In my Collective Power of Stenographers post, we explored how court reporters collectively out-earn every company in business today. In Aggressive Marketing — Growth or Flailing, we took a look at VIQ Solutions, parent of Net Transcripts, and saw how a transcription company could be making millions in revenue but be unprofitable. This all set me down a path of learning about zombie companies, companies that are not making enough to meet debt obligations, or just barely enough to make interest payments. You can watch Kerry Grinkmeyer describe how that happens here. This isn’t very rare. A Bloomberg analysis of 3,000 publicly-traded companies found one in five were zombies. The main takeaway? Companies can make lots of money and still be taking losses.
I had the pleasure of looking through the Kentley Insights June 2019 Court Reporting and Stenotype Services market research report. I do want to be upfront about it: I have some reservations about the methodologies and some of the reporting. Very much like the Ducker Report, as best I can tell, it’s based off a sampling of respondents from in or around the field. There are parts of the report that are arguably a little incomplete or unclear. For example, being industry experts, we all know the vast majority of the work is done by independent contractors. Independent contractor isn’t a term that appears in the report. Unsurprisingly, when we reach the job pay bands and employment section, it says there isn’t detailed data on the industry and compares us to the telephone call centers industry. So this report is not a must-have for court reporters, but it does have some interesting insights.
Those remarks aside, when we get to the profitability section of the report, we get to see something pretty striking. Based on their data, more than 1 in 4 court reporting companies are not profitable. Average net income as a percent of revenue for the ones that are profitable? About 9.3 percent. For the ones that are not profitable, a loss of about 9.6 percent. And a pretty chart that says as much.
On the following page, there’s a forecast for operating expenses and industry revenue. That’s summed up in another pretty chart.
If we look at the trends here, it’s pretty clear that the forecast is for expense growth to eclipse and outpace revenue growth. If that keeps up, the unprofitable companies are going to be looking at bigger losses year after year. Given all the information I have today, I surmise that the smaller court reporting companies are the more profitable ones and the bigger ones are the ones struggling. There are sure to be some outliers, like small court reporting shops that go bankrupt and leave their independent contractors unpaid. But overall, the smaller companies can’t afford to remain unprofitable for very long, so it’s probably the “big dogs” eating that 10 percent loss. If I’m right, that may also mean the push to go digital is the dying breath of companies that can’t figure out any other way forward. In February, I wrote “…we only lose if we do not compete.” That is becoming more evident with time and data. It is a great time for the stenographic reporter to open up shop and be a part of the 74%.
Speaking of data, if everybody that read this blog donated $1.50, we’d have enough money to stay ad-free for the next two decades. To all donors we’ve had to date, thank you so much, put your wallets away. To everybody else, check out this cool song from M.I.A. about taking your money.
When you care about something, how difficult is it to do? I can only go by my own experiences here. I hate calling lawyers. A family member got fired and there was potentially an attached legal issue. I was on the phone chain calling lawyers for them until I found one that could speak to the family member that same day. I don’t have any desire to be a public speaker, but I figured it out when I thought our profession might need it. US Legal, by all appearances, cares a lot about attracting digital reporters and strengthening AAERT.
In fairness, US Legal does have a reporter corner and a few spots on their site where they specifically mention stenography. But we have to look at the totality of the circumstances to decide whether this is out of genuine care or whether it’s a facade to point at and say “look, we care!” It’s been known for a while that US Legal is backing digital reporting. They bought out Stenotrain, made some announcements to look good, and killed it. Now reporters are getting offers to join USL as long as reporters drop the stenotype and fall in line with whatever junk USL wants to peddle to consumers. Again, I have to look at my own experiences, and when I don’t advertise very much, my site can get as little as 500 views a year.
Meanwhile, when I spend a few hundred bucks on an ad, I get the word steno in front of thousands of people.
Hopefully the point is pretty clear. If and when they cry shortage and say they just can’t fill the seats, it’s a lie. According to Owler, they have a revenue of over $100 million. They’re taking that money and betting it against stenographic court reporters. There are national, state, and nonprofit databases of reporters. This is a game to take our relatively high-paying jobs and organized, educated workforce, and replace them with low-paying jobs and people who won’t have the same ethics culture we do.
It’s a game I need some help winning. All corporations are made up of people. Educate those people on the truth, and just maybe they’ll realize they’re risking everything by backing the losing horse. If you happen to get a message from one of the recruiters working on this, please don’t blast them, but let them know what’s happening. Chances are good they have no idea.
