CoverCrow’s Cassandra Caldarella reached out to me a while ago with some information about California. Given my relative lack of familiarity with California’s court reporting laws and statistics, the interaction was very welcome. I’ve said it many times, but I would be nowhere without information sent in by readers.
The first thing I was told was that in 2013 there were 7,100 active CSRs in California and that there are now 6,580 CSRs in 2023, a loss of 520, or about 8%. A loss of about 50 per year, or 0.7% of that 7,100 total. The Ducker Report told us something like 70% of reporters would be retiring between 2013 and 2023, so about 2.3% a year. 4.67% per year if you count from 2018, when the shortage was supposed to start getting bad. What does all this mean? The California shortage may be half as bad as it was forecasted to be.
We can pull straight from Ducker to confirm something is off.
There was a 6,110 supply of stenographers forecasted in 2018, and it was supposed to get worse and worse every year until 2018. If it is accurate that there are now 6,580, then we are doing much better than the forecast.
Cassandra went on to explain that these were not straight losses and that there were a lot of new CSRs coming in.
I was then given a yearly breakdown of out-of-state CA CSR licensees. The average before COVID was about 10 per year. 2020 to 2023, that jumps to about 16.
I did go snooping for these numbers, because I don’t like to publish without some fact checking, and I did find at least one piece of information from SB662 that seems to contradict or call into question these numbers.
That’s a much more grim outlook. But perhaps it’s just market forces at work? Unless 30% of the workforce has been replaced by digital, it means that the demand for court reporters is simply lower than it once was or that there was not enough demand in the market for those 8,004 CSRs. A lot of people believe in the self-correction of markets. Why is our labor market any different? We could blame it on government regulation. Then again, we could also blame it on the larger corporations that stood by and did basically nothing for half a decade. If there was a retirement cliff, they sure weren’t worried about it, and I think that says a lot.
Let’s work with the most relevant numbers presented here. 7,503 in 2010. 1,418 drop from 2010 to 2020. A loss of about 19%, 1.7% a year. Still below the 2.3% to 4.7% it was supposed to be, but not quite as rosy as the 0.7% figure I was hoping for.
I’d really like to get the discussion going here. Are there more accurate direct sources I’ve missed? Has anybody run these numbers and come up with similar results? Have I gotten something completely wrong?
*None of this is real. It’s a project called Stenonymous Satire Weekends, designed to get into search engines and expose corporate fraud in court reporting. This one’s a little more performative than usual, but I hope you enjoyed it.
P.S. The artwork is so bad because it’s AI art. Now seeking independently contracted artist for stenography propaganda posters with equal rights to share and distribute given to us both. Request 1 image per month at $100 per poster image and 90% of support purchases. (Images will be made public, but there will be a designated space on the site for people to buy the image to support your work.) Estimated term of arrangement is one year. Terms negotiable. Write Chris@stenonymous.com.
It’s come to my attention that there may be texts circulating claiming to be Stenograph President Anir Dutta.
Mr. Dutta called me not too long ago (Sunday), and this was obviously not his area code. Nobody should be fooled by this dishonesty, it’s a common gift card scam.
It’s notable that these attacks are frequent on prominent organizations. The data to commit these scams is usually scraped off of organizations’ websites, and as far as I know, not usually the result of any breach.
It’s my sincere hope that more law enforcement emphasis gets put on scam detection, investigation, and prosecution. FTC data shows consumers losing over $8 billion to scams in 2022. That’s over twice the size of our entire industry. Double the money every single court reporter made in 2022.
If you or anyone receive this scam, remember not to fall for it. Respectable people like company presidents and association board members will not randomly ask for gift cards.
Stenonymous Satire Weekends is back with a vengeance tomorrow. We’ll be poking fun at AI art.
Personally, my favorite facial expression in this video was…
EchoTheSavage was pretty close in the beginning part there. He says the lyrics were written by me and performed by somebody else, but Anonymous actually wrote and created the song, which really impressed me when I first commissioned it. All I gave was creative direction. The crazy thing is toward the end of the review, he mentions how everybody’s voice can be tinkered with via AI. So he knows exactly what we’re trying to get out there when we talk about voice cloning being dangerous for legal proceedings without knowing a damn thing about us.
