One factor I’ve identified as a reason for stenographer shortage is terrible compensation. While it may be difficult for some court reporters to learn, there are people in this field working decades behind inflation. There are reporters that haven’t had a raise for the better part of a decade or more. When it comes to reporter treatment, there’s a spectrum of treatment as wide as the reporter spectrum of skill, and the two don’t necessarily correlate.
The question of whether someone is an employee or independent contractor is something of interest to many government agencies and courts, and something that is not always clear in the court reporting and captioning industry. What two parties call a relationship is mostly irrelevant for determining what that relationship is under the law. As an example of the kind of things that courts consider, let’s check out the Ninth Circuit:
Using a test like this, one starts to see the different interpretations possible. Recent rule changes focus even more so on the right to control work of the “employer” and the profit or loss or the employee. Some may be incredulous, “we control our hours! We’re independent contractors!” But such a blanket answer does not and never will address the truth, that many agencies demand a specific layout, specific page rates, or bar reporters from sending others on jobs accepted by the reporter. There’s a lot of control that reporters give up for the “right to work,” and in some cases it arguably would make us employees if and when it were challenged in court. Companies have settled such claims in the past, probably to prevent precedent from taking hold and court reporters realizing that the “freedom” of “independent contracting” effectively silences discussions on worker pay and working conditions, conveniently placing the blame on the “entrepreneur,” who could be a 20 year old, newly graduated, with no comprehension of the business. How well can we expect them to do when instructors tell them how high the demand is for their skills and companies beat them down and deny that value in the name of the almighty dollar?
Captioners aren’t released from this discussion either. Some captioners work as employees, some work as independent contractors, and the distinctions aren’t always clear or consistent in the same company, let alone across multiple companies.
There’s no doubt in my mind that unionization can help more of us. I am a member of ASSCR, and prior to that I was a member of Local 1070. Prior to that, I was New York freelance. Nothing is ever perfect, but my job security and compensation rose tremendously when I gave up freelancing for officialship. If the two had been remotely close, I’d still be a deposition reporter. I loved it. Love doesn’t pay the bills.
The main jab that people give when discussing unionization is the right to refuse work. Reporters don’t want to give that up. But an employment contract drafted by a smart union for per diem or commission-based employees, which is essentially what many of us are, could simply include the right to refuse work. People could still be paid by page. There is not a single “right” granted by being independent contractors that could not be covered in an employment contract. A lot of the smaller gripes around unionization seem to be from thinking too deeply inside the box and assuming we’d have to conform to low hourly wages, which is simply a lie perpetuated by people afraid of the word “union.”
The main hurdle with regard to unionization, and what makes it unlikely in my view, is reporter organization and willpower. At least 30% of the reporters at a given company or location would have to come together, make the case that they were common law employees, and request a vote to join a union. Then they’d have to actually win the vote! A lot of people in the private sector don’t know who works for who. We don’t even have great data on the total number of court reporters that exist. How can we expect someone to unionize a location they never go to or confer with colleagues they never see? Even more confusing, some court reporters will easily meet the definition of independent contractor while others could be defined as employees. Some court reporters are simply afraid to discuss unionization because of potential retaliation.
Our realtimers might scoff at such a discussion, but if we think of court reporting as a pyramid where the realtimers sit on top, and we think of the exploited common law employee class of reporter as the bottom, it’s easy to see why realtimers need that bottom to be strong. How long will realtime rates remain high if the floor drops out from under you? The only “good” answer I’ve seen to this question is “well, I should be able to make it to retirement, so I don’t care.” My answer to that is “a society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they will never sit.” But even if a reader is a self-centered prick that doesn’t care about that, how much more money do you think realtimers will be able to ask for once the base pay is back where it should be? It’s in the self-centered prick’s interest to add fuel to this fire too.