This month I had a chance to sit down with Marc Russo of MGR Reporting. Marc’s a working reporter and business owner. We got to hit a lot of topics in this video, including Marc’s history in the field, how reporter skill relates to reporter treatment, and how scheduling ahead can help reporting firms fill their clients’ needs.
Using Marc’s words, it’s about treating reporters like people instead of numbers.
If you’re somebody in the United States, United Kingdom, or Canada who’s sold on a career as a digital court reporter, or even if you’re just passing through looking for a new career, I’d like to introduce you to stenographic court reporting in a way that you have not been introduced. Just to get this out of the way, in very general terms, court reporting is taking down the legal record and providing an English transcript for judges, lawyers, litigants, and the public. Stenographic “court reporting,” can also be used to caption live shows and events, or transcribe recorded material when needed. The big difference between “steno” and digital is that digital court reporters record testimony or proceedings, usually on multitrack audio equipment, and take guiding notes as the proceedings go on. The stenographic reporter uses a stenotype to take verbatim notes of what’s being said. In our industry today there are a few big companies aggressively marketing to young people looking for work. Those companies insist that digital court reporting is an opportunity for them. There have even been journalists picking up these misconceptions without realizing they’re being misled. It’s time to dispel those myths, tell you a little bit about who we really are, and get you resources you can use to explore a career as a stenographic court reporter.
We Are Digital! One of the most interesting claims I’ve seen from digital court reporting proponents in the press is that “this world isn’t digitized.” We’re old-fashioned. The implication is that stenographic court reporting is a dying art with very little time left as a viable career. Every time you see a representation of us in the media, you get a stenotype from 1983! The truth is that we’ve been digital for decades. Most working reporters today roll with a stenotype that is more like a minicomputer than a typewriter. There’s software onboard transcribing the machine shorthand stenography as we go. So that’s a big red flag, right? There’s a CEO making a major statement who’s clearly lying or completely ignorant. Don’t bank your future on the words of people who are lying or wrong. Not only are we technologically advanced, we’re extremely adaptable. When the pandemic struck, court reporters were in a jam for a month or so. The field quickly adopted remote reporting and now reporters are talking about having more work than they can handle right from home. If you like tech, steno is for you.
We Are More Efficient! I know that this can come off as a loaded or insulting statement, so let me just get this out of the way. There’s nothing wrong with believing that technology improves efficiency. What’s often ignored in this discussion is that stenographic technology is evolving right alongside audio capture tech. There have been trials of automatic speech recognition in stenographic software. There have been leaps in text-to-text prediction and some software even attempts to guess what we meant when we mess up a stenographic stroke. Recording a proceeding generally entails the front-end recording and the back-end transcription. Machine shorthand stenography, on the other hand, loads the transcription on while the proceedings are going on. The most skilled stenographic court reporters can walk away from a proceeding and press print. The more average ones, like me, are able to reduce the transcription time so much that one person can do the entire job. You can also see this in the numbers. The average court reporter types (we call it writes) at 225 words per minute with a 1.4 syllabic density, so probably about 200 words per minute. The average transcriber types at about 100 words per minute. The average person hovers around 50 words per minute. So just by the numbers, you can see that stenographic reporting can get a job done twice as fast, four times as fast, or with far less manpower. Machine shorthand stenography is also much easier on your hands. We have the capability of getting down very large words or large groups of words with one movement of our hands. As an example, it took me over 18,000 hand motions to get this post down on a QWERTY keyboard. It would have taken about 3,000 hand movements on the stenotype that I was too lazy to plug in. If you’re a transcriber, imagine reducing the stress on your hands to a sixth of what it currently is.
We Have More Support! Some of the court reporting or transcription companies I mentioned before are riding on another misconception regarding our stenographer shortage. About 8 years ago there was an industry outlook and forecast by Ducker Worldwide that told us there would be a higher demand for court reporters than supply. That part is absolutely true. A shortage was forecasted. Some companies were having severe coverage issues. We saw the number of applicants for licenses and civil service jobs plummeting to about half the usual levels. This can lead to the implication that there are not many stenographers left. It’s an easy myth to propagate. How many of us have you seen recently? Unless you’ve been stuck in a lawsuit, been prosecuted, or seen me on TV, you haven’t seen a court reporter. The truth is that we knew the shortage was coming. Many initiatives popped up to begin recruiting stenographers or helping people get into the field. Depending on whose numbers you’re looking at, there are 10,000 to 20,000 of us working. That means that if you have a problem or a question, you have potentially thousands of people around to assist you. You have a nonprofit in almost in every state devoted to stenographic court reporters. Those nonprofits pull in cumulatively millions of dollars a year with the objective of promoting the welfare of stenographic court reporters. To put this into perspective, a popular stenotype manufacturer, Stenograph, recently donated $50,000 to Project Steno. Nobody’s dumping millions of dollars on nonprofits in a career that has no future. Why aren’t some of these “employers” telling you about this vast support network? Because if you join it, you will have sharper skills and better bargaining power.
