Find Your Voice With StenoMasters

When I first found out my good friend Joshua Edwards was creating the nonprofit online speaking club StenoMasters, I was excited. I wrote about it right away. If you read the FAQ, the intention is to keep the dues as low as possible. It’s not a source of personal enrichment. I consider it a community and a chance for us to come together.

In my view, we are headed into a period of time where it will be vital for the stenographic reporter and his or her family to pick up some speaking skills. There are so many forces in life that will demand your silence. A club like StenoMasters is going to give you a safe place to develop your voice so that when the times comes you’ll be ready. Please join me at the inaugural meeting. It’s free! Even if you just go to lurk or observe, you will be helping others find their voice by providing them with that audience that so many of us struggle to speak in front of. If you have the time on October 4, it’s worth it. See the flyer below!

Can’t I just write everybody else’s speech?

How 60 Stenographers Changed Reality

After unprecedented articles exposing the bad behavior of corporations in our field like US Legal and Verbit, with help from Protect Your Record Project, We were able to secure nearly $4,000 in donations from about 60 stenographic court reporters and stenographic reporting firms across the country. That’s an average of about $67 a reporter. All donations, big and small, have contributed to this moment. Advertising campaigns have been launched to facilitate consumer and public awareness via Facebook and Twitter. Many court reporters have shared the posts and/or tagged local state and women’s bar associations. If this is something you want to become a part of, it’s a great time to jump in and like or share the posts on the Stenonymous Facebook page or my Twitter. This publicity is getting people asking the important questions.

I must have been excited. I couldn’t even spell low cost.
Me? Ideas? Never.

Just for a recap, we got US Legal to admit to not using Sourcebook / PRO Link to recruit despite its contention that the stenographer shortage is impossible to solve. How can one make the claim something is impossible to solve in good faith when one has not tried to solve it? It’s consumer fraud at its finest and it’ll grow increasingly harder for them to dance their way out of it as more people know it’s happening.

We also exposed that Verbit, a company that misrepresents itself as being New York based and had posted family court deposition audio to the internet. I have a source that states the audio issue was known about prior to my investigation into it, but it didn’t get taken down until after the publication of my blog post. Stenographers, you did that!

When we speak up, people are forced to react.

It’s also notable that for all their money and “power,” the corporations have given us more valuable information. They are guarding an empty fort. I’m probably one of the easiest people on the internet to find and email, and they haven’t bothered to threaten me with a cease and desist letter. They have not bothered to do much of anything at all. Their strategy is seemingly to ignore the situation and hope that we cannot articulate these issues to the media, the public, and associations of lawyers. Their strategy is seemingly to hope that we are summarily dismissed without thought or question. Their strategy is to hope we declare mission accomplished and stop kicking down the gates of that empty fort.

Well, we have seen firsthand how that will work out for them. How well were things going for us when we sat idle hoping things would be okay? Compare that to what happened when 0.2% of this field stood up and said “no!” No, you cannot take our jobs with your inferior product. No, you cannot scapegoat digital reporters. No, you cannot lie about our shortage. No, you cannot post people’s proceedings on the internet to train your offshore transcribers and get away with it! If 60 of us can do that, what are 27,000 of us capable of? This field could afford to pay an advocate like me for nearly two decades with a one-time payment of $67. Heaven help whoever’s talking impossible shortage if we ever secure that much money.

Our strategy? Part one was to show all of you your own power. Part two has two prongs. One, we must continue to apply this social pressure so that the companies stop behaving badly or fold under the incredible weight of their own incompetence. It’s clear they know nothing about the field they insinuate having expertise in. Two, this pressure and publicity will bring people to stenographic court reporting. Young men feel lost? Here’s a direction. Caption advocates don’t like autocraptions? Time to make friends.

Stenographers aren’t perfect either, but ASR has such wacky ranges of accuracy that we outmatch it every time. We can help these people and we need not be shy about letting them know!

The publicity is a big thing. In the next ten years we could easily double or triple the size of this field and start expanding into new markets. Why not? Humans like being listened to. There’s an obvious human need to be heard. Computers can’t do what we do. What is business but profiting off of human need? What is court reporting but our quest to memorialize what others have to say? Even the grimmest view of our field, that only maybe 10% of the population can do what we do, means that there are over 30 million people in the United States that can learn this skill. Look how many thousands of people stenographic reporting has gone in front of already. And this movement has only just started.

Four days did that. People haven’t even had the weekend to see our stuff yet.
Four days of ads done. Now we’ve booked 50 more.

Try to remember prior to this week what our reality was. “Nothing we can do.” “Impossible.” “A dying profession.” “An industry ripe for disruption.” That changed because we willed it to change. If you have ever doubted your own power, I urge you to stop, reassess what’s not working, and push for the things that matter to you. Push to change the things people claim cannot be changed; 60 brave reporters have just shown you they are wrong. History is filled with all sorts of winners and losers, including winners that beat overwhelming odds. If you, reader, allow others to dictate to you what your chances of victory are, you are already halfway to losing, and you have a choice to win.

If you would like to support the campaigns going now, take to Twitter and Facebook and start directing news people, legal professionals, and bar associations to my articles. If you would like to contribute financially to the advertisement campaigns running, please feel free to donate to my PayPal at ChristopherDay227@gmail.com, Venmo at Christopher-Day-141, and Zelle at my email or 917 685 3010. As this continues to grow, I will look into advertising in other media so that our message makes the largest impact possible.

Of course, to our beloved corporations, you too have a choice. You can get in line with the industry standards or cease to exist. You can help recruit stenographers or lose all of your investors and customers to them. Trying to outsmart all of the people all of the time didn’t work out. Do the right thing, suck up your pride, and move forward with us. Let your digital reporters know that stenography is worth looking into. As we have just shown you, we will accept no less. I personally will accept no less because as I admitted to everyone, I am a product of the sad side of the industry that took from me and my colleagues until we had no more to give. I now have no compunction against taking it all back, giving it to our next generation of reporters, teaching them the tricks of the trade, and exposing to them the silence that allowed the abuse of mine. It was a simple calculation for me. I knew we had more people and better funding. I knew we had the more advanced technology. I knew that if the narrative remained “nothing we can do” my job would probably be at risk sometime in the next ten years. All I had to do was let go of the embarrassment and shame associated with saying “my industry has problems and I’m willing to be a part of the solution.”

My early career was defined by people telling me there was something wrong with me because I was not as successful as them. Now that I have success, I move into the rest of my career with a message for every entity in a position of power that thinks it’s going to use it against our young people and our newbies: We are coming for you.

Steno was the best decision I ever made. Now I give back in the hopes that one day nobody will have to suffer the way I did.

Verbit Published Kentuckiana Proceeding Audio Online Without Anyone’s Permission

It came to my attention some time ago that Verbit was using a real proceeding’s audio to test its potential transcribers. After entering one’s information, one will get to a screen that encourages him or her to download all the files and put together a transcript from the information and audio given.

Legal professionals = transcribers.

I’ve already made it pretty clear I don’t like digital reporting as a modality. It can threaten access to justice and is the corner-cutting modality of my industry. I don’t like Verbit either. As I see it, consumers and investors are being misled constantly by the company. I do love digital reporters, but mostly because I see them as being taken advantage of. As I see it, we can bring them into the mainstream stenographic court reporting industry and train them to stenotype just like us. I’m very pro-people, and that’s why one of my biggest criticisms of US Legal Support was that it was using all of its power to mislead people into believing the stenographer shortage was impossible to solve while doing nothing to recruit stenographers.

But this just takes my criticism of digital reporting and Verbit to a whole new level. Anyone with access to the link from anywhere in the world can just pop on and download a bunch of files from somebody’s case. These files have been accessible since July 2021 that I personally know of, and these files were still accessible as of September 15, 2021.

Each of the green buttons is a file that you can click and download.

The whole thing leaves me in a pretty tough position. I want to prove this is happening so that court reporters can warn the legal community. But just dumping the evidence onto the internet a second time will violate the parties’ privacy more than it has already been violated. With heavy redaction, though, we can go through the various files and get a good idea of it. Let’s start with the cover page. Just remember, the redactions were put there by me. In the actual files there are no redactions.

This was surprising to me, because usually family court stuff is usually private in my jurisdiction of New York. It’s not something the entire world is able to get its hands on.

There’s a file labeled TAG, which appears to be the digital reporter or video operator’s annotations. If I am correct about that, this is a window into just how useless the annotations are for a transcriber.

Redactions are mine. The full file has names and information I just don’t think should be published on this blog.

There’s a file containing a notice of deposition. To limit the time spent redacting, I’ll offer up the first page only.

Remember, I was only able to get my hands on this because of Verbit’s recklessness with it.

The “must read” file comes next. Since that’s created entirely by Verbit, it’s downloadable here.

Then there’s a Verbit guidelines page, which seems harmless enough. But it hilariously refers to a “USLS” manual. The file is literally named “redone for USLS,” which to me seems to be fairly good circumstantial evidence that Verbit has a connection to US Legal Support. Not only is US Legal potentially defrauding consumers by making bad claims about the stenographer shortage, they might be working with a company so ignorant of good court reporting practice that it posted a proceeding online.

