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.
Wind the clock back about eleven months ago. I grabbed my RPR after a decade of not grabbing my RPR, and I was quickly introduced to the world of court reporting continuing education. We have to complete 30 hours of continuing education every three years. There’s a lot of ways to get it done. You can hit up prerecorded educational material. You can pay per credit. You can also do longer courses and effectively pay bulk prices for the credits. I want to talk about the value of a longer course today.
Last year I tuned into the Spring 2020 and Fall 2020 CCR Seminars webinars. I have to say that overall I really appreciated the presentations. There were things like building your brand, apps for court reporters; all kinds of stuff that gave me new perspectives. Last year, thanks to CCR Seminars and NCRA’s Stenopalooza, I was able to complete all my required credits. So that brings me to this year, I get this in my inbox:
The value being offered here is high. This is a little under $15 per hour or per 0.1 education credits. There are instances where you can pay $45 per credit, so this is cutting your cost down by 66%. Using these types of services and events can bring your cycle cost down by up to $900. My advice? Get on the mailing list. If you need the credits or just want to attend courses that might be helpful to you, CCR is a great option. The user experience is positive. Everything is logged into your account on the website so it’s easy to track.
If I had to come up with a “negative,” it was that I disagreed a little bit with one presenter’s personal opinion on one topic. That, to me, is a great presentation. Disagreement makes you sit there and think a little bit. It makes you examine why you feel the way you do about a topic, and it doesn’t take anything away from what you’re actually learning. Good value, good customer service, and presenters who aren’t afraid to present professional opinions right alongside facts/content. I’m definitely thinking of attending again this year despite my unfortunate credit situation:
If you’re not sure about where you are on your cycle, remember that you can always check the transcript here. It can be a little intimidating if you’re just starting out, but it becomes really easy and second nature. Feel free to chime in with thoughts on continuing education!
This one is for the people whose dream job is officialship or becoming an official court reporter. Just to get some quick links out of the way, there are two major Facebook discussion boards that I’m aware of. There’s the Officialship Job Board and the NCRA Officials group. I’m going to talk primarily about New York State Unified Court System officialship here, so if you’re looking for federal employment, please check out and bookmark the federal judicary jobs page. You’ll likely need your RPR for federal employment. As a matter of fact, if you’re looking for employment in New York City generally, you should check out one of my very first posts, Get A Real Job. Just keep in mind that if your dream job is Southern District NY, you’re going to need Eclipse last time I checked.
I’ll be writing most of this from memory, so feel free to correct me if I am factually wrong anywhere. This is not, in any way, a “guide” that is endorsed or published by the New York State Unified Court System (NYSUCS). I am not writing as an employee of NYSUCS. This is me as an individual just retelling my hiring experience in “guide format.” If you get a job with NYSUCS, you listen to your boss or your union over anything you might read or interpret here. If you’re looking for official information about NYSUCS, you should go to the site and ask that question through official channels.
The Tests, Classifications, and Eligible Lists:
Before we go anywhere, let’s just address how you get a court job. There are rarely per diem assignments available. These are court reporters that are hired and paid per day to come in and take the record. Per diems are rarely sought as of writing. Then there are what we refer to as provisional postings and then there are permanent positions. Provisional postings go up whenever there is a spot that needs to be filled and can be found by going to NY courts current opportunities. You can also search for “NY courts careers.” Civil service examinations are posted at “NY courts exams.” Reporters that apply for a provisional position usually must pass an in-house test. The court system may waive the provisional test for NYSCRA or NCRA certified court reporters. Reporters looking for a permanent appointment must pass the civil service test. That test is never waived. By law, civil service tests must be given every one to four years. Provisional employees can be considered temporary in your mind. If a civil service test is given and a provisional employee does not pass it, they may be let go. Provisional appointment should not be underestimated though, since an employee begins to accrue vacation time, sick time, time in the title for raises, and pension time. Many reporters begin their career by obtaining provisional employment and then passing the civil service exam to become permanent employees.