We Have Options! There are freelance, part-time, and full-time positions available dependent on where you are and what you’re looking to do with this wonderful skill. Maybe you’re someone who needs to work from home and “just” do transcription — I know a mom just like that. Maybe you love the law and want to see the process of law firsthand. Maybe you want to caption live events over the TV, internet, or in person, via stenographic CART & captioning. Maybe you want to travel internationally and take work around the world. There are even reporters who have taken the general skill of stenotype stenography and applied it to computer programming, such as Stanley Sakai. The limiting factor is how much time you put into hunting down the type of work you want!
We Are Equality! If you clicked the link for my TV appearance, you saw that stenographic reporters got some really bad news stories run on them because while our certifications are 95 percent, we only scored about 80 percent in a study where some of us were asked to transcribe a specific English dialect sometimes referred to by linguists as African American English (AAE). VICE News filmed me for about two hours. They cut the part where I talked about the pilot studies. In pilot study 1, everyday people were tested and scored 40 percent. In pilot study 2, lawyers were tested and scored 60 percent. In a completely different study, automatic speech recognition was tested. It got white speech right 80 percent of the time. It got black speech right 65 percent of the time. It did worse when it was tested on AAE! What does this mean? It means that young people that want to ensure equality in the courtroom need to join up and become stenographic court reporters. I’m not gloating about 80 percent. But with no special dialect training, we’re the closest to 100 percent understanding on this dialect, and that was ignored by the media. I am proud to be one of the people fighting to bridge that gap and spread awareness on the issue. Beyond that, in the captioning and CART arena, stenographic court reporters are pushing to bring access to people for live programming and in classrooms. So if you choose this wonderful career you are not “doomed” to sit in legal proceedings for the rest of your life, you can also make a career out of taking down what’s being said and bringing it to the screens of millions of people who need that support. If you’re a person that believes that court records should be 100 percent accurate, someone that believes appeals shouldn’t be thwarted by missing court audio, or someone that believes that deaf people deserve real access, and not “autocraptions,” you’re somebody that needs to join up and be part of the team steno solution.
We Are Waiting For You! Remember that shortage I mentioned and the resources waiting for you? I have an easy list you can use to get a jumpstart, find the right level of training for your financial situation, and get involved with our field. This is not an exhaustive list, so if you find something online that seems better for you, don’t hesitate to give that a chance. To help you understand some jargon in our line of work, “theory” is a method or system of using the stenotype and its letters to take down English, often phonetically. “Speed” is taking everything you learn in theory and learning to do it fast. Speed is by far the longest and hardest part of training. “Briefs” are stenographic outlines or strokes that do not necessarily resemble English words phonetically in theory, but we use them to get down large words fast. “Phrases” are stenographic strokes or outlines that collapse multiple words into one line of letters. Generally you will “learn theory,” then you will start “building speed,” and then you will use briefs and phrases to reach those very high levels of speed that we work at. It is physically possible to write everything out phonetically, but it will be more stressful on your hands.
Try court reporting for free. NCRA A to Z and Project Steno’s Basic Training are both free ways to try out court reporting and learn basic theory at low or no cost. Both are great ways to jump into the field without blowing $2,000 on a student stenotype only to find out you don’t like steno. On the topic of finding stenotypes to practice with, there are vendors such as StenoWorks, Acculaw, Stenograph, Eclipse, and Neutrino. You can also search on eBay for old Stentura models at a discount, but do not go outside eBay’s buyer protection or you will get scammed.
NCRA-approved schools. There are several NCRA-approved schools across the United States and one in Canada. These are worth looking into if you are serious about making court reporting a career because of the quality of the education. Please note that not all NCRA-approved schools are accredited.
