October Occupations 2019

Before we get into this post I just want to say I updated the old Get A Job post to include the exams page of NYSUCS. I still say that every jobseeker in New York should be checking the pages linked there every 15 to 30 days to be safe. Share findings. Be committed to keeping everyone up to date. If everyone is talking about where the work is, nobody’s left in the dark.

Even though this page launches October 1, postings are only current as of September 30.

DANY is still hiring for their grand jury reporter position. It’s a great job. Definitely give it a shot.

Special Narcotics Prosecutor, as I recall, had a posting for one grand jury reporter. Now there’s a posting for two. I say that if you haven’t applied yet, it’s your lucky day, go for it.

The state court system is still accepting applications for the provisional court reporter job. If you didn’t take the test, it still might make sense to apply. If they didn’t get enough passes on the civil service exam, they’re going to need you.

Southern District, that’s federal court, is still looking for a reporter. Don’t let this great opportunity go to waste if you’ve got the certifications or skill necessary to work with SDNY.

There are over ten vacancies federally all around the country. If New York’s not where your heart is, no big deal, but you’re not allowed to leave (joke).

Plaza continues to keep a posting for court reporting and English instructors.

New Jersey has apparently started hiring for the first time in a long time. I had posted this on Facebook but not on Stenonymous. Hopefully the government has realized the inherent value of having someone personally responsible for making the record.

Freelancers, I know that there’s often not a lot of postings on here with regard to work for you. I will work on something that might help there. Until then, you’re free to check out my recent post on historic data and inflation, as it impacts every dollar we make every day we breathe. I have been getting emails from Magna claiming over $100 in bonus fees. Now that I think about it, this probably gives you a clue what’s actually being charged for appearance fees, and a peak into the law of supply and demand. You’re in demand. Your skills are in demand. Act accordingly, do great work, and make a great record.

Fun fact. In the editor this post has no bullet points. In the preview it does. Which version will everyone see? That is the question. If you’ve ever wondered why some posts seem to have bizarre formatting, I blame computers.

Shortage Solutions 10: Contract or Employment

Can you believe this blog has covered 10 ideas for addressing the shortage? Time flies. Having given the whole court reporting shortage issue some more brainstorming, it’s worth bringing up for discussion the solutions that will follow. As always, happy to have comment on this issue. First, contractual agreements. In the field today, many reporters work under a verbal agreement, or a very informal email or rate sheet agreement. Even in places where independent contractors are required to have contracts, much of the business is contracted verbally or less formally.

Anecdotally, there’s something respectable about putting things in writing. People are more likely to live up to their word when there are clear terms of engagement. Need a freelancer to be on call to cover? Get it in writing. Throw them a little consideration (money) for their availability. Create easy-to-understand terms and expectations on availability. Create fair and realistic penalties for breach of contract on either side, or remedial terms that both sides can live with.

That lets me move on to another thought process. There is nothing in US law, to my knowledge, that prohibits a company from hiring employees and paying them a per-page commission or per diem rate. Pretty much no reporter makes less than minimum wage, so compliance with minimum wage laws is trivial. What is stopping a company from shifting its workforce from 1099 reporters to employees? Nothing. Nothing but a different set of paperwork and some accounting changes. Compliance with workers compensation laws may need a little creative insuring to allow reporters to transcribe from home if they choose to give employees that option. But this does not seem like an impossibility, merely a challenge for the entrepreneurial to overcome.

Why these solutions? Frankly, one of the issues with shortage boils down to the inconsistency of freelance reporting. If reporting firms nail down some availability, via employment contract or independently-contracted agreement, they can have a more realistic idea of how many reporters they have versus how many they need. Businesses survive and thrive off of mastering their staffing needs. Reporting businesses will be no different, and in the end will rise and fall based on their ability to meet demand. In this case, the demand being the service that so many stenographic reporters are ready, willing, and able to provide.

Can’t Outspend? Outsell.

When many of us were in school we were given a line, steno sells itself. Many of us can probably relate to that. Most steno companies, upon hearing you’re a professional stenographer, will give you a shot. Many of us in New York came out during a big slump (2010) where steno wasn’t selling itself, but even then, it was trivial to get work. All we had to do was say we’d been working three months, and “they’d” go from sorry no work for you to “oh, here are the keys to the kingdom.” Not all of us knew it, but that’s how it was. Agency owners are good at reading confidence, and what we’re offered is often linked directly to our confidence level.