I also believe our associations, the primary drivers for our defense currently, would never assist or support such endeavors. Unions are likely seen as a threat. Once a union exists, is an association necessary? But the very thing driving association membership into the ground is the inability of associations to directly influence rate discussions and their unwillingness to collect and distribute rate data. There’s even some chance association membership would rise, since people would likely have more to spend. If associations want to remain relevant, it may make sense to start looking out for reporters, and particularly the ones that are struggling, instead of milking the certification cow until it’s dead.
On the digital front, unionization could lead to negotiations where stenographers are given work preference by contract instead of the situation we have now, where the companies “promise” we’re number one and quietly do everything they can to push us out of the market.
I think the threat needs to be on the table for the larger companies. They will have no choice but to raise rates as unionization discussions spread. It’s working in other industries and will work in ours. In the short term, we could expect dirty tricks. In the long term, we could expect higher wages for all reporters, union and non-union. Feel free to like, comment, or share if that’s a future you want!
Shortly after the launch of this post, a reader sent me this TikTok. In brief, adjusting prices upward can attract a different quality of customer. So those that fearmonger pricing ourselves out of the market might be interested in viewing that.
I hold myself out as an advocate for court reporters and people pass me info. A few have stated some large firms are offering packages to digital court reporters that are not being offered to stenographers, such as sign-on bonuses. I always ask for some kind of corroborating information so that I’m not publishing false statements. Today, I have some corroborating information.
In this Zip Recruiter ad, US Legal advertises that it offers family-friendly benefits to its employees, including retirement benefits, insurance, paid parental leave, and an EAP. It then goes on to describe a digital court reporter position. As I see it, either it’s (1) a clever play on words where they talk about the benefits that employees get and then hand the digital court reporters an independent contractor “job,” because employers can save a good 40% by misclassifying employees — seriously.
And up to 30% of workers may be, shockingly, misclassified.
OR (2) if it’s not a play on words and they’re actually offering all of these things to digital court reporters, then the fraud that I have been talking about just became really easy to explain: US Legal is, as far as we can tell, making the public claim that they cannot find stenographers. We know that stenographer rates are as much as 30 years behind inflation. We know that US Legal failed to use coverage apps or directories like PRO Link, Expedite Legal, and Cover Crow. In fact, corporate rep Rick Levy, who was on the board of NCRA at one time, attempted to pretend that he did not know what Sourcebook was. We know that US Legal is and was aggressively recruiting digital reporters on LinkedIn and did not attempt to do so for stenographers. We know that US Legal posted an impossible equation to JD Supra in order to convince readers the stenographer shortage was impossible to solve. We know that US Legal acquired and apparently destroyed StenoTrain. We know US Legal inflated the shortage numbers by a factor of six to convince the public stenographers were unavailable and that the shortage was impossible to solve. We know that US Legal’s Chief Strategy Officer Peter Giammanco and Rick Levy both had no problem bullying the women in our profession and others, but they give me carte blanche because they’ve worked out that I’m not afraid of them. We know that digital recruitment isn’t going well because they’ve had to publish their recruitment advertisements every day for months. Even if we want to excuse all of the company’s behavior, how do we excuse this? Reporters are 88% women and yet maternity leave was out of our grasp. All of these benefits that could bring reporters in, I have not seen offered to stenographers. Again, how can the company make a good faith claim stenographers are unavailable when the truth is that the company has done everything in its power to crush the stenographic modality?
If benefits are being offered to digital reporters, I’m happy for those digital reporters, but it’s only a matter of time before the companies turn on them too. We have to let digitals know what’s going on, get them working steno, scoping, and all the things that are going to improve their skills, and lead our industry by example. These big-money types won’t have a choice but to use steno if everybody they’re hiring is taking that money and putting it down on stenographic education. Here’s a hint: That’s happening right now.