Now, I get pretty deep and political here, so if you just want a light read, stop here, close me out, go enjoy your day. Otherwise, keep reading.
If you follow my politics, you’ve probably figured out that I’m against corporatism. I think it threatens American capitalism. I think there’s a strong corporatist streak in both major American parties, and that the failure of government to enforce the laws equally is due largely to the fake media circus that Congress uses to distract Americans from the fact that they’re not doing their job and writing laws that would make Americans’ lives better and siphon more of the economy to working people. If they’d budget more money for things that are meant to keep markets fair, like the Federal Trade Commission, we’d see a fantastic shift in the state of the country and an explosive expansion of the middle and upper middle class. You think it’s not that easy? Look how tech went from AI Winter to being this omnipresent thing in our lives. What happened? Investors dumped money on it. When we dump money — no, when we invest in the people that keep this country running, from the cleaning people, to the cops and firefighters, to the doctors and lawyers, what do you think happens?
Why do you think the people in power rely so much on the “money is not the solution” line of thinking? Say something enough and it becomes truth. I have learned the media game and how left and right leaning people are being divided through the behavior of our leaders. I suspect it’s related to the Milgram experiment, where we learned that people are willing to put other people in danger if an authority figure tells them to. Authority figures have more or less directed us to fight amongst ourselves over things that really aren’t important while corporations continue to consolidate and more wealth flows into fewer hands. After the Citizens United ruling, unlimited money came into politics, and politics became a game of who had the most funding for their campaign. Who had the most money to give politicians? So now those fewer hands get to write our laws.
If you’ve ever had a pair of thieves steal from you, it’s a very similar scheme. One comes up to you and chats you up while the other one grabs your money or valuables out of your backpack. This is the rich man’s version of that. “Hey everyone, fight about nothing while the richest organizations in the country rob you blind.” It doesn’t have to be this way. We can unify. We can make a change. I feel so strongly about this I had a song commissioned a song called Patriots Against Corporatism.
EchoTheSavage reviewed that too.
I liken it to court reporting. People have told me nobody’ll read my work and that I won’t make a difference. We can argue about degrees of success, but they were wrong. And if people so sure of themselves could be wrong, and most of us are within the same range of human intelligence, then perhaps the people that think they rule the world are wrong too. And maybe the people who think that their voice doesn’t matter will realize that they might be wrong too.
And for as long as you’re alive, no matter how wrong you are, you have a chance to make a change.
It points out many of the things I mentioned in my blog yesterday and asks Stenograph to give more control of the event to the stenographic community.
It’s a big question how Stenograph will respond, if at all, to the letter. But if you’d like to show support to the MCRA on this brave move, share this today, and consider a donation to the association!
The open letter was edited after the original post and the links have changed. Link 1. Link 2.
In an email received at about 3:11 p.m. today, Stenograph announced the date of its town hall meeting and distributed an invite link. Participants are asked to send their questions to email@example.com by May 30, 2023.
There are some problems with the way this is being done. First, Stenograph being in control of the questions means that some questions may be disregarded. If you send in questions, consider saving evidence that you sent them and then letting me know if any of your questions were ignored afterwards. We can at least create a record of what wasn’t asked if my paranoia over Stenograph’s control of the event turns out to be healthy skepticism. Overlapping with that concern, there are questions about whether any live questions will be taken or whether the town hall will be exclusively limited to questions sent to the email provided by May 30. I have to admit, I believe that Stenograph should take some questions beforehand because it’s a company and it’s hard to answer questions on the fly about a company with no prep as to what those questions will be. But I also believe a healthy town hall would have some live question component.
