than a court reporter. Guaranteed accuracy, 3 to 5 day turnaround. Among their many claims are reporters won’t format your documents, send back errors, have overseas teams that are hard to contact, take weeks. For most of us in the business, this is laughable, but we have to take ourselves out of our skin and hop into the skin of a potential client or a stenography student that has zero experience in sitting at a stenotype or desk transcribing legal proceedings. As far as identifying and helping students identify “more better marketing” I’d propose watching out for four red flags:

  1. It’s cheaper than you.
  2. It’s faster than you.
  3. You still have a job.
  4. It promises.

One, if it’s cheaper, why isn’t everybody using it? For this, you can look into your own life experience. Why don’t you buy cheaper food or a less expensive product? Usually doing something cheaper means sacrificing quality or training somewhere in the process. Two, if it’s faster, again, why isn’t everybody on it? Are there problems scaling the product, does the service provider not deliver, or are the costs of being faster too high? Three, you still have a job? Look, Company XYZ says they’re cheaper, faster, better, more better, amazing, and yet the clients are still using stenographic court reporters. This is not to say these types of services could not, through their marketing, supplant reporters. But flag three is all about acknowledging that at least some what they’re selling is hype and hope to customers. Four, it promises. That’s probably the biggest red flag you can get in this type of marketing. We saw it with Theranos, Project Natal, Solar Roadways, Waterseer, Hyperloop. People love to sell things whether they’re possible or not. They promise their solution is the solution. Theranos was going to test extraordinarily small amounts of blood and administer treatments through patches. It had a $9 billion valuation. Didn’t exist. Project Natal and Milo were going to revolutionize gaming. There were videos advertising it! Didn’t exist. Solar Roadways was going to solve America’s energy crisis by throwing out everything we know about efficient solar power generation. It raised millions of dollars. Didn’t work. Waterseer was going to solve the world’s water crisis and forgot to mention that dehumidifiers have the same basic function. The Hyperloop routinely ignores that a single break in the loop or tunnel could implode the entire thing and kill everyone in it. Promises are part of human interaction, but buying into them without reservation is dangerous and expensive. If it promises but doesn’t deliver, take note.

That’s identification in a nutshell. And at this point many are probably saying, “Chris, you’re just picking on these guys because they’re taking a swipe at court reporting. You don’t actually have anything that shows their promises aren’t the real deal!” This is where experience as a court reporter comes in. Take a look, again, at the things they said about court reporters.

  1. They won’t format your documents. Well, in some jurisdictions, we have a prescribed transcript format. Even here in New York City, where there’s virtually no such mandate for freelancers, I know many freelancers who do or have worked for agencies that work with the New York City Law Department or MTA, and both like transcripts formatted a certain way by contract. Bottom line is if you can’t find a court reporter that’ll format your document, it’s either not proper in your jurisdiction or there’s some other stenographic court reporting company that will do it.
  2. They send you back errors. I consider myself an extremely average reporter. I’m so average it took me ten years to finish off my RPR. In that ten years, I can recall exactly once that an error so egregious made its way in that it needed to be corrected and was serious. Humans make errors. News articles make errors every day. I’ve hired a lawyer that made an error. Guess what happens? It gets corrected. The world keeps turning. But, these people guarantee accuracy. I’m sure that means if a client find an error, they get the whole transcription for free, right? Right?! It promises, but there’s nothing really backing that promise. Students, ask your mentor how many mistakes they’ve made in their career. Ask them how many were serious. Mistakes are a non-issue in the context of a larger career if you learn from them.
  3. Their overseas teams are hard to contact. With the majority of court reporting firms I know and have worked with being US-based or having US-based management, I find this an odd claim. Even Israel-based Verbit, to the extent you can consider them court reporters, never came off as particularly hard to contact. Even the smallest firms I’ve ever worked with have a dialing service that makes sure the customer can get in touch with someone or leave questions or comments for the owner.
  4. They aren’t secure. I’ve found the word security to be kind of a red herring in our business. What kind of security are we talking about? SSL Certificates? Haven’t seen a reporting firm without them. Secure repositories? If you spend about sixty seconds Googling reporting firms, you’ll find security. It’s a comfort word at this point.
  5. They take weeks. Six-hour service is available. Interesting. I wonder if Transcription Outsourcing provides six-hour service on eight-hour depositions like many of my colleagues do with their dailies and their immediates. For those not in the business, for a reasonable cost, a properly trained and skilled stenographic reporter can work with their team or scopist to deliver a transcript immediately at the conclusion of a deposition. I am sure that once time travel is developed, court reporters will be the pioneers in producing transcripts before proceedings actually occur, too.