Of course, the following may be an incorrect assumption on my part, but bear with me: We have entered an era where steno is not selling itself. Company owners are being pulled into the mindset that the voice recognition is “good enough,” and some of the major players, like Veritext, have been pushing recording.

I should note, in full disclosure, that I have not been able to corroborate what I’m about to say with documents or pictures as I usually do. It’s pulled from the social media sphere, so consider it anecdotal for now, and do not be surprised if agencies start railing against social media. Even as some claim that Veritext sent an email stating they were not using recording in states like New Jersey, others have come forward across social media to say yes, this is being done behind our backs. Many of us are reportedly asking lawyers what they’re seeing, and they are seeing digital getting peddled to them relentlessly.

So what do we do when we have major players putting their resources into our replacement? Who here thinks they have more money that Veritext or their owners? Hopeless, some would say. But there is something that many reporters are realizing: This alleged shortage is a great time get private clients and begin new businesses. If Veritext or some entity swears they can’t get a stenographer, some lawyers have allegedly called their insurers and gotten authorization to use a local stenographer or stenographic firm. All their marketing moves and salespeople count for nothing if a stenographer finds themselves in the right place at the right time.

We’re the boots on the ground. We have more contact with law office staff and employees. We have the keys to the kingdom. But the people at the top have made it very clear that they’ll do whatever is convenient for them. It’s time we do the same for the survival of our industry. We don’t work for them? Try it. It might just give us access to their clients. We work for them? Guess who already has access.

Even if we don’t want to handle private clients, we could always network with an existing firm owner out there and get them clients in exchange for the work or a share. If we’re even moderately successful, big companies will be offering to buy back their business from us in a few years, and the field will be a lot healthier once the market share is spread out. Our actions determine the future. The conversation today is steno or digital. Tomorrow it just might be stay steno or slam sand.

Shortage Solutions 8: Retirement

The document that alerted us to an impending shortage was the 2013 Ducker Report. In there, it told us that in about 20 years from then, a very large percentage of reporters would be retiring. Off the top of my head, I think it was as high as 70 percent, but you’re free to read it. That point is about 10 to 14 years from today.

Obviously, this brings great opportunity, because if supply can’t meet demand, the price for the service should rise. In many markets, it has risen, especially where reporters have pushed to be paid more. Some reporters are getting out there and grabbing their own private clients because it’s a seller’s market. In response to the shortage, the field had a great many recruitment ideas including A to Z, Project Steno, Open Steno, and many schools got online to reach a larger pool of students.

A big issue for us has been if enough jobs go completely uncovered, there are interests in the market ready to jump on that and say we don’t need stenography. We can use digital recording. We can use AI transcription. We can use whatever. Veritext, from my perspective, led this charge. Notably, they’re also putting money into stenographic initiatives, but this seems to be a clear case of hedging bets in case our commitment to what we do beats the money being poured into our replacement.

So here’s where we stand: We have a large group of people slated to retire. Do we tell them not to retire? No chance. But we can collectively start spreading the word that the retired are valuable. We had this push maybe a year ago in New York. Our Association, NYSCRA, didn’t give retired reporters or educators power. Not because of any ill will or resentment, but because of a simple bylaws issue. As luck had it, who had the most time to take part in and help shape up ideas? The educators and retired! So we took a stand and voted to give them equal voting power and right to be on the board.

Let’s face facts. If we are working 9 to 6 and then going home to transcribe for an hour, it leaves us very little time to advocate for this field. We may not be able to financially take time away from work or training to be a recruiter or voice in support of this field. We may not be able to advocate for others or mentor students. It’s a great time to consider forming programs and workshops for the retired who want to remain in the field as advocates. Look at the lobbying industry. Somebody works in a field for 30 years, a private interest or association grabs them up, and then they are the spokesperson who goes out and educates politicians on the issue — sometimes for big money.