There is a separate civil service test for court reporters and senior court reporters, but they are substantially similar. “The test” consists of a multiple choice written knowledge portion and a skills portion. The written knowledge portion focuses on grammar, spelling, and technical knowledge. The skills test consists of an opening statement, a jury charge, and a four-voice dictation. The dictation is in the ballpark of 200 WPM. Two of the skills tests are transcribed and one is read back from the court reporter’s notes into a tape recorder. The readback portion is only graded for accuracy and not for inflection. If a reporter misreads their notes and corrects that misreading, the error is not counted against them. There is a readback time limit. Generally, court reporters have been expected to bring their own printers, stenotypes, pencils, and other equipment to the testing site. There has been discussion within the system about the possibility of online testing, but no civil service test has been given in that manner as of today. There are two eligible lists created when the civil service examination is graded. One list is a promotional list and one list is an open-competitive list. The promotional list is for anyone that held a court title prior to taking the test. The open-competitive list is for people who are not in the system that take the test. Everyone on the promotional list is scored above everyone on the open-competitive list. For example, let’s say that Mary Sue is a freelancer and scores a 100 on the open-competitive list for the senior court reporter title. John Doe is a court reporter working for the New York State Unified Court System and scores a 96 on the promotional list for the senior court reporter title. John Doe will be considered for a position as a senior court reporter before Mary Sue. When someone accepts a job with the New York State Unified Court System, typically they complete one year of probation. It is easier for the employer to discharge an employee during probation. In addition to provisional and permanent appointments, there are also contingent permanent appointments. Succinctly, every employee in the court system is a “line.” Sometimes there are situations where someone permanent is sick, injured, or not present. Contingent permanent people fill their line until the permanent employee returns, if they return. The most important thing to remember about the civil service examination is that when it is posted there is an orientation guide and accompanying materials posted to the exams page. Test takers must read and follow the orientation guide. Failure to follow the guide can result in an applicant’s disqualification.
Once you’re on the list, you get a preference letter asking you what courts you’re willing to work in. When I got that letter, my brilliant plan was to say I was willing to work in any court and then turn down canvass letters as needed. If you turn down canvass letters, you must make sure that you respond to the canvass letters and remain active on the eligible list. If you get put on inactive status on an eligible list, you can get skipped over for future canvass letters. In summary, fully read every official material you receive.
The Titles and Courts:
With the hard part out of the way, let’s talk titles. there are two major titles in the New York State Unified Court System. There are court reporters and there are senior court reporters. Senior court reporters typically cover Supreme Court. Court reporters typically cover what we refer to colloquially as “lower courts.” In the “lower courts,” of New York City most courthouses are supervised by a court reporter in charge or “CRIC.” These CRICs coordinate with a supervising court reporter and/or chief clerk when necessary. I am informed that in many courthouses, the CRIC title is obsolete and has been replaced with “county supervising court reporter.” The county supervising court reporters report to a “citywide supervising court reporter.” In Supreme Court, the courthouses are overseen by principal court reporters. The principal court reporters coordinate with chief clerks when necessary. Court jobs are all ranked with a judicial grade (JG) number, and that number links to your pay. Court reporters are JG-24. Senior court reporters are JG-27. The Supreme Court of the State of New York is our state’s highest trial court. It deals with the adjudication of felony criminal cases and civil cases with damages over $25,000. Then there are the “lower” courts. In New York City, we have criminal courts that handle criminal arraignments, violations, and misdemeanors. We have civil courts that handle cases under $25,001 in damage. We have family courts where people can file petitions for family matters, including the issuance of orders of protection. A court structure chart is also available. Do not be fooled by the terminology “lower courts.” All of the matters where court reporters and senior court reporters are assigned are extremely important, as are both titles.
In New York City, if you work in the “lower courts,” or grand jury, you are represented in the Local 1070 union. If you work in the Supreme Court, you are represented by ASSCR. Local 1070 is comprised of a number of different titles. Every title has its own chapter leadership, and the chapter leadership works with the main leadership to solve problems. In Local 1070, the chapter leaders generally perform union steward duties when directed by the president or vice president, or whenever necessary. In ASSCR, there are the officers and the executive committee. The officers can be thought of as the decision-making body of the union and the ones who carry out any union-steward-type duties. The executive committee typically assists the officers by keeping apprised of union news. The way one runs for a union office is decided by the organization’s constitution and bylaws. For example, in ASSCR, a nominating committee is formed and nominates a slate. If someone that wants to run is not nominated by the nominating committee, then they have to follow the constitution and bylaws. Generally court reporters and senior court reporters that do not work in New York City are represented by CSEA, a massive conglomerate of titles, workers, and workplaces. My experience with and knowledge of CSEA is too limited to write about its organizational structure. The most important thing to understand about a union is that it negotiates your employment contract for you. If there is something you want in your workplace, you need to let union leadership know. Employment contracts cover a vast number of topics including vacation time, sick time, disciplinary procedures, grievance procedures, employee standards and employer obligations. Raises, increments, and longevity pay are all things that are addressed through your union as well. There are two more important things about union membership. First, your union has a duty to represent every member equally. Second, you generally cannot refuse lawful orders unless compliance would lead to imminent life-threatening danger. Insubordination can cause you disciplinary problems up to and including termination. If you are being questioned by a supervisor, you have Weingarten Rights. You have the right to have a union representative present if a conversation with your employer can adversely impact your employment or working conditions in any way. The employer usually has zero obligation to inform you of these rights, and you must assert them.