We have a choice, as people, to not be complicit in our own demise. It is very clear that the company wishes to exaggerate shortage claims in order to sell attorneys the inferior digital court reporting product at inflated and unreasonable prices. Either we become very open and honest with the attorneys we work with that this fraud issue is ongoing or we risk our jobs being stashed and undervalued. Our value is not directly tied to our productivity, but to our ability to communicate our value and negotiate a better deal. We are players in a game where we hold most of the leverage. Our nonprofits are bigger. There are more of us. We do the vast majority of the work that makes the business and industry viable. We are the consumers of the software and equipment companies that are supposed to support the industry. We are each contributors to local economy — our money doesn’t just sit in the bank, it supports local businesses. There are so many court reporters in this country that we could singlehandedly run candidates for office. Again, we hold all of the leverage. My only suggestion is that we start using it unapologetically. Remember, when the shortage narrative was accepted without question, we were lied to. Now this industry has facts and figures that tell us we were lied to, and there’s a shocking amount of silence. Now that this industry has been shown we defeated stenographer shortage twice before, it’s only a matter of time until we defeat it again, and on that day court reporters would do well to remember every single person and company that said such a thing was impossible. Remember them and remember that when they had a choice to uplift young reporters or peddle garbage, they chose the latter.
When I was a young reporter, perhaps 21 years old, I learned that New York City reporters were earning considerably less on their copies than other states. I began explaining factors that were pushing our rates down. I drew a diagram for some colleagues. It probably looked something like this:
This was in the course of considering building a company and competing in our market. Of course, my colleagues at the time were incredulous. I was about eight years away from publishing the data that proved we were being underpaid. We thought it might be wise to start a company, but we also believed the agencies we were taking work from might retaliate if we did. This, I now know, is an example of the Prisoner’s Dilemma, a model that provides a framework for understanding cooperation. It is often couched in criminal justice terms. Two suspects rob a bank. If neither cooperates the top charge might not be proven, and they could get as little as a year. If one turns the other in, the rat gets two years and the other guy gets ten. If they both turn each other in, they both get five years. With this kind of knowledge, both are heavily motivated to turn each other in just to avoid the possibility of being hit with ten years. There are many variations of this. How we see it play out in the court reporting field is “if I do not take this job for the rate that is offered, somebody else will, and then I won’t have a job, so I must take this job.” This environment puts reporters into a mindset where they are willing to accept shorter turnarounds, lower rates, and worse working conditions, such as more paperwork, being asked to work during Superstorm Sandy, or being asked to bring free snacks to a depo. I ended up very upset. They didn’t buy into my ideas and I never got my ideas off the ground myself because I didn’t have the social skills at the time to attract clients. But I learned the very important lesson that even in a situation where people would benefit from a choice, if they are presented with risk or the situation is framed in a way that appears risky, people are less likely to buy in.
Over the years I kept reading and learning. As I’ve described in other posts this week, I started to suspect that machine learning with regard to automatic speech recognition was not as good as it was made out to be. With Gartner predicting that 85% of business AI solutions will fail and IBM Watson finally admitting that it was not the industry-changing showstopper it was made out to be, again, it seems those suspicions are turning out to be true. But where did those suspicions come from? I started to see that the claims being made about ASR were numerous and constant. In 2016, Microsoft claimed that their automatic speech recognition was better than human transcribers. An awful lot of noise was being made about the abilities and exponential growth of technology even though the exponential growth of technology had already slowed. That’s around the time I read about the Empty Fort Strategy. In brief, it’s a story that’s part of the Thirty-Six Stratagems that describes a famous general who was defending a fort or city. He had no real garrison and was surrounded by the enemy. He goes up into the tower at the gate, throws open the gate, and starts playing his lute, beckoning his enemies to attack. The enemy army, believing a trap was waiting for them, fled. In real life, stenographers on social media were dejected and demoralized by the constant barrage of empty tech news. Would they run away? But news was breaking that companies like Facebook were secretly using human transcribers in ASR systems! And news was breaking that companies could be super weak financially but still stay in business for years. If behemoths like that were having problems, it was logical to conclude that nobody else was anywhere close. Could I show court reporters the fort was empty?