The point is to look at the millions and millions of dollars that have went into ideas that had little chance of succeeding. Look how long it takes to verify that these ideas are scams or false hope. How many people do you think are fact checking transcription and court reporting companies? Even this idea that the service is cheaper is knocked right out of reality by their own rates. Between $1.50 and $5.00 per minute. When I was in the business of freelance court reporting and transcribed audio, I charged somewhere in the realm of $100 an hour, which is about $1.67 a minute. If you take their best rate, by their own advertising, they’re at best 10 percent cheaper. They had no problem making that 10 into a 50 in their advertising. Looking at some of their other rates, you can save yourself 30 percent by switching to steno. If any of this “better, cheaper” stuff was true, why would reporters use scopists? Sorry scopists. We can just send our work into Transcription Outsourcing, LLC, take our 30 percent, and let them do all the work. Doesn’t happen. They don’t care about burning an entire bridge of potential customers because there’s no savings to be had there. They want what our clients are paying today in their pockets, and they’re hoping lawyers fall for it.

The bottom line is we’re going to be seeing more and more puffery and opinion enter our field masquerading as fact. We will be inundated with it. It’s much easier to make up falsehoods or questionable claims than it is to fact check those same claims. So when you see, for example, Protect Your Record Project fighting to raise awareness about our services, it’s a win. When you see state associations fighting to raise awareness about our services, it’s a win. When you see professionals donating their time to help encourage students and mentoring new reporters, it’s a win. When you see Open Steno, NCRA, and Project Steno advertising this field and ways to get in, it’s a win. Our strength is that there are thousands of us in the field practicing today, and so one minute from each of us amounts to a lot more time and effort than companies can spend on making up BS. Keep taking advantage of that and working together to educate. Keep hitting up social media platforms and making sure people aren’t misled about who we are and what we do. The last ten years have built an impressive online community of reporters. The next ten will be a test of getting that community’s knowledge out to clients and potential stenographers.

Common Scams

I read and learn about scams frequently. The terrible thing about a great scam is that it’s adaptable to almost any market or format. Court reporting’s a got a wide range of people in it, from technological masterminds to the folks that only deal with the bare minimum that they need to know to do their job. This’ll be mostly for the latter! Here are a few common scams you may run across.