Another problem that arises is that at 6 pm EST, it’s 3 PM PST. Many stenographers will be working at the time of the event, and if it is not recorded and distributed, they will miss it. Participants could record themselves using Open Broadcast Software or their phones or whatever, but it’s an extra step many won’t take. And again, paranoia strikes. What if low attendance is used to support the shortage narrative pushed by Stenograph, Veritext, US Legal Support, and the Speech-to-Text Institute? In my heart, I hope the company wouldn’t do that, but I’ve learned to stop thinking with my heart and understand that people play games.
If there are questions you want to ask that you don’t feel comfortable sending to Stenograph yourself, please comment them here. I will send them and keep a record of what I send. I will not send anything overtly inappropriate.
I’ve said many times before that if Stenograph admits that the Speech-to-Text Institute was wrong about the stenographer shortage being impossible to solve, it will make court reporting history. That’s what I’ll be looking out for. I have other questions about the percentage of revenue that goes into their R&D budget and what percentage of that is specifically spent on stenographic technology, but other than that, I haven’t yet decided what to ask.
For what it’s worth, if anybody from Stenograph is reading, thanks for doing this, but these are honest concerns court reporters have.
Court reporters, if you fight, you will win. You wanted a town hall and you got one. Make the most of it and remember this moment the next time someone tells you something cannot be done.
I messed up the times in the original post. It’s 6 PM EST, 3 PM PST. May 31, 2023.
While scouring social media, I came across an interesting post by Nancy Silberger. It mentioned the Better Business Bureau reviews for ProctorU.
This is not entirely surprising. I think most people only complain to BBB when they feel mistreated by business. But some of the complaints were striking. I know the only time I used the BBB was when Naegeli threatened me. It wasn’t helpful, but it does create a record.
Anyway, people came forward to discuss their feelings and ideas regarding testing and ProctorU.
What Dineen had to say really resonated with me. I personally believe AudioSync has massively deteriorated the interrupting skills of court reporters. But at this point, we have to contend with the reality that it is widely used on the job and using it effectively is part of the job for most court reporters and scopists. Even limited use would probably upgrade our pass rate significantly.
Just for the sake of completeness, I glanced over the BBB reviews too. Better Business Bureau isn’t infallible, but It’s pretty horrifying stuff for tests far less technical than ours.
As I was preparing for this post, a reader sent me an old Speech-to-Text Institute article with Marybeth Everhart, Realtime Coach. With hindsight, I can say that this supports the assertion that we need change. The ProctorU problems aside for a moment, I’ve been looked down on at times because I won’t refer to digitals as button pushers or recorders. Well, someone from the platform we use for our testing was pretty openly digital friendly.
And, unfortunately, as we later learned, the Speech-to-Text Institute is a propaganda outfit and corporate construct meant to manipulate the court reporting & stenotype services market. So, not to say that RTC is guilty of the same fraud I’ve alleged against Veritext et al, but for a field that used to care very much about bias or the appearance of bias, it does feel like all the major players, including ones we rely on for passing our students, are pretty biased in favor of expanding digital reporting, a position that is kind of strange to have if stenography is the gold standard and we haven’t tried other methods of alleviating the shortage, like asking lawyers to schedule with us in advance instead of the day before.
Even worse, digital proponents attack our testing procedures from the other direction, with Stenograph President Anir Dutta having stated in a letter, “…the national and state recognized process to certify a machine shorthand professional is unnecessarily arduous and, in our informed assessment, is designed to keep the number of stenographers entering the market artificially low.” I missed that line when I first reported about it, but I do find it kind of funny that while I have basically accused the companies under the Speech-to-Text Institute umbrella of manipulating the market to increase the number of court reporters create a market glut, depressing reporter incomes, they turned around and alleged that someone designed the state and national testing process to artificially reduce the number of stenographers. Since the National Court Reporters Association is basically the national test process, I think it’s safe to assume what organization they’re throwing shade on here, and it makes me rethink Anir’s NCRA comments a little bit more than I was thinking about them after he apologized to me.
In the hopes of a better tomorrow, I’m amplifying this discussion. Perhaps our next step is to have a serious look into which online proctoring companies have the best reviews and consider asking NCRA to make the switch.
