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.

Law For Stenographers (US) (FRCP)

I had previously shared law for Stenographers in New York and my understanding of New York law as it pertains to remote swearing of witnesses. I wanted to bring out some information about the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which govern our federal depositions and activity there. The bulk of the Federal Rules have nothing to do with stenographers, but there are a number of Federal Rules that pertain specifically to our duties as stenographers and what they label as officers or deposition officers.

Rule 28. Rule 28 (a)(1)(A) lays out that a deposition may be taken before an officer authorized to administer oaths by federal law or by the place of examination within the United States. You should be very familiar with your state law as to who can administer oaths, or ask to be qualified by stipulation pursuant to any of the rules we are about to get into.

Rule 30. Rule 30 (b)(5), very similar to our CPLR in New York, has language that “unless stipulated by the parties…” long story short is that that “unless” language opens up the opportunity for parties to stipulate to things like remote swearing, or alter the procedure. Once again, one of the few times in law that attorneys can stipulate away the law. Please know a reader wrote to me on 1/16/20 and stated their interpretation was not that the attorneys can stipulate away notary law and have the notary swear the witness, but rather proceed as if the witness is under oath and have them read and sign as such. As of yet, I have no case law on this issue.

Do note there there is a list of stuff you as the officer is supposed to do here, like placing your name and address on the record, the date, time, place of the deposition, deponent’s name, your administration of the oath, and the identity of all persons present. At the end, you must state that the deposition is complete and set out any stipulations of the attorneys.

Rule 30 (b)(3) states the method of recording the deposition must be in the deposition notice. Do yourself a favor and educate attorneys to ensure their deposition notice says stenographically recorded.

Rule 30 (b)(4) explicitly allows remote proceedings, and with the language in Rule 30 (b) (5), and in the absence of contrary case law, one may draw an inference that so long as you are not violating your state law, it is also permissible to swear a witness while not in their presence.

Rule 30 (c) (2). Again, like our CPLR in New York, objections need to be made at the time of the examination on the record. If they have objections to the way you’re swearing or what’s occurring, they need to make them then and there. Long story short, they can’t really come back 9 months later and say you did something wrong — though they may try.

Rule 30 (e) tells us that upon request by a deponent or party before the deposition is completed, the deponent must be allowed to review the transcript. This is what we call read and sign.

Rule 30 (f) explains how the officer is to send the deposition to the ordering attorney. Common sense stuff like identifying it and sealing the envelope. It then largely becomes the responsibility of the attorney.

Rule 30 (f)(3) says unless otherwise stipulated, you have to retain your stenographic notes and provide a transcript upon payment of reasonable fees.

Rule 32. Rule 32 (d)(2) makes it resoundingly clear that any objection to your qualifications as an officer at the deposition must be challenged promptly, either at the deposition or soon thereafter. Rule 32 (d)(3) again makes it clear that objections that are not made pretty much at the time of the deposition are waived.

Addendum:

Unsworn depositions, particularly on the federal side, can open up reporters to liability. See Dineen Squillante’s post on this. Looking forward to its publication in Vermont!

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?

NYSCRA Test Prep Opens To All

As many know, NYSCRA is conducting prep classes for the upcoming court exam. It has reaffirmed its commitment to stenographers in and around New York State by opening up the classes to nonmembers for a nominal fee of $50.00. Even further, according to President-Elect Joshua Edwards, the classes will not be canceled regardless of the registrant numbers.

There are lots of ways to show gratitude for such a move. Shoot them an email saying thanks, sign up for the class, sign up for a membership — do whatever you’ve got the time to do. But don’t let this kind of thing go unnoticed. For a long time, many of us have felt a need for associations to reach out, to show they care about nonmember reporters too before the nonmember reporters make that leap to become members. Here’s our sign.

We’ve had a lot to say about engagement here. But one thing holds true throughout: The engagement starts with us, as professionals, reaching out, giving feedback, and pushing for our associations and fellow stenographers to continue to thrive. It is never too late to start that process, express approval, or suggest how things might be better. So for today, great job NYSCRA, its ED, and all the board! Continue to be a force for every reporter to turn to.