Online, self-paced, or programs not approved by NCRA. There are numerous programs for stenographic reporting. There are programs to teach theory like StarTran. There are programs like Simply Steno that focus on building speed after someone has learned the basics of theory, and there are programs like Court Reporting At Home (CRAH). You can also see if the court reporters association of your state has any advice or school listings. All of these things also have a great deal of social media support. There are lots of Facebook groups like Encouraging Court Reporting Students or Studying Court Reporting At Home. There are students and professionals online right now who are there to help with the journey.
Open Steno. I have to put Open Steno in a category by itself because there’s just nothing like it. It is a free, active, and open online community with Google Groups, a free way to learn theory, and its own Discord chat. There are enthusiasts that build stenotype keyboards from scratch. This is the community responsible for Steno Arcade. This is the community responsible for Plover, a free steno-to-English translation software. It was all started by Mirabai Knight, a CART writer in New York. If you’re motivated to teach yourself for free, Open Steno makes it possible in a way that it simply was not a decade ago.
Christopher Day. Chances are high you’re here because you saw an ad on social media. I’ve been a court reporter for almost eleven years. I’ve been funding this blog and keeping it an ad-free experience (with some very appreciated help!) just to help stenographers and people that aspire to be stenographers. I know people that have transitioned from digital (and analogue!) court reporting to stenographic reporting and become real champions of and voices for our field. Every reporter I know is supportive of stenography students and fellow professionals. You’ll rarely hear one of us refer to another one of us as being “low skill.” Compare that to this marketing infographic from Verbit. They said digital solutions do not require a highly-trained workforce. Do you really want to work with people that downplay your work when it’s convenient for them? These folks are setting themselves up to make money off you. I have no such incentive or financial ties. I’m a guy with a squid hat and a blog who fell into this wonderful career by accident, and I’d love for you to be a part of it.
So if you need more guidance, reach out to me at Chris@stenonymous.com. Do yourself the favor of getting involved with stenographic reporting. If sitting there hearing testimony is something you can see yourself doing, you’ve already got a whole lot more in common with us than half the world. Give our profession some consideration. It’s easy to learn, it’s hard to do fast, and though it takes 2 to 4 years of training, it really can be your gateway to an exciting front-row seat to history and a rewarding lifelong career. If that doesn’t sell you, we also have some top-quality memes.
We often highlight the success stories of our industry. I think this is very important because it keeps current students open to the idea that they can succeed. Like every industry, we will have people that make colossal gains, start businesses, and create a great life with lots of opportunities and experiences. On the other hand, there may be individuals out there who, for whatever reason, cannot finish school or do not land very lucrative work at the start of their journey. I had a rough time starting off. I didn’t have a lot of life experience and most of the work I got was from being a reliable and steady “yes man” instead of having strong negotiation skills or even strong steno skills. Things worked out great for me with time and effort, but it’s time to acknowledge that not everybody is going to have that same experience, and let you in on America’s best-kept secret.
Student Loans Are Dischargeable For over a decade America has sunk deeply into the myth that student loans are never dischargeable. I heard this as a student. I was told this by my mother and countless role model figures in my life. This myth is so prevalent that I never once bothered to fact check it. These days, you can find resources online to explain to you that they are forgivable, dischargeable, and under what circumstances. There are even United States government sites with that information. For easy access, I’m going to repeat some of the highlights here. Student loans can be…
The courts must decide if repaying the loan would cause you undue hardship. Undue hardship was not defined by the Congress, and so the courts look at whether you would be able to maintain a minimum standard of living if forced to repay the loan, whether there is evidence the hardship will continue for a significant portion of the repayment period, and whether you made a good-faith effort to repay the loan prior to filing for bankruptcy. A court may order the loan fully discharged, partially discharged, or the court may order you to repay the loan. In the event the court orders you to repay the loan, the repayment may be structured differently. It is notable that this is not a magic fix-everything button. There are significant hurdles and it is harder to discharge student loans through bankruptcy. But if you’re stuck in debt and can’t seem to claw out, it just might make sense to put together some money for a lawyer to help you navigate your way out of tens of thousands of dollars of debt.