If you’re retired, if you’re about to retire, or if you know someone about to retire, and especially if you’re somewhat of an altruist, you’ve got a chance to make a difference. Anything from a kind word to a student to full-blown involvement on a board or in a professional management corporation can change outcomes. As a matter of fact, a lot of these large corporations keep veteran stenographers at the head of their court reporting programs. Even traditionally transcription-oriented companies, like Escribers, had a stenographer in management. There’s no reason why the retired can’t, if they are so inclined, put down the machine, pick up the phone, and continue to make money from this field, for this field, and grow it in a way that keeps the career bridge they just crossed standing firm.

To Our Litigators

RE: Stenographic Reporters

If you’re reading, I’m going to hope you’re the kind of lawyer that we all look up to. You’re responsive to clients, you’re honest with potential clients about what you can do for them, and you’re ready when it comes to filings, motions, discovery, or trial. Maybe you’re the one at your firm tailoring your service to your client’s budget, or maybe you oversee someone doing that for you. But the end is the same, giving the consumer the best value for the budget.

That’s what urges me to write today. There has been a lot said about “AI” transcription and digital recording versus stenographic reporting. There has been a lot said in my field about the Ducker Report and a forecasted shortage of court reporters. Some brave companies are turning to remote reporting, where legal, to allow a stenographer to appear remotely. Other courageous reporters are doubling their workload to meet your demand.

There is one solution that’s come out known as digital reporting. The main idea is that someone will record the proceedings, run it through a computer program, and then someone will fix up what the computer does. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this is what we stenographers actually do. The major difference is we are stenographically recording (typing!) every word, and the computer is accepting that stenographic word and turning it into your English transcript.

The bottom line is: It simply ends up being more efficient to do it our way. One person, perhaps two, can stenographically record and transcribe an entire proceeding and have it to you that night or the next morning. For your dollar, there’s just not better value. Stenographers type four to five times faster than your average typist, so to finish the same proceeding, we are talking about four or five times the usual turnaround time for transcribers, or four or five times the staffing. Take the number of stenographers you have today, and multiply that number by 3, 4, or 5. If you think there’s a shortage and/or workflow issues now, imagine a world where you need five court reporters to put together your one proceeding. Imagine a world where the transcript is questioned and you need to bring those people in to testify instead of one stenographer.

Trust me when I say the firms switching to digital reporting or demanding you change your deposition notices to allow digital reporters are not saving you or your clients any money. Ever notice how there are almost never prices posted online for services? That’s because most of these companies act as middlemen. They make an agreement with you or the insurer, and then they make an agreement with us, the stenographers or transcribers, and they keep what’s in the middle. It’s really that simple. I would not be surprised, as a stenographer, to learn that I only made $3.25 a page on some of my old depositions with 25 cents per copy while the agency I worked with charged whatever they charged. 5? 6? 7? I don’t know. I only know that when I consulted a lawyer, the lawyer wanted almost 15 dollars a page if my case went to depositions.

I’ve been a stenographer for a long time, and I see two roads that you, the litigators, may take. You can let the sellers decide the market, and eventually stenographers won’t be an option, or you can make a sustained demand for a stenographic reporter at every dep. When lawyers start turning to direct market apps like Appear Me, Expedite Legal, and NexDep to get stenographers, those agencies pushing the digital and AI will jump on board and do whatever it takes to increase your supply of stenographers and get your business back.

Stenographers have been serving the legal community for decades. There’s been a push in recent years to do away with us because of a public perception that our methods are antiquated. Ironically, the people leading this charge are the companies we trusted with selling our services. So to our litigators: You now know all I know, and the customer is always right. Which will you choose?

NCRA: Our Money’s On Stenographers

There’s been a huge spike in stenographer association activity across the country. FCRA got part of the Florida legislature to consider a bill to create a court reporter registry, MCRA put out a town hall meeting about digital recording, but thanks to the crippling weather conditions around, that got canceled for now. MCRA also announced the CSR exam — free for members! CalDRA, as described a few posts ago, threw together a war chest and started producing pro steno stickers and flyers. VCRA got in on the war call and also began producing pro steno flyers. Sorry to anyone I missed — write to us all in the comments below — but the bottom line is associations have really put their mouth where our money is and began advocating full blast for stenography.