Ai-Media acquired Alternative Communication Services in May 2020. According to the recollection of one source, there was a little buzz about it at the time and there were some who were concerned about the replacement of captioning providers and some that didn’t believe such a thing would happen. Well, they’ve been touting something called LEXI 3.0.
This wasn’t the only post done on the matter.
So, I guess I really have to say to captioners what I have said to court reporters. If I get some funding behind me there’s a lot we can do. We could sponsor independent studies into the accuracy of AI versus human transcribers/captioners. What we have so far in that department is promising.
But even short of that level of funding, we could do more advertising to increase public awareness about misleading technology claims and perceptions, something that is hitting mainstream media right now. After all, as I reported on this blog, Microsoft said they had achieved tech as good as human transcribers back in 2016. Then it flopped in the Racial Disparities in Automatic Speech Recognition 2020 study. Verbit flip-flopped between its series A and series B funding, first talking about saving on manual labor and then saying that they would not take the human transcriber out. So now when Ai-Media claims its LEXI 3.0 is rivaling human transcribers, it makes me wonder if this might be just another claim that they’re using to sell, sell, sell.
The best part? They don’t even have to lie to mislead. Check out the post above. “The world’s most advanced and accurate automatic captioning solution!” This is what’s referred to in legal circles as puffery. Even if it’s BS, it’s probably not false advertising. “Watch our video to see how LEXI 3.0 uses the power of AI to deliver results rivalling human captions, at a fraction of the cost.” Well, anybody can declare something rivals something. I declare apples rival oranges and Stenonymous rivals Veritext. It doesn’t mean anything. At the end of the day, if the AI gets 40% and captioners get 90%, they still rival each other, it’s just that one would be a really poor rival. At a fraction of the cost? Does that mean all of the cost savings are passed directly to consumers? It sure isn’t a guarantee.
This is why I’m so forward about educating reporters on marketing tricks and propaganda techniques. We are all subjected to media that influences our thoughts, and those thoughts go on to influence our actions. If a person is constantly inundated with the message that technology is exponentially growing and that it’s coming for all the jobs, they won’t seek out information that challenges that belief, like all the links I posted above that most people probably skip over out. Thanks confirmation bias and busy schedules.
Meanwhile, there’s a totally alternate reality where we start dumping money into calling out these companies and working out exactly how true their claims are so that we can share it with the world.
After Stenograph’s actions in Texas and Illinois, as well as the reports of declining service from the past and its questionable partnerships with TransAtlantic and TranscribeMe, Stenograph would ultimately be doing itself a favor to start reuniting with its stenographer base. In my view, all it would take for any of these companies under the Speech-to-Text Institute to sway stenographers back to their side is admitting that the Speech-to-Text Institute got it wrong with regard to the impossibility of solving the stenographer shortage.
Stenographers, now’s the time to make your voice heard. The petition only aims for a thousand signatures, but according to Stenograph’s own numbers, as I recall from the Illinois article, the number of Stenograph customers is much higher, in the 20,000 ballpark. The more we can do to spread the word, the more pressure Stenograph will feel to accept.
There’s a big question about who would moderate, but my money’s on Joshua Edwards. He’s always been fair and professional. He’d ensure no nastiness. Even I’d behave.
I assume they won’t accept. Then again, I’ve learned to never say never. I was told people would never read the blog. Now at least a thousand visit every month. Stenographers have a real chance at being a part of positive change by trying, so go sign today!
Years later, as it turned out, some of the largest court reporting companies would get together using a nonprofit called the Speech-to-Text Institute (STTI). That nonprofit would go on to mislead consumers about the stenographer shortage to artificially increase demand for digital court reporting. Tellingly, while a U.S. Legal Support representative had no problem using the word “libel” on one of the female members of my profession, USL and the other multimillion dollar corporations never dared utter a word about my eventual fraud allegations. The companies wanted to trick consumers into believing stenographers were unavailable due to shortage and force digital court reporting on them, where matters are recorded and transcribed.
