Beware Commercial Leasing Agreements for Equipment

Commercial leasing, by itself, is not a scam. The idea behind commercial equipment leasing is that you are leasing or renting computer or electronic equipment from a company for a specified time. Some agreements then contain provisions for you to buy the equipment or return it to the company you are leasing from. That said, contract law is pretty serious in the United States and you will generally be expected to abide by the terms of the contract that you sign with a provider or seller if a matter goes to court. This means you have to be absolutely sure you want to be a part of the agreement you’re signing.

Why beware? A few simple reasons:

  1. Complexity. The likelihood that you need a company to help you pick out equipment is low, and the cost of computer equipment for court reporting is low enough that you can probably figure out a way to buy the equipment outright or cheaper using revolving or personal credit. It does not make sense to have a complex contractual agreement for equipment unless there is something generous you are getting from the contract such as generous tech support provisions, replacement parts, or free repairs/replacements. If you can walk into a store and get it, caveat emptor. If you are entering an agreement for someone else to get it for you, be just as careful.
  2. Third-party bait and switch. Some sellers will say they are helping you pick out the right equipment for you. This can be very tempting because not everyone in our field is comfortable buying computers without advice. So you could be talking to your software manufacturer, who refers you to their “computer specialists,” who are actually a third-party commercial leasing company. So one minute you’re talking about buying a computer, the next minute you’re signing a commercial leasing agreement, and if you’re not careful, your signature could end up on an agreement that you don’t fully understand. This is totally legitimate, legal business, but it could cost a reporter a lot of money unnecessarily.
  3. Predatory practices. Beyond the third-party bait and switch, there are general equipment leasing “tricks” that can end up costing consumers. Evergreen clauses are one example of this, where the buyer has the option to buy the equipment, but the seller is allowed to extend the agreement if the buyer does not notify them of their intent to buy the equipment. There are also instances where sellers attempt to alter the text of the contract just before it is signed. If you see a company employing predatory practices or attempting to confuse you, it may be a good idea to avoid doing business with them altogether.

Protect yourself and your wallet. Always make sure you read, understand, and retain a copy of what you sign or agree to. If you are having trouble understanding the terms of a contract, it may pay to have a lawyer review the contract with you, because monthly payments, fees, or penalties in an agreement can quickly snowball to be several times the cost of the computer equipment you’re leasing — and it’s mostly legal.

Can You Hear Me Now? Computer Parts For Steno Made Simple

If you want to learn about parts for a new system, read the beginning. If you want to troubleshoot your current system, scroll down to “But I want to troubleshoot on my current system.”

TLDR: RAM is extremely important for our work.

Windows users, in today’s world of remote reporting and computing confusion it can help a little bit to have a simple guide on what you’re looking at when you’re buying a computer. If you’ve got a system you’re comfortable with, this one is NOT FOR YOU. For everybody else, let’s break things down into simple. If you’ve got a friend who has trouble with computers, this might help them with their shopping choices.

When you go to buy a computer, you’ll probably end up on a screen like this:

And then you’re probably going to end up clicking one of these and ending up on a screen like this. Remember, when buying a computer, the specifications tab is YOUR FRIEND.

In this particular listing, we luck out, because a lot of the specifications are also posted right at the top. Sometimes this is not the case. In this particular listing, we are also allowed to customize our specifications (specs) a little bit. Please note, this is being given as an example and not an endorsement of any site, product, or company. One of the first things you want to answer: Does the operating system fit the programs I want on the computer? This can include things like your printer. As an example, if a printer has been made to work specifically with Windows and has no Chrome driver, it might be extremely difficult or impossible to make it work with Chrome. In computers, a driver is computer code or software that helps the computer know what to do with hardware. Software is the code, apps, and programs on your computer. Hardware is the physical equipment. This is why you need to install the driver for your steno machine every time you get a new system. The driver is software teaching the computer what to do with the steno machine’s stuff. Some examples: Your steno machine is hardware. Your mouse is hardware. Your keyboard is hardware. Your operating system is software.

For figuring out whether a computer is going to work with the program you want, you should always pull up the program’s minimum specifications. Let’s pull up the minimum specifications for CaseCAT in this example. In this image are a bunch of red arrows and red text. I’m going to repeat everything below the image for easier reading.