For the sake of completeness, I went looking for a USLS Manual and I found a 2017 version. Interestingly enough, it reads very much like an employee manual and has very specific formats for jobs. Remember, common law employees are all about who has direction and control of the work. I would say that if US Legal is or was using a 150-something page manual to “train” its “freelancers,” those people are actually common law employees and US Legal probably should have been paying employment taxes for them. What a shame it would be if I uploaded that manual and someone let the IRS know there was potentially a failure to withhold those taxes.

Back to Verbit’s files, they offer a template, which is more or less a transcription of the audio file they’re asking transcribers to transcribe. It is the single greatest indictment against digital reporting I have ever seen. The reporter’s name, Hang Nguyen, is misspelled as Han. The term “court reporter” is spelled “core reporter.” There’s a missing apostrophe. There’s a zero in the word “point.” She asks them to state their appearance and how they’re attending, but somehow it’s transcribed as “state your up here.” There are so many errors that quite frankly I hope my reporting colleagues do not let this go and that they take the time to send this to their bar associations. I am quite sure there are stenographic reporters that make mistakes. I personally make mistakes. But this falls well within the territory of “way too many mistakes to be normalized and accepted by our justice system.”

I bet you Hang Nguyen could be trained to be a damn good stenographer and would do far better than whoever transcribed this.
Remember, companies don’t typically tell their digital reporters we’re an option, let alone that we are the market preference.

There’s a Kentuckiana reporter worksheet that’s published by Verbit. It’s a pretty standard worksheet, so I will not bother to publish it here.

We get to the audio file, and it’s a 22-minute file. Given that this proceeding is a family court matter between two individuals, it’s not appropriate for me to republish, but again, it was available on the internet for months and being used to screen or train Verbit transcribers. It’s real testimony about a family court matter.

This image shows the file time on the right.

I set out to investigate whether permission had been granted to Verbit to publish these proceedings on the internet. In full disclosure, court reporters have shared audio in our field, but it’s usually a snippet of a word or sentence for clarification purposes and not large chunks of testimony with information that can identify parties. Now, I don’t really like Kentuckiana because of their pro-digital stance, but when I reached out, Michael McDonner seemed very reasonable and made it very clear, permission was not given to distribute this audio.

I had the link and I gave it to him in the hopes he could do something about this.

But what about the attorneys? Maybe John Schmidt said it was okay.

John Schmidt did not say it was okay. And I gave him the files and link from my investigation.

But perhaps Amber Cook had given permission?

“the public should have had no access to the depositions.”

I reached out to Hang Nguyen on LinkedIn but I got no response as of writing. I also reached out to Leor Eliashiv from Verbit. Predictably, there was no response. But at the very least, Kentuckiana made a commitment to demand the audio be taken off the internet after I told them where to find it.

I asked Kentuckiana to consider using stenographic transcribers. I pointed out that we spend a lot of time training our newbies not to make the kinds of mistakes that have been made here.

Unfortunately, when it comes to Kentucky, I’m clueless. I have a pretty good relationship with Lisa Migliore from Migliore & Associates. Just to be sure, I asked whether what Verbit was doing was good court reporting practice in that state, and she answered that it was not, citing the Kentucky Court Reporters Association Code of Professional Responsibility.

“…I find it very concerning that one cannot obtain this from our local courthouse–yet it is easily accessible by any number of people located across the world with nothing more than an email address and/or a real or fictitious name.”

For so long our institutions and businesses have been trying to find a way to say we are the superior product. Maybe the answer is to just show consumers what they’re really signing up for if they entrust the future of the legal record to companies like Verbit, tons of errors and potential breaches of privacy. We have to direct people to the many resources to learn stenographic court reporting, such as NCRA A to Z, Project Steno, and Open Steno. We have to get serious about educating consumers. Please consider a donation to Protect Your Record Project today. They have been pioneers and powerhouses in consumer awareness, and it is largely thanks to them that this article will reach thousands.

Addendum:

Within 24 hours after the posting of this blog the files were taken off of the internet.

This is where it used to be.

Investors Misled, Verbit Lies, Media Buys It

I’ve been following Verbit for a while. I’ve pointed out my skepticism regarding its series A funding claims of 99% accuracy in record time. That was well before the racial disparities in automatic speech recognition (ASR) study really hit the news and showed us that all the biggest players in the ASR market were having trouble consistently getting 80% accuracy. That was well before the captioning article showed us “record time” was 8 hours. My skepticism was revived when I read about Verbit floating the idea that it might go public. It seems very much to me like they’re unprofitable, like VIQ. It’s a game of getting investors to keep piling money on as far as I can tell. It’s the Uber strategy of throwing money around and trying to control a market whether or not the model is sustainable. We have a lot of reasons to doubt what Israel-based Verbit says.

Time to add one more to the pile. They claim they’re a New York-based company. They claimed that in May 2020.

This is basically all fluff. You cannot tailor-make ASR for legal proceedings because they encompass such a wide range of matters. Law and language are constantly evolving.

The claim was repeated in a June 2021 article by Peter Cohan in Forbes.

Wait. I thought we were tailoring to legal? This sounds a little bit like “we do everything. Honest.”

And despite my attempts to alert them to the inaccuracy in July 2021, nobody could be bothered to correct the article. It’s still wrong as of September 14, 2021.

Okay. Maybe my antics turned them off. Or maybe they just don’t care what’s true.

And just to make this really clear, it’s fact checkable using New York’s business search, which takes maybe 60 seconds. Verbit is a foreign corporation, meaning it is not based in New York.

Delaware, Israel, New York — maybe its base is wherever it thinks is going to be most attractive to investors.

This might seem like a minor thing, but it points to a larger problem. Media people are not bothering to fact check anything. They’ll go on and on about how the technology is great and new, and how this company is a unicorn valued at a billion dollars, but they’ll miss simple realities, like 85% of AI business solutions being predicted to fail. IBM Watson wasn’t the holy grail of ASR and IBM makes $70 billion in annual revenue. What are the chances that Verbit beat IBM with its $5 million in revenue? I’ll give everyone a hint. Vince McMahon’s theme song tells us exactly what chance they have.

And Verbit is not doing anything to correct false perceptions. They reposted their May 2020 article again on September 14, 2021.

Leor is actually a nice person. We got to talk once. But Verbit itself is playing the claim game.

Just for fun, let’s dive into the implications they list here, since it’s being published a second time as if it is still true.

1. The rise of non-compete litigation. I see no reason to believe that this is an accurate assessment. States like New York are banning non-competes under 75,000. Even our sitting President of the United States doesn’t seem to like non-competes very much. So it probably wasn’t true in May 2020 when the courts were closed and probably isn’t true now.

2. Courthouses are closed. True in May 2020. Not really holding true now.

3. Working from home culture. Stenographers adapted to this. There’s no edge to Verbit in that department.

4. High demand for lawyers. Can’t argue here. Our nation of laws needs lawyers, especially in rural areas.

5. Technology is key. They mention how lawyers that know how to send documents electronically and perform video conferences are more desirable. Is this surprising to anyone?

6. Fewer courtroom cases. Verbit has pointed to our stenographer shortage in the past as the casus belli requiring our replacement. If there are fewer courtroom cases, demand is lower than anticipated, and therefore stenographers can meet demand and the whole theme that we cannot has been a marketing farce.

7. Smaller law firms thrive. They’re writing this because smaller law firms have fewer resources to spend figuring out that the article is a sales pitch. Marketing is about how you make people feel. They want to make smaller law firms feel good and try Verbit.

8. New court reporting strategies. In May 2020, laws regarding oaths and the swearing-in of witnesses were changing to adapt to the pandemic environment. This has been a major debate in our field where some businesses ignore procedural rules while others zealously defend them. New York itself has fairly simple guidelines for depositions taken within the state, without the state, and in a foreign country. As page 32 of the Summer 2020 Vermont Bar Journal told us, this situation gets complicated. So it’s not a false statement they’re making, but this is an example of framing. “New” and “court reporting” are designed to make the reader feel like court reporting is changing. Our strategy is the same it’s been for a hundred years, stenotyping what you say while you say it. We just do it with better technology than we had in the 80s.

9. Courts are going digital. Yeah. Sure. But as I have pointed out to digital court reporters, stenographers have been digital for a while now.

10. The rise of the remote deposition. Automatic speech recognition thrives via the remote work because the audio quality tends to be much clearer, assuming everyone’s connection is good. It’s a closed scenario where everyone is speaking into a microphone. By contrast, the stenographic court reporter can survive anything. Check out 25 seconds of one of my early freelance jobs and let me know how well automatic captioning does there. I was a 20-something year old kid next to a steam radiator. If I had not been taking notes on my stenotype, there’d be no legal record of the proceedings. Automatic speech recognition fails in court reporting for the same reason court reporters get stressed out at lawyers. We have to get every word. Sometimes they stick us in spots where it’s really hard to do our jobs. In today’s world we are occasionally looked down on for asking to change our seat or relaying that a situation is unreportable. We will be very upset if the legal field suddenly decides “yes, we can create the ideal hearing scenario for the computer that we couldn’t bother to do for the human beings we work with every day.” But my money is on one simple truth, people are people and most of them will never jump through hoops to make a computer “happy” when they can work with a live stenographic reporter who will jump through hoops to make them happy. It’s the same reason customers dread calling any kind of service center nowadays. Getting bounced around by an automated system has got to be one of the most infuriating experiences in modern life. Applying that to the legal record is a masterful level of stupid.