A lot of stuff is on-the-job training. There are a lot of court-specific quirks that wouldn’t make sense to go into, such as night court and sealed criminal matters. Your first day on the job, you want to ask for common briefs and terms. In addition to our salary, when judges, lawyers, litigants, or members of the public ask for matters to be transcribed, we get transcript money as laid out in Part 108. Those terms, as far as I know, have been the same since 1999, so it’s a real lesson in the value of court reporters. A lot of transcription service firms jack up their rates every few years. By contrast, court reporters are consistent and reliable. We are responsible for maintaining equipment to take down our notes and produce and bind transcripts. We’re talking about a printer, ink, paper, computer, cables, stenotype, and transcript covers. Personally I am a big fan of pre-punched three-hole paper and A6 transcript covers. The drawback to using A6 covers is that you require different covers for differently-sized transcripts. Reporters that use standard transcript covers and separate fasteners do not have this problem.
There are a few things that are universally frowned on or just plain illegal. Stealing time? Bad. Stealing supplies? Bad. Being habitually late? Bad. Be on time and ready to work. Remember when switching over from freelance to employment that you have a boss now. If you have doubts about something, you should ask your boss for guidance. Coworkers can also be a big help. You’re an employee, and you are now covered by all of the employee rights laws, including the New York State Human Rights Law, the Civil Rights Act of 1964’s Title VII, Workers Compensation, and unemployment, et cetera. The most important thing about the job is not to take advice from some guy’s blog if it’s different from your court rules or boss’s instructions.
This concludes the “guide” portion of this post. If you’re interested in a really weird story about why I wrote this post, keep reading. If you don’t really care, feel free to stop reading.
The History of this Post:
Over the last few years I’ve had lots of people write me about various topics. Usually it’s well-meaning or polite people who have a grammar suggestion, topic suggestion, or information. I love those people. I even love the people who come on my blog and disagree with me. Separate from those people, starting maybe two or three years ago, someone sent me about 48 e-mails through an anonymous proxy. The e-mails were usually nonsensical, poorly written, or tried to turn me against other reporters. Sometimes they masqueraded as helpful advice or a hint at a story that didn’t exist. When the e-mail campaign failed to turn me against my best allies, this person began to infiltrate our Facebook groups under the fake name Jared Leno. Jared Leno proceeded to write rude comments to agencies that would come on our job boards to post jobs. At that point, I called him or her out on what they were doing and I alerted Facebook admins of groups where I was a member so that Jared could no longer use that fake identity to harass court reporters. Jared did what all bullies do when they lose, “he” whined and cried.
Jared/Anonymous then turned to Reddit. As some people know, we have the r/stenography subreddit, the r/courtreporting subreddit, and the r/courtreporters subreddit. The admins of r/stenography and r/courtreporting appear to be either absent or squatting, and at one point we had frequent posts from our Mystery Messenger(MM). One intrepid reporter started r/courtreporters so that we could have a space with an active admin, and we began to report the MM for harassment. “They” constantly create new accounts so that they can spread disinformation, avoid bans, and make comments about my blog. One of their favorite “jabs” is that I am an official and I write about freelance often. There are two main strategies when you’re dealing with trolls. The first is to ignore it. Sometimes this works. If someone is doing something to annoy you, and you don’t show that you’re annoyed, sometimes they go away. The problem we face here is that there are people that are going to Reddit to ask legitimate questions about our field. So if we just leave these boards a confusing, spammy mess, we’re going to leave the impression that this is a dead field or that we’re all lunatics spouting nonsensical drivel. Strategy two? Drown the spammy posts out with reality. So if you’re on Reddit, definitely subscribe to those channels. They’re a great way to get information out to the public. If you’re not on Reddit, it’s free, it’s generally anonymous, and it can be fun.
