Thinking of Taking Private Clients? New York Reporter: …Trust Yourself and Go Do It.

I had an e-mail exchange recently with a New York stenographic court reporter that began taking private clients. With the understanding their identity would remain anonymous, they gave me good insight into how it has increased their profit. I have presented plenty of academic theory on how low our page rates are here in New York and the importance of copies. Today I get to bring reporters a real-world example of just how much a little risk can increase your bottom line. Check out our Q&A below!

Q. How long have you been reporting?
A. I’ve been reporting for 10 1/2 years.

Q. We’ve had multiple discussions now where you’ve disclosed you’ve taken up private clients. How is that going for you?
A. So far it’s a success. I work with my clients 1-2 times a week, which I expected. They aren’t big firms, so I didn’t expect constant work. In March and September they gave me 15 jobs. One thing I hear people express concern about is collecting money for copies. That is, of course, a concern, and I have had to lean on law firms. But I can say that so far no law firm has stiffed me. And while some have been a little slow to respond, all have. So, fortunately, I haven’t had to chase anyone for payment yet. The best thing is the vastly increased copy rates, which makes this work a whole lot more enjoyable 😉.

Q. Did anybody give you permission to do this or did you just start doing it?
A. No one gave me permission. I took it upon myself. It’s all about developing a relationship with the attorney. I should say mostly. A law firm that has used one agency for many years and is happy with the service will not likely change. But still, without developing the relationship, it is unlikely that they will try to work with you. It can take a while, but it doesn’t necessarily have to. I probably worked with my first client four or five times, but we got along very well. I brought up the possibility of his working with me at a time when there was little pressure. I definitely did not bring it up while on a job for someone else. I took a chance and it worked. He said yes. There are other factors that induced him to switch to me. We worked out a good financial arrangement which benefited his law firm, too.

Q. What are your feelings on poaching?
A. By poaching, do you mean taking clients? When we use that term, it makes this sound like you’re doing something wrong if you take a client. This is common practice in all industries. Most of the client the agencies have, they probably acquired through “poaching.” The only thing to avoid is unethical practices. As I said, I would never broach the subject while on a job for someone else. And of course don’t lie.

Q. The audience is going to want to know some hard numbers. What kind of differences are you seeing in take-home pay?
A. I turned in a job 131 pages long, including the [word index], and got two copies. Total take-home was roughly $1200. That was for a med mal case that might have gone two hours . And by the way, I do not charge high rates. So with a different client with the same factors, the total could have been considerably more. This is not the only one.

Q. Wow. That’s like $9 a page. You charge your clients $9 a page in New York?
A. [No], my rate is closer to 4. Again, this is a relatively low rate. But the real profit is in the copy rate. That’s where you’ll make the money. (Just a side note, not one law firm has contested my copy rates. Hopefully that will never be an issue. I’m saying this for those who are concerned about collecting the payment.) So I don’t mind if the law firm wants to negotiate a rate down a little, not too much, as long as I’m aware I can keep the copy rate. On that 131-page job, nearly $800 of my pay was from the copy rate! Keep this in mind, remember this, we’re in business providing a service for law firms. So a) be gracious and patient in dealing with the law firms; b) be open to negotiate rates, just as long as you keep in mind where you’re really earning your money from.

Q. Isn’t it a challenge getting them to pay you?
A. Sure. But I’ll take this challenge over the challenge of trying to make money when agencies are charging 4 dollars a page per copy and they’re giving, so generously, 40 cents a copy. Exactly what was said there. No more needs to be said. We have to strive upwards. I accept the challenge of collecting over the challenge of squeezing small incremental rate increases.

Q. Isn’t the cost of printing eating into your money?
A. Not really. I had a $1,200 job the other day. When it was all said and done, I paid $90 to have it printed up. How come reporters are willing to blow a third of their money on scopists but not willing to even consider seeking their own clients and spending 10 percent on printing? Compare the costs to that of most industries. The cost here is very small in comparison to that in most fields.