This isn’t anything new from Verbit. They put out questionable marketing materials all the time. They did it again in this undated webpage about digital reporting. Let’s put those “myths” to bed too.

Nobody believes this. The Court Reporting Industry Outlook 2013-2014 by Ducker Worldwide clearly gauged the use of digital reporting in each state. Digital or its predecessor, analog, have been in use in society and even stenographic court reporting for a long time.
They give three states that ostensibly allow digital court reporting to bust this myth and omit states like Washington where providers like StoryCloud have been accused of breaking the law. Download the complaint below!
We are all certified at over 95% accuracy. It’s true that we don’t all provide realtime. These things are different and they’re conflating them, hopefully out of ignorance. There is no evidence digital reporting is closing the gap.
They neglect to mention that transcription can take six to eight times the number of transcribers to get the work done in the same amount of time.
I’ll concede “fewer” inaudible portions for the sake of argument. But again, why would you sacrifice a stenographer who can tell you right then and there that something is missing?
It’s less secure because the transcription work is being done outside the jurisdiction of our country and our courts. If I alter a transcript illegally, I risk jail. If someone on the other side of the world does it, what recourse does an American lawyer have?
The racial disparities in automatic speech recognition study of 2020 told us all the major players were 25 to 80 percent accurate depending on who was speaking. This means Verbit’s transcribers have to spend time figuring out what the computer gets wrong and then fixing it, arguably slower than typing it from scratch.
Stenographers have audio sync. We can do this too. It’s often much faster for us to search for a keyword and read what we have. I’ve had people ask me to read back stuff from hours or days prior. Good luck finding that on an audio file, even with modern audio searching.
Our notary is not what makes us trained “officiants.” Our support systems, educational systems, and experience with transcript production is what protects your record.
The Justice Served study about a decade ago put the costs in about the same ballpark for the consumer.

But you know what’s screwed up? Here Verbit is calling digital court reporters highly trained, but not long ago, they were claiming that digital reporting required a workforce that is not highly trained. Again, this is a company with no conviction or facts backing it. It is a chameleon, ready to blend in with whatever way will make it money or sound good.

I am quite proud to present my new work of art “Verbit is lying to consumers.”

Let’s keep on reading some digital reporting myths.

Oh, no. They got me here. Stenographers really are human.

AI never has a bad day? Well, in my October 2020 article, YouTube thought the caption for defeating the enemy and extinguishing his life was “to feed my enemy, I extinguish his wife.” In my June 2021 article YouTube AI thought “raise your right hand” was “rage right hand.” There’s two bad days right there. If Verbit’s got better ASR than YouTube, why haven’t they sold it to YouTube yet?

Actually, digital transcription is worse off than Alexa and Siri.

To understand why this is wrong, you have to know a little about the tech and concepts at play. Alexa and Siri are constantly able to learn your voice and tune to your voice. That’s like voice writing. In order to create a uniform ASR program that can get all English speakers all the time and automate that transcription, you need tons of data from all those speakers in all different types of environments. Since new people are being born every day and language is changing a little bit every day, this is basically hopeless. As written in Scientific American, ASR is not perfect and may never be. Just think criminal prosecutions. Does anyone really believe we are going to get defendants to sit there and help the court system train the computer to their voices? “Ah, yes, I think I will just assist the state in my prosecution.”

For anyone that hasn’t caught on, there is a pattern here. There is little substance, a lot of fluff, some great sales tactics, and no real court reporting knowledge. Perhaps most offensive is their reliance on quotes and ideas from the National Center for State Courts, which as far as I can tell just doesn’t like stenographers, since they continually call for digital recording despite some evidence that costs are similar and stenographers are more efficient. I hate to say that about NCSC since they seem to admire community court solutions as much as I do, but that’s where we’re at, they don’t like that my job exists.

I really feel for investors. They’re being recklessly encouraged to throw millions of dollars into something that, from any reasonable view of the facts, has a high chance of failing or stagnating. As I pointed out in my science article, they’re paying Kenyan transcribers maybe a fourth of what Americans are paid for the same work. Any alleged savings doesn’t go to the consumer, it goes to the company. Does the court reporting consumer want the creators of the legal record to be outside of his or her subpoena power? Does the captioning consumer want a company to push down prices so that captioners have a hard time affording continuing education? Is everybody really okay with what is apparently a zombie company coming in and sinking millions of dollars into Rev 2 under the false notion of “future technology?” Livne himself has admitted they’re “over-subscribed” when it comes to funding. It’s quite clear to me that they’re overfunded because they’re turning out to be an overblown transcription company and not the cutting edge of technology. After all, just compare their “over-subscribed” funding of maybe a couple hundred million dollars to the money pit of real AI research. When the media will admit that or when investors will catch on? That remains to be seen. But very much like US Legal, anything from Verbit needs to be viewed with extreme caution.

For investors looking for a stable return, consider getting involved with stenographic firms. Voice recognition and transcription has been identified as a market with billions of dollars in potential. Stenographers are the most efficient modality in that regard. Where technology companies will overpromise and underdeliver, the stenographic writer has worked out a system that has been going strong and evolving for over a hundred years. A Kentley Insights 2019 report showed a 10% profit as a percentage of revenue for court reporting businesses. As far as I am concerned, a far safer and more stable return is in stenography. If any investor wants to be directed to the more entrepreneurial minds of our profession, I am happy to direct. Please write me at ChristopherDay227@gmail.com.

Addendum:

I reached out to Jim McMillan from NCSC and I have to correct my above position on the organization. He explained that he believed quote Verbit used from him was from a 2013 post and that that was well before speech-to-text automatic speech recognition was close to usable. The position that NCSC takes tends to be on courtrooms that do not require the transcription of many matters. Obviously, I will always be an advocate for the stenographic reporter, but this is a far different take on it that I previously had and important for our field to see.

Remember, this was about recording the matters in courtrooms, not depositions, because in some states a low percentage of matters are ordered.
Of course, I think that the damage to non-standard English dialect speakers is too great to ignore, but I see Jim’s point here.
And my assessment is he’s honest.

US Legal Rep: Does It Really Matter If Done Legally and Ethically…?

Lawyers, court administrators, and support staff, there is a real struggle taking place in the United States court reporting industry today. For the last eight years, we have known that there would be a stenographic court reporter shortage. We knew because our national association commissioned the 2013-2014 Court Reporting Industry Outlook by Ducker Worldwide, colloquially known as our Ducker Report. In response to that, many initiatives to recruit stenographers were born including National Court Reporters Association A to Z program, Project Steno, and Open Steno. As of today, there are far more schools for stenographic reporting in the United States than there are for transcribers. If we base our count on NCRA-approved schools against AAERT approved schools, the ratio is about 5:1. Stenographic court reporters are by far better equipped to handle the shortage. But there is a lie being sold about us, our shortage is being exaggerated and exacerbated by companies that stand to profit from it.

In our industry there are stenographic court reporters, voice writers, and digital court reporters. Stenography’s all about taking down verbatim notes on a stenotype. Voice writing is all about speaking into an automatic speech recognition (ASR) system tuned to the reporter’s voice. Digital reporting sees the reporter record the audio, which is then distributed to transcribers. About two years ago a nonprofit called STTI popped onto the field and started spreading the lie that the stenographer shortage would be nearly impossible to solve, citing the Ducker Report and “industry experts” that believed they could predict what the field would look like 20 years from now. They claimed they wanted to be an authority in all speech-to-text modalities but it’s fairly obvious to anyone paying attention that it’s an attack on consumer choice. Ducker could not have been clearer that market preference was stenography:

Court Reporting Industry Outlook 2013-2014, Ducker Worldwide. Page 6.

The conclusions STTI drew were so wrong it appears intentional. Jim Cudahy was the Executive Director of NCRA when the Ducker Report was made, and yet so many years later ended up in the STTI camp using his NCRA experience to help lend credibility to the false idea that our shortage was impossible to solve. An opportunist, he saw a chance to lead the charge into an “emerging” market and he took it, business 101. Large corporations in my field started to push the same lie, likely due to financial pressure. Veritext started trying to train lawyers to allow for digital reporting in their deposition notices, Planet Depos started to build the digital side of its business. Verbit flip flopped between telling investors there was 99% accuracy and that technology would not replace the human. The race was on to legitimize digital reporting in your minds as consumers. This is being done despite some evidence that it would put already-marginalized groups of speakers at risk and the fact that it is less efficient. Utilizing digital reporting would take the production of the transcript offshore, out of range of your subpoena power, and make it much easier for tampering to occur.