I had already read and written about the Pygmalion effect, and I continue to write about it often, because I see just how powerful that part of human psychology is. Robert Rosenthal went to a school, picked a bunch of random kids, and told the teacher they were expected to be intellectual bloomers that year. Rosenthal returned later that year and the children’s scores had increased. It was clear that the teacher had taken the idea that these were gifted children and subconsciously given them more support. You can listen to Robert Rosenthal talk about some of his associated rat studies at the start of the Learner Lab podcast. Our expectations cause us to make subconscious choices that lead to our expectations being fulfilled. Demoralized stenographers that expect the profession to fail will make subconscious choices to make it fail. Then there’s confirmation bias. Once people form a belief, they seek out information that supports that belief. Then there’s cognitive dissonance. When we get two conflicting ideas in our head, our mind seeks ways to reconcile them. This can blend into a phenomenon where even the brightest among us will fight for a belief that we have even where there is no factual basis. If multiple people come to form the same belief, it can evolve into an echo chamber. I could already see it happening on the court reporting front. I was getting into regular disagreements with court reporting colleagues that truly believed we would be done in five to ten years.
I knew from reading about war and conflict that the easiest way to win something is to get the opposition to give up without a fight. Once people start running from a battle, it encourages others to run. Could the barrage of bad news get stenographers to run even though our institutions and numbers were far better funded and far larger? As people, we are basically problem solving machines. Once we identify a problem we take the path of least resistance to solve it. The bigger the problem is to us, the more of our attention it takes up and the more motivated we are to solve it. It follows that in order to get people to cooperate, the issue needs to be framed in a way that they will understand it as a problem where the path of least resistance is the path you want them to take. I saw that some digital proponents understood these concepts as well, because there was a constant flip between trying to press the message that digital was the new steno and steno was the gold standard; sometimes even seemingly from the same sources. They were trying to frame the narrative in a way that the future was inevitable, and therefore stenographers should do nothing, because what could a bunch of stenographers do anyway? It’s kind of like standing behind someone whispering to them how wonderful they are while you stab them in the back. It’s a disarming tactic that got some stenographers to buy into the mantra of “there’s nothing we can do” that I destroyed on Wednesday. A new diagram popped into my head. It probably looked something like this:
In addition to all these other concepts, I found articles about Richter’s rats. In a study done by Curt Richter, rats were placed in water. Each died within minutes. A second group of rats was placed in the water, and just as they were about to drown they were taken out of it. When they were reintroduced to the water, they swam fordays. As in some Rosenthal studies, rats were used because of the similarity their brains have to human brains. After all, drowning real live humans for science would be unethical! But we don’t need to do that. We can just look at how people facing impossible odds in history overcame the odds via hope and trying. It is fairly logical to extrapolate that given hope, people become capable of things that they otherwise would not be capable of. If my readers were capable of hope, they were capable of superhuman feats just like the mom who scared away the mountain lion with her bare hands.
As far as I could tell, we had the facts and numbers on our side. All that was left was to reverse the harmful messaging infecting our field and repeat all the more positive and true messages that would bring us together. I grew this blog. And now when I write something that’s good, about 2% of our entire industry tunes in on the day it’s written.
That 2%, we know from Rosenthal, Richter, and Margaret Mead, can change the world. And digital proponents like Verbit really helped get us into the world-changing mindset. According to some stenographers on social media, they told them they’d just have to stand aside for the new technology. Going back to my thoughts about conflict and risk, I knew that they were backing stenographers into a corner. I also had read a little about Sun Tzu. Sun Tzu figured out not to put your enemy in a corner over 2,000 years ago. Who wants to have to retrain and wonder what job they’ll do next? The path of least resistance for reporters was now to fightfor the job stenographers had, and more people began to send me information to feed that fight.