Q. Anything else you’d like to tell reporters generally or New York reporters?
A. Look, if someone does want to go out on their own, it’s understandable. For years, I said I would. I made halfhearted attempts, but didn’t really follow up. Even when I got my first client, I almost didn’t expect the attorney to take it seriously. But now that I see the huge difference in what I can earn per job, it’s motivated me to try and get more clients. I will say to those who want to try and do it on their own, just try it. Don’t be afraid of being blackballed by other agencies. You have nothing to lose and so much to gain. I’ve heard people say they don’t want to bother with putting transcripts together. First of all, it takes maybe 10 minutes. That’s it!

Second, it’s a great experience in motivating yourself to be an even better reporter, because you don’t want to turn in an error-filled transcript to your own client! You will be so much more careful and your notes will be so much better! I know because I’ve improved significantly just in the three months since I picked up my first client. If you’re so inclined to strike out on your own, I urge you to trust yourself and go and do it. Develop those relationships. Make business cards. Give them to everyone you know who knows attorneys. It can take time, so don’t get frustrated. Eventually you’ll get a first client. Not every job is big payday, but you will have some jobs where you will see double and maybe even more than what you would’ve earned if it was work for an agency.

In my view, this speaks for itself. Taking private clients can double your money. Collecting can become problematic, but the alternative of allowing certain agencies to continue to push substandard means of reporting on consumers is not a good one.

My girlfriend is very upset that I blew our vacation money on an ad campaign for steno. I’m not allowed to hire graphic designers anymore. Everybody that wants to donate to my vacation fund can do so at (joke)


A reader asked how many copies were charged in the above example. Our anonymous respondent said “2 copies. Keep in mind I give a discount to my client when I have copies. I also only charge 3/copy. I’m pretty sure many agencies, if not all, are charging more.” For more context on this model, it is called a sliding scale. Companies will often decrease the cost to their client when copies are sold so as to be giving them a page rate that cannot be undercut. After all, why would a reporter offer someone $2.60 a page when they could work for an agency for around $4.00? But in New York this continues to hide the value of copies from the working reporter, who up until recently were accepting as little as $0.00 to $0.25 on a copy.

List of New York Agencies

Some will remember that in 2019 I put together a list of associations that offer mentoring. I now took the time to create a list of New York court reporting agencies and their office locations. Generally I erred on the side of inclusivity and pulled names and numbers mindlessly off Google. Please feel free to let me know about more firms that have New York coverage. I envision this as a resource for students and working reporters. Back when I was in school, we tended to gravitate towards a very limited selection of agencies, and it was probably to the detriment of some of us. Here’s the list. It’s available to share or download. You cannot edit my master copy, but you can edit any copy you create.

I put aside my personal feelings and included anything that came up as advertising court reporting services. Some entries on there are not stenographic-reporter friendly. Hope springs eternal that they’ll change their tune and embrace the unmatchable efficiency of stenographic reporting. Great example, stenographic reporting could probably bring up Cutting Edge Deposition’s rating from 1 star to 5. Our stenographic reporters across the state are going to be competing directly with the businesses that don’t use steno, and this is really a golden chance for those businesses to turn things around. Regardless of how that goes, let this stand as a reminder to students how valuable your skills really are. There would not be over 200 offices for over 150 businesses across the state if there was not money there. The vast majority of these are stenographic reporting agencies or utilize primarily stenographic reporters. Hone your skills and get ready for a bright future not only in the courts, but in freelance and the private sector.

Also a tip for students, if someone says they can’t afford XYZ but they have 9 different offices, they might be pulling your leg.

Interesting trivia, Southern District Reporters is actually a corporation for the officials of the United States District Court, Southern District of New York. Last I checked, you need Eclipse to work there. I’ve heard great things.

MA Payonk: Steno First.

Mary Ann Payonk is an exceptional person. She has been hosting yearly reporter empowerment conferences. She had sponsored me to go to an Anita Paul seminar when I was much younger and when Anita was still with us. In turn, I can say I’ve sponsored students and student contests to try to encourage people to be the best they can be. I’ve spent nearly my entire working career helping people either publicly or in PMs. I attribute at least some of that good nature to the fact that I was treated exceptionally well as a newbie reporter by her and other elites. We’re all in this together.