It’s been an interesting relationship. At first I believed that MM was a court reporter in pain. I tried many times to reach out and help. As time went on, I saw that it was much more likely to be someone who hates steno and someone whose IQ is high enough to use the internet but low enough that they have nothing better to do with their life than to get my blog clicks. Maybe it’s Steve Hubbard or Justin “Mr. Stenoless” Higgins. Who knows? All I know is MM is a great case study in being your own worst enemy. Their tirades have helped my blog grow its readership by almost 400% 2018 to 2019 and an additional 40% 2019 to 2020. Without MM’s unassailable genius I never could’ve come up with the work of art that is this blog post. If I could make one plea to MM, please do not find anything better to do with your time than follow me across the internet. Without your 1/31/21 post and unending struggle to get my attention, today would not have happened. Thank you for these wonderful years of service.
It was a tough decision on whether to publish this story. Some in my circle believe that talking about an anonymous “agitator” gives them more power. But perhaps knowing that this situation exists will help others identify MM by their inarticulate, artless writing as they continue to impersonate court reporters and spam court reporting groups. Perhaps others who have been e-mailed anonymously by this person will be able to identify that there is malicious intent there sooner than I was able to. I know at least one other person that received communications from MM. There’s bound to be more, right?
One piece of feedback I get back from time to time is “we can’t stand up to XYZ Corporation. They make 100 million in revenue!” I deeply empathize with this reaction because I’ve felt that before. Back in freelance, that feeling was constant. How could I negotiate with a company that was only offering $3.25? They were a big company with lots of work. I was basically a kid just out of college with my extremely shiny AOS. I didn’t even have a squid hat yet.
But about 3 years ago I started to teach myself very basic computer programming. I began to learn a little bit more about numbers and math. I had always hated math, and the whole experience completely changed that perception. I started to like math. One the first programs I ever wrote was a simple counter program similar to this one:
In this code, you start with the number 0 and it adds one forever until the computer malfunctions or the program is shut down. What you see happen very quickly is that when you’re adding one several times a second, one quickly becomes 10, 100, 1,000, 1,000,000.
What the hell does that have to do with stenographers? We are the ones that add up in this program called life. For example, let’s say we have XYZ Corporation and it makes $100 million a year in revenue. Now let’s say there are 23,000 reporters, like vTestify said almost three years ago, and let’s assume that reporters ONLY make a median salary of about $60,000 a year. Those reporters make $1.3 billion in revenue annually. You take two percent of that a year and throw it in advertising pot, and you’re talking a $26 million annual advertising campaign.
So now to bring this out of theory and into reality, you can see it happening in real life. There’s no group of people that’s going to have a 100 percent contribution rate. But when you look at the numbers, you start to see that overall we put far better funding into our organizations and activities than alternative methods or spinoffs. Take, for example, AAERT, which pulled in about $200,000 in 2018 revenue. For those that don’t know AAERT, they’re primarily engaged with supporting the record-and-transcribe method of capturing the spoken word. As I’ve covered in past blog posts and industry media, it’s an inefficient and undesirable method (page 5), and most digital reporters would do a lot better if they picked up steno.
Then we can look towards the National Verbatim Reporters Association, which seems to focus more on voice writing, but definitely includes and accepts stenographic reporters. We see the 2017 revenue here come in at almost $250,000. Not bad at all.
But then we look to our National Court Reporters Association, which is primarily engaged in promoting stenography and increasing the skill of stenographic court reporters. This is where we see the collective power of reporters start to add up in a big way. In 2018, the NCRA saw more than $5.7 million in revenue. The NCRF brought in an additional $368,000. That’s over $6 million down on steno that year.
What conclusions can be drawn here? As much as the anti-steno crowd wants to say the profession’s dead, dying, or defunct, there’s just no evidence to support that. Here you get to see some fraction of every field contributing to nonprofits dedicated to education, training, and educating the public. We know from publicly-available information that our membership dues are not 30x more than these other organizations, so we know that there are a lot more of us, and we know that there are a lot more of us participating in continuing education and sharpening our skills. We’re the preferred method. We’re the superior method. We’re training harder every day to meet the needs of consumers. There are only a few ways this goes badly for stenography.
We lack the organization or confidence to counter false messaging.
We lose trust in our collective power and institutions, stop supporting them, and stop promoting ourselves. Kind of like the Pygmalion effect.
We spend time tearing each other down instead of boosting each other’s stuff.