This set off alarm bells in the world of court reporting. Stenotype manufacturing giant, Stenograph, also represented in STTI’s leadership, shifted from supporting realtime stenographic reporters to shoddy service, and began to call its MAXScribe technology realtime. Realtime, as many attorneys know, is a highly trained subset of court reporting that often comes with a premium. These bait-and-switch tactics on the digital court reporter side of the industry caused a nonprofit called Protect Your Record Project to spring up and begin educating attorneys on what was happening in our field. But as of today, the nonprofit has not reached a level of funding that would allow it to advertise these issues on a national scale — this blog’s in the same boat.
So as more of the workforce is switched to digital reporters / recorders and transcribers, we’re seeing companies use influencers and other media to lure transcribers in for low pay. In short, digital court reporting is now synonymous with side hustle. These companies are going to take the field of skilled reporters that law firms and courts know and love, replace them with transcribers, and go on charging the same money. For the stenographer shortage, these folks were dead silent for the better part of a decade. Now that they need transcribers to replace us, they’re going all out to recruit.
“What do I care?” That’s what a lot of lawyers and paralegals might be asking at this point. Well, I may not write as well as Alex Su, but I’ll do my best here. First, there are egalitarian concerns. In the Testifying While Black study, stenographers only scored 80% accuracy on the African American Vernacular English dialect. This was widely reported in the media, but what was lost by the media was the reveal of pilot study 1, which showed everyday people only transcribe with an accuracy of about 40% (e226). When we’re talking about replacing court reporters with “side hustle technology,” we’re talking about a potential 50% drop in accuracy and a reduction in court record quality for minority speakers, something courts are largely unaware of. According to the Racial Disparities in Automatic Speech Recognition study, automation isn’t coming to save us either. Voice writing is the best bet for the futurists, and it’s being completely ignored by these big companies.
There are also security concerns. When we’re talking about utilizing transcribers, we’re talking about people that have an economic incentive to sell any private data they might gain from the audio or transcript. If transcription is outsourced, a bribe as low as $600 might be enough to get people acting unethically. Digital court reporting companies have already shown they’re not protective of people’s data — in fact, companies represented in the Speech-to-Text Institute. This also leads to questions about remedies for suspected omissions or tampering. Would you rather subpoena one local stenographer or teams of transcribers, some possibly outside of the jurisdiction?
Finally, there’s an efficiency issue with digital court reporting. Turnaround times can be much slower. Self-reported, it can take up to 6 hours to transcribe 1 hour of audio. By comparison, 1 hour of proceedings can take a qualified stenographer 1 to 2 hours to transcribe. That’s 3 to 6 times faster. Everyone here knows stenographers aren’t perfect and that backlogs happen. Now imagine a world where the backlog is 3 to 6 times what it is today. In one case, a transcript took about two months to deliver. If we’re going to hire teams of transcribers to do the work of one stenographic court reporter, aren’t we going backwards?
Consumers are the ones with the power here. They can demand stenographers, utilize companies that aren’t economically incentivized to lie to them, and spread awareness to other consumers. Consumers, lawyers and court administrators, decide the future. Knowing what you do now, do you want a court reporter or a side hustler at your next deposition or criminal case?
Written by Christopher Day, a stenographic court reporter in New York City that has been serving the legal community since 2010. He is also a former board member of the New York State Court Reporters Association and a former volunteer for the National Court Reporters Association STRONG Committee. Day also authors the Stenonymous blog, the industry’s leading independent publication on court reporting media, information, data, analyses, satire, and archiving of current events. He also appeared on VICE with regard to the Testifying While Black study and fiercely advocated for more linguistics training for court reporters in and around New York State.
Donations for the blog will help run advertising for this article and others like it, as well as pay for more journalists and investigators. If you would like to donate, you may use the donation box on the front page of Stenonymous.com, PayPal or Zelle ChristopherDay227@gmail.com, or Venmo @Stenonymous. Growing honest media to combat misconceptions in and about our marketplace is the premier path to a stronger profession and ultimately better service to the legal community.