Of course, this works both ways. You’ll note in my writing, I never ever take a position that a company is irredeemable. When I let Veritext know that, they put it in writing that technology will not take the place of the stenographer. Can’t walk that back too gracefully. That gave me a glance into the corporate psychology. There’s probably no cohesive strategy for the replacement of stenographers even if it is a vague goal. That doesn’t mean they won’t act against us if and when it suits them. After all, Veritext had a digital reporter posting up as recently as this week. But it does mean that if the company should come out and say digital is replacing us, 27,000 people can point out the blatant contradiction to the media. It also means that should they change their stance, reporters that are friendly will have an incentive to resist on every front legally available. Their lack of cohesive strategy versus our extreme motivation to keep our jobs secure is part of what gives us an edge here.
I’m pretty much doing the same with US Legal. I’m going to hit pretty hard until they back down off the inferior digital product. I can leave my mind open to the possibility that maybe they too just got caught in that echo chamber of “digital is the only way.” All I can do is point them to digital slime shops like Kentuckiana or CED and say “look, if this modality was cheaper, more efficient, and easily scalable, these companies would’ve beat us out a long time ago.” All I can do is try to get the big dogs to see that their belief in digital reporting can hurt their business and people in our civil and criminal justice system. If they refuse to see it, then we have a conflict. A conflict where, due to our reach and numbers, it is impossible for them to come out of unscathed. Who in their right mind would go into conflict with someone that can reach 2% of the industry with a blog post? We’re at the point where I’m tagging them on Twitter. They’re not going to win this. They’re up against someone willing to murder a Stentura for the cause.
There’s that prisoner’s dilemma again. There is one rational choice that minimizes the risk, stenography. All other choices carry a risk. Sue me? Risk calling attention to my work, lose $400 an hour, maybe get sanctioned for a frivolous lawsuit, and lose the lawsuit quite publicly. Continue doing digital? Risk me being right about it. Attempt to refute my work? Risk calling more attention to it. Actually manage to refute my work? Risk my arguments becoming stronger and more logical. Ignore me? Well, then I can act with impunity. Go steno only? I can’t see a downside, especially if the company puts any good recruitment effort in for us. I go away, they make money, everybody’s happy. Steno is the easy win and the path of least resistance. There’s a special kind of irony to my life. If I had had a lucrative and comfortable freelance career, I would not have been as motivated as I am to help freelancers because I would not have viewed them as needing help. If the corporations in New York City had treated us like human beings instead of resources to be used and thrown away, Stenonymous wouldn’t exist. I wouldn’t be hanging out at an undisclosed location playing with dominoes. That last bit was a joke. The rest is dead serious.
This messaging and psychology stuff also works with our friends, the digital reporters themselves, who are not told that stenography is a viable career. Every single digital that is pulled to steno is someone these companies need to pay to replace. We stay in business five or six decades at a time. The average employee stays 1 to 4 years. Want turnover to decimate your bottom line? Transition to digital reporting. Meanwhile, reporters, when you tell someone they can have more money and opportunities by picking up a valuable skill and that digital reporting is risky, they strongly consider what you have to say. I have proof. Every now and then, I get an email kind of like this one, where I was asked by a very cool digital reporter how to get into stenographic court reporting and whether I believed the future was steno over digital. I let them know the truth. If we fail, the most likely outcome is the companies freeze the rates on them, and we know that because it was done to us 30 years ago.
Not only can we positively impact the lives of digital reporters through empathy and compassion, we can encourage the foreign transcribers that are being exploited to stand against their own exploitation. At the very least we can exchange ideas and information that will lead to greater understanding of each other’s position. If you think that sounds like a platitude, check out this conversation I had with an offshore transcriber.
What I wrote next will shock you.
And what I received back from this wonderful person shocked me.
Again, I can show that mathematically we are underpaid. So these corporations are paying our replacements about a fourth of what they pay us. Are they charging the lawyers a fourth? No? Then our next step is to tell the lawyers just how badly they and their clients are being ripped off. Get these leeches out of our industry and get their hands out of the pockets of our students. They have a choice to work with us. Anything that is not support of us is not working with us and we don’t have to tolerate it or be nice about it.