This is really important to get out there because compound interest works both ways. When you have a savings account or certificate of deposit, every accrual period means more interest added to your money, which means more interest on future accrual periods. When you take out a loan or take on credit card debt, it works the other way, where your minimum payments are meant to pay the interest and pay a small part of the principal. Many people fall into a trap where they make partial repayments that do not cover the interest, and the debt begins to grow instead of shrink despite making consistent good-faith payments. This is how you come across nightmare stories where a person pays for years and yet their loan amount never goes down or doesn’t go down much. Unfortunately, it’s perfectly legal for people to sign agreements that they do not fully understand and incomes in any industry or with any education are not guaranteed. So when things go wrong, it seems like the right thing to do to let people know they do not have to suffer with lifelong debt that they genuinely cannot repay. Rights don’t matter if they go unspoken and unasserted, so if you know somebody stuck in the debt spiral, let them know there’s a way out.
While we’re on the subject of court reporter humor, a best friend sent me this video from Andy Bajaña. Steno students, somebody understands! Andy says on the post he wrote this song when he was in school and didn’t think he’d graduate. So students, if you’re watching and you feel the same, just remember it can be done!
One of the biggest challenges of any professional’s career is time management. There are so many things we need to find time for. We need to find time for our families, our friends, and ourselves. We need to meet deadlines. We need to remember important events and time-sensitive information. Below are some really basic tips for finding time and staying organized in my words and style. If you want a much more professional look or if you’re a visual learner, you may actually benefit greatly from skipping my blog post and checking out Lauren Lawrence’s Stenovate Time Management Master Class.
Most of you hold in the palm of your hand a tiny supercomputer capable of wonderful things. Any time you schedule something, stick it in that phone calendar. There have been times where I’ve double-booked friends, work obligations, and life goals because I failed to make a calendar. I failed to take that extra step every time someone said “save the date.” I failed to take scheduling seriously and it bit back hard. If you have Gmail connected to your phone, it’ll even automatically update your phone with Google Calendar invites when you send or receive them. A calendar is a simple extension of your memory and you are ten steps ahead of the game when you start using yours. You can even even stylize it to be as neat or cluttered as you want. For example, my mind works best when it’s in a constant state of chaos:
Whether you want to take a nap or get a full night of sleep, waking up is pretty important. Getting out the door is pretty important. Hitting whatever goal you want to hit is pretty important. There have been a few times in my life where I’ve suffered a night of bad sleep and had to take a snooze on my lunch hour. This stuff isn’t ideal, but it can help you get through rough days. Whether you use a loud and obnoxious alarm like Online Alarm Clock or select custom alarms by hand in your phone, setting alarms can mean the difference between getting in on time and having to explain to your boss why you’re habitually late.
Long used by fitness enthusiasts as a way to measure time and progress, the stopwatch is an incredible tool for the court reporter. At least once in your career, sit down before you transcribe a job and start running the stopwatch for an hour while you’re transcribing. At the end of an hour, see how many pages you’ve transcribed. In my own career, dependent upon my layout and the subject density, I found I was able to transcribe between 20 to 60 pages an hour. If I had a really bad day, that number could drop to ten pages an hour. This isn’t just useless trivia, it allows you to mentally gauge how much time you need to set aside to complete your work. Let’s say I went to an afternoon deposition and that was 120 pages. I knew that if I got home and sat down at 5 p.m. to do it, it would be done between 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. This helped me schedule stuff around my transcription habits. I was able to avoid scheduling recreational time that conflicted with transcribing time because I knew roughly how long almost every transcript would take.
If you use Gmail, you might be surprised to learn you have the option to schedule e-mails. This is helpful if you have a situation where you find time at 1:32 a.m. to draft an e-mail but don’t want to look crazy. You can click the little arrow next to send on the Gmail e-mail on your computer and schedule to send it tomorrow morning, Monday morning, or any time you want. If you’ve ever gotten an e-mail from me at about 8:00 a.m., responded, and then gotten no response from me until about 11:00 a.m., it probably meant that I was unconscious somewhere and had thoughtfully scheduled the e-mail to send to you regardless of what I was doing. I haven’t figured out a way to do this on my phone, but I spend so much time at my desktop / laptop it hardly matters. An additional benefit? The e-mail goes to your “scheduled folder,” so you can cancel it and edit it any time before it sends. If you’ve ever thought “wow, I come up with my best work right after I click send,” e-mail scheduling is for you.
Coincidentally, if you have a WordPress blog or its equivalent, you also have access to a scheduler. Many people have asked me where I find the time to write. Magicians and salespeople don’t reveal their tricks because they want to stay in business. I show you how the magic works and ask you to believe in it anyway. A scheduler will let you do stuff on your time and send it off when it needs to be sent. A two-hour bus commute can turn into a two-hour writing project that launches by itself without any further input from you. Automating broadcasts through a scheduler means productivity gains!