If any other field has a shortage, sellers jack up prices. In ours, despite the fact that we are behind inflation in some markets, some of our biggest sellers were now pushing for our replacement. They were telling consumers no stenographer was available, but they weren’t using any of our numerous Facebook groups, LinkedIn, or our national database of stenographers to recruit us. This lie did not go completely unchallenged. Nonprofits like Protect Your Record organized to get the word out, but they were up against corporations that, according to Owler, control a combined revenue amount of over half a billion dollars. Our field, comprised of 88% women, was being bamboozled and blitzed by the message that companies were only going digital out of need. “Of course stenographers are the gold standard, there just are not enough of them.” It was a game of messaging and perception that we were losing.

I had identified a pattern of “shifting narratives” and I used my love of reading and writing to document what I could so that the truth would not be lost. It was through this documentation that the New York State Court Reporters Association, Association of Surrogate’s and Supreme Court Reporters, and many other unions were able to give the New York State Unified Court System a warning on the dangers of automating trial transcription. This work was having a real impact and giving us the power to communicate our importance to the legal field in more concrete terms. Some of my work even got republished by NCRA in industry media and social media. I became a part of changing the false messaging and misconceptions killing my profession.

While court reporters on social media were debating whether companies were utilizing digital court reporters, I was documenting as much as I could and trying to urge my colleagues to push back. My attention was raised to US Legal Support building its digital business and how, in the Holly Moose v US Legal Case, despite 70% of its business coming from court reporters, it claimed it was not organized as a shorthand reporting firm and therefore should be immune to regulations meant to protect consumers in California. Moose lost the case from a failure to prove the injury element, but we now had valuable information, the company was willing to do and say anything to benefit itself. Sounds like a bold claim, but let’s be real, they don’t advertise themselves as “not a shorthand reporting firm.”

Remember, we were 70% of their business as of the Holly Moose case.

While outwardly professing that it wanted stenographers, it was doing everything in its power to sabotage us. Stenotrain was acquired by US Legal and apparently mismanaged into oblivion. US Legal was aggressively recruiting digital court reporters on LinkedIn as recently as May 2021, but no such effort was made to get stenographers. In July 2021, a JD Supra article was put up by the company that claimed the stenographer shortage would be nearly impossible to solve and set up an equation to give it the appearance of credibility. Their numbers were extrapolated from an eight year old report and likely outdated, but even assuming those numbers to be true, the equation, if reiterated in perpetuity, would lead to negative stenographers, which is logically impossible if you’re getting 200 new stenographers a year. The equation assumed the retirements would always be constant and did not acknowledge any of the recruitment efforts at the top of this page. I realized there was a major inaccuracy, and I started to spread the word that we could not rely on these large corporations to be honest with us or our clients.

Reality is simple: Move some numbers around and anything sounds good. But did that make it true? No.

A real breakthrough came when I got a US Legal rep to admit they had not been using NCRA PRO Link / Sourcebook, our national directory of stenographers, to recruit us. How could they dare make a claim that stenographers were not available when they were not utilizing a database consisting of roughly one third of the field? Worse than that, prior to publishing my September 9 article, court reporters reported not being contacted by larger firms. The best we had was a vague promise from Rick Levy that US Legal would look into whether it was “viable” to use the directory to recruit stenographers. After I publicly cried foul, they started to use the directory to recruit stenographers that same day! When it became clear I was going public with these allegations, they went from “looking into it” to attempting to cover up the fraud they had perpetrated on the legal community.

You have to ask yourself why a stenographer living paycheck to paycheck could figure out that the best way to recruit stenographers was to utilize free national resources and the $100 million corporation could not.

There was a part of the puzzle I had and held close to the chest. I had been given emails from the NCRA Firmowners listserv from May 2021 where representatives from US Legal got into a “debate” with a group of court reporters. In my assessment the discussion was rife with obfuscations, distractions, and gaslighting. But their Chief Strategy Officer at the time, Peter Giammanco, gave us a window into what’s going on.

Does it matter if it’s legal? Man’s on a mission.

In a wall of text designed to cast doubt in everyone reading, he writes “Does it really matter if done legally and ethically and both methods end with the same final accurate transcript?” This is an example of the straw man argument. Given that court reporters are twice as good as your average person at taking down dialects like African American Vernacular English (AAVE) even though we have no formal training in it, there is no reason to believe that anyone else will have the same final accurate transcript. These companies won’t tell you that people like Allison Hall are successfully cutting the training time of some stenographers in half or that our recruitment efforts have exploded in the last eight years, they’ll just keep repeating their narrative, and as I just showed you, they do not care if it is legal or ethical. They do not care what is true. The positions they hold are not based on merit or honest debate, they are based on a mission or agenda. This comports with anecdotes I’ve received. Here in New York an acquaintance expressed her desire to leave our field, and US Legal offered her work as a digital court reporter. Meanwhile, these companies are not telling digital reporters that stenographic reporting is an option. Concurrently, companies are telling everyone that stenography is the gold standard and there just aren’t enough of us. Given that it would take as many as eight transcribers to replace a single stenographer, one has to wonder why there was no attempt to encourage digital court reporters to join the gold standard of stenography. It’s a lie so blatant and disgusting that I regularly try reaching out to digital court reporters to let them know what’s coming.

Most of the email images are available for download here. I’d just like to point out from those emails that when dealing with the women of my profession, including the very president of our association, C. Phipps, both men were happy to go on and on bashing NCRA’s organizational approach and falsely accuse L. Freiler of libel. It’s quite telling that when I reached out, there was dead silence.

I publish the emails because this is a matter of public importance. This mission that has been admitted to, to replace stenographers with recorders, will threaten access to justice. It is also almost certainly consumer fraud. What else do you call a concerted effort to make it seem as though stenographers are not available when there has been such an abject failure to attempt to recruit any of them in addition to the incredible mistreatment of the workforce? They rely on our consumers being too busy to pay attention to the situation. Asked for comment by me via email on August 12th, Peter didn’t respond, and US Legal asked me to take them off their mailing list. They’re confident you’re not reading my work or that you will throw your hands up and say “not my problem.” They are counting on you being complicit in the suffering and struggle of our young reporters.

How did we get here? Our field is one of mostly independent contractors. Many of us meet the definition of common law employees, but there’s basically no government enforcement there and so any misclassification claims are handled on a case-by-case basis if they’re raised by the court reporter. The only one I ever read about was settled. As independent contractors, we can be considered competitors with these large firms, and therefore the institutions meant to advocate for us have their hands tied. Our court reporter associations cannot call any one company a liar, lest they be accused of group boycott. They do not allow discussion of rates, lest they be accused of anticompetitive behavior. Thrust into a field where large corporations may assert any false claim without being checked, federally-protected discussions of pay are categorically banned, and almost none of us have the legal knowledge to navigate the nuances of employment law, the stenographic reporter has a whole lot stacked against her. We are a field that largely has none of the employee protections written into law. And we have seen as a society just what corporate culture does to women who have those protections. The stenographic reporter? She prevails despite that.

I may not be a woman, but for a decade I have watched my colleagues recount mistreatment and abuse. I will not stand for it longer. If society is seeking a gender pay gap, it need not look further than this situation we find ourselves in. When our field was male dominated, it rose to such prominence and importance that it has a nonprofit in almost every state dedicated to it. As the field transitioned to majority women, rates were frozen. Adjusted for inflation, the average American worker’s pay rose about 58 cents over the last decade. Adjusted for inflation, the stenographic reporter’s pay fell over the last 30 years, in some cases, by nearly 50%. Corporations have court reporters and captioners working much harder today for far less value than 30 or 40 years ago, have made no genuine effort to fix the shortage situation, and then they have the nerve to tell courts and attorneys we aren’t available. It’s like lighting somebody’s house on fire while they’re sleeping, throwing a few droplets of water on it, and telling the firemen you did your best and there’s nobody in the house to rescue.

We need your help. We need you to take a brief but intense interest in our little field of about 30,000 so that we can continue to serve you and the public. Talk to each other about the court reporting service you’re using, talk to your court reporter, start comparing prices. There is a kind of gambling or cost shifting built into our pricing structure that makes it confusing, but ultimately consumers have the power here. You are some of the most educated people on the planet. Whether by legislation or choice, you can make a profound difference in our future. Pass this up to your bosses. Ask them to read it. Ask them whether these are the kinds of businesses we want to entrust the creation of the legal record to. If you’ve been told a stenographic reporter is not available, consider asking some more questions, because there’s a big chance you’re being lied to. Considering investing in stenographic schools or companies. Consider using PRO Link to find a reporter yourself. And of course consider introducing the recruitment resources at the top of this post to someone in your life. We need stenographic court reporters, and all indications are that we will for a long, long time. For my part in it, I will answer any questions I can at ChristopherDay227@gmail.com.

As in the Columbus Bar Lawyers Quarterly, Spring 2020, Caveat Emptor!