Practice Does Not Make Perfect

Inspired today to write a little about the pitfalls of poor practice habits. It is no secret that it takes practice, and a lot of it, to become a stenographer. Dedication, time management, and perseverance when faced with crushing failure or frustration are all things that come to mind when we think about practice. 
But we who have done it can tell you that practice does not make perfect. Others have tried to describe this truth by saying perfect practice makes perfect. The concept is simple: When you have set a goal, ensure you are doing the things that lead to that goal. Analyze and know yourself, your habits, and decide what must be worked on the most. 

Imagine that you are a beginning student whose goal is to hit various combinations of keys quicker and more accurately. In such a case, finger drills may be an appropriate use of your time because they are allowing you to familiarize yourself with the keys and combinations, and be more effective at hitting strokes on your early test. Now imagine you are a court reporter applying for a position in a court where there is a high volume of cases and the judges talk very fast. Finger drills are less helpful in such an instance because you do not need to be better at your stroke combinations, you need more speed and endurance. Only fast takes for moderate lengths of time can really help. Finally, imagine you are looking to be a captioner. Writing ultra fast or writing for long periods of time may be helpful, but ultimately it may be that your goal is to hear the words, take down the words, and have them come out on screen perfectly. For such practice, the answer may not be speed takes, but literally listening to the television, taking it down, and building your dictionary word by word.

Then there is another important factor for all of us to consider. Even if you have come up with a great method of practice: Despite some similarities,!our brains are all very different, and we all have different learning styles. Though court reporting/stenography clearly favors auditory and tactile learners over visual ones, you should consider what learning style you truly are and how you might work that into your practice. Are you a visual learner? Flash cards might be your thing. Are you an auditory learner? Listening to dictations over and over might be your path to victory. Are you a tactile learner? Maybe you just need to spend more time stroking the keys, with or without dictation, to get your fingers to glide without hesitation from one word to the next during the actual job or test.

This is all to say: Practice will not make you a great writer. You must know yourself. You must be willing to look at what everybody else does, incorporate what works for you, and discard all else. We have seen brilliant writers come out who focused primarily on finger drills, and we have seen writers just as brilliant that despised finger drills and never ever practiced one if they had a choice. You must be willing to learn who you are and how your mind makes connections. We can only urge each other and ourselves to choose a goal, and work backwards from that goal to figure out how to get there. If you want to make good transcripts, your writing is not required to be 100% accurate but you will need to practice transcribing time. If you want to caption for a large national event, you will need to be pretty close to 100% accurate and will need to focus on practice that forces you to stroke things out and build your dictionary.

There is a place for every dedicated reporter in the Reliable But Unremarkable Stenographic Legion. Practice won’t make you perfect, but with the right practice, you will achieve your goals and find success in this field.

Learn Stenography!

NCRA.

National Court Reporters Association is, as of writing, the powerhouse association for stenography in the United States. I came across this video today and I figure it’s worth sharing to all who might come across this blog. It will immediately direct you to a site with a little information about how to start getting involved. Having lent a piece of equipment to one of the A to Z programs they describe, I can honestly say I’m a big supporter of this stuff and people giving this profession a try. It’s worth it.

A very brief summary of what we do: We take down the spoken word and make it text. We type it faster than a regular keyboard because our keyboards (stenotypes) allow us to hit multiple letters at once, and those letters stand for various sounds, words, and sentences.

More Than A Job.

In our field we often point at the potential to make money for relatively little education, and I think that’s just fine, but I also realize that doesn’t motivate everybody. If you’re in the camp of not being a money-hungry person, then consider a few extra things. For those of us that work in court reporting, we provide hours upon hours of service to the community, logging and keeping safe thousands of pages of court or deposition records for the day they’re needed by lawyers, litigants, or the public. For those of us that work in captioning or CART, we provide access to the people who need it most. Voice-to-text access for the 15% of Americans who report trouble hearing, and the millions who cannot hear at all! Indeed, if you  won’t do this thing for the money, do it for the people you will be helping just by sitting at a little machine and typing your heart out.

Stanographer.

Stanley Sakai gives a pretty upbeat and fast explanation of stenography here for those that want to know more about the concept of machine shorthand.

Stenoodie.

I came across this fascinating blog by someone who writes under the author name Stenoodie, and they have a short page describing steno/machine shorthand for those who like reading more than videos.