Some will have seen the occasional disagreement I’ve had with Mary Ann on technology and new people entering the field. While those disagreements stand on their merit or in their moment, there is a great deal that Mary Ann and I agree on.

Best I can tell, she’s the verbarian that coined the phrase real realtime, and that described what I saw as a very unfortunate movement where people who were not really ready to be realtimers were stating they were realtime so that they could make some money. Of course, this has the adverse effect of increasing the supply of realtime writers, and decreasing the price that realtime writers can command. If I get 20 percent of what someone is saying, she gets 200 percent, so seriously, people like me should not offer realtime in a service or freelance setting. We need to make sure realtime is a premium service and that when lawyers pay for it, they get what they pay for.

She’s been a true ally in that she has, like me, advocated for the working reporter to go out and get clients. She wants people to be resourceful. Even more than that, she wants companies to put steno first. There’s just a wealth of knowledge there that needs to be tapped and paid attention to by anyone who hasn’t gotten to meet MA personally, but particularly new reporters. She’s got class, sass, and fingers too fast for me. If you’re somebody who’s new to this field, you want to talk to her, you want to get some perspective. As a matter of fact, you want as many perspectives as possible because it will help you make informed decisions.

One of the big takeaways from the blog post linked above was the meme. If you think hiring a professional is expensive, just wait until you hire an amateur. Don’t be an amateur. Keep building the skills you need to be successful. Keep marketing yourself as the premier choice in speech-to-text. And realize that there are very simple skills that can automatically make you more marketable. There are reporters out there who have bad time management. I’m guilty. It hurts our marketability when deadlines are slipped. It hurts our marketability when our coverage radius is only a mile or two. It hurts our marketability when our coverage days are only the third Wednesday of an odd month. Yes, you can go out there right now and build a national business: But you can also do simple things that me, and Mary Ann, and half the steno world can’t say enough: Be reliable. Know your worth. Network. Learn your market.

Contracting with Public Entities: Diamond’s 2010 Renewal With City

I had written a recent article about competing for contracts, and in that article, I got into a pretty detailed description about how to access public records. Succinctly, I believe that the more we talk about how to compete, and the more we facilitate an environment where people feel they can compete, the more competition we will see. This competition has a decent chance at spilling over into the most important competition of all: Attracting talent.

Ultimately, market share allows companies to have more power in negotiations with their reporters. If reporters feel empowered to seek work elsewhere, or even grab some market share for themselves, there’ll be more of a push to treat people well and attract reporters who are in it for the long haul. So if you have not read my article on inflation or accessing public records, I suggest you do just for the knowledge and experience.

That all said, I’m going to get into why I’m writing today. This has become a place for information to be given out. This has become a place for people to spread ideas. This has become a place for me to post a little piece of history. In or around 2010, Diamond had renewed its contract with the City of New York, the Law Department, or Corporation Counsel, and sometime later, I got a copy of that renewal. I also, at around the same point in history, was doing research on other companies’ public contracts, though I do not have them to post today.

To be blunt, per my interpretation, in 2010: The appearance fee was set at $26, the regular Law Department delivery was $3.65 per page, $5.20 per page for a rush, $5.75 per page for an overnight, $78 for a bust fee, $5.20 for a disk or CD ROM of the transcript, $5.20 for a compressed transcript, $5.20 for an electronic transcript, $5.75 per page for realtime and regular delivery, $7.30 per page for realtime and rush delivery, $7.80 per page for realtime and overnight delivery, $1.60 per page of rough draft, $78 for obtaining clearance to a prison, $130 fee for appearing at a prison, $21 for a multi-file disk.

Plugged into an inflation calculator, these 2010 dollars would be worth the following in November 2018: Appearance fee, $30. Regular Law Department delivery $4.21 per page, $6.00 per page for a rush, $6.63 per page for an overnight, $90 bust fee, $6 for a disk or CD ROM, $6 for a compressed transcript, $6 for an electronic transcript. $6.63 per page for realtime and regular delivery, $8.42 per page for realtime and rush delivery, $9 per page for realtime and overnight delivery, $1.85 per page of rough draft, $90 for obtaining clearance to a prison, $150 fee for appearing at a prison, $24.33 for a multi-file disk.