To My Usual Readers:

Court reporters, I stand on the backs of all of you at this point. Without your hard work I wouldn’t have been in a position to publish this story. But if we don’t get it in front of people, this is for nothing. I have made about $400 in donations these past two weeks and I will sacrifice every dime of it to boost this post. If you can afford a donation, please send $20. If you cannot, please consider sending this to lawyers and/or tagging a local bar association on the Facebook and Twitter campaign. They cannot be expected to be experts in our industry. We must guide them. Every state is important, but California, Texas, Illinois, and New York are where the majority of our business is, and where the shortage lies can hurt us most. This is not new. This is something we felt in 2019 and now have much more concrete evidence of.

It’s now clear our institutions are not equipped to handle liars, and it is therefore vital for us to seek out allies among the legal community who will see this for what it is, an attack on their choice as consumers; an attack on their clients’ access to justice; and an attack on a field of women and introverts where it was assumed nobody would have the guts to say anything because nobody has bothered to say anything for at least three decades.

I understand why freelancers are hesitant to speak up against companies. They sign your paychecks. The often unsung threat of them withholding work from you leaves you feeling powerless. But if we want a field that has integrity, then we must act now and sound the alarm so that these levels of dishonesty are never seen again. Court reporting firms need to be at least as terrified of dishonesty as we are of speaking against it. I resigned from my board position and asked you to trust me. Trust that action will spare future generations of reporters from sitting silent as their quality of life is eroded year after year. We have to break the silence on the silent problem facing our nation’s courtrooms and spend just a little energy on writing our own collective story.

The Layperson’s Guide To Why Stenographic Reporting Is More Efficient Than Digital Reporting & ASR

Though I have written very much on this topic, never have I sat down and written something that can be handed to anybody. Today’s the day! This is the context of the stenographer shortage forecasted eight years ago and ongoing debate regarding that. It is my hope that having this out there lets court reporters share this instead of having to painstakingly debate the merits one discussion at a time. If you’re looking for a career as a stenographic court reporter, check out National Court Reporters A to Z program, Project Steno, and Open Steno. My resource page also has a lot of industry links to help find manufacturers, retailers, and educators.

Digital Reporting

In the court reporting and captioning industries, there are three modalities, stenographic, voice writing, and digital. Stenographic reporting has a stenographer using a chorded keyboard called a stenotype to write strings of letters that form words, sounds, and statements. Voice writing consists of speaking into an automatic speech recognition system trained to the voice writer. Digital reporting consists of having a person record the testimony, ideally with multitrack or sophisticated equipment, monitor the audio, and annotate it for a transcriber. Some companies, like Verbit, insist that by running audio through an automatic speech recognition system, technology can “improve the human.” There is a fraud being perpetrated on consumers and digital reporters themselves just about every day where they are being told these models are equivalent or even that digital reporting is better. Let’s go deeper.

It’s not cheaper. Where the stenographic reporter works on a per-page basis with a small appearance fee, the digital reporter is paid hourly, typically within the range of $15 to $50 an hour. The cost of the transcript is added to that, which is heavily subsidized off the exploitation of offshore transcribers, who can make as little as $0.84 a page or $0.24 a minute, as I learned in my previously published discussion with one. The companies utilizing digital reporting are trying to cut their transcription costs down to a fourth of what they were, but none of these savings, if any, are being passed to the consumer or courthouse. There have also been past studies that show samey costs for digital and steno. When one factors in the cost of replacing equipment, which likely has a useful life of around four years, the cost for digital can only spiral out of control. We stenographers eat all of our equipment costs. In the event that we were deleted from the field, the lack of competition could only drive those recording equipment costs up further (higher demand for ostensibly the same supply). In addition, reporting companies would have no incentive not to pass those costs to the consumer because there would be zero competition to keep them in check.

Storage is more expensive. This often gets waved away because of the “common sense” mantra that digital storage is CHEAP. But again, this is a cost that is often taken up by the court reporter and would likely transition to the court and consumers. Audio files can be anywhere from 10 to almost 10,000 times larger than our raw stenographic text files. This means that in a worst-case scenario, courts are spending 10,000 times on storage what they would if it was a stenographically reported court. In a best-case scenario, a digitally recorded court could switch to stenographic reporting and bring their storage costs down to about one ten thousandth of what it is today. I arrived at these numbers by comparing hundreds of my raw stenographic notes for 7-hour days to the average recording rates of various formats. Those files are usually in the ballpark of 200 to 400 KB or 28 KB an hour. Something like a an mp3 can be 28 MB an hour. Something like a wav can be 10 MB a minute! To put these numbers into perspective, an MB or megabyte is about 1,000 times larger than a KB or kilobyte. Technology fans point to YouTube and its ability to compress and hold so many videos, to which I have always pointed out that YouTube is a for-profit business, so unless we want to sit through advertisements while waiting for our court cases, maybe they’re not a good model for justice system record storage. We are also assuming that Youtube would share its compression with the government at no additional cost. I have also pointed out that YouTube has existed for less than 17 years. Some courts have record retention requirements that exceed 50. So assuming that the digital model would translate well in perpetuity is shortsighted and a leap of faith. It’s much more likely to provide spiraling costs and force shorter record retention times on courts in the future.

It’s less efficient. By switching to digital reporting, a company is necessarily adding to the number of people required to do a job. Math-wise, theoretically, we were always bound to be 2x to 4x as fast because average typing speed is in the ballpark of 50 words per minute, really fast transcribers get to 100 words per minute, and stenographers are taking down stuff at 225 words per minute. My theory was completely wrong; it requires many more people or much more time. Self-reported, transcribers can take up to six hours to transcribe one hour of audio. According to a Lisa Migliore, as revealed in my PCRA article, the company Verbit even admitted that it would take up to eight transcribers to provide a next-day transcript. Stenography is constantly belittled for its low pass rate. The argument is made that we cannot solve the shortage because of an 80 to 90% dropout rate. But if we’re going to multiply the number of people required by 8 or 9 (someone should man the recorder according to AAERT best practices) then this argument is hollow and an obvious lie. Let’s say you have 10 stenographic reporters. You get 100 students, and 90 percent drop out, you’ve replaced those 10 stenographers. If you need 9 people to replace one stenographer, then we’re already talking about 90 people to replace those 10 stenographers with digital. If you can recruit and train 90 people, why are they not being recruited and trained for stenography? Anybody that says we cannot solve the shortage is saying “we can recruit 90 people, but recruiting 100 is impossible.”

Court Reporting Industry Outlook 2013-2014, Ducker Worldwide

The turnover is comparatively astronomical. Stenographic court reporters stay in the business past retirement age. You can see this from a snapshot of our field’s age about eight years ago, pictured above. The average employee stays about 4 years. The stenographic reporter stays three or four decades. So in addition to requiring about the same number of recruits to fill demand, we know that getting them to stay means getting them into stenographic reporting. Failing to use stenographic reporters means needing those same 90 people I mentioned above every 4 years. Again, assume 10 stenographers retire. We can recruit 100 students who will replace those stenographers, and in 12 years there is a high likelihood they’ll still be in the game. Alternatively, we can recruit and train about 100 digital reporters / transcribers who will stay about four years, and then another 100, and then another 100. So if you’re willing to recruit 300 people over 12 years but not willing to recruit 100 people over the next 2, you’re not thinking logically. 40 years, those same 100 recruits produce those same 10 stenographers. Meanwhile, statistically, one will have needed to recruit and train about 900 digital court reporters and transcribers.

No education culture exists for digital reporting. As pointed out in a past article, when looking at comparable nonprofits, stenographic nonprofits and our education system has about ten times the funding and five times the number of schools. This lack of support on the digital side will allow for companies to dictate best practices to digital reporters and transcribers, and corporate morality is highly questionable. There’s already evidence that cost shifting is being used to kill competition. What happens when we move from a field where there is already guidance on what to do when asked to alter the record to one where an employee is seen as interchangeable and low skill? How much pressure will those poor people be under to change things if they’re making a fourth of what we are? This happens. I’ve been asked to change stuff. Colleagues have been asked to change stuff. Digital reporters and transcribers will be asked to change stuff and they will be under incredible pressure to actually do it. We can stop that by letting them know about steno. As of eight years ago, stenographic court reporting was said to be some 96% of the field. It makes perfect sense for digital reporters to join the majority and become stenographers.

Taken from the Ducker Report, page 6.

Companies are already showing contempt for their own digital reporters and that will likely only get worse. As I pointed out in a past article, while advertising digital reporters to lawyers, Verbit put out an infographic that stated they were not highly trained. There’s already this misconception that digital reporters are not skilled workers, which will make it easier for them to be exploited, to the aforementioned detriment of the consumer. Even with all of our stenographic institutional knowledge and support systems, companies managed to freeze the value of our rates for over three decades. If companies are successful in pushing the narrative that digital reporting is the future, there’s no reason to believe they won’t freeze the digital rates right where they are and the cycle of exploitation will continue. Think I’m wrong? Stenographic court reporters are already being offered below half of market rate for their services. So there’s a SHORTAGE and companies are doing everything in their power to make stenography look as unappealing as possible. Great way to make the situation worse. If we cannot count on them to not exploit people during a shortage, we cannot count on them. This also heavily incentivizes digital reporters to become stenographers, because there are nonprofits to help set them up with mentors in almost every state. Not so with digital reporting.