Your Word Processor & Spreadsheets:
The most famous example of a word processor is Microsoft Word. It helps you type notes, letters, and express yourself in many different ways. Keeping accurate notes on a meeting or situation is vital. It saves you an incredible amount of time and energy trying to remember things. Spreadsheets, like Microsoft Excel, also work this way. You can use spreadsheets as a budget, database, a calculation tool, or even just a list of ideas. The best thing about these tools is that they are so necessary that there are alternatives for people who cannot afford or do not wish to pay for Microsoft products. As of today, I know that Apache Open Office has a Writer and Calc version, which are akin to Word and Excel. Google also offers Google Docs and Google Sheets, also akin to Word and Excel. For the average user, any of these will likely suit your needs, especially if you’re starting from the position of having no word processor or spreadsheets. Personally, I am a fan of Google, because their phone apps allow me to access my documents anywhere with cell service or wi-fi for free.
Your Case Naming Convention:
Many reporters today struggle with naming their cases and folders appropriately. You can burn hours of time looking for a case if you are not careful about how you organize cases. My personal suggestion with regard to standard case naming? Use the date. When you use the date to name a case, if someone places an order, you do not need to know anything else about the job except what year, month, and day. I do not disparage reporters who like to name things by last name, location or any other naming scheme, but the date has always been incredibly effective. If you ask me whether I took court notes on any particular day, I can tell you almost instantly, because it’s all neatly sorted by year, month, day.
In my particular case, I have a “COURT” folder. That folder then has two folders inside it named “TAKEN” and “TRANSCRIBED.” “TAKEN” contains all the notes taken and not yet transcribed. “TRANSCRIBED” contains all the finished transcripts ordered by anyone ever. Inside “TAKEN” and “TRANSCRIBED” there are year folders for each year, and inside the year folders are month folders with the number of the month and the name of the month. Inside each month folder is a file named after the date, the courtroom, and the judge. For “TRANSCRIBED” these files also include the defendant’s name so that they are easily identifiable. If you have the date, I know where the notes are, and I know whether the transcript has been transcribed before. If you’re going to use “my” naming scheme, you must put a zero before single-digit numbers because otherwise the computer will not sort them correctly when you sort by name. This is idiot-proof. I know that because I am an idiot.
Your Ability To Stop Fooling With Tooling:
I think I’ve made my case for all the tools that can help you become better at time management. But to echo the work of Euan Williams, beware of busywork. The more time you spend trying to find the perfect tool, develop the perfect routine, or think about how you will manage your time, the more you will watch time slip away without accomplishing much of anything. Your ability to stop fooling with tooling combined with your ability to identify and use the tools at your disposal will find you the time you need to succeed and get to the things that matter most.
Telling grown professionals what to do and how to conduct themselves online is generally not in my business plan. But I know that some of us are not 100 percent caught up with techy stuff, and I feel obligated to write this one.
2FA is a creative shortening of “two-factor authentication.” You may also hear it referred to as multi-factor authentication. No matter who you are, you’ve probably heard these words. Maybe you looked into it and you know exactly what I’m talking about. Maybe it looked too complicated and you said “not for me, thanks.” Whatever the case, I can show you in one image why you need two-factor authentication.
We’re in a hacker’s world now. Hackers will get your passwords. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. As a matter of fact, Google now has this handy feature to show you how compromised your passwords are. Want to guess how many times hackers have gotten their hands on my password?
In its early days, even this blog got hacked into! 2FA prevents that every day. 2FA, at its core, means you sign in with your password, and then the service you’re logging into sends you a numeric password via text message or it sends a numeric code to an authenticator app on your phone. This numeric code changes every minute or so, so somebody who wants to log into your stuff without your permission needs to get your username, password, and be tapped into your phone OR have physical possession of your phone. It doesn’t matter if they’re trying to hack in from India, China, Beirut, or next door, they’re not getting in without very substantial access to your personal life.
PRO TIP WHERE APPLICABLE: Put 2FA for your e-mail, link that to your phone, then use 2FA and link everything else to your e-mail. The result? Every time someone tries to hack you, you get an e-mail about it.