See the common theme? There’s really nothing external that’s going to hurt this field. It all comes down to our ability to adapt, organize, and play nice with each other. In the past, I equated it with medieval warfare and fiction. The easiest way to win any adversarial situation is to get the other side to give up and go home. It’s an old idea straight out of Sun Tzu’s Art of War. Applied to business, if you can convince people not to compete against you, you win by default. This might be in the form of a buyout. This might be in the form of convincing people that stenography is not a viable field so that there are not enough stenographers to meet demand. This might be in the form of would-be entrepreneurs believing they cannot compete and never starting a business. This might be in the form of convincing consumers that stenographic reporters are not available. This might be in the form of casting doubt on stenographic associations. This might be in the form of buying a steno training program and ostensibly scrubbing it out of existence. These are all actions to avoid competition, because as the numbers just showed you, we only lose if we do not compete. If you do nothing else for Court Reporting & Captioning Week 2021, please take the time to promote at least one positive thing about steno. If a guy in a squid hat could get you to think differently about just one topic today, what kind of potential do you have to make a difference in this world?
I’ll launch us off with an older quote from Marc Russo. “If you are a self-motivated person with a burning desire to improve your skills, this is the field.” This is our field. This is our skill. All we have left to do is stand up to the people that take advantage of our stellar customer service mentality and the public perception that we’re potted plants.
PS. That $3.25 I was having trouble negotiating up from? Some of my friends were making $4.00+ with less experience than me. The limitation was me and the way that I was thinking about it. We have all had to deal with hurdles that seemed insurmountable. Max Curry talked a little bit about it in his NCRA Stenopalooza presentation “Fear…Let It Go!” when he talked about his father and introversion. It was an amazing presentation. But here’s my takeaway for those that missed it last year. If you’re having a problem, try looking at it another way.
Years ago I attended the New York screening of the For The Record documentary. Didn’t really know who Marc Greenberg was (I think we’d exchanged e-mails exactly once). Didn’t really know about Simply Steno. StenoFest hadn’t happened yet. Well, Marc Greenberg is a phenomenal creator and educator for our field. He’s made more content, websites, and listings than I ever will. He’s a solid support for our students. I purchased the documentary on Vimeo and I believe it’s still available for purchase there. But Marc’s come up with something big that I think nails Court Reporting & Captioning Week’s theme, “all you need is steno & love.” He’s released For The Record free on Stenotube. Tell us how you really, feel, Marc.
It takes a lot of courage and commitment to take such a work of art and effort and offer it for free. Show the love back with some likes and shares. If you’re a new reporter or never got the chance to see the documentary, it’s definitely worth seeing at least once. In the screening version, it dove into topics like vicarious trauma and the captioning of 9/11. For me, as a young reporter, these were new and foreign concepts. Want to see your “tiny” profession on the big screen? Enough from me; go check it out!
Besides being a full-time PC gamer, I’m also on the board of the New York State Court Reporters Association, patiently waiting for one of our members to run against me and take the seat so I can go back to playing Steno Arcade and Space Court all day.
Fortunately, I have a window into what the organization is doing to strengthen stenographic reporting and captioning. Historically, some of that had to do with getting brochures out to attorneys and members about reporting and NYSCRA. Some of it had to do with advertising our “Find A Reporter” feature. Some of it had to do with mentoring. Some of it had to do with discounts. For Court Reporting & Captioning Week 2021, we’re embracing NCRA’s theme of “all you need is steno & love.” NYSCRA issued a press release detailing just a few things that are being done to commemorate the week and the importance of all stenographic reporters and captioners. There are some really powerful quotes in there. There’s a quote from ASSCR President Eric Allen reminding us of the general excellence of reporters. There’s a quote from NYSCRA President-Elect Dom Tursi remarking on the tenacity of reporters. There’s one from NYSCRA President Joshua Edwards noting the limitless potential of court reporters coming together. There’s also a major announcement from First Department Director Debra Levinson telling members to look out for more information on the CertifyNow voluntary certification program. Members will be able to schedule tests without waiting for block testing!
On February 6 there will be a student panel. Often these panels are used to create a forum where students can hear from working reporters or professionals from the legal field. Sometimes students get to ask questions at the event or submit questions after the event. There’s a whole lot to love about student panels. So if you’re a working reporter who wants to get in and speak on the next one, definitely engage with us. For everybody else, check out our wonderful speakers. It may say student panel, but anyone is invited to come listen in as long as they register.
After the student panel there will be three member-exclusive free CAT trainings for StenoCAT, Eclipse, and CaseCAT. For any members who use a software that is not represented in our lineup, every single member of the board keeps their contact info up on the association website. Reach out. Let us know what you need. We’re already the best when it comes to taking the record. Additional training just keeps your lead strong. If CAT training is not your thing, we also have a dictation session coming up that you can use to build your dictionary or get some writing time in. We’ll be dictating the United States Constitution on February 12. If using the Friday before Valentine’s Day to practice doesn’t scream steno & love, I don’t know what does. Sign up today!