Offshoring will put transcribers beyond the reach of our courts. There has been no secret that digital reporting companies are offshoring their work to places like Manila, Kenya, or India. In the stenographic model, if there is a problem with the transcript, the stenographer can be subpoenaed to testify about the stenographic notes he or she took down. In the digital reporting model, the digital reporter may be available to testify as to what he or she can recall, but the transcriber will likely be outside the reach of our law enforcement. Add in the fact that there might be eight transcribers to ask about any one transcript, and we have a major problem. Just from experience, I can tell readers that when you’re listening to hundreds or thousands of proceedings, it all starts to blend in. Without someone contemporaneously taking down stenographic notes at the time of a proceeding, how can one be sure audio has not been tampered with? Audio is easy to edit without any sophisticated tools. Advanced technology like deepfakes and voice cloning will make tampering that much easier. There are already enough fakes in the world that forensic audio analysts are necessary. Taking court reporters out of their role of guardian of the record will only add to the chaos and lead to an era of “to the best of my recollection, that sounds like what happened.” The legal field needs to avoid declaring this modality adequate. People’s lives and livelihoods are on the line and it’s painfully obvious that there’s been no real thought put into shifting from stenography to digital reporting. What good is blockchain-like tracking if you can’t get a hold of everyone involved in the process?

Centralization encourages attacks and successful attacks would be more catastrophic. As I have seen, there are two distinct ways that courts operate. Either they operate on a centralized model where the court controls all the records or a decentralized model where reporters are given limited autonomy to store and edit their records. Some courts run on a hybrid model where they keep the raw stenographic notes in case of a problem but the reporter is responsible for the maintenance of all else. Something like grand juries in New York City would be a centralized model. The district attorneys buy the stenotypes and equipment and all work is done on the office’s intranet, which has limited connectivity with the outside world. Decentralization is more along the lines of having each reporter responsible for maintaining their records. Stenographic court reporting leans toward decentralization, meaning that anyone looking to sabotage court records in bulk would have to hack not only the court’s system but also each individual stenographer. In a centralized model, a system compromised by a steganography attack or some other attack could be wiped or hijacked. Basically malicious pieces of code can be hidden inside images and audio, and court computers can then be used to mine Bitcoin for criminals. Decentralization typically suffers from lighter security but makes it harder for a would-be attacker to get access to everything, especially machines that are not connected to the internet. Centralization typically has amazing security, but once an attacker is in, they have access. In a hybrid court like many of New York’s courts, a gang of criminals would have to break both the decentralized and centralized models to wipe records. Good luck with that! It’s no wonder that the New York courts have told ASSCR President Eric Allen many times “we want stenographic court reporters!” Again, we take on the cost of our equipment and the responsibility of its security independent of the system. This is a working condition we proudly accept because it creates redundancy and reduces the risk of lost records. This problem by itself wouldn’t be a big deal, there’s some risk no matter what, but combined with all else is pretty damning.

Lost audio eats any savings. It is always a bad day when any record goes missing. But again, taking this model from one where the stenographer is responsible for the record and can land themselves in extremely hot water if they do not do what they are supposed to do and trusting an audio-only record is dangerous. As I posited in the Summer 2020 NYSCRA Transcript, just three hours of reconstruction hearing can cost $1,000 in resources. In the best-case scenario where people are following best practices and an audio monitor is present and responsible for the audio, this risk is less. But as I’m about to show you, there’s no comfort there either.

Consumer protections for stenographers are better. I would happily assume those audio monitors take their job as seriously as I do. But considering that digital reporting companies have shown no qualms with offshoring or even posting legal proceeding audio on the internet, it’s time to put this to bed. Proponents of digital court reporting are only going to follow best practices where they are forced to by law. Putting our faith in that is foolish. It’s been over a hundred years since the stenotype was invented and regulations related to our field are still incredibly relaxed in some states, like New York. I’d wager that at this rate it’ll take another hundred years before legislators get around to protecting digital reporting consumers and courts. Consumer choice is the way to win here. If people demand a stenographic reporter every time, we can start focusing on how to improve ourselves rather than having to justify our existence every time somebody with a smartphone goes “I can do your job!”

Even in states with incredible consumer protection, companies that support digital reporting, like US Legal, have argued they’re not bound by those laws because they are not court reporting companies. Yet 70% of their business is court reporting? How much more obvious does it need to get that these companies don’t care what is right or legal? They care only what they can get away with. And they got away with violating the law in the Holly Moose case seemingly because plaintiff had trouble showing damages. The government’s position is clear: “You can violate our laws, claim you’re not providing the service that makes up the bulk of your business, and be as dishonest as you want to be. As long as the wrong person is calling you out on it, it’s just fine by us.” Just to give this some more context, the California licensing board for reporters has a long history of being as anti-court reporter as possible. They refuse to step in and regulate digital court reporters, but their stenographic reporters have some of the most stringent regulations in the country. The licensing board of California is basically tying two arms and a leg behind every stenographic court reporter’s back and stenographic reporters are still winning the race there. This is probably a result of bureaucracy and not some conspiratorial nonsense, but it’s the reality that stenographic reporters are living — governments are quick to come after us and can’t be bothered with enforcing the law against anyone that can afford a legal team. Assuming arguendo that digital proponents’ position that the modality is equivalent to stenography is true for just a moment, it’s almost like here in New York City if we decided it was important to license barbers that use scissors and strictly test them on their skills and knowledge, but having no regulation if they practice as a barber using an automatic shaver/buzzer. Both could mess up your hair pretty bad in the wrong hands. Not too many people would want only one to be under government-granted license. Now throw that same idea down, but instead of hair we are talking about appeal records that could decide whether or not someone goes to jail, gets executed, or loses a million dollars.

Just to be clear for anyone that believes the incompetence of regulatory authorities is overstated or hyperbole, according to the California Regulatory Law Reporter, Spring-Summer 1990, authorities have known about digital reporting, then called electronic reporting, for thirty years. Now they’ve expressly disclaimed their obligation to protect consumers. It’s writ-of-mandamus levels of incompetence. A licensing board so useless that court reporters and consumers would be better off asking the California legislature to dissolve it in its entirety.

Provided to me by Protect Your Record Project/Kelly Bryce Shainline

Likely financial suffering of companies using digital reporting. In a 2019 Kentley Insights report, it was noted that 1 in 4 court reporting companies is not profitable. If the vast majority of the field is stenographic and only companies that can afford to run at a loss are the ones attracting big private equity money, it follows that the unprofitable minority are the ones that are trying to change the field are doing so at a loss. They are able to do this because if they are successful the rates can subsequently be jacked up and those losses can be recouped. This is something that was labeled as anticompetitive decades ago, but go ahead and try to prove such a thing in court — maybe the court will once again decide the plaintiff is missing some obscure element and therefore any and all misbehavior is just fine! This also has a regular-world example. Uber did its best to kill the taxi industry at a loss to itself. Then its prices skyrocketed up 50% or more. Want your court reporting bill to double in the future? Allow these companies to continue to push digital reporting.

Blatant dishonesty of companies that push digital reporting. In addition to my thoughts about worker exploitation and the Holly Moose issue, I’ve tackled more misconceptions in the last five years than anyone should ever care to. Just some examples, VTestify had a calculator on their site that claimed they could save thousands per deposition, which was false. Veritext was trying to train attorneys to allow for digital court reporting in deposition notices before ostensibly throwing its then VP of Sales under the bus for going in the exact direction the company was going. US Legal stuck a bogus equation on JD Supra to make the stenographer shortage seem hopeless. Verbit says whatever makes it look good at the time. This is who we want to entrust the future of legal records to? First there was a question of whether digital reporting was even in use by some of them. That was then thoroughly documented and there was a shift to “we can’t hire stenographic reporters due to shortage” which was a lie because few if any recruitment efforts were made to find stenographers through public directories like NCRA Sourcebook. What kind of excuse is that? How about I walk into court tomorrow and say “I’m really trying, judge, I just can’t get the words.” If these companies cannot figure it out they are useless to the legal profession and should dissolve so that stenographers can meet the needs of their clients. It’s become difficult to wave away the sheer incompetence and failure to assist stenographers as honest mistake. If I give you a flat tire once and apologize, chances are you’ll forgive me. If I do it several times over half a decade, how long are you turning the other cheek? At what point do you turn around and tell me “stop now or I will take action to make you stop”? We have suffered too many flat tires. We are ready to go as far as this needs to go. The law itself recognizes that, in dealing with human affairs, there are very few things in this world that we know with absolute certainty. Anyone waiting for an admission of dishonesty better stop holding their breath. In many ways, Stenonymous has become the force to make this stop. We were pushed and pushed to a point where the path of least resistance was to punch back with what we’re best at, preserving history. I’m working on a couple of articles about US Legal’s dishonesty in particular. When I’m done with them, I’ll link them here.

Automatic Speech Recognition.