Operating System. Also called OS. This is the foundation of the computer and what everything else is running from or on. Some common operating systems are Windows, Linux, Mac, and Chrome. Most stenographic tech is made to run off of Windows. It is possible to partition computers and run two operating systems, but we’re here to keep it simple.

Processor. Also called CPU. How fast your computer figures out stuff. We’re taking down words and that doesn’t require very fast processing speeds normally. If you’re concerned about processing speeds, get a “dual core.” This allows the computer to process multiple things at once. Note that Zoom’s minimum requirement is a dual core 2 GHZ requirement. If you want to run Zoom and stenographic tech on the same system, you probably want a dual core processor with more than 2 GHZ or a quad core processor.

RAM, also referred to as memory. Random Access Memory. This is where the computer stores information about programs you have open. This should not be confused with hard drive “memory.” It is always a smaller number like 2GB, 4GB, 8 GB, or 16 GB. If your computer is freezing, it’s probably because it’s out of RAM! Note that the minimum for Zoom is 4 GB, so if you want to run stenographic tech and Zoom on the same system, you probably want 8GB or 16 GB of RAM.

Hard Drive, sometimes referred to as memory. Almost always a big number like 256 GB, 512 GB, or 1 TB (~1000GB). This is how much stuff your computer can save. Many people believe that having too much stuff saved on the computer slows it down. This is usually not true. People get confused between hard drive memory and RAM memory. Most of the time your computer is slow because it’s having RAM issues. If the hard drive is almost completely full and you continue trying to save things, you might lose data. Try not to let your hard drive get completely full. Please note that despite all I just wrote, hard drives inside the computer (connected by something called SATA, SSD, etc.) are always faster than hard drives that are plugged in by USB. Programs you run often or files you open often should be installed on the hard drive inside your computer and not a USB hard drive or flash drive.

Video Card. Often referred to as GPU or graphics processing unit. Stenographic tech works on very old video cards. This is probably low on your priority list. Same for audio and your monitor. If you intend to use a computer for gaming or rendering graphics, you want a good video card.

When you’re looking at getting a new system, your biggest considerations are the operating system, the RAM, and the hard drive space. If you are going to be using the computer to run Zoom, you also want to check those minimum requirements. If you are going to be running Zoom and your stenographic software on the same computer, you want to be better than minimum requirements.

To wrap things up, this $399 desktop computer in this example appears to be a great work computer. Correct operating system, 8 GB RAM, good processor, lots of hard drive space. When you buy a laptop it’s often more expensive because you’re paying for the convenience of mobility. If you are looking for value and do most of your work from one location a desktop is usually superior value; you will often get better computer parts for a lower price as compared to a laptop. Be cautious with regard to netbooks. Some of them have very low RAM or processing power, and may or may not be suitable for our work.

My personal feelings? Brand hardly matters. It’s all about those numbers. You want lots of RAM and a dual or quad core processor.

But I want to troubleshoot problems on my current system.

I’ve got something for you. In Windows there are a few ways to check what’s going on in your computer. You can pull your system information by using your search bar. Using everything we just talked about, let’s see if we can identify the important parts.

Remember, Operating System, Processor, RAM. By knowing what system you’re running on today, you can figure out where your problem is. This computer has 32 GB of RAM. That means I can have a lot of stuff open before it freezes on me. If you’re having freezing problems, what can you do?

First, open your task manager. You can do this by using CTRL + ALT + DELETE and opening the task manager, or going to “run” and opening taskmgr.

CTRL ALT DELETE:

RUN TASKMGR:

Whatever you do, you end up at a screen that looks kind of like this:

This screen is very important because it can tell you what is taking up all your RAM or Memory. Remember, this computer is running 32 GB RAM and 20 percent of it is in use while I’m working on Microsoft Teams without CaseCAT open. That’s almost 7 GB of RAM. If I had an 8 GB RAM computer, it would be incredibly close to freezing!

What can we learn from this? If you are working and you have Chrome or an internet browser open, you might be using RAM that your computer needs to run CaseCAT, Zoom, etc.

Facebooking taking up your RAM? Right click and end task! Don’t let online shopping bust your zepo/depo/court/CART/comp!