There is one major exception to this, and the most common way that you will be hacked using 2FA: You. Hackers and scammers may send you a site by e-mail that looks legitimate. If you go to log in, they will record your login details, and they will record the numeric code that’s sent from your authenticator if you give it to them. Always double check that you’re logging into the correct site, because if you don’t, you’re going to end up giving away valuable information to people that don’t deserve to have it. So, for example, let’s say you get an e-mail saying it’s from Chase Bank. They’re going to close your account unless you act now. Don’t click anything in that e-mail. Go to your browser and type in the Chase website that you know and love. Scammers and hackers design stuff to make you feel rushed and fearful because that’s when you’re least likely to think about a minor decision like logging into a site. Any time you’re feeling rushed or fearful, take some extra time to think before you act.
That’s really it. I have countless old accounts and usernames that I opened as a kid, before the age of 2FA, and they’ve all pretty much been taken over by bots and spammers. Given the importance of our work and the transcripts we produce, we can’t afford to let our clients down and let the bad guys seize information. 2FA for most services is free. Google Authenticator is free. “Free” is a great price for peace of mind, so check if the services you use have 2FA today.
“We are committed to our entire network of independent contractors, including the stenographic reporting community, as they provide an integral and necessary service to our legal system,” states Tony Donofrio, CTO of Veritext. “Technology has become an integral part of practicing law today, and while it will not take the place of the stenographer, it will continue to evolve to provide the profession with a broader toolset to aid them in their commitment to transcribing the spoken word efficiently.” – passed to me by Senior Vice President Valerie Berger on February 4, 2021. Again, these are the words of Veritext’s CTO, Tony Donofrio.
How’d we get here? Not long ago, I was performing some research on where students could find scholarships and grants. It wasn’t long until I came across the Veritext Scholarships page. It struck me as odd that I had gotten eight LinkedIn notices for the company looking for digitals in my area, but not a single one for stenographic reporters. I did what many of my readers do. I kept an open mind. I reached out, and I asked, in spirit “why bother with scholarships for stenographic reporting if you’re going to press so hard on digital reporting?” I had an e-mail exchange with Ms. Berger where I shared many of the things I’ve reported on in the past and seen in the media recently. I got to explain that to many reporters, this kind of stuff comes off kind of like business “stashing,” a term I borrowed from the dating world where a partner says they love and support you in private, but doesn’t do a lot to broadcast that relationship, usually to maintain a relationship with another partner.
The message I got back, in sum and substance, was that Veritext supports all of its independent contractors. They said they find their own network a better way of finding stenographic talent than LinkedIn. Ms. Berger told me that Veritext provides more work to stenographers than any other firm in the country, and took the time to link me to some things that Veritext is doing or has done to support the stenographic community:
The Veritext Peer Advisory Council (VPAC) and its mission to mentor students and individuals considering a steno career in North America in addition to collaborating with Veritext on education for the stenographic community. VPAC also has a student resource center, where the advice column has scores of reporters saying what I often tell students, “find a mentor!” As a matter of fact, there is an old quote from me right on that advice column, “know your market and seek many mentors.”
I was positively surprised by a lot of what I saw. Our lives and careers are so busy. It can be hard to keep track of all the information out there, and though I was tangentially aware of some of these endeavors, a lot of it was news to me. Let this mark the first time that I have seen such a definitive statement from Veritext. Technology will never replace stenographers. I’ve alluded to that. Many industry leaders have said that. Now Veritext, through its CTO, says that. This is serious vindication for all the times we’ve pressed to correct the news media. This is truth that can be brought to the media’s attention by any one of us for years to come. What better time for such a declaration than CRCW 2021?
What I need from readers is a commitment to keep sharing information and supporting stenography. There are so many programs that have opened up to beat the shortage and for stenographic court reporters to meet the demands of the legal field. There’s so much media about such a small field that it becomes impossible for one man to keep track of. As we march through the year, please feel empowered to send me things that support this article, contradict it, highlight the work of other agencies big or small, or give a totally different point of view on a totally different topic. We’ll keep building information and work to keep the public record accurate, and court reporting will carry on as the fantastic career it has always been.
There are a lot of professionals in this field who will laugh at the notion that freelancers can be entitled to employee benefits. “Of course we’re not eligible for Workers Compensation! We’re independent contractors!” The idea does seem as preposterous and fanciful as a soul-devouring stenotype.
To give a brief overview, in New York, to avoid clogging the court system with employee accident cases, Workers Compensation coverage allows employees injured on the job to apply for benefits to cover their medical expenses and/or wages. To many, this would be where the discussion ends. If you’re not an employee, you can’t get benefits. But when we look into exactly what constitutes an employee, and the way this actually works, we find that the answer is more likely “it depends.” Administrative and judicial judges will look at several factors to determine whether someone is an “employee” or an “independent contractor” under the law, and how the “hiring entity” and the “hired entity” classify the relationship is not a major factor listed on their website.