Inherent danger to already-marginalized speakers. When the Testifying While Black study came out, news media slapped court reporters around a bit because we were only 80% accurate when being tested on African American Vernacular English dialect. I slapped back. The study showed we were twice as good as the average person at understanding this dialect and 1.5x as good as lawyers. As the New York State Court Reporters Association told the New York State Unified Court System, use of automatic speech recognition technologies would not threaten access to justice, it would implode it. To do away with stenographic court reporters would be doing away with the people that, with no formal dialect training whatsoever, understand AAVE speakers the most. We are not a monolith, and some of us will always perform better than others, but as I’m about to show you, we outperform computers too.

Doesn’t actually work. Companies like Verbit have backpedaled from their stance that automation is the way to go to saying things like “technology will enhance the human.” They’re convinced having human transcribers clean up ASR output is the way to go. With all the major players having difficulty getting accuracy above 80% in the study “racial disparities in automatic speech recognition,” it’s clear why. There are inherent problems surrounding ASR through machine learning and the constant presence of language drift. It seems highly unlikely that stenographic reporting or captioning could be adequately automated. Have you seen a really good ASR demo? Please consider that just like Peter Molyneux and Project Natal, that demo might be scripted. I demonstrated how easily voice recognition could be faked by faking it myself with my amateur computer coding knowledge. If all the richest companies in the world are having extreme problems with automatic speech recognition and making it consistently perform at high accuracy, it follows that the small fish like Verbit, Otter, or Parrot are not being honest about their capabilities. Some people marvel at the technology today. “I can just dictate this into my phone! We might not need you guys soon, heh, heh, heh.” Yes, the technology has come along wonderfully. Would you like me to have Siri or Alexa transcribe your loved one’s murder trial? No? Oh…

If it cannot be automated, then we are talking about having all the problems inherent to digital reporting.

Some Related Myths

Over the past few days I’ve had it pointed out to me that some of the corporations I’m accusing of being anti-steno send financial support to Project Steno or help with schools. As for the schooling, with half of our industry being in New York, Illinois, Texas, and California, if a school is not training students for those places, it is a drop in the bucket and meaningless compared to the measures being taken to crush us. As for supporting nonprofits, there’s probably a write off there, so it’s not quite as altruistic as one might assume. And then that leads to, “well, it’s a business.” Exactly. Now you get it. It’s a business. It does not care about you, me, my field, this country, or anything else. The only thing that makes it care is when we unequivocally tell it it will cease to exist if it doesn’t start caring now.

How About This?

Debate and reason are vital to the health of our field. Confronting uncomfortable truths has been nothing but victory after victory. Let’s keep on the road of information dispersal and advocacy. Most people will support us if they are armed with the facts and circumstances. We’re at a tipping point, and the way that the cards fall depends largely on how hard we blow. Learned something new? Pass this along and help increase consumer critical thinking so that they catch this stuff before it gets to this point. See a flaw in my reason? Point it out. Worst that happens is I abandon a weak position for a stronger one.

Addendum:

I should say that this is all omitting the possibility that something is inaudible on a recording or that a recording goes missing. Careful consideration will have to be given to who is responsible and to what extent when things don’t work right if the country is to adopt a full digital model. Stuff happens even to the best of us. The benefit of the stenographer is that he or she can alert parties as soon as there’s an equipment issue. In a world of full automation, which is where digital proponents clearly want to go, parties would get to find out about problems whenever they ordered the transcript, which could be days, months, or years after a proceeding.

What Is Realtime Voice Writing and Why Is It Better Than Digital Reporting?

In our field there are three main modalities for taking the record or captioning. There is stenography, voice writing, and digital recording. Stenography is using a chorded stenotype and computer dictionary to instantaneously take down and transcribe the spoken word. Digital recording is all about letting a microphone pick up the audio and having somebody transcribe it after the fact. Sometimes digital recording proponents insist that they can run the audio through automatic speech recognition (ASR) systems to “assist the transcriber.” I’ve been pretty open about my feelings there.

Transcribers and digital reporters can do better switching to steno.

There are also nonprofits representing each modality. NCRA is all-in for steno. NVRA admits stenographers, but in my mind is really more for voice writers, and rightfully so. AAERT is pro-recording. ATSP is pro-transcriber to the extent it has any court reporting industry presence. There are others like Global Alliance or STTI that claim to be for all three modalities, but I’ve always gotten a “jack of all trades, master of none” vibe from those types of associations.

From information available to me, I believe that NCRA is by far the largest organization and in the best position to handle the court reporter shortage, but NVRA does provide an incredibly important role in certifying voice writers. One common problem in the early years of voice writing, which some New York attorneys still hold against them, was that occasionally they could be heard through the mask. Even now, when there is a lot of sibilance, one can infrequently hear a voice writer through the mask. Modern certification requires that the voice writer is able to perform without being heard, and a two-strike policy is employed in which the first time a writer is heard during a test they are tapped on the shoulder. The second time they are heard, they are disqualified. Voice writing tests, like ours, give the voice writer one shot at getting their “voice notes” correct. They are not allowed to repeat or review the test audio. This kind of testing is important and represents the quality standards this industry needs. NVRA confirmed its testing policy in an 8/11/21 e-mail to me.

No audibility within two feet.

Most reporters know that voice writing is, at its core, speaking into a Stenomask or other voice mask and allowing automatic speech recognition to assist in the transcription of what’s said. In some settings, a voice writer may use an open mic. Some stenographic reporters may be surprised to learn that realtime voice writing is superior to digital reporting and general ASR use. In general ASR use, the microphone takes input from everyone and the computer system gives its best guess based on the training data it has. In a study from last year, it was shown that that technology’s accuracy could drop as low as 25% dependent on who is speaking. Realtime voice writing, by comparison, is a trained operator, the voice writer, often speaking into a closed microphone, and utilizing ASR that has been trained to that writer’s voice. In the best of circumstances, that ASR can reliably put out highly accurate transcriptions of the voice writer’s voice — as high as 98%. Many realtime voice writers utilize Dragon by Nuance connected to their preferred CAT software. I guesstimate that Nuance has the best ASR tech, and there’s no coincidence that despite all the other ASR vendors out there, Nuance is the one Microsoft wanted to buy. This lead in technology comes from the system being trained to understand the specific user or voice writer.

One important distinction is the difference between realtime voice writers and voice writers that speak into the mask and have someone else transcribe and do the work. This is very similar to the divide in stenographic reporting where some scopists report having to fill in huge chunks of information missed by the court reporter. A realtime voice writer, like a realtime stenographer, does not have to provide realtime services, but they do maintain the equipment and capability to do so.

The knowledge and preparedness of the voice writer is integral to the integrity of the record produced. Think of all the glitches and anomalies in stenographic CAT software. Think about how reporters create macros and dictionary workarounds every day to deal with them. As an easy example, my software does not like certain punctuation marks to be together. Early in my career, I worked out that placing a backslash between the two marks and then deleting it would override the software’s programming to delete punctuation. Similarly, voice writers have to deal with the complexities of the ASR system, the CAT software, and how they interact in order to overcome word boundary and formatting issues.

The understanding and maintenance of a voice writer’s equipment is also paramount. How the computer “hears” a writer’s voice in one microphone can be vastly different than another microphone. Different masks can be given different training configurations to enhance the ASR transcription. Voice writers are speaking into a mask, and where saliva or liquid gets into the mask it can alter what the computer hears. The competent voice writer monitors their realtime and keeps redundant equipment in case of an equipment failure, including extra masks and multiple audio backups of their “voice notes.” As someone who keeps two stenotypes in case one decides to die mid-trial, I admire the voice writers that take the time to ensure the show goes on in the event of computer problems.

Like us, there are many briefs or triggers voice writers use. The key difference is that they must speak the “steno.” The same way we must come up with a stroke for designating a speaker, they must come up with a voice command. The same way that stenographers must differentiate the word “period” from the punctuation symbol of a period, voice writers historically had to create differentiations. For example, in years gone by, they might have had to say “peerk” for the symbol and “period” for the word. Modern ASR systems are sometimes able to differentiate the word versus the mark without any special command or input from the voice writer! Again, the experience and ability to predict how the software will interpret what is said is an important skill for the realtime voice writer.

The obvious question arises as to why this blog tends to be silent on voice writing. There’s no overt hostility there and deep admiration for the people at the top of the voice writing modality of record taking. Simply put, I truly believe that stenographic reporting is better and will open more doors for students. That’s colored by my own experiences. As of today, voice writers are not allowed to work in my court and be in my civil service title. We can argue about whether they should be allowed, but the simple fact is that New York courts today tend to utilize stenographic reporting or digital recording. It’s easy to see that the qualified voice writer is a far better choice than the digital recording, but I couldn’t say to a student “get into voice writing! You’ll have the same opportunities as I do!”

I also have to present a warning to voice writers and stenographers. I have seen many of us fall into the mindset of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” We are much closer to each other than either modality is to digital reporting for the simple reason that we like our jobs. Digital reporting proponents have made little effort to hide that their ultimate goal is to offshore the jobs to Manila, Kenya, India, or wherever they can. Digital reporting proponents want to pay stenographers and voice writers less than half of what they’re worth. Digital reporting proponents don’t even respect their own digital reporters, which is why I’ve suggested those people join the stenographic legion.