That brings us to today. We don’t speak for NCRA here on Stenonymous, but we’ll give you the facts and the inferences we draw from them. NCRA just announced unequivocally that whatever funding the corporate sponsorship program brought — it’s not worth the appearance of bias to membership. Your membership and participation is worth more to this board and body than corporate dollars. Your time, your talent, your questions, and your concerns are valid. They ended the corporate partnership program. That’s a big move.

No offense meant to the companies that are all about steno. We know that you are out there and you do a lot for us. We want you to keep plugging away and advocating for steno. We want you at our conventions. But NCRA was having a serious public relations nightmare. Some partners, like Veritext, were pushing so hard on the digital reporting, that it became completely incompatible with NCRA’s core mission of the stenographer.

If you think this is the right path, it’s time to consider renewing membership, writing them, and telling them what would make your experience even better. There are many thousands of us, and as I have shown mathematically in the past, just a fraction of the field in any market could shift the playing field from zero association activity to full-scale lobbying campaign to raise awareness about steno and/or get legislators to enact sensible law regarding the record.

It’s all there in yellow and black. This is your NCRA. What do we do with things we care about? We maintain them. We improve them. And when necessary, we fight for them.

Already there are tons of people interacting with NCRA. Got to see a great article by Rich Germosen that talked all about how he had posted up the men of court reporting, and how others could see that, see that it was a wonderful profession for men and women, and jump into the field. There’s really something special about the staff of NCRA and the JCR, so if you’re outspoken or just need to be heard, make a submission today!

Alternatively, if you’re the quiet type, feel free to write in to Stenonymous. We’re not afraid of a little work, and we’ll compile your suggestions and send it to NCRA ourselves. You’re worth the effort, and your ideas just might confirm what the board’s already thinking and spur real action and progress on top of what we are already seeing.

We’re talking. They’re listening. And they’re more willing than ever to speak for us. So let this be a shout out to everybody who’s on the fence: We need you!

Shortage Solutions 3: Private Labeling

One shortage concern is a stenographic (stenographers’) aversion to the colloquial big-box companies. Some reporters have reported that even when the company acquiesces and pays proper rates, they don’t want to take it for whatever perceived reasons. The other day I was lucky enough to catch a profound and interesting idea put out there by MA Payonk on her current blog space, Steno Jewels.

To put it in simple terms it’s the age-old idea of private labeling. Example: Imagine all the resellers out there that take Coke, slap their label on it, and sell it away. Perfectly legal, functional, conceptual example of private labeling. You see this all day, every day in probably every store you walk into.

How would this work in steno? Well, if an agency is asking you to cover and they’ve agreed to pay what you want paid, but you have an aversion to building their brand for whatever reason, it’s perfectly sensible and allowable for you to make an agreement with them that you will cover production, and/or billing, and/or read & sign or services that are normally under their purview. Imagine a world where it’s your name, transcript cover, brand, on all the materials. That’s what we’re talking about here.

Succinctly whatever their cut is, it is for the marketing side of what they’ve done. In this private label example, the reporter is becoming more of a focal point, face, and name attached to the full service.

There is some merit to this idea. Many steno and reporting companies today follow a strict corporate brand strategy where their name is on every transcript, and this is something you see all over the country from McDonald’s to From You Flowers. That said, money is money, business is business, and if you can sell the idea of the private label strategy or an alternative branding strategy, you can take advantage of this novel shortage solution. As a matter of fact, we have seen this strategy before in reverse. For example, if ABC Company asks CBA Company to cover, CBA often goes “as” ABC. This idea would be the company “going as” Reporter Doe.

The only real question is: Would a company agree? And my money is on yes. I truly believe that companies would agree, especially if there was a dialogue or agreement. Maybe the answer would be middle of the road: We want to handle production but you can put all your contact information on the certification. In this country there is literally no limit to what can be in an agreement except that an agreement may not be illegal, so it is a sincere hope that every freelance reporter would read this and maybe come to their own conclusions or come up with their own ideas about being a self-employed person and the advertisement decisions that need to go along with that. It’s a hell of a lot more corporate friendly than my previous suggestion to poach clients, and you can bet that given the option, these companies will choose to work with us.

NCRA and NYSCRA: For Stenographers

It is with a great deal of enjoyment that I share what happened this weekend. NCRA sent out an email blast that it was suspending its corporate partner solicitations. Some of its fabulous directors took to Facebook to share the message as well. I think this is great on a lot of levels. They’re paying attention to our preferred social media space. They’re paying attention to the fact that some of our corporate partners are not being very partnery. They’re reaffirming that they are us.