  1. The check cashing scam. In American payments and banking, many of us still use checks. Always know where your check is coming from and get your guard up if the check is in the wrong amount. To very quickly run through this scam, someone will send you a check, usually “overpay” by hundreds or thousands of dollars, and then ask for some money back. In our banking system, the bank must release the money to you in one or two days, so most people look at their account and believe the check has cleared. So let’s say you get a $1,000 check. You deposit it and the bank lets you withdraw this instantly. The payer says “whoops, I overpaid, please wire me back $500.” No problem. You send the $500. It can take several weeks for the bank to discover the check is fraudulent. When they do, they deduct $1,000 from your account, and probably add a bounced check fee. So now you have an account that is negative $500, and you’re on the hook for it! This is not like credit theft where the bank must reimburse theft that isn’t your fault, and thousands upon thousands of dollars are lost through this common scam. For court reporters that deal with checks, you are a huge target for this scam.
  2. The infected computer scam. All of a sudden your computer locks up or starts making noise. “Alert. Alert. Your computer is infected. Call Microsoft immediately.” The way this scam goes is someone has gotten a piece of malware on your computer OR they have tricked you into thinking that there is malware on your computer through a popup. Their goal is to get you to call the number and pay them some money to “fix” your computer. The major problem with this is that they are not Microsoft. They usually get you to give them access to your PC through remote PC services, and once they have that kind of access they may steal more information, mess up your PC more, or fix your problem. You’re basically at their mercy. To avoid that, your best bet is usually to NOT CALL, save your work, close all the windows on the computer, and try to restart the computer. CTRL + ALT + DELETE can help you bring up the task manager window on most Windows computers. You can view all the “processes” running on your computer. There’s a lot of stuff there you won’t recognize. In my experience, viruses are usually poorly named, like bwejrj.exe. Once you get the “bad” process done, you can go to the “startup” tab, find it, and disable it there to make sure it doesn’t start when Windows starts. Once the virus is disabled in this manner, you can generally run your antivirus and your computer without worrying too much about it. If it’s not running and never set to run, it’s like it doesn’t exist. On older computers, you should use your search bar to find “msconfig.exe.” This is where the startup tab is on older computers. If you’re not good with computers and you’re using msconfig.exe, only use the “services” and “startup” tab. Don’t touch the other tabs. A family member once had a virus that closed all windows on the computer. By opening the task manager and tapping the delete key, I was able to kill the process (even though it kept closing task manager.) I’m firmly convinced that most malware is programmed poorly and that this trick will help you out. It’s much better than giving your money away to scammers. I’ll leave some screenshots for people that need to visualize it. Our computers are really important for our work, so having this basic knowledge up your sleeve is good.
  3. The fake program scam. This is something we are seeing in gaming, and it’s probably only a matter of time before some scammer tries it on our software. Generally, these types of scams have to do with promising you that an application that is not made for your phone can be run on your phone, or unlocking some special feature in your software. So imagine a world where somebody comes out and says you can get CAT on your phone or you can unlock this super special feature if you just answer some survey questions. Wow! CAT software is so expensive and this feature sounds great. They might even send you a video of them doing it! Generally, the video is faked. What they are trying to do is get you to answer surveys or give up personal information so that they can sell that. Your time is wasted, they make money off your time, and you get nothing. If you’re really not sure, contact your manufacturer. Even if their logo is terrible, the chance they’re helping your scammer is basically nothing.
  4. Gift cards and email scams. To break this one down, I’m going to explain that there are programs that “crawl” the internet looking for e-mails. Once they find an e-mail, automated messages can be sent out by the thousands from thousands of different e-mail addresses. So, for example, when you have something like the NCRA or NYSCRA board, our e-mails are public. We want members to have our e-mails. We want reporters in our state or field to be able to contact us. That’s just how it goes. We can try to put the [at] instead of the @ in our e-mail to throw off the crawler programs, but at the end of the day, scammers have access to our names. If you post your e-mail address publicly, these programs will similarly have access to your e-mail. You may get a fake e-mail that says it’s from your associations, or your association president. The biggest red flag with this scam is that it asks for money or a gift card. Gift cards are basically untraceable and once you send a gift card code to a scammer, that money’s gone. The best way to shield yourself is to never ever give gift card codes over e-mail. If you want to donate a gift card for an association event, it should be done by mail or in person at sanctioned and publicized events. I can’t stress enough that no volunteer board member is going to be asking you for gift cards over an e-mail with no context or clear reason, so do yourself a favor and hit delete. Please note there are variations of this scam where the scammer tries to tell you your friend or loved one is in prison and needs those gift cards immediately. Don’t let them toy with you. You’re smarter than that.
  5. The subscription or spoof scam. Months ago someone wrote to me and stated “I never signed up for your blog, but I’m getting e-mails from it! Did XYZ Corporation sell my e-mail to you?!” No. This is a different type of scam in that it’s not so much money that’s at stake, but reputation. Someone can go to a subscription site and stick your e-mail in the box. They might be doing this with the intention to harass or annoy you, or they may be doing it with the intention to sour your feelings about the other party by getting you hit with unsolicited e-mails. There’s also a variant of this scam where the party may send you nasty e-mails pretending to be someone else, or post on an internet forum or subreddit pretending to be someone else. They can even use masking or spoofing to make it look like it’s coming from the person’s actual e-mail! So, if you’re getting bombarded by an unwanted subscription, take some time out to look for the unsubscribe link in the e-mail, most honest subscriptions have them. If you have any doubts about the authenticity of an e-mail, instead of replying directly, you can compose a new e-mail to the person. For example, let’s say you get an e-mail tomorrow from ChristopherDay227@gmail.com, but it’s saying horrible, nasty, hateful things. That’s very outside my character unless I’m having a nervous breakdown or deeply emotional moment. If you hit reply, you may send an e-mail back to the scammer who can continue to mess with you in my name. If you compose a brand new e-mail to ChristopherDay227@gmail.com, you’ll get me, at which point I can hopefully clear the whole thing up. Same thing goes for cellphones. Someone can make it look like they’re calling from my number very easily, but they can’t receive my calls without some serious hacking. This kind of thing is prevalent. I use myself as an example here, but it can happen to anyone. They can pretend to be your boss, your union president, your agency. The good news is you can outsmart them pretty easily.