The right to control. Does the hiring entity or employer control the manner in which the work is done? In stenographic freelance circles, and particularly in New York, this can be a mixed bag. They might ask you to use a specific layout, arrive at a specific time, or even bring snacks to a depo. There are varying degrees of control, and if your agency is exercising a lot of control over you, you just might be an employee.
2. Character of work. If the primary work performed by the hiring entity is performed by the hired entity, that means the hired entity is an employee. Again, this is something you can probably argue both ways in stenographic circles. You can easily make the claim that court reporting agencies are in the business of providing court reporting services and therefore we should be employees. You can also make the argument that court reporting corporations are not in the business of court reporting, but rather acquiring court reporting professionals for lawyers. Just to note, US Legal tried that in an Unfair Competition case in California during the Holly Moose case. It argued that it was not a shorthand reporting corporation. Justice Elia rejected that, stating “such circular reasoning reasoning to evade…” [this state’s laws] “…is, at a minimum, unpersuasive.” Who can say what a judge in New York might say when applying the facts of a case to New York law?
3. Method of payment. The important bit here is that whether you receive a 1099 or W2 does not matter in determining an employee/employer relationship. Whether you receive regular payments or whether you are paid for a task as a whole is a deciding factor. Again, it can easily be argued either way dependent on the facts of a freelancer’s “employment,” are they taking jobs regularly and getting regular payments? Are they hired for a one-off assignment?
4. Furnishing equipment. The vast majority of us maintain our own equipment, and if a workers comp claim were ever made against an agency, I imagine the first thing they would do is bring out that fact. But there are other things to consider. Does the agency supply you with business cards or other materials that you’re supposed to hand out? Some do, some don’t, and that makes this a factor worth considering.
5. Right to hire/fire. This relates to the right to hire and fire who’s doing the work. For example, when an agency contracts you, a true independent contractor would have full authority to contract that out to someone else. In my time freelancing, I saw worksheets that forbade such behavior. Ultimately, the right to hire and fire is dominated by the agencies, and this makes a good case, on this factor, for reporters as employees.
6. Postmates Decision. Court reporters were doing the gig economy before it was popular. Now many states are grappling with how to treat these cases where someone may be called an independent contractor but meets all the definitions of a common law employee. In New York, we had the Postmates decision. That looked at several of these factors including the character of the work, right to control, and the method of payment. Another thing looked at was who controlled the customer and whether the independent contractor was able to go out and build his own customer base. This is something that court reporters are split on. Many of us have our own clients and many of us work exclusively through agencies. The Postmates decision gives us a look at how administrative judges and appellate courts might look at these kinds of issues in New York. If you don’t have any control or interaction with the client beyond the work you’re doing, a court could look at that and say “employee.”
Taking in all the factors above, as intelligent people not trained in law, we can see how we might argue it both ways. We can see that it’s very clear that the law doesn’t care much how the employer and employee classify the relationship. We can see what’s happened in this state and other states, and we can come to an interesting conclusion. Can freelancers claim Workers Comp benefits? It depends. Can the claimant show that they meet the definitions of a common law employee? I can’t answer that for you. But I can say that if you’re someone who’s injured on the job and meets these eligibility factors, it may just be worth consulting an attorney to give you real advice on your specific situation and the facts of your specific case. Independent contractors, on the other hand, generally may, but are not required to, purchase Workers Compensation insurance. This can be done to guard against medical bills or fulfill the terms of a contract.
Finally, as someone who briefly owned a corporation, I can tell agency owners to make sure you have a rider or option on your Workers Compensation insurance that covers you if an independent contractor claims they’re an employee. You don’t want to end up in a situation where you have a misclassified employee without coverage. It can constitute a crime to fail to follow our Workers Comp law. You can try searching other reporting firms and see what insurer they use. You can also engage with NYSIF to see if they offer a better rate than your current provider. Whatever you do, just be aware that this is a possibility, and the more your freelancers fit into those eligibility factors, the more this could end up a problem for you. I don’t want a problem for you. Chances are good an injured reporter doesn’t want a problem for you. But if somebody’s hurt, can’t work, and the medical bills are piling up, chances are good they’re going to take whatever avenue they’ve got to take to survive. The least we can do is keep this open for discussion.