There is a tumultuous history between stenographic court reporters and voice writers. I’ve been told by multiple NCRA members that when an effort was made to include voice writers about two decades ago, there was heavy backlash and even some harassment that occurred against those that were pro-integration. That was the climate of yesterday. While it seems unlikely that there will be formal alliance, inclusion, or cooperation, the separation we see today is not the same violent rejection of voice writers from the early 2000s. The civility of NCRA’s 2021 business meeting showed that court reporters are ready to disagree without belligerence and keep our industry moving forward. This is more akin to why the North American Olive Oil Association probably doesn’t partner much with the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s. Olive oil and fish oil are both fine oils, but every second and cent spent advocating for one could be spent advocating for the other. It doesn’t make much sense to divide the time and resources. That’s where we are today. What the future holds for tomorrow, I can only imagine.

A big thank you to everyone that made this article possible, up to and including the NVRA. One source of my information was the esteemed Tori Pittman. Trained in both stenography and voice writing, Tori gave me a full demonstration of voice writing and agreed to speak at length about voice writing. See the full interview below!

Drillmaker for Students/Educators

A student recently explained to me that they had to create a drill for set of briefs they wanted to learn. In my view, the best way to do this would be creating a repetitive dictation of the brief(s) a person wants to drill, marking that for dictation, and then practicing at some kind of speed. I know minimal computer coding, and have made tools to try to help students and educators cut down on busywork in the past, but because my coding knowledge is so limited, I’ve never quite mastered it enough to make it easy for people, and consequently, the tools I’ve designed go underused.

I plan to continue to do research and make a real effort to make these tools accessible, but in the meantime, I have a workaround that anyone can do from their computer in five easy steps.

Step 1:
Get the code. Go to my Dropbox, highlight the code text, right click it, and copy it. You can also use CTRL+C when things are highlighted to copy them. Don’t waste your time reading this image, it’s just demonstrative.

Copy it because I’m about to ask you to paste it.

Step 2:
Paste the code into this person’s website. Note that when you open the site, they have some code there already. Just paste right over that or even delete it.

I am about to paste right over that code.

Step 3:
Once you have pasted the code in, go to line 5. There should be a line that says “possible.” Inside those brackets, you put whatever terms you want to show up in your drill. In order to make this work, every phrase or word you want must be surrounded by quotation marks and separated by commas. In the example below, I show what it would look like if you wanted to drill red, yellow, and green.

Put whatever words you want in there.

Step 4:
Once you have set up the words you want to appear in the drill, click the green “run code” button on the bottom right. A black box will pop up. If it says program start, the program is working. If it talks about an error, something went wrong. If it says program complete, it’s all done.

That’s the green run code button. It looks like a sideways green triangle.

Step 5:
After approximately one minute, the program will finish. You will have a file called Drill.txt on the left side of the screen. You can copy your drill into Todd Olivas’s slasher to help you mark it for dictation. If you need help dictating, see what I’ve written about that here.

Remember, this works with any words you want, even if they’re from a George Carlin routine.

I know that this is not ideal, but it is a fast and easy way to get long lists of words without having to painstakingly write and copy them multiple times. I really hope it helps. Special thanks to the student that gave me the idea.

Addendum:
Shortly after releasing this post I changed the code and Dropbox link to a much faster version of the program. It avoids repeating the same word twice and works in one second instead of fifty. The only drawback is that if you only put one item in your word list, the program will run forever without giving you an error message. Please put at least two items in the list.

Additionally, after sharing what I was working on with the Open Steno community, Joshua Grams created an HTML file that is much easier to use. Just download it and double click to open it in your browser. It does not randomize the words, but it does repeat whatever you type into it as many times as you ask it to.

Fear Public Speaking? Try StenoMasters!

I’ve been writing this blog to help people look at the issues in our field differently and realize that they, as individuals, can change outcomes. Many of us struggle with fear and anxiety, whether it’s about a boss, a work situation, a life situation, or even the simple act of speaking up for ourselves. This blog is about bringing comfort through knowledge and often points out there’s always a way forward.

Here is a way forward for our future public speakers. Years ago, one of my best friends, NYSCRA President Joshua Edwards, asked me to attend a Toastmasters meeting. Toastmasters is a public speaking club. It helps people overcome their fear of speaking or enhance the skills they already have through practice. Toward the start of a meeting they had “table topics,” improvised scenarios for randomly-chosen guests to speak about. As luck had it, the very first time I attended I was chosen to talk about what I would do to sell clothing irons to people. I stood up, said I would lose my job, and launched deeper into an explanation about how I would sell those irons that only my Facebook friends can see because Facebook does not want me to touch the privacy settings on that one.

But I am Christopher Day!

At the conclusion of the meeting they asked “will you come back?” My response? “No, I enjoy my debilitating fear of public speaking.” I did come back a time or two and always listened to what Joshua had to say with great interest. He went on to become President of that Toastmasters chapter, participate in at least one regional contest, and sharpen his already-formidable speaking skills.

Now he’s setting up StenoMasters, an online speaking club. A Facebook group and page will be made soon. This will be geared toward stenographers, but it is not going to be exclusively stenographers, so if you have friends or family that want to jump into public speaking with you, have them check it out. There are many amazing options to learn about speaking and presenting. Because StenoMasters is going to be a nonprofit club, I assume it will be the most value for your dollar in public speaking practice, and I am very happy to share it with my audience. When enrollment opens, I hope to be the very first member to sign up.

We have a big messaging issue in steno. As more of us cross the threshold from voiceless to voices for the voiceless, our messaging and entire field will improve. Again, this is a life skill that will help you in all your personal and professional endeavors. I hope you’ll join me in joining StenoMasters.

Will Verbit Go Public in 2022?

Verbit’s constant attraction of investor money and recent acquisition of VITAC has set off a few optimistic waves in the media. Verbit bills itself as a unicorn, that is, a startup with a valuation of over $1 billion. Court reporters worried about that kind of classification should be aware that it means nothing. Fyre was set to be a unicorn, and yet Billy McFarland’s venture did little more than light Fyre’s investors’ money on fire and land him in jail. Theranos was valuated at $10 billion. It’s now worthless and Elizabeth Holmes may face jailtime. Powa was a unicorn with a valuation of $2 billion. That didn’t work out either.

I was shocked to come across an article that states that there are hopes of Verbit becoming a publicly-traded company by 2022. Ignoring things that the article gets incorrect, such as the firm being Manhattan-based (other articles state it’s an Israeli company), there are few reasons I can see for Verbit to become a publicly-traded company. Becoming publicly traded would allow investors to see the profit or loss. To give a great example, VIQ Solutions, parent of Net Transcripts, is publicly traded. It loses money every quarter despite reporting revenue in the millions. Companies that lose money aren’t attractive to investors and that’s why VIQ is about $7 a share today. Remaining private allows companies to continue a kind of “shell game” and operate despite being unprofitable. Based on Livne’s broadcasting of Verbit’s revenue and silence with regard to profit, I suspect Verbit would have the same exact problem, lots of revenue and little or no profit.

Going public would serve only one purpose in my view, an exit for current investors. Current investors could make a big deal about how it’s a company valuated at over $1 billion sitting “on top” of a market that’s allegedly worth $30 billion and watch as new investors dive in and take the bait. In the article above, Livne states the funding rounds were over-subscribed. That means they had a lot of money poured on them in their funding rounds that they did not need. If they’re over-funded, going public clearly wouldn’t provide the company with funds it needs — remember, it’s overfunded — again, it would give the current investors an exit. They get to cash out, some suckers get to buy in, and what happens after that is anybody’s guess. It remains a little strange to me that journalists buy the idea that a company that is maybe half a decade old has automatic speech recognition technology that is better than basically all the major players in the market. Those major players, according to one study, have accuracy levels between 25 and 80 percent.

My prediction is that Verbit will either fail to go public in 2022, or it will go public and take a hard fall sometime down the road after Livne and other investors have cashed out. I sincerely hope it’s the latter, because at least it would be a happy ending for the founder. Verbit finds itself in a precarious position of being a large target for the IRS. In the United States, one is a common law employee when the “employer” has direction and control. Verbit, according to the linked article, is using 30,000 freelancers to carry out its business model. If Verbit does not have direction and control, it cannot assure quality. If it does have direction and control, those are 30,000 employees it is failing to withhold taxes for. Like other companies that rely heavily on independent contractors, Verbit may soon find itself under attack from federal and state tax authorities where it conducts business or earns income. Anyone in the world can confidentially file a form 3949-A that puts Verbit under the spotlight, and that can only translate into headaches for the company and its investors. With that kind of exposure, I would not be investing in the company any time soon.

Even in a world where authorities turn a blind eye and there isn’t a decline in the company’s financial health, Verbit moving public could only give its competitors more information, which is something I’m looking forward to.

Meanwhile, back at Stenonymous HQ, an important meeting with my board of directors.