We all together support the stenographic modality of transcription and record making. NCRA sounds serious about a transformation, and we hope it continues on its current course towards educating the public that this a viable and vibrant career choice and that stenographic reporting is among the best speech-to-text “applications” around. Compared to the NVRA, which doesn’t bother to write back when I ask questions, NCRA’s responsiveness and commitment to its members and potential members is refreshing. I hope that responsiveness continues. I hope that any members that have smart suggestions for changes to the corporate partnership program write in to NCRA today. Out of the many thousands of us, I am sure there are smart and acceptable solutions to be had.

Now I’ll turn to NYSCRA, who also put out a statement reaffirming their commitment to stenography. Let’s face the facts: NYSCRA is an association by stenographers for stenographers. Up until recently, only working stenographers could hold office or vote. We recently held a vote to allow retired stenographers and amazing stenographic educators like Karen Santucci to have officer and voting privileges. The results of such vote were not yet announced, but make no mistake that I was right there voting yes with many of you. NYSCRA is not being coy or dishonest about what they’re saying. They do give entities that donate recognition for donating. Years ago I helped sponsor the breakfast in a Long Island meeting, and my name was right alongside the other sponsors as I recall. I had no control over the breakfast, the event, or anything like that. Sponsors do not control NYSCRA.

Consider this a call for all to get more involved. And don’t believe what you hear. You can get involved in event the smallest of ways. Taking the time to write a suggestion is involvement. Taking the time to attend a meeting is involvement. Even taking some time out to discuss an issue with a colleague and work through the pros, cons, and challenges of an idea can be involvement. Some would have you believe that you must be donating, volunteering, hosting, and traveling to be involved. For those that have the time and energy, we are grateful. But the time things really shine is when a member like you takes up one issue, any issue that you truly believe is important to steno, and makes the associations aware that it can be on their radar. It’s when real members like you step up and propose solutions to the problems we face.

Some look at a question and say: If it was important, someone would’ve answered it already. All I have to ask is: What would make your profession better?

Stenographers, Veritext is Not Your Friend

I came across this gem of an advertisement. To keep things short it talks about attracting new court reporters to the profession by using digital recorders and broadening the language of deposition notices to include recording of depositions by “stenographic and other means”.

I pointed out in a prior post that Veritext had allegedly agreed not to cross the picket line in California and how great that was. I don’t take my words back. That was great. But if that was great, then this is awful. Stenographers need to take note: Their response to the court reporter shortage is to move to digitals. What’s the easiest way to stab someone in the back? Seem like you have their back.

It should be dreadfully clear that these corporate entities and sponsors are friends with us for as long as we’re useful to them. We have two very basic choices: Slave away for as long as we’re useful and let ourselves be replaced or start coming up with serious plans to revitalize steno education in the country and start grabbing up more market share. I don’t think it’s a very difficult decision, but I do think we’ve got some work cut out for us. We are seeing this over and over with some of our biggest brands turning to digital recorders.

And a final point. I was immediately met with someone telling me Veritext can’t be blamed, they are only doing what they must to cover their clients. To that I say: Sorry, wrong. They’re pouring money and time into making sure digitals get hired, creating interest in digital reporting, and ensuring deposition notices are tailored to allow digital reporting. They’re making a conscious choice to try to move market share away from stenographers, and that’s only forgivable when they stop doing that.

Some long-term things I think would be great and an open to help and suggestions for:

-Shortening stenographic education programs.

-Gathering and dispersing market data

-Organizing business classes to stenographers.

-Creating a network of stenographers to attend career days at schools.

-Creating a free dictation library or learning materials similar to Open Steno to assist schools.

-Funding any or all of these initiatives.

Looking forward to responses and ideas. Looking forward to growth of the industry. Looking forward to revealing that, stenographers, Veritext is not your friend.

*EDIT February 21, 2019:

Came across an article that states Veritext just four months prior was engaging with and presenting NCRA’s A to Z program, and in the interest of fairness that should be included here. We want more of that!

Stenographers, US Legal Is Not Your Friend

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.