The good news for court reporters is that the average scammer’s livelihood depends on scamming as many people as possible. This often means that scams are not often tailored to our specific profession, and that can help raise red flags and identify scams. That said, knowing reporters who have fallen for these, and knowing we can prevent that, I feel it’s important to speak up and beat back the scammers. Reporters are, on average, getting older, and many of these scammers attempt to prey upon older people who may lead very busy lives and are not able to read about these scams. Many of our recruits are younger people who are often unaware of the myriad ways that people can try to take advantage of them. Divided, it might be easy enough for them to fool one or two people. Together, we can outsmart all of ’em.

Stenonymous on VICE News Tonight

About four months ago, I sat down with Alzo Slade and talked with VICE about the study that showed court reporters had only 80 percent accuracy when taking down African American English dialect (AAE). It aired 6/18/20. There’s a Youtube mirror. This study was a shocker for many because people look at our general accuracy of 95 percent, and then they look to a number like 80 percent, and it worries them. It worried me at the time, and I continued to cover it on this blog as more information came out. I was at VICE HQ Brooklyn for two hours, but only a few seconds made it into the segment, so please be understanding when it comes to what “made the cut.”

I was identified as a stenographic reporter with a lot of knowledge about the study. We all have a choice to make when approached by the press or any individual. Stonewall or try to present the facts? I chose the latter this time. A few things I would love to see more widely talked about:

  • AAE is not spoken by all black people. It’s a specific English dialect. I learned it also has rules and structure. It’s not “slang.”
  • Despite most of us having no formal training, we get it right about twice as often as the average person and 1.5 more often than the average lawyer, if you look at the pilot studies. There’s also no good alternative. AI does worse on all speakers and even worse than that on AAE. We’re talking as low as 20 percent accuracy.
  • In actual court cases we have some context. We don’t just take down random lines. This doesn’t prevent all errors, but it helps court reporters a lot.
  • We don’t interpret. People concerned with our interpretations don’t always realize that. Interpreting only matters in terms of correctly interpreting what we’ve heard. Interpretation of jurors and lawyers matters much more, which is why it’s so important for us to get the words correctly for them. We can educate people on this topic and help them understand big time.
  • This issue is not necessarily a racial or racist one. Mr. Slade himself read the AAE sentence on paper during the segment “She don’t stay, been talking about when he done got it.” His response was something like “what the hell is this?” Anybody can have trouble with a new dialect. I know I have heard some AAE statements and done very well, and heard other AAE statements and done poorly. I’m big on the opinion that exposure is the only way to get better.
  • Studies like this only highlight the need for stenographic court reporters that truly care about the record. If you meet a young person interested in courtroom equality, it might be worth having the “become a court reporter” talk. We care, and we want every single person that fills our shortage to care too.