Also happy to say that a private person sponsored prize memberships for reporters that make a submission to our CRCW 2021 Acrostic Poem Contest. Five lines are all that stand between you and a free NYSCRA membership. One student membership and one working reporter membership is up for grabs. Maybe you’re a member that wants to extend your current membership. Maybe you’re a non-member that just doesn’t want anybody else to have the prize. Whatever your deal is, give it a shot. Submissions must be in by February 8.
On a much more somber note, I rarely mingle my blog with my board service. I never let my opinions drive my decisions as a board member. But let me just say this: NYSCRA is the nonprofit in New York for stenographers. There are a lot of people out there who want to say court reporters are done. They want to say that times are changing, that standards are shifting, and they want to spread the message that court reporters are obsolete. In that article I just linked, they literally depicted the court reporter phasing out into digital static or computer code. We need to answer resolutely: We are here to stay. We are the standard. We need to give our associations ammunition in the form of memberships so that their leaders can go to decision makers and let them know that we’re not relics, we’re real people, and there are thousands of us. We opened up our NYSCRA board meetings to members for the first time on January 21, 2021. Many saw the membership report. I guesstimate that ten percent or less of our New York field has a NYSCRA membership. We need to turn that around so that when these folks start pressing New York the way they pressed Massachusetts, we come out on top. It’s about keeping this field viable, vibrant, and lucrative. When you hold a NYSCRA membership you’re purchasing all that and more. In this next decade a large percentage of the field is forecasted to retire.
There will be a strong push from certain entities to say that there aren’t enough of us. That will happen regardless of the truth. Please join us in the counter-push. Give us the numbers we need to loudly and proudly refute those claims. Defend what we love for the next ten years and we won’t have to worry for the next thirty. If you’re in another part of the country, that’s fine too. Arizona and its fight to educate the legislature. Florida and its work to educate consumers. New Jersey and its move to keep reporters defined as independent contractors. Our National Court Reporters Association and its constant push to highlight individuals, projects, and associations. There are other notable nonprofits dedicated to stenographic court reporting such as Protect Your Record and Project Steno. There are online communities such as Open Steno creating free resources for learners and the public. Wherever you hang your hat and do your business, there are causes worth backing, and every single one plays a part in making sure this career stays here for us and all the reporters that come after.
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.
I was invited by Ana Fatima Costa to participate in Golden Gate University’s Court Reporter Tips Every Lawyer Needs To Make The BEST Record. Ana has dedicated a great deal of time to presentations, coaching students, running internship programs. As reporters, we sometimes struggle to make connections with the bench and/or bar. Ana’s great at making those connections and definitely one of the people you want to talk to if you’re interested in bridging the gap between reporters and the bar.
We spent an hour introducing young attorneys and some reporters to core concepts such as speaking one at a time, requiring a stenographic reporter, and how providing case-specific information can assist a reporter in producing their record. Luckily for me, nearly all the heavy lifting was done by the three other panelists and experts in our field, Ana Fatima Costa, Phyllis Craver Lykken, and Leesa Durrant. Ana whipped up great presentation slides and held the whole presentation down. Phyllis talked to them a little bit about realtime conceptually. Leesa drove it all home with a realtime demonstration. It was a fantastic thing for me to be a part of, and I’m grateful I was invited to be a part of it. I’m also grateful to Professor Rachel Brockl and her team, who worked with Ana to make the event a reality. For anyone who’s curious, at some point it should be up on GGU’s Youtube.
My real takeaway is that there is so much potential for our little field to make a big impact on how we are viewed not only by the public, but also by courts, judges, and lawyers. There are thousands of reporters, which means any reporter taking just a few hours of their time per year to make a speech or presentation has incredible cumulative value. The people that we work with every day are the people who wrote to us after this presentation and said “this information really helped me understand how to help court reporters do their job.” Imagine four professionals getting to sit on camera and talk about what we know and love. You can probably imagine yourself doing it, and I hope that writing about this inspires folks to stand up and say “I can do that!” We need you. I need you so that I can stop doing presentations and go back to blogging about your presentations. And if you’re not ready, that’s okay too. But I say seek us out. Seek out any of the court reporters that put out content regularly. We want to help. We want others to meet their potential and develop skills beyond our wonderful skill of reporting.
The presentation may now be viewed here. The first five minutes went unrecorded due to a technical glitch.