The most recent step in my thoughts about science and psychology was deep self-reflection. For a long time I was trying to play the corporate game by making everything nice and politically correct. That was my idea of what society should be like. I had disagreements with so many reporters because they weren’t diplomatic enough for my liking. I was a fool. We ended up in conflict because I couldn’t analyze the flaws of my own approach and realize that being polite gave me zero leverage. I can only apologize to those I might have hurt in my naivety. We are not up against nice, correct companies. The individual people in those companies might be nice people, but they are all working towards a goal of making the corporation more successful with complete disregard for who it hurts. We cannot allow them to control the narrative because then we all become a part of making the narrative come true. We must force them to respond to and become a part of our narrative. As I just showed you, all of the aforementioned principles of human behavior will coalesce into a situation where we prevail. Our only problem is we have an aversion to reaching out and seizing the opportunity. That problem, I wager, is solved through American’s constitution, free speech and information dispersal.
Now that you have my playbook, I hope you will use it for good. Just know there is some evidence to suggest that these principles can go haywire and a person can hold and defend a belief that is simply not true. This goes back to confirmation bias and our innate desire to avoid cognitive dissonance. US Legal had a bit of that after my Wednesday article. They blocked me on Twitter rather than face the uncomfortable truth that the company is headed in a bad direction. That put them at a disadvantage where they are now not monitoring someone who can reach out to the legal community and explain very cogently why their policies are going to hurt lawyers. Again, we’re looking at a company of people just doing a job. They don’t have the same motivation against having their profession permanently eliminated. If US Legal closes tomorrow every single one of its brilliant employees will find a better spot somewhere else. It’s likely very few of them really care what happens to the company the way we care what happens to steno.
We must defend against putting ourselves at the same disadvantage. We do that by building truth-seeking into our beliefs and reassessing them as often as is reasonable. As long as we don’t become Buridan’s donkey, the reassessment can only strengthen us. Failing to reassess beliefs can cause us to fall into an echo chamber mentality where we may become ignorant to something important or dangerous. Our institutions suffer greatly from this. They are so hesitant to spend money or take on liability that the things they do often end up half-baked or ineffective. Some projects we spend months on never go anywhere at all because everyone is looking at everyone else waiting for them to pull the triggerand yell “go!” Real world example? NCRA would not allow a vote on one of our amendments this year for the same exact reasons. A risk was presented that it was illegal, and that was enough for the board to back downdespite very sound reasoning why it was not illegal. It’s not their fault. It’s how people work. And learning that helped me not take it personally and move on to the next big thing rather than obsess and stagnate.
I’ve seen reporters fall into that trap too, whether it’s “nothing can ever replace us” or “the sky is falling, we are irreparably doomed.” Any absolute statement becomes a chance for us to ignore important information. For example, reporters and people who believe digital is always cheaper will be most likely to ignore studies done where the costs of digital and steno were pretty much the same or that digital reporting has a high equipment replacement cost that our reporters typically eat out of their own revenue. Who is going to pay to replace equipment every five years once we’re out of the picture? Courts and lawyers! When the Testifying While Black Study hit the news, NCRA and PCRA went after the study itself, which was very similar to my own take on it. The news tore into us and we looked doomed. Then I reassessed my beliefs and ended up becoming the most knowledgeable stenographer in the country on the study; NCRA recognized that, which landed me on TV and eventually allowed me to call news organizations out for turning such an important story into clickbait — using clickbait!
The study showed we were twice as good at taking down the African American Vernacular English dialect and thousands of people missed that because they could not abandon their own preconceived notions. Meanwhile, one 30 year old with an AOS in court reporting figured it out. I’m not particularly bright. That’s just the power of open-mindedness intrinsic to healthy debate and reasoning, and it allows me to outwit the people messing with us. My message is that you, reader, have the same exact ability. For as long as I can remember, my favorite Latin phrase has been “a posse ad esse,” from possibility to actuality. Along those lines, if we admit to ourselves that any possibility can be an actuality, we no longer waste time running from truths we do not want to see, confront our fears, and meet our goals.