One thing I learned from this media appearance is always keep your cool. At one point during my two hours there I felt very defensive and even a little worried they’d edit the segment in a way that was not fair to me. I kept my cool and continued the interview. That fear comes out totally unfounded! I am sure if I had overreacted, that overreaction would’ve been the face of steno, and that’s not cool!

Each stenographer is like an ambassador for who we are and what we do. A big part of what I do is getting to the bottom of things and communicating the truth about them so that each of us can go forward and be knowledgeable when the people we work with, judges or lawyers, bring this stuff up. Many of them already know we’re the best there is. The rest are just waiting for you. Your actions and excellence change the future every day. I got my five seconds of fame. Go get yours!

Addendum:

Sometime after the publishing of this article, the VICE story that I linked was locked on their website. You must select your TV provider to gain access. Also, I later learned Alzo actually aced the quiz. The reason he had trouble was because the sentence was not AAE / proper grammatically.

Expedite Legal, Enhancing Coverage Nationwide?

Everyone is moving faster than ever into new solutions to problems. Adaptation of technology has spiked like never before. There are many hyped technologies out there that promise the world and don’t deliver. Then there are real companies with a tangible product. After taking the time out to review Expedite’s public-facing materials and after having a brief exchange with Expedite’s CEO, Eve Barrett, I am convinced that Expedite is among the companies out there that has a real product. In this case, it’s also a unique product.

We can think of Expedite as the Uber for legal service professionals. It’s helping link providers, namely court reporters and interpreters, with customers, namely courts, lawyers, agencies. I learned that the product is set up to be flexible. People can register as both a customer and a provider. This means that traditional reporting agencies can make use of Expedite to get coverage or get work. This means that independent court reporters can use it the exact same way.

A post I came across on Expedite’s blog, the Docket, sums business up well. Be willing to stick your neck out a little bit. In my view, there is great importance attached to being a skeptic, but we cannot allow our skepticism to hamper our willingness to try new things. I had touched briefly on Expedite’s model in my shortage solutions series. There was some honest skepticism there. But in normal times, we were experiencing a shortage of reporters partially as a result of the disjointed state of the market. There is no central marketplace to just log in and find a reporter. It’s not like the stock market where you can get immediate data on every business out there. There are a lot of tools out there for finding reporters or finding work. Why not add Expedite to your arsenal?

In my exchange with Ms. Barrett, she pointed me right to the Provider FAQ, blog, and vlog. I saw there’s a provider referral program. If a provider refers a provider and both get verified, there’s a bonus. I asked about whether the same was available for providers that refer customers to the program. It was confirmed that anyone can refer anyone, and the bonus shows up in the next job taken with Expedite. This is a smart way to get people using a nationwide app, and I think a robust referral program is a smart move.

The website and app are both available for customers. The app is available on Apple Store and Google Play. The overall message is one of courage and commitment to us. We’ve all been to the recent educational webinars. Presenters have talked about letting go of fear, adapting, making changes to enhance our businesses. I think Expedite is a major enhancement to many reporting businesses.  I asked pretty bluntly if there’s anything she’d tell reporters in the industry, or even people outside the industry. I’ll end with part of the response I got, as it says all it needs to say about the power of the individual. “My goal with Expedite was to help save the profession by alleviating the critical shortage. I also wanted to create a new business model for court reporters whereby they could work more efficiently, keep a higher percentage, receive payment faster, and market their services on a free platform. I’m just one reporter trying to solve the problems that have plagued our industry for decades.”

Remote Swearing NY Archive (Old Article)

In an effort to help WordPress accurately reflect the reading time of my article, Remote Swearing of Witnesses, I am going to bounce the old article to this page, and keep the new one where it is. This was originally published November 15, 2017. The new one is published March 9, 2020.

