Outreach Webinar by Project Steno – June 6, 2021

The New York State Court Reporters Association is promoting Project Steno’s June 6 outreach webinar, as told by NYSCRA’s Transcript Weekly, posted earlier today by NYSCRA Social Media Committee Chair Marina Dubson. Though stenographers have made great strides in recruitment and introducing people to this field through efforts like NCRA A to Z, Open Steno, and Project Steno, there remains a need to get word out to high school students and staff that court reporting is a viable and vibrant career that young people should give serious consideration. Resources will be provided, and it can all only be seen as a wonderful complement to the resources already published by the National Court Reporters Association. If you’ve got some time to attend at 7:00 p.m. Eastern Time this Sunday, definitely consider registering today!

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1 in 4 Court Reporting Companies May Be Unprofitable

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.

I never want to see the term capital benchmarks again.

On the following page, there’s a forecast for operating expenses and industry revenue. That’s summed up in another pretty chart.

This was pre-pandemic, by the way.

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.

Vote Yes! NCRA 2021 Proposed Bylaw Amendments

The National Court Reporters Association gave members notice of proposed bylaws amendments recently. If you haven’t given these proposals some thought recently, and you intend to vote during convention time, then please take the time to consider them now. I’ll give a summary of each and what I see myself doing, and why, come voting time.

Amendment 1 – Fellows of the Academy of Professional Reporters

What’s the deal?
The proposal amends the requirements to become part of the Fellows of the Academy of Professional Reporters. The new language mostly points to needing to have stronger ties to NCRA to be a part of FAPR.

My takeaway:
I usually lean toward inclusion, but I also see validity in fellows having close NCRA ties. I believe I’m going to vote yes.

Amendment 2 – Stenographic Captioning and Stenographic Captioners

What’s the deal?
Stick the words “stenographic” captioning and “stenographic captioners” in areas where the bylaws say “stenographic reporting” or “stenographic reporter.” It’s making it a point to mention reporters AND captioners.

My takeaway:
I have always found the need to differentiate ourselves as a bit silly and the term reporter inclusive of who we are and what we do (steno). As an example, if someone walks into a room and greets a group of colleagues, “hey ladies,” I have two choices, I can huff, puff, and yell “I AM A MAN,” demanding that everyone acknowledge the difference, or I can roll with it and say hello. That said, the differentiation and explicit mentioning of captioners makes some of them feel good. It makes them feel included. It makes them feel respected as having a distinct and important skill. I am voting yes on this one without hesitation!

Amendment 3 – Holding Elective Office

What’s the deal?
In full disclosure, I am one of the people that proposed this amendment. This amendment would make it so all participating members who are stenographic reporters can hold elective office in the NCRA. As of today, you can pay dues and vote on the future of the organization if you are not a certified reporter, but you cannot hold elective office. If this amendment passes, any stenographic reporter that has been a member for five years would be able to hold elective office.

My takeaway:
I respect certification very much. I became an RPR shortly after proposing this amendment. But I feel it’s important for us to acknowledge that certifications do not necessarily make a person a leader. The bylaws committee has a little blurb against this stating anyone could claim to be a reporter, join, and run for office, and that much is true, but this idea that someone would join for a minimum of five years and then win an election without anyone else pointing out their complete lack of history is one I just can’t get behind. Take the leap, allow uncertified people to hold office, and open up this association to a pool of leaders it would otherwise not have. About forty percent of the association is not certified. It’s a reality that it’s time to address and tell all stenographic reporters that this association values them enough to give them a seat at the decision makers’ table if they win it fair and square. Any uncertified reporter that could win an election against a certified reporter has political savvy that we frankly need in leadership, so please vote yes.

Amendment 4 – Eligibility to Vote

What’s the deal?
In full disclosure, I am one of the people that proposed this amendment. In 2019 there was a membership dues increase. People that were not at the annual business meeting physically were not allowed to vote on it. This amendment would allow everyone to vote via e-mail.

My takeaway:
The dues increase was in line with inflation and completely warranted, but by limiting the pool of people that could vote for it, it made people really mad and gave the impression that leadership would do whatever it wanted and limit who had a say when it was convenient. In reality, it was done that way out of precedent. This amendment will force NCRA leadership to communicate more about dues increases, but I have a lot of confidence that members will vote for increases that keep the association healthy and strong. Please vote yes so that all voting members have a say on dues increases.

Amendment 5 – Conflict of Interest

What’s the deal?
In full disclosure, I am one of the people that proposed this amendment. This amendment would put the requirement for a conflict of interest policy in our bylaws and gives the board full authority to determine the scope of language and enforcement.

My takeaway:
Some time ago, Jim Cuddahy was NCRA’s Executive Director. That’s when the Ducker report was commissioned and we had a study done on our court reporter shortage. Fast forward, Jim Cuddahy is a part of the Speech To Text Institute and, in my view, one of many digital reporting proponents using the shortage to say “there are not enough court reporters, we must record it.” It makes it look like NCRA was used to do something that was later weaponized against members. People are angry about that, and NCRA has taken social media flak for it despite there being nothing NCRA could really do. One of the questions that floated up on social media was “WHY ISN’T THERE A POLICY?” Only when this proposal was made was I made aware there was a COI policy, and that’s the point, letting members know in big, bold letters there is one.

There’s a blurb about how counsel interprets this amendment to be illegal, but the association already has a conflict of interest policy. Honestly, I’m stunned. We have a conflict of interest policy, but putting the requirement for a COI policy in our bylaws would be illegal? Baloney. In full fairness, to the extent a COI policy can be viewed as a non-compete agreement, it could be illegal, but that’s why this amendment gives the board power over the language and enforcement. Every single board member and the NCRA have a duty to follow the law and they are required to interpret this amendment in a way that follows the law. Again, it is stunning to me that for purposes of proposal, everyone seems to be assuming it must be interpreted in the most unfavorable possible light. I am hoping that you will all see this as I do and vote yes.

Amendment 6 – Virtual Annual Business Meetings

What’s the deal?
This amendment will allow NCRA to have virtual annual business meetings.

My takeaway:
I think this modernizes our bylaws to help us operate even when force majeure would not apply. It’s an obvious yes.

Amendment 7 – Integration of CLVS as Participating Members

What’s the deal?
Certified Legal Video Specialists will be allowed to vote in the association, but will not be able to hold elective office.

My takeaway:
It seems unfair to be a certification body for people that have zero input. NCRA advisory opinion 44 points to the verbatim reporter and video specialist roles not mixing, so there’s no reason to think this is some attempt to undermine the association’s goals or membership. This is a chance to show CLVS members that we value their certs without losing any steno board seats. I’ll vote yes.

Final Thoughts

Associations have a duty to follow their bylaws and the law. The votes we make here dictate to NCRA how it must conduct itself in the future. I’m not against anyone that votes against me here. These votes are unlikely to make or break the association, but they will shift perceptions. On amendment 3, we have a shot at telling reporters without certs we want them to be active in the association, not just collect their money and votes. On amendment 4, we have a shot at telling voting members they deserve a say in dues increases whether or not they can physically make it to the business meeting. On amendment 5, we have a shot at telling all members yes, we have a conflict of interest policy. We have a shot at adding value to membership. Value leads to growth. In the interest of growing our national association, I am voting yes, and I hope you do too.