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.
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.
One of our readers reached out to me recently with a really interesting and important question. I took some time to answer the question personally but I’d really like to make sure everyone can be on the same page. In my experience, if one person has a question, ten people had the same question and didn’t ask it yet.
The reader asked: How can Diamond sponsor a NYSCRA event when they were bought by Veritext? Great question. Basically I would break it down like this: When you create a corporation, the state grants that corporation, or the corporation’s founder(s), stock or some form of ownership. When a company buys another company, it becomes a holding company or parent corporation. The company being bought is generally referred to as a subsidiary corporation.
So the subsidiary company still exists as its own company and is free to make its own choices as to what to support. The holding company technically has power over it, but doesn’t have to interfere with its day-to-day operations. The two companies both exist, at least until the holding company dissolves legally or the subsidiary company dissolves legally.
Notably, I have read that Veritext itself is owned by a private equity firm. That’s more or less a company that invests in companies and tries to flip them for profit or sell them out on an IPO, taking the stock from private to public ownership, and hopefully for them getting a payday on their investment and exiting.
I do not know if Diamond made the decision to sponsor the event independently or if Veritext gave them permission, but regardless, we’re always happy to see corporations put some time or money into stenography. As harsh as our opinions can be here on Stenonymous, we do acknowledge the value that corporations have and their place in industry. Many of them may yet show themselves to be huge allies, and hopefully every time they do readers will come out and say hey, you need to acknowledge XYZ. At the same time, we will not hold back from calling agencies out when they’re working against stenographers.
Thank you readers! You help me write with every question or correspondence. On that note, if you have information or documentation related to steno news, feel free to write me at ChristopherDay227@gmail.com.
NCRA just made a really awesome announcement, so look out for that article Monday!
As some quick background, I received an anonymous email that basically said “US Legal is shifting to ECR and having stenos train them, your mileage may vary but your days are numbered.” Hit up two of my favorite friends and mentors about it. One said, “they sent it to you because you blog everything, don’t give them any air time.” The other said, “look into it, verify whether or not it’s true, and there’s not much you can do about it.”
So anyway, I took the second option, and I surveyed some people using Google/Facebook, and like me, people had heard this before. A dear friend sent me a mailer that was received from US Legal CA. They want people to transcribe from home. Then I went looking on the careers page of the website and found their New York listing for Electronic Court Reporter. Probably because we are 1099s, there’s not the slightest mention of stenographic reporter.
But this inspires some critical thought. Why would a company push so hard for transcribers and electronic recorders? My opinion? They believe that the alternative methods are where the almighty dollar is. But they rely on us not speaking about it. They rely on us not sharing this message. They rely on us continuing to work with them using our infrastructure and experience that stenography has built over the last six decades. So I have an honest message to any stenographic reporter: Leave them in the dust. Don’t take the jobs, take the clients. It’s one thing if you want to work with us and pay us well. It’s another thing entirely to position yourself to do away with us. These aren’t your clients, they are our customer base, and we’re taking it back.
Consider too that these companies have shown the willingness and desire to not play by the rules. In a recent decision, Holly Moose v US Legal, US Legal argued that it should not be bound by state rules because it is in the business of connecting customers with independent contractors. The court said that this logic was unpersuasive at best.
Our ability to stay vibrant and the viability of this field rely on being visible and profitable. Nobody is going to educate stenographers if we’re making transcriber money. If a company offered you double your money this year but no more jobs after that ever from anyone, would you take it? That’s what we’re looking at on a grand scale the more we put our heads in the sand. Companies exist out of convenience to their investors. Reduce that margin, watch them pull out, and let the work flow naturally where it needs to: Stenographic court reporters.