Old Article:

You Can Swear Witnesses Remotely

But Only If You Follow The Rules.

It’s tough being a court reporter and notary public. We’re expected to know the law, and expected not to violate the law, and we are in a position where if and when we do violate the law, we may or may not be held accountable for that. Well, many moons ago a grand discussion was held as to whether we New York notaries are allowed to swear witnesses remotely. I can tell you pretty squarely that the Notary Law of New York State says no. That’s what it says. A big, fat, resounding no. It says that because in 1915 the Appellate Division ruled that the taking of acknowledgments over the phone was unlawful. Matter of fact, some stenographers called the Department of State, which issues our notary public licenses, and the Department of State said no.

But, of course, being the most annoying person on the face of the Earth, I wrote Department of State an e-mail. Why would I do that? Succinctly, under CPLR 3113(d) we are allowed to swear witnesses via telephone. You see the problem here, right? So relatively soon I got an e-mail back from Department of State, and I’m going to link it right here in this really long string of words so that nobody can say I didn’t link it. My initial e-mail was something like: There’s the Notary Law which says no. The CPLR says yes. What is it? Sum and substance, CPLR 3113(d) allows it but you must follow the rules exactly as they are in CPLR 3113(d), which I won’t interpret for you because I’m lazy and not a lawyer. Just kidding. The parties need to stipulate to the way it’s being done. There’s a popular line, “attorneys can’t stipulate away the law.” Thanks to CPLR 3113(d), they can! The main idea is the 1915 case of taking acknowledgments over the phone occurred about 90 years before CPLR 3113(d) came into effect, effectively altering the law for taking oaths.

As a closing note, don’t be too confused by the second half of the e-mail. In the Notary License Law packet it states depositions may not be taken on Sunday. It states this in the glossary towards the end. I’m not kidding. Well, I asked if that was still good law, and as you can see, I was given a stellar answer by the Department of State which said that that determination came out of a 1964 interpretation of law by the Attorney General of the State of New York. All we can do now is petition the Attorney General of the State of New York to change this terrible interpretation of law. Gasp.

Any interesting facts about the law or licensing you want to share? Write in the comments below or ask to write for Stenonymous directly! It’s the best unpaid hobby/volunteer writing assignment you will ever do.

June 9, 2019 update:

This issue came up again. Understandably, some people are skeptical about my claims and conclusions, so I wrote the Department of State the following letter. If I receive a response, it’ll be posted. Let me just say that my take on this is as follows: The reason this is important is because we are promulgating a fear that does not need to be by telling people they cannot swear remotely. It’s not about being smart, or pedantic, or whatever. The law was the same for 90 years, and but for this CPLR provision, would still be. Also, for clarification, the notary license law referred to here is the notary license law packet produced by the Department of State. There is not, as far as I know, actual notary law, but there is notary law from other laws, such as the Real Property Law and CPLR. See my Law for Stenographers post if you want more of that. There’s actually really cool stuff in there. As a matter of fact, there’s stuff like errors in the oath are waived unless a timely objection is made pursuant to CPLR 3115. How cool is that?

My contact form submission to DOS:

“Hello. My name is Christopher Day. I had written the Department of State a few years ago for clarification. The Notary Law packet says a notary may not swear a witness remotely, but CPLR 3113(d) has a special provision for swearing witnesses remotely. In my correspondence with DOS, it was stated that a notary could swear in a witness remotely under CPLR 3113(d). I am writing today because many of my contemporaries rely on the notary license law packet, last revised June 2016, I believe, as a guide for their notarial duties. I am just making a suggestion that the next time that the packet is revised, it be specifically stated that if a witness is sworn remotely, it must be pursuant CPLR 3113(d).

I am sorry for this wordy request. Thank you very much for considering what I have to say and all the hard work you do for New York State.”