To be clear: This is ostensibly a contract for a large amount of work. This says nothing of what could be charged in copy sales to private plaintiff attorneys. Remember that there is no limit on what may be charged by a company on copy sale. Some reporters that get sent on contracts lose companies money, and that’s compensated for from the reporters that do not know to ask for more. Take an interest in your business, getting clients, and staying stable.

Recently I was informed that Diamond may have increased its rates to attract talent. This is an important development, and if true, wonderful news, a great move, and definitely something that reporters should consider in their negotiations and in how they coach student reporters.

If you like this sort of public information spread, feel free to donate today, or donate copies of public information. Helps cover simple costs related to domain hosting and potentially upgrading this blog, and creates incentive to write similar articles.


To Our Agency Owners

My first message has to be to our big box, non-steno owners, nationwide, or electronic reporter owners. This blog can come off a little anti-corporate at times, and I often encourage stenographers to ask for more money because, let’s face it, some of them are getting a bad deal. That said, I do see the value in corporations, even very large ones. They can be a great marketing tool and power for the stenographic reporter.

I’ll even point out something good. Allegedly, when the court workers struck in California recently, Veritext reportedly said it would not cross that picket line and would not fill those jobs. Assuming true, that’s a damn good move and absolutely socially responsible. Love news like that, because it gives me some hope that we who are skeptical of your intentions can be wrong.

All that said, we are seeing some very troubling trends. We’re seeing US Legal pushing electronic recording. We’re seeing a lot of apathy when it comes to keeping steno strong. I get that in many ways we are seen as one service or labor, but we can type four or five times faster than your average typist. We can pump the work out faster, and there’s more infrastructure behind steno today. There are support networks and groups of thousands of stenographers, and rarely does any question go unanswered. We take care of each other to make sure the work goes out looking good.Per stenographic “employee,” the price for training is basically zero. Maybe you let some stenographers shadow every year. Maybe you spend a few days a year visiting our schools. The only imaginable reason to get into the record and transcribe business is the illusion that those people will be cheaper. In the long run, it will cost you business. It’ll make things less efficient. The turnover will be higher. The turnaround will be slower. And worse yet, you will incur the pushback of stenographers. We are mobilizing, we are sharing information faster than ever before, and we will shout you out, your work will go uncovered, and we will teach your new employees that they are being taken advantage of so that they unionize and ask for more, and when we’re done with all that, maybe the illusion that there is profit in pushing us out will be gone.

But there is another way! You can join the reliable but unremarkable stenographic legion! You can invest in advertisements to bring people to our steno schools. You can invest in a future where every single transcriber you’ve got is a stenographic reporter capable of printing out the work five times faster than the average typist. You can prove to all your competitors that the business strategy of treating workers well works. If your company released a single practice dictation a month publicly on YouTube or some other medium labeled practice dictation for stenographers, it would only be a couple of years before there were two dozen videos out in public saying that one little word we want everyone in the country to read: Stenographer. We want you to make money. We want your companies to succeed. But we also want this to remain a sustainable career, and this is just going to be a turning point where if you aren’t with us, you won’t succeed. Make a positive impact on the community, help us thrive.

Now I’ll address my stenographic owner, the person who’s trying to make it work, or steno allies in general. You’ve got to push for more market share. If you’re getting ready to leave the business, mentor someone to replace you, push for more people to be an entrepreneur like you are. Push for people to be informed. If the big boxes don’t hear me, then it’s down to you to make an impact and ensure a stenographic reporter is sitting at every dep. Perception matters. If lawyers start seeing a recorder at every job, then that’s what they’ll start using, if they see a stenographer and it’s always been a stenographer, then it’ll stay a stenographer. No matter your persuasion or philosophy, I understand how hard it is to run a business. I started a corporation myself years ago, and for many reasons, it flopped. We face a lot of unique challenges in reporting, and there’s really a lot to be said for the successful business. But the time has come that we addressed the elephant in the room: You’ve got to use the stenographic reporter. We’ve got to be the bronze, silver, gold standard, and if we aren’t, then we’ll build companies where we are.