Final note. Computers, printers, and other devices generally work by running electricity through the parts on and off to produce the result we want. If you are having a problem with your computer or another device and cannot figure out the reason, power it down completely. Unplug it if you have to. Sometimes these electrical charges get caught in a “bad loop” and cause glitches or errors that simply cannot be troubleshooted. When you power down your device, you stop the electricity running through it, and break the “bad loop.” This is why the first line of tech support is always “did you try turning it off and then on again?”

Nobody is born knowing about computers, so if you don’t know something, ask. It’s a lot better than buying something that doesn’t work for you.

PS. Stenonymous runs ad free to keep your reading experience pleasurable. If you find the articles here helpful or informational, please consider donating. With over 8,000 visitors and 13,000 views a year, this site could run ad free for over a decade if everyone contributed just one dollar. I could also afford more ad campaigns for articles and/or hire guest writers and investigators for better article quality. If you don’t want to donate to my blog, then at least shoot over some suggestions for my Resource Page. You can contact me at Chris@Stenonymous.com, assuming I didn’t break that again. If you haven’t been to my resource page, check it out. It’s one of the few ways I have of platforming others’ work.

What Law Offices Need To Know About A Court Reporter Shortage

There’s been a great deal of marketing and many press releases about “disruptive” technology in my field. I’ve been a stenographic court reporter for a decade. I’ve worked right next to reporters who have been working for three or four decades. All of us concede that technology, on average, is getting better. Computers today can do things that few could have imagined in 1970. Computer programs used to be written on punch cards. Try inserting one of those into your iPhone. It’s no wonder that when people see some of the older stenotypes, they ask where the punch card goes.

You write on a stenotype but type on a typewriter. Can’t explain that!

Of course there’s no punch card. But we end up getting a pretty bad rep because the keyboard layout we use is a hundred years old. It’s easy to look at that and forget there’s a whole arsenal of technology attached to that keyboard layout. By 1963 we were using magnetic tape for computer transcription. By 1987, our stenotypes were rocking floppy disks. Today’s stenotypes are so damn good you can read my notes off the screen without any special training.

You would be able to read the notes off the screen, if I ever took any.

There was no secret that there was a court reporter shortage coming. Our field first learned this shortage was coming towards us in 2013. By 2019, the entire country knew there was a shortage. There is a court reporter association in almost every state, a National Court Reporters Association, and myriad nonprofits and other initiatives aimed at solving the shortage. Since 2013, we’ve seen things like Open Steno, A to Z, and Project Steno all aimed at meeting the demand for stenographers in their own way.

With even a gentle push from the larger corporations in our field, things would have been fine. But we started to see some strange moves in our industry by some companies. Some companies started to ask law offices to change their deposition notices to allow for audio recording. Some companies started saying that reporters were unavailable even when we were all sitting at home on social media chatting away with each other. Some companies started completely fabricating news, saying things like “…this world hasn’t been digitized…” Some companies say AI is making things better even though AI only gets 65 to 80 percent of what’s being said. Some companies started to push “digital” court reporters. Digital reporters, while they are nice people, are just recording your deposition and taking some notes. They are being used by those companies as part of the record and transcribe method. These companies are literally taking people who could fill the stenographic reporter gap and telling them “no, do this instead, it’s newer.” They don’t bother to tell them that stenographic reporting utilized the record-and-transcribe method several decades ago with Dictaphone technology and has since evolved to be far more efficient. Stenography has been digital since before some of us were born.

Eventually, you have to ask yourself, “what’s the deal? If there’s is a shortage, why does Veritext, or Planet Depos, or US Legal advertise that they’re hiring digital court reporter positions in New York, but almost never a single ad for a stenographic reporter?” Well, reporting firms, like just about any other industry, make a good deal of their money being the broker for the buyer and seller. You buy our services, we sell them, and the court reporting companies make money by knowing how low we’ll go and how high you’ll go. I started out as a deposition reporter in 2010 and was offered $2.80 a page. Years later I learned that was almost the exact same rate given to reporters in the 1990s and far lower than the page rates that court reporters working in court got. Court reporting companies told me reporters were a dime a dozen and that law offices wouldn’t pay a penny more. Meanwhile, I was taking depositions where the attorneys were telling me how expensive our services were. On a deposition with a lot of copy sales, I wouldn’t be surprised if I was taking home 20 percent of the total invoice. That’s a lot of money to a company to market and print, bind, and mail a transcript that takes hours of reading, research, and transcription on my part.