June 12, 2019 update:

For the sake of completeness, I did receive a response from the licensing services division on my request. It was not very satisfying, and only said that they would take my comment about the notary lawbook, revised June 2016, into consideration.

January 16, 2020 update:

A reader wrote in and mentioned that CPLR 3116(d) may not apply to New York proceedings that do not occur under the CPLR. That’s true! Definitely cover your bases and make sure you have some kind of justification. While I support notaries doing whatever they’re legally entitled to do, I also don’t want anyone facing disciplinary charges for an odd scenario.

What Verbit Investors Need To Know

I had touched pretty gently on Verbit when its series A funding came in at $23 million. The series B funding is in at about $31 million earlier this year. Now Verbit’s announced a strategic partnership with the STI and professional flip flopper, Jim Cudahy. Migliore & Associates already came out with the hard truth of what this means: ASR doesn’t make the cut for the production of legal transcripts without a qualified court reporter no matter what you name it, NLP, ASR, AI, computer magic, automated transcription.

Do I come off as angry? I am angry. I’m angry that investors are being led down a path of burning capital where there’s just not a bright future. When the series A funding was happening, Verbit used words like automated, “save an enormous amount of manual labor.” “Adaptive speech recognition” with over 99 percent accuracy. Series B is out. They “would not take the human transcriber out,” “the AI will enhance the human.” So investors are fundamentally paying millions of dollars so that they can be another Rev. I doubt very much that that’s what was sold to investors. I don’t think anybody would be putting down millions on that.

Then the partnership with STI? A complete joke. I have already gone into how, without any doubt, stenographers and NCRA are by far the best equipped to deal with the court reporter shortage. AAERT and the STI just don’t have the funding, infrastructure, or experience to tackle the problem, and it shows in their data. By their estimates, court reporting companies stand to save $250,000 over the next decade by adopting digital tools. First, I would love to know if this is individual savings or cumulative. We don’t know because there are no sources linked or cited. If this is cumulative, it’s embarrassing that they would even post that. That would mean 25,000 in savings a year across all companies. If that’s the projected individual savings per company, only slightly less embarrassing. That’s less than the average annual salary of a single court reporter. This may come as a shock to Jim Cudahy, but court reporting companies adopted digital tools throughout digital’s birth in the 70s and into the 80s and 90s. Stenographers are already a part of the Information Age, utilize AI, and produce quality records daily. The idea that investors are going to dump $50 million into “technology” expected to save $250,000 over 10 years and expect a return is terrifying. “Most courts are digital,” again, assuming everything they have to say is true, and yet judicial candidates show a preference for stenographic court reporters and returning them to courtrooms. The growth here is in stenographers, stenography jobs, and stenography schools, and Verbit’s current leadership is missing this boat completely.

Let’s just tell it like it is. When a grassroots-funded stenography blog can give you some pretty solid reasons you’re backing the wrong horse, it’s time to give investors nothing less than what they deserve. Open up a Steno Department, throw down some money on us, and we will make sure you’ve got real and steady returns. Verbit, with proper leadership from Tom Livne, can still save the day. Just not with this bait and switch technology-to-transcription model that amounts to little more than a repackaging of old tech. The only other viable alternative I see is buying this blog for a good $8 million and hoping investors don’t see it before then. Not a difficult decision. Come on over to the winning team. Vote for sten!

Trust Issues, Brought To You By Veritext

There was a pretty serious open letter posted by Veritext this month. It basically goes into their stance on digital reporting. I try to be fair in all things, but looking at Veritext’s history, and the general direction of the field, I don’t really find the letter reliable. I’ve reported on the good that Veritext has done with offering scholarships, and I hope that continues. I hope it doesn’t turn out like US Legal and Stenotrain, where it was apparently bought, paraded around for a bit, and mothballed.

Given all I know, I can only assume that there are people at the company with different directions or management styles. Beginning of last year, Veritext stood proud for steno and wouldn’t cross the picket lines in California. That was followed by the revelation that they were coaching clients to amend their deposition notices to allow for digital reporters. Almost immediately after that, their then VP of Sales wrote a very pro digital article that got shared wildly on social media before its deletion, and Veritext response was, more or less, that it was done by a “former employee.” I think it’s infinitely more likely that the culture at Veritext at the time was looking at digital. Realizing that they can’t compete with tens of thousands of stenographers, they backed down.

I view Veritext through a lens of cynicism for all the above reasons. For a long time in this field it was rumored that digitals were being sent instead of reporters by various companies, and that was often denied. Then we started to have hard evidence of it, and the message pivoted to the shortage and how companies can do nothing about it, they just have to use digital. When grassroots groups of stenographers can start putting together things I could only dream of, and they can do that ostensibly faster than the million-dollar companies, there’s a willpower problem, not a resources problem.

Let’s push into the specifics of the Veritext letter for why it screams BS to me. When someone wants something from you, they play good cop, bad cop. The good cop starts out in the Veritext letter by saying how committed to court reporters they are and going on about how they provide more work to stenographers than blah, blah, blah. It’s very disarming language. The letter then pivots to the bad cop. Remember, stenographers, we have a shortage problem in the thousands! Disarmed, you, the reader, is then hit over the head with some purported factoids to fill you with a sense of hopelessness.

As best I can tell, most of what they state is extrapolated from the Ducker Report from 2013 or 2014 data. They don’t cite any sources at all, so the accuracy of the bad cop statements is tough to gauge. Yes, stenographers are looking at a bit of a battle. Over the next 13 years, a large percentage of this field will retire. Yes, there was a forecasted supply problem for court reporting. But let’s set the record straight. By far, the largest supply gap was California, which is also a state where the stenographers are best positioned to deal with the heavy burden of recruiting new talent. There are several reporting associations and independents who are going to fight the good fight to close the gap. Additionally, Ducker came before we had Project Steno, Open Steno was far smaller, NCRA’s A to Z didn’t exist yet, Katiana Walton’s Steno Key wasn’t being tried yet. Ducker was a good warning bell, and we listened.

This idea that our schools closing is a problem is laughable. I think it opens up the possibility for entrepreneurs to jump in and start schools or present new ideas. I also think it’s really shortsighted and maybe willfully ignorant to talk about steno schools without again mentioning that AAERT only has 4 or 5 approved schools. Said another way, if we want to only look at approved schools, we have six times the chance at filling the reporter shortage. Any gamblers in the audience? If your payout was roughly the same, would you bet on something that has a 1 out of 7 chance of winning or a 6 out of 7 chance of winning? Bet sten, people. Stenographers, be encouraged to recruit people and tell them about our work, that is how this field will survive and thrive. What we do today will change the outcome 13 years from today. Our action or inaction writes this story.

I have no idea if Veritext reads my work, but if I could give them one piece of advice it would be to stop waffling around this issue, look at the numbers as they are and not as they want them to be, and see that as long as stenographers don’t completely drop the ball our prevalence and resurgence is borderline inexorable. Take advantage of that. If you’re seen to be a company that is actually on our side and not just hedging, you’ve got thousands who probably wouldn’t mind taking their work through you. If you keep down this road of dishonesty and lack of commitment, you’ve got tens of thousands of heavy hitter competitors. Stop trying to convince us with “there’s nothing we can do” while throwing resources into building digital reporting. Nobody’s fooled. Even your most loyal stenographer resources don’t buy that there’s nothing you can do. The famous cliche is the people you step on going up the ladder are the same faces you see when you take a fall. Anything less than commitment to the stenographic court reporting community is going to lead to a fall, we won’t catch you, and it’ll cost the shareholders big time.

Addendum:

This site and its public face as of March 2020 are a good indicator of why stenographers have a hard time trusting. We can get all the open letters in the world about loving stenography, but in the end we really need companies to put down those resources they’re throwing out the window for digital into our field.