Our entire profession is in a state of shock because we placed a great deal of trust in reporting firms to market our skills. This is similar to the trust you put in them to find you a qualified stenographic reporter. Yet we find ourselves compiling state databases, national databases, and nonprofit databases dedicated to helping you find stenographic reporters because some companies can’t be bothered to connect consumers with the service they want. They see the education culture that stenography has as a threat. They see it as an expense to do away with. What happens when you take a field with 60 nonprofits and dozens of schools dedicated to the welfare and training of court reporters and replace it with people that have no such support system? You get workers that are easier to intimidate and lowball in the long run. How do I know? It already happened when the Federation of Shorthand Reporters in New York collapsed. Worker pay stagnated while the invoices to attorneys skyrocketed; this is the same situation on a national scale.

What law offices need to know is that they alone decide what happens next in our industry. Ultimately, law offices set the demand. It’s you, the attorneys, office managers, paralegals, and secretaries. You can trust us to recruit enough to fill any shortage. You can trust us to adopt the latest technology. You can trust us to continue over a hundred years of tradition, value, and service by making sure your record is accurate and turned around quickly at the best cost. We have to trust you to demand a stenographic reporter every time so that steno schools can keep pumping out graduates and promising jobs. We have to trust you to look at claims that a stenographic reporter could not be provided with skepticism. We have to trust you to be smart consumers. We have to trust you to let your colleagues know what’s going on in our tiny industry. Don’t just do it so that I have a job in ten years. Do it for your clients. Do it for your consumers. I guarantee that if the demand for steno slips, you’re going to be looking at some crazy deposition bills and hearing some new excuse.

  • – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

PS. This article comes after a great satire (image here) was done on this topic by a reporter under the alias DigitalByHumans. In that satire, posted to Craigslist, the writer describes a world where a company does this same sort of thing to attorneys, deciding to use “digital” attorneys, and goes on to note that the company makes a lot of customer comfort moves to hide the fact that they aren’t using actual attorneys. While my post here tries to focus on getting straight to the facts I know and the conclusions I draw, I really think that it was something special and illustrates the frustration a lot of us have on this topic. There are states where we are very heavily regulated and the regulating bodies have, through inaction or inability to enforce the law, allowed people to come in and record as “digital court reporters” without any regulation, whereas a stenographic court reporter doing pretty much the same thing would be fined or reprimanded. It’s not the digital reporters’ fault, it’s the companies’ fault, but until consumers and consumer protection agencies stand up and say “no,” the situation will continue.

Remote Notarial Acts Executive Orders (NY 2020)

This explanation used to be hosted on my Remote Swearing page. It is now hosted here on this page.

On or about March 19, 2020, the governor issued an Executive Order 202.7 allowing all notarial acts to be done over audio-video technology until April 18, 2020.  In 2020, when the New York State Court Reporters Association sought guidance from the Department of State on oaths, the Department of State sent back the Executive Order. From this, I conclude that oaths falls under “all notarial acts.” If a notary is administering an oath under the Executive Order, they should probably follow all the guidelines under 202.7.

Order 202.7 was extended by Executive Order 202.14 until May 7, 2020.

Order 202.14 was extended by Executive Order 202.28 until June 6, 2020.

Order 202.28 was extended by Executive Order 202.38 until July 6, 2020.

Order 202.38 was extended by Executive Order 202.48 until August 5, 2020.

Order 202.48 was extended by Executive Orders 202.55 and 202.55.1 until September 4, 2020.

Order 202.55 and 202.55.1 were extended by Executive Order 202.60 until October 4, 2020.

Order 202.60 was extended by Executive Order 202.67 until November 3, 2020.

Order 202.67 was extended by Executive Order 202.72 until December 3, 2020.

Order 202.72 was extended by Executive Order 202.79 until January 1, 2021.

Order 202.79 was extended by Executive Order 202.87 until January 29, 2021.

Trolls and You

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Addendum:

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

The Question To Ask Yourself When Viewing An ASR Demo

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

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

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

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

What Verbit Leadership Needs To Know

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

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

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

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

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

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

How To Spot More Better Marketing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Common Scams

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

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

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

Stenonymous on VICE News Tonight

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

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

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

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